RC’s Favorite Sim Keeps Getting Stronger
There’s a fine line between being a happy old codger and a curmudgeon and as I get older I find myself starting to say “Back in my day….” I guess I have to admit it, I’m a little bit jealous of the tools available to pilots that I didn’t have. Why, back when I was learning to fly RC airplanes…..
Ok, I heard that groan all the way across the internet and I don’t blame you a bit. Let’s talk about something fun instead, like RealFlight 6.
My First Time
Several years ago I was given the opportunity to review a Great Planes Revolver and as it happened RealFlight Expansion Pack 4 included a model of the Revolver. Of course, in order to run the expansion pack I had to buy RealFlight (which at the time was Version 4), sooo…. in the interest of giving the best review possible, I rationalized the purchase.
It was an interesting concept, being able to buy a model and fly it in a desktop simulator for practice, or to evaluate it before buying. I know you’re expecting me as a reviewer to rave about how great the sim compared to the model, and about how getting to fly the RealFlight Revolver fully prepared me and gave me something to practice with at home, etc. But I can’t.
To be honest, even though I was running the optimal dual core 64X2 3.2 GHz computer system with an overclocked 512mb GTX 260 video card, I found RealFlight 4 to be glitchy, and the sim model flew differently than the real model. I had fun with RealFlight 4, but I was annoyed with the glitches and frame stuttering. I gradually stopped using it and after a while I gave it away. Occasionally I’d stop and try the RealFlight display in my local hobby shop but I was never quite interested enough to buy it again.
In January this year the Heritage Flight Museum invited my local club, the Bell Air RC Flyers, to display our models during the museum’s monthly open house.
Hobbico generously donated a copy of RealFlight 6 for the club’s use and being a computer geek I couldn’t help but make some time to play… err… evaluate it. I was happily surprised to discover that RealFlight 6 was much improved over RealFlight 4 and recently decided to give it another try at home.
As it happened, when my copy of RealFlight 6 arrived I was finally upgrading my self-built Athlon system to a smokin’ new Ivy Bridge i3570k CPU. Though RealFlight calls for a minimum Pentium 1.0GHz machine with 512 MB RAM and 3D accelerated video with 32mb dedicated video memory, the recommended optimal system is a dual core 2.4GHz CPU with 2 GB RAM, and 3D accelerated video with 512mb dedicated video memory. My old dual core 3.2 GHz Athlon system still exceeded the optimal system requirements, so I decided to run my new RealFlight 6 on both computers to compare RealFlight 6 on an “optimal” machine and on a near state of the art machine.
Competition is Good
The one bad thing about success is the competition that comes with it. However, competition is also good since it makes us raise our games to a higher level, and not settle for “good enough”. In the years since RealFlight 4 was released at least two other companies have released their own RC fight simulators, and you don’t get to be the #1 RC simulator by resting on your laurels. Some very interesting additions had been made to RealFlight 6 over the years.
Beginning rotorheads need all the practice they can get and some of the most prominently advertised enhancements in RealFlight 6 are the improvements to heli flying. Though it’s something I’ve been wanting to get into, my experience with real life RC helis has so far been limited to small, easy to fly coaxial units and goofing around with the ones on RC sims.
Consequently, I can’t really comment on RealFlight’s claims that they’ve made major improvements in the heli flight physics. Coming home from work recently, jet lagged and exhausted I decided to sit down and go through the formal helicopter flying lessons included in RealFlight. I figured that if I could understand the lessons while brain dead with my IQ in the single digits, anyone could. Flying lessons are given by professional rc pilots via a voice over recording, with demos of the maneuver and control inputs.
Using the crawl-walk-run method of learning, I started with simple hovers, progressed to short vertical flights, then to lateral and forward and aft flights. In the past a mistake during this learning progression would have resulted in an amusing crash graphic, then a total reset of the program from zero. But when you’re trying to master a particular skill, after the third or twentieth time of watching a crash and waiting for a program to reset, negative learning starts taking place and frustration grows instead.
