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Newbies: Tips and Information Section of HF, specifically for Passing along info to newcomers to the hobby. Setup, tweaking, orientation practice, etc.


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Old 11-09-2015, 08:44 PM   #1
toadiscoil
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Default What I have learned (so far) about electric R/C Helicopters

(Spanish translation of this main post in: Lo que he aprendido (hasta ahora) de helicopteros R/C)

Note: this post has been cut into several pieces to be easier to read and navigate instead of one gigantic post. Found out there is actually a limitation on post size on HeliFreak so the suggestion received that it was a long post worked out nicely to fit this limitation as well. There are links on each post to navigate through the different posts with one main post being the index, as follows:

Introduction (this post)

Basics and how a helicopter flies,helicopter sizes, types and brands

Batteries, care, and other considerations, glossary

Dissecting a helicopter for building your own

My experience and tips, safety, computer simulation, acknowledgements

Introduction

It seems to be an accepted fact of flying R/C helicopters that crashes will happen, and that they will be more recurrent at the beginning. I believe this happens because most people go out, buy a helicopter, try to fly it, and crash. Some of those people will feel discouraged and quit; some of them will realize that it is expensive to fix them, and quit; some of them will realize how difficult it is to fix them and set them up properly, and quit.

Most of who remain will stay for a while. They will start doing research, and probably even reach a forum such as Helifreak. They will realize that a lot of people go through the same thing, so they will keep trying. Some of them will drop during the journey, but most will stay. However, I do believe that it is possible to significantly minimize the crashing.

Most of the crashing is due to lack of information, and mostly due to a simple fact. This simple fact is that flying an R/C helicopter (mostly a Collective Pitch helicopter, but some definitions will be included on this post) is hard because of the third-person perspective when flying a helicopter causes the same movements to have different effects on the helicopter depending on where it is facing. This is called “orientations”. So if the helicopter is facing opposite you (tail-in orientation), left is left, right is right, front is away from you and back is towards you. The exact opposite will happen when the helicopter is facing you (nose-in orientation).

Since helicopters are on the air, they are prone to wind turbulence and their own turbulence on the body caused by the rotating blades, plus the torque countered by the tail blades trying to make the heli spin on its axis. All of these variables will cause the helicopter to require constant feedback from the pilot, as the helicopter will constantly move to an unintended location and the pilot will need to re-adjust. Given the power and speed of some helicopters, most pilots will crash before they realize what happened.

The best way then to avoid these crashes is to adjust your brain to automatically correct in any orientation. If you stop to think that when the heli is facing you (nose-in) and drifting to the right, that you need to move the right stick (cyclic control) to the right and that you have to move your left stick (collective control) up to avoid the ground, then usually by now your heli is on the ground, crashed. Your brain has to control three different dimensions (cyclic, collective, rudder) plus the fact that the helicopter responds differently to these dimensions depending on is orientation. Unless it is trained to automatically perform the moves without thinking about it, you will crash.

If you are thinking this is hard, then yes it is. If you are thinking it is impossible, then you are mistaken. Just like learning how to play an instrument, it takes dedication and practice. Of course you won’t have to buy a new guitar (just an example, most helicopter crashes involve just changing damaged parts, not replacing the whole model) when you don’t hit the notes correctly, but in many ways it is similar. A proficient guitar player will be able to play a song without thinking about all the notes and the positions of the fingers for each, and even sing while playing. Just like guitar playing, there will be guitar virtuosos who can execute complex notes with ease, and regular guitar players who can proficiently play almost any song. This is the same case with learning how to fly a helicopter, except that a mistake can be very costly (and even dangerous).

