I have traveled all across this incredible country
of ours providing flight instruction in a number of different
helicopters. A few years back I was asked to travel to western
South Dakota near Mt. Rushmore to fly a Rotorway helicopter flight
simulator that Greg Anderson is developing with the help of Brett
Sumpter. I had never flown a helicopter flight simulator so this
sounded like it would be a lot of fun. What Greg was interested
in was to see how someone with Rotorway Helicopter experience
felt about the realism of his flight simulator.
It is usually quite cold in that part of the country around February
so I was glad that this flying was going to be accomplished in
the comfort of Greg's cozy log home. Here is Greg's story:
After I bought my Exec kit and ordered the KISS Aviation turbine
conversion I had a lot of dead time to think about flying this
helicopter. I had seen some flight simulators that looked like
they would be fun to play with and may even provide some training
benefit while I waited for parts. At first I was going to just
get a basic system using minimal components, but as I searched
for the appropriate controls it looked like a fairly realistic
system could be built at relatively (everything's relative) modest
cost. So I decided to see how close I could come to an accurate
flying experience without leaving the basement.
The hardware layout is comprised of the Flight Link Advanced
Rotor Wing Package, which is a set of full-size helicopter controls;
cyclic, collective, throttle, and AT pedals. A desktop computer
running Windows 2000 was assembled with an AMD XP 1800+ processor,
1GB of DDR RAM, and an ATI Pro 9000 video card with 64MB of DDR
RAM. An NEC VT540 digital projector provides a life-sized view
of the world out front. The projector screen was made from a sheet
of flat white vinyl laminated to 1/4 inch plywood and the seat
came from Summit Racing.
X-Plane flight simulator software was used because it is the
only moderately priced gaming software whose aircraft fly based
on aerodynamics rather than programmed responses to control inputs.
When you move the controls in X-Plane you are actually changing
the control surfaces of the programmed aircraft model and the
aircraft is responding to changes in its airfoils. Also, X-Plane
allows you to create an aircraft from scratch and fly it according
to its aerodynamics. This feature allowed an Exec 162 and a Jet
Exec to be designed and flown in the simulator with performance
similar to the real thing.
Brett Sumpter, an experienced virtual aircraft designer, helicopter
pilot, and genuine nice guy, graciously volunteered to create
the Exec and Jet Exec for the simulator. To do this he used virtually
all the data on the helicopter's airfoils, aerodynamics, engine
power, control settings and weight & balance. For instance,
the main rotor blades are modeled using their NACA profile, length,
weight, rotating speed and angle of attack at full-up and full
down collective. (When the simulator's collective is full-down
the main rotor in the virtual model is at -1.5?, just as on the
Brett also constructs an image of the aircraft from a 3D drawing
that provides both aerodynamic info to the program and provides
the proper visual effect for the pilot. The Exec and Jet Exec
visual models shown are prototype silhouette images and the instrument
cluster is also a generic cluster that is being used while the
kinks are being worked out of the control system.
After putting the thing together and getting the models from
Brett the only thing left to do was call in an unbiased expert
to evaluate how accurately the whole contraption recreated the
flying experience. So I called Orv Neisingh to try it out and
tell me what I needed to do to make it right.
When I first arrived at Greg's beautiful log home in the hill
country near Mt. Rushmore, we went right to work getting acquainted
with the flight simulator. With the realistic helicopter cyclic,
collective, throttle, and anti torque pedal controls the simulator
has the feel of really being in an Exec. The simulator was actually
pretty good at mimicking the way that the Exec helicopter flies
with a few exceptions that need to be addressed by the program
The simulator is very good for learning the coordination of the
helicopter controls with the other control inputs. As in the real
helicopter, when power is added, the helicopter yaws to the left
in the Exec models and to the right in the R22 and other models.
As the simulator pilot adds collective and the helicopter begins
to get light on the skids, the nose of the simulator Exec begins
to turn to the left. The pilot must coordinate the addition of
the proper amount of anti-torque pedal with the additional collective
input to keep the nose from yawing.
As the collective is raised further the helicopter begins to
slide forward and to the left, just like the real helicopter does.
This movement is stopped by adding just the right amount of aft
and right cyclic input. As the collective is further raised, the
simulator pilot must coordinate all of the controls to keep the
helicopter from yawing and sliding while he lifts it into a hover.
At this point the controls still need a bit of tweaking. On my
first simulator pick-up the helicopter shot backwards and with
application of forward cyclic it did a nose dive with predictable
results. We tried a number of pick-ups and all had the same results
due to either a glitch in the controls or the software. That is
actually the reason that Greg had me travel the 2200 miles to
fly the simulator. In order to have a realistic Rotorway flight
simulation, the simulator needed to be test flown by someone with
Rotorway helicopter experience.
Once we got the feel of the helicopter simulation we were able
to fly realistic hover taxi, air taxi, and take off profiles.
The approaches were not hard but when the helicopter got close
to the ground in a hover it again had the tendency to shoot backwards
as we landed. As you can see from the above photo, the simulated
helicopter can and will crash when it is subjected to situations
and control inputs that would cause the real helicopter to experience
a dynamic rollover. We did crash this one several times during
the learning phase, but unlike the real helicopter that usually
requires a $30,000.00 rebuild after a rollover, the simulated
helicopter is ready to fly with a click of the computer's mouse.
When the software is adjusted correctly the helicopter should
pick up just like the Exec and should give a very realistic hover
and flight experience.
Once we had the feel for the simulator, we flew the Exec 162f
and the Jet Exec from a number of airports that are accurately
portrayed on the screen. Greg even took off from the Grand Canyon
airport and flew down into the canyon and followed the Colorado
River to Lake Mead behind Hoover Dam.
Overall I think that Greg is onto something here. When the simulator
is complete with the final modeling of the controls and software
finalized, this simulator will be a big help for anyone that is
just getting into helicopter flight. The greatest advantage is
from the realistic way that the simulated helicopter reacts to
changes in the control inputs. The student pilot can learn the
function of and interaction of the helicopter controls in the
comfort of their own home prior to actually getting into the real
Greg plans on flying his simulator and becoming proficient with
it as he build his Jet Exec. In May Greg is planning on coming
to our helicopter flight training facility here in Missouri to
try his hand in our new R22. It will be interesting to see how
much of a difference using the simulator makes in the rate of
his learning to fly the real thing.
More flying adventures to come in the next issue.
Fly safe and enjoy those helicopters,
Orv Neisingh R/H CFI