I’ve logged several thousand of hours as a flight instructor, in everything from general aviation aircraft to the Embraer 135/145 series of regional jets. I even had more than a few RC students back when life wasn’t so busy. Many a time I wished I could just hit freeze and rewind a landing or takeoff so the student could just quickly repeat a maneuver over and over again. When trying to master a new skill, after a while you get tired of impatiently sitting through a crash and reset sequence in a sim and instead you’d like to just instantly try again, or better yet, rewind to where the maneuver started to go bad and start from there. RealFlight’s modification of the reset button to be a “rewind and reset” is exactly what the CFI ordered.
Sitting in my office chair, I was able to rewind-reset-retry maneuvers over and over again until I either got it right, or took a break. And I gotta admit, RealFlight has done a beautiful job with the helicopter flying lessons included. Much as the temptation is for a novice to jump in and start crashing, take my advice and at least do the first couple lessons in RealFlight. It’ll save you a lot of frustration unlearning things to tried to teach yourself and instead assimilated incorrectly.
Splashin’ and Dashin’
Another thing I’ve always wanted to try has been float flying. I’m not sure I’ll ever make the time now because RealFlight has upgraded the sim to include some beautiful water dynamics.
I was once told by a gent at Microsoft Flight Sim that the water effects were one of the most difficult things to get right in their sims. I know of one other RC sim that advertises water flying, but their water is just rock hard painted land textures with none of the effects of a plane or helicopter splashing down and making waves.
Somehow RealFlight has managed to include some very nice water effects. Hold full back stick and the plane will just truck along and never get up on the step, push too hard to get on the step and you’re rewarded with a nice splash as it noses over, complete with waves radiating outward from the bobbing model. Helicopters can even hover over the water, a graphics difficulty factor of 11. Excellent job on the eye candy, RealFlight!
Gunnin’ and Runnin’
Ok, show of hands: who here has not flown their model and gone “takatakatakataka!!!!” making machine gun noises? You there, in the back? You never have?
While it’s against the AMA code to arm or launch rockets from model aircraft, nothing says virtual models can’t be armed. When I heard that RealFlight had added guns to their models I went “Cool!!” but when I saw the option for paintballs I thought “How cheesy,” and then I used a Reaper to lay down a string of paintball hits on a boneyard 747.
Know what? Paintball guns on model airplanes are cheesy. And a heck of a lot of fun, too! What’s fun is to arm-up and go hunting, using the on-board cameras to record and playback the sortie. Even more fun is to go on-line into a multiplayer furball against strangers (or friends) who want to kill your model. You can even talk trash if you have a mic. Just be prepared to back it up, or be ready to hit the reset button a lot.
I’ve been over to friend’s houses that have their kid’s video games hooked up to their big screen TV, but since my computer lives in my office under the desk, I’ve never bothered with the hassle of undoing all the cables and moving things to the den to try it out. We’ve had a pretty miserable “summer” here in the Pacific Northwest, with a lot of cold, drizzly days. Since I couldn’t go out and play I figured while I had my computers out I’d go ahead and give it a try myself.
An old saying goes “You fly like you train” so I plugged my Futaba transmitter into the included converter and was soon standing in front of my TV like I was at my local flying field. This showed another way RealFlight 6 is a valuable tool. I was able to hold my own transmitter as if I was at the flight line with my model, training my fingers to locate the switches on my radio while flying various models. It was so realistic that every so often I’d watch a model fly off screen, and my eyes would try to track it onto the wall and I’d have to snap my eyes back to the TV.
So there I was… hours later…
Be warned that hooking RealFlight up to your home entertainment system can cause time/space distortions. I totally got lost in the game, I mean, sim. I really enjoyed darkening my den and trying the night flying option, something I’m loath to try with my real models.