There are some helicopters with auto-levelling and with “rescue” or “bail-out”. These are technologies on the helicopter’s “brain” that make the task of flying easier. Self-levelling will allow the helicopter to return to level when releasing the cyclic controls (right stick). Usually on a helicopter, when you command it to bank left or right (or decides to do so on its own due to the variables described earlier) you have to correct the movement the opposite way to compensate or watch the helicopter continue on this movement until it crashes against the wall or the ground. Self-levelling will automatically compensate, returning the helicopter to a stable horizontal upright level. This is seen by many as using “training wheels” and just like using them when learning to ride a bicycle, it can be debated how useful it is to ramp-up. It is a personal choice, but definitely can avoid crashes. The opposite argument is that it makes true learning of orientation recovery longer.

The Rescue is a pilot-triggered feature that engages self-levelling ONLY when required. So a helicopter with only this feature will fly as usual, and when the pilot enters a situation of panic (another name also for this feature on certain brands), the pilot can trigger the Rescue button and watch the helicopter return to a level, controllable situation. The problem with Rescue is that the pilot must train to use it as well. It does not work on its own. So if you are in a panic situation (remember it happens in seconds) you have to train yourself to be fast enough to reach for the Rescue button in time before a crash. This may leave you sort of needing the Rescue feature if you train for it, and not using true orientation training which is the argument people have against this feature. But again it will save you from crashes if you train to use it. There are several types of Rescue, some will just level the helicopter, some will level it and increase altitude, and some will recover from any orientation (even inverted – but more on that later).

So back to the topic of crashes. Are they a necessary, unavoidable evil? I think they can be avoided significantly, but yes they are likely to happen. However they can be less severe and less frequent with the correct training. In strict theory, if full orientations are learned completely automatic anytime, anywhere, crashes are very close to zero, leaving them to a malfunction or flying beyond your limits (and of course a lapse in your brain we humans are not perfect after all). Now the problem with training properly to avoid crashes is that most people will not want to go through the proper steps. After all, training is boring and tedious, to avoid all crashes it is recommended to do it on a computer simulator, and after all you have spent money on your flashy new helicopter and you want to fly it, right?

Therefore, here is what I have learned so far, based on my personal experience. I am sure there are tons of different points of view, and I have a biased view as I have not experienced owning several helicopter brands and I don’t have as much time on the hobby. However, I believe a lot of this applies and hopefully will be useful.

So if you DO decide to train following a structured training plan, the tool is at Helifreak:
https://www.helifreak.com/showthread.php?t=531380

This is a very popular and in my opinion, the very best training path around. There are a lot of comments on the thread how several pilots have benefited from it. Lots of people ask when they should start moving from lesson to lesson, and although that is covered on the post itself, I would add that lesson 1 (upright piro) should take a lot of time. I am talking months. After talking to ArchmageAU, the post creator and overall overseer of his creation, and after affirming with my crashes he was correct, I learned this. So this means you will probably be doing upright piros on the simulator for a long time, boring sessions at a time, and doing very simple things for real (IRL – In Real Life) or risk crashing. Now when I say simple things, I mean tail-in hover to become used to the difference between a perfectly setup simulator helicopter and the real thing, the different collective (left stick) corrections just trying to hit the same altitude. You will be tempted to start doing simple circuits, or other movements you feel you are ready for because you made them on the sim on “fun time”. Don’t. Unless you are ready for the possibility of a crash. I said it would not be easy, boring and tedious. Yes, your flashy new helicopter will see little air time. But if you want to bring it back home the same way it first went up in the air, then you must train and be constant.

Now, ArchmageAU’s training assumes you can at least hover. If you can’t, then you need to take one step back and use Radd’s School of Rotary Flight. I don’t add the link because I keep getting broken links so you may need to Google around to get it. There is a PDF lying around that is the summary cheat-sheet for this small hover program. This is very important because you can damage your helicopter with a tip-over on launch or when landing. These will be the first skills you will need before moving on to ArchmageAU’s training.

And now, for a little overall concepts. You will browse through forums and find a lot of terminology you may not be aware of. You will need all this to choose properly your first or next helicopter. Again, this is based on my experience and what I have read. Others will have different opinions.

Last edited by ArchmageAU; 05-04-2016 at 10:26 PM..
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Old 11-10-2015, 05:48 AM   #2
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Very long but interesting read, thanks.

I have not tried ArchmageAU’s “From tail-in to all 8s and funnels in 6 months” but I think I will give it a try.
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Old 11-10-2015, 08:05 AM   #3
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Toocool4 View Post
I have not tried ArchmageAU’s “From tail-in to all 8s and funnels in 6 months” but I think I will give it a try.
It's well worth it, takes a bit of work, but the results are awesome.

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Old 11-11-2015, 06:24 PM   #4
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I think this needs to be a sticky! Good job
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Old 11-11-2015, 08:05 PM   #5
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Default Excellent paper.

That was a very good explanation. Sticky worthy.

Just curious, how long have you been flying helis ?
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Old 11-12-2015, 09:01 AM   #6
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You will not regret it. Pilots who were stuck at a very basic level really took off with structured training. And intermediate pilots honed on their skills. A lot of pilots ramp up without really getting that precise and the benefit it makes is noticeable. So good luck!

Quote:
Originally Posted by Toocool4 View Post
Very long but interesting read, thanks.

I have not tried ArchmageAU’s “From tail-in to all 8s and funnels in 6 months” but I think I will give it a try.
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Old 11-12-2015, 09:09 AM   #7
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Since March 31st 2015 (my birthday). However I have very little actual flight time. I started with a Blade 200 SRX RTF which I promptly crashed and crashed. Then I blinged it which helped save the frame and other parts in crashes but parts that did need replacement increased my repair costs significantly. So every time I flew less and less. Then I got the DX6 and then the 360 CFX. After I crashed the 360 my second time I got the 230 S and guess what? I crashed it. So I have devoted a lot of time to reading for learning, posting here and logging sim flight hours with ArchmageAU's training. It has been so far a really great experience but I have learned the hard way as I am too impatient. The sim training has helped alleviate some of that though. Today my 200 SRX I can't take a wobble out of it (I suspect the FBL but I don't want to spend half of the cost of the heli on one spare part), the 230 S I will wait to fly until I get a cable and flash to the latest firmware, and the 360 is totaled, I think a re-kit is probably the best option.

But I am still going, I will strengthen my sim platform to wireless and a better transmitter until winter passes and until tax return season comes and I can re-kit my 360 or buy another. I don't want to give up on it I think it is a really good heli as long as you don't crash it

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Originally Posted by Felix the cat View Post
That was a very good explanation. Sticky worthy.

Just curious, how long have you been flying helis ?
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Old 11-12-2015, 04:06 PM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by toadiscoil View Post
... So I have devoted a lot of time to reading for learning, posting here and logging sim flight hours with ArchmageAU's training. It has been so far a really great experience but I have learned the hard way as I am too impatient. ...
I think you need to add your thoughts/reflections on this to the original post.

I'm making thread sticky to see how it continues. It is valuable information. There are a lot of sticky threads in this forum, so I will keep and eye on things and maybe de-stick some of the less trafficked and maintained stickies.

toadiscoil, the onus now falls on you to maintain the thread:
- Add to it as you learn more that you want new flyers to take note of. (both through personal experience and research).
- Respond to questions

If you need to add to the original post, just PM me.
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Old 11-24-2015, 12:41 AM   #9
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Updated as per PM.