RealFlight has a very active on-line forum, with a group of sim hobbyists who run the gamut from serious virtual aircraft designers/repainters, to some contributors who can affectionately be called deeply disturbed (but in a good way), and it’s very easy to get lost in the variety of models people have created. Before the January Heritage Flight Museum open house I placed a request for a repaint of the included P-51 as Val-Halla, the personal aircraft of Apollo 8 astronaut and museum owner Major General Bill Anders. Within 24 hours two people had graciously repainted the model. Visitors to the Heritage Flight Museum were thus able to stand next to the real Val-Halla while flying the RC one.
The Nitpicking Debrief
Years ago, in the sweaty debrief after a checkride, Captain “Black Jack” Morrison told me “Steve, you just did nine hundred and ninety five things right in there. Now I’m going to hammer you on the five things you need to improve on.” Like any pilot with a good, healthy ego I used to hate those debriefs, but gradually I learned that the more minor the nitpicking the better I had done. With that in mind comes my only criticism of the program.
Using only stock add-ons the number of RealFlight aircraft can easily go over 100, if repaints or others from the forum are added that number can quickly grow even higher. RealFlight 6 has added both search and favorite functions to their menus, but just like apps on my Android, quite honestly there are many stock models I’ll never fly. It would be nice to be able to sort models by category (helicopters, gliders, jets, etc.), or to be able to make a custom menu to hide models a user feels they would never use.
Earlier I mentioned I was upgrading from a dual core 64X2 to an Ivy Bridge 3570i processor, but was going to try RealFlight 6 on both. I did, and it ran fine on the recommended optimal dual core system. And the upgrade? More power is always good. Real good. I love this Ivy Bridge CPU.
It’s a Sim!! No, it’s a Game!!
Wait, why can’t it be both?
In the book “Skunk Works”, Ben Rich talks about a conversation he had with the legendary aircraft designer Kelly Johnson about simulators. Mr. Rich (himself a legend in aircraft design from his work on the A-12/YF-12/SR-71 aircraft, among others) recounts a conversation he once had with Kelly that sims can only go so far in replicating the real aircraft which is why they’re called simulators and not realulators. RealFlight 6 is not a realaluator, but no sim is. It has become a very nice hybrid of game and simulator. I can see a huge difference between RealFlight 4 and RealFlight 6, and I now honestly understand why it’s the #1 RC flight sim. Just like a good pilot is always looking to improve their flying, and while I still ran into the occasional glitch while operating the program, the difference between RealFlight 4 and RealFlight 6 was night and day. I won’t be getting rid of it this time.
Now, if someone would model an Antic, or a 1/6 scale Jenny like the one I’m building…..
RealFlight 6 includes
- 87 different aircraft to fly
- 10 photo-realistic PhotoFieldTM flying sites
- 28 3D flying sites
- Airplane Mega Pack with 36 more planes*
- Heli Mega Pack with 47 more helicopters*
- InterLink Elite Controller**
* Choose free Airplane or Heli Mega Pack at time of purchase.
**Heli Mega Pack includes an upgraded InterLink Elite controller configured like a heli transmitter. The throttle stick has no ratchet for smoother control and the switch and rotary knob for channels 6 and 7 are repositioned to mimic standard heli radio layouts.
“¢ Windows®* XP, Windows* VistaTM or Windows* 7
“¢ 5 GB Hard Drive Space
“¢ DVD Drive
*Administrator access required.
Minimum Recommended System:
Some graphical features may be disabled. Aerodynamic calculations will remain high quality.
“¢ Intel® Pentium® 1.0GHz or equivalent
“¢ 512 MB RAM
“¢ 3D Accelerated Video with 32 MB Dedicated Video Memory & Full DirectX® 9 compliance (Shader model 2.0 or better)
Optimal System: For best graphical performance.
“¢ Dual Core 2.4GHz CPU
“¢ 2 GB RAM
“¢ 3D Accelerated Video with 512 MB Dedicated Video Memory & Full DirectX® 9 compliance (Shader model 2.0 or better)
“¢ Broadband Internet connection
“¢ Computer microphone for voice chat
For more on RealFlight 6 be sure to visit their web site, www.realflight.com.