Added:
- Glossary
- My experience and tips
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Old 12-01-2015, 01:24 AM   #10
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That is absolutely one of the best synopsis's of rc helicopter learning mechanics I've ever read!!! EXCELLENT!!!
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Old 12-01-2015, 12:47 PM   #11
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Thanks all for the positive comments! I will add a Safety section as pointed out by ChopperFreak on another thread so stay tuned! I keep trying to recommend this to newbies, seems to now have enough positive comments that if anyone wants to point this out to newbies I will keep on building upon it to help ease the initial learning curve. Suggestions are welcome!
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Old 12-02-2015, 09:45 AM   #12
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TL,DR - when trying to reach beginners, we really need to be concise.
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Old 12-02-2015, 09:52 AM   #13
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I am sorry but I missed the meaning of your TL and DR. Could you please expand on your comment I would like to hear your feedback.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Jasmine2501 View Post
TL,DR - when trying to reach beginners, we really need to be concise.
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Old 12-02-2015, 09:05 PM   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Jasmine2501 View Post
TL,DR - when trying to reach beginners, we really need to be concise.
Are TH (throttle hold) and DR (dual rates) what you are referring to?

I thought toadiscoil's post was clear on these.

Quote:
Originally Posted by toadiscoil View Post
...

Glossary

...

TH. Throttle Hold. An assigned switch on a transmitter radio that immediately signals the FBL and ESC to shut down the main motor.
...

D/R. Dual Rates. Originally used in RC aircraft allow different rates of response to the controls while the model is flying. DR changes the limits of the control signal. In short it is a limit on how far the servo is supposed to move at maximum stick defelction. A DR of 50 means at full stick deflection, the servo moves half the distance from middle to end. On a helicopter it is used on cyclic and rudder to adjust the maximum spin and roll rates thereby making controls softer or more aggressive. High DR (100) makes the model control feel aggressive, Low DR (40) makes the model feel more docile. Generally a beginners should start at a low DR so as to limit the aggressiveness of the models response to commands and gradually increase this as they grow in proficiency.
...
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Old 12-03-2015, 01:07 PM   #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by toadiscoil View Post
I am sorry but I missed the meaning of your TL and DR. Could you please expand on your comment I would like to hear your feedback.
It means "Too long, didn't read"

As a fellow advocate of your training approach, and someone who used to write about it quite a bit, and still makes videos about it, I can understand the frustration. A very common comment on my videos is that they are too long, and my typical response has been along the lines of "if you can't suffer a 10 minute video to learn something this valuable, then I don't care" - but lately I've been changing my tune on that, because of the community problem we're having, and the demographic of the people causing that problem. In order to reach those people, I think we need a shorter message that is less complicated. There are still people who are happy to read long posts with as much valuable information as you have posted, but typically those people aren't the ones who need to do that. It's the other people we need to reach with our educational message.
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Old 12-03-2015, 01:16 PM   #16
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Thanks for the clarification. You have a good point but I don't know how it can be implemented on a forum like this. Today this post is a "sticky" because the nature of the forum is to start to reduce visibility of old posts (which is why sellers on the classifieds keep bumping up their ads). So if we cut this post in focused posts we would end up with many stickies which may not be very easily implemented. Using your same logic they probably would not know where to start. Only with say an "index" post we could probably use one sticky to direct to different sections. I don't know if this could be a better approach. We could probably poll for it but most of the answers will probably come from "regulars" and I think most will be ok with the current format. It is a good idea let me explore how feasible that is. Thanks for the suggestion.


Quote:
Originally Posted by Jasmine2501 View Post
It means "Too long, didn't read"

As a fellow advocate of your training approach, and someone who used to write about it quite a bit, and still makes videos about it, I can understand the frustration. A very common comment on my videos is that they are too long, and my typical response has been along the lines of "if you can't suffer a 10 minute video to learn something this valuable, then I don't care" - but lately I've been changing my tune on that, because of the community problem we're having, and the demographic of the people causing that problem. In order to reach those people, I think we need a shorter message that is less complicated. There are still people who are happy to read long posts with as much valuable information as you have posted, but typically those people aren't the ones who need to do that. It's the other people we need to reach with our educational message.
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Old 12-03-2015, 02:56 PM   #17
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Jasmine2501 View Post
It means "Too long, didn't read"
....
And thus the mistakes of the impatient are made.

Fair point though.

Quote:
Originally Posted by toadiscoil View Post
Thanks for the clarification.
... Only with say an "index" post we could probably use one sticky to direct to different sections. I don't know if this could be a better approach. ... Thanks for the suggestion.
Good idea for an index at top of post. This gives the ability to jump to relevant information quickly. I can show how to do this for the main post (it's not too hard).
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Old 12-04-2015, 09:52 AM   #18
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Quote:
Originally Posted by toadiscoil View Post
Only with say an "index" post we could probably use one sticky to direct to different sections. I don't know if this could be a better approach. We could probably poll for it but most of the answers will probably come from "regulars" and I think most will be ok with the current format. It is a good idea let me explore how feasible that is. Thanks for the suggestion.
Oh it's fine here I think, the way it is.

Quote:
Originally Posted by ArchmageAU View Post
Good idea for an index at top of post. This gives the ability to jump to relevant information quickly. I can show how to do this for the main post (it's not too hard).
I've done that with longer videos, but the problem is people don't know there's an index until they watch the video or read the description, which they never do. I think it would work really well on a written item though.

Only 10K views on this in 3 years... people are impatient, even when they are learning.
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Old 12-17-2015, 04:08 AM   #19
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Toadiscoil,

Excellent work, I enjoyed reading and learning it.

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Old 12-17-2015, 09:31 AM   #20
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Default What I have learned (so far) about electric R/C Helicopters (Part 2)

** Continuation of main post **

Safety

Don’t be distracted by the fact that this section appears almost at the end of this series of posts. Safety is VERY important on this hobby. The subject of safety is not just around how the helicopter itself can most evidently cause damage (the main blades) but other considerations. Let’s begin with the most logical. Helicopters span blades from 100mm all the way to 800mm. The speed necessary to rotate these blades fast enough to perform 3D manoeuvres is sometimes insane. Helicopters need enough air pushing to perform stops, flips, flying inverted or sideways, etc. This basically transforms the blades into flying, rotating knives. As a practical example, a 450 size helicopter can create significant cuts on a person even with three layers of clothing if crashing directly.

When getting started, do not fly the helicopter past your skills. Try to fly “three mistakes high” and away from yourself. This is also why I don’t personally recommend to get started with anything other than a micro helicopter. They cause less damage to themselves and to any property or people, and are much less expensive and easy to fix (less parts).

The AMA (Academy of Model Aeronautics) is an independent association that publishes some guidelines of how to safely fly model aircraft. It is recommended to go to their web site and review them and also join them in membership. Basically the best recommendation is to fly on a dedicated AMA field (they also publish how to build a flying site that abides to their safety rules). If this is not available, then it is necessary to avoid proximity of people or animals and have a sufficient space for the size of the helicopter. It is also recommended to have a fire extinguisher handy.

The other risk of RC helicopters is batteries. The most common type of battery as has been pointed out previously is LiPo. They have the characteristic of being able to deliver power sufficient for the strong requirements of the motors (and other electronics but the motor is what takes the vast majority of the power), at the cost of being slightly unstable. LiPos should always be handled with care. With a charged battery, a physical hit can puncture the protective layer which will cause a chain reaction and cause the battery to start a fire or even explode (depending how much charge and how hard the impact is). Given the fact helicopters are involved in crashes, then there is a potential risk hazard every time they hit the ground (hence the fire extinguisher). Always verify the integrity of the batteries, do not overcharge then and do not discharge them past the previous recommendations. Also do not charge a “puffed” battery or one that looks physically damaged. There are some threads on HeliFreak talking about how to discharge a battery to zero when in preparation for disposal and follow proper battery disposal procedures for your area.

Computer simulation

There are safety and cost considerations when talking about helicopters due to the possibility of crashes. What if you could fly and crash all you wanted without incurring any of these two potential risks? It is possible and HIGHLY recommended to use a computer simulation. Even pro pilots rehearse new moves or fine-tune their skills on computer simulators. Have in mind that no computer simulation can recreate all the variables that a real helicopter encounters (as a simple example, a real helicopter may be assembled slightly incorrect while a computer model is always perfect) but it is definitely an invaluable tool when learning from the start or when trying something new.

There are many brands of computer simulators, and each person likes their own as they have tailored it to their liking. Some feel more “real” than others (because of better physics engine codes on the program itself) and some have better training modes. Some include controllers and some even have easy wireless control capabilities (to use with your existing controller that is used for your real aircraft). Again as has been the case with this post, I will place my personal opinion on the options available:

  1. FMS. Very old, free program. I believe it is actually no longer available but you will come across the name mostly with cables compatible with FMS to use your existing radio/controller/transmitter.
  2. Clearview. It includes support and models for all RC craft, not just helicopters. It also supports community-developed model content so you can get more helicopters online. It comes in two versions. The full version includes all RC sites and RC models and allows for this community plug-in addition. The SE version includes only a few RC sites and RC models and allows you to pay individually for more as you see fit, but does not allow for community plug-ins.
  3. HeliX. This is the program used on ArchmageAU’s flight training. It comes with some of the best training aids available on any other program. It has a small footprint, that is, it can be run on most computers, not requiring a high-end computer to run like computer games.
  4. neXt. This is a more recent program that also utilizes a small footprint. It has started to gain popularity and is continuously updated with new RC models. Both HeliX and neXt are dedicated exclusively to RC helicopters.
  5. AccuRC. Regarded as having one of the best (next to RealFlight) physics engine which make them the most realistic to fly. The interface is complex but it is a very powerful software, but also requires a better computer to run. It has adapters that allow natively for wireless simulation with different brands of transmitters.
  6. Phoenix. Both Phoenix and RealFlight are possibly the most common RC simulators. They come in the usual “shrink-wrap” packaging and are available bundled with controllers. Horizon Hobby, one of the biggest RC companies in the world, purchased Phoenix so it has all the Blade helicopter models and supports their implementation of Rescue called SAFE.
  7. RealFlight. Another popular simulator. It is sold bundled with a transmitter or with adapters for wireless simulation. As mentioned before, regarded as having one of the best physics engines.

Whichever software you decide, another important factor is the transmitter. It is possible to use the same transmitter you use for your real life model or to use a dedicated transmitter. If you use the transmitter bundled with the software you will have no issue. If you use your own transmitter, you will need to buy an adapter cable, either from the manufacturer of the software or an aftermarket one that plugs into the USB port of your computer. You can also purchase a USB controller that looks and behaves like a transmitter but cannot be used with a real helicopter.

Another option is to use wireless which approaches more the way real flying works. There are a few adapters available from HobbyKing, and a couple of options like RX2SIM and SimStick if your software does not support it with their own adapters. There are also a few threads on forums how to make your own.

Acknowledgements

Special thanks to ArchmageAU who contributed with some edits to this post and is my overall Yoda mentor on my R/C journey. Honestly, follow his training, it works.

Thanks to ChopperFreak for talking about this post and about Safety, so a section has been added.

Thanks to Jasmine2501 for commenting on the long post. Thanks to that suggestion it has been broken into smaller pieces which worked out nicely.

Thanks to YOU if you have reached this far, and that is a sincere thank you. I hope this post has been useful and serves as a brief introduction to a whole new world. An addictive and complex hobby, but the difficulty yields a higher level of satisfaction when achieved. It also creates a very nice atmosphere at fly events because they all know how hard they are to fly and how expensive, disheartening and time-consuming they are to fix when crashed. Some people enjoy rebuilding and some like building so much that they get into trading/selling just to get a different helicopter to build. But no one likes crashing for sure. Ironically, I have learned the most of what little I know about building/setup by crashing, though.
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Last edited by ArchmageAU; 01-21-2016 at 08:45 PM..
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