RC flight simulators have a well-defined, self-evident purpose. They allow us to boldly venture from our piloting comfort zone without risk to fortune, flesh, or flora. Whether you are a beginner, learning the rudiments, or a hot stick, polishing the latest 3-D gyration, the benefit of simulator time is unquestioned.
Just think of all the saved money represented by the battered airplane and helicopter carcasses that must surely fill the electronic RC graveyards in our computers.
Despite its obvious utility, a simulator still requires diligence and commitment to be effective. Much like that treadmill you purchased with the best intentions, if a simulator isn’t fun to use, it will figuratively become another place to stack laundry and junk mail.
I don’t think that users of Real Flight 6.5 will ever have that problem. As I explored the features of this simulator’s latest release, I kept finding new and fun things to keep me entertained as they challenged my skills.
In addition to the aspects of Real Flight that make it fun to use, it also has several changes that are aimed at making it more user-friendly. I think there are some features that check both of those boxes. I couldn’t possibly report on all of the new developments within Real Flight 6.5, because there are too many. I’ll focus on the things that I found most useful and appealing.
The Nuts and Bolts
Real Flight comes in two versions: airplane or helicopter. The software is the same, but the throttle stick of the included Interlink Elite controller has detented positions on the airplane version. The helicopter version has no throttle detents, like most heli transmitters. You can fly either type of aircraft on both versions of the simulator.
My home computer is several years old and I have to be mindful of the system requirements whenever I install new software. It was considered an entry-level machine when I bought it, and the only upgrade I made was the addition of a better video card. I was pleased to see that even this aged, no-frills PC is solidly above the minimum requirements for Real Flight 6.5.
After loading the software, I left the video quality settings in the default positions to see how well the program would operate. To my surprise, it ran with almost zero issues. The only hiccups I encountered were when I had exhaust smoke enabled, so I turned off that visual feature. Based on my experience, I’m sure that more capable computers would have no trouble handling maxed-out graphics.
If you’ve always wanted to try flying helicopters, Real Flight provides a no-risk avenue. Accomplished chopper pilots benefit from a wide range of model choices with varying abilities.
In addition to the 104 models imbedded into the program, each version of Real Flight also includes a Mega Pack of additional aircraft. With the helicopter edition, you get 47 more helicopters to try out. The airplane Mega Pack has 36 fixed-wing models you can digitally abuse.
Having so many choices at my disposal tempts me to try things that I wouldn’t otherwise explore. For instance, I don’t have a reasonable Slope Soaring location within hours of home, but that hasn’t stopped me from learning the basics of dynamic Soaring, and is it ever cool!
You may choose to use your favorite transmitter as a controller via the included interface (which supports Futaba, JR, and Hitec, and Spektrum brands). I think that most of us, however, will simply use the InterLink Elite controller. It has the look and feel of a modern transmitter, including digital trims. It’s slightly lighter because it does not require a battery. I routinely use a variety of transmitters at the field, so the adapting to the Interlink Elite is no issue for me.
Using the included controller as well as the interface for my Futaba 7C transmitter, my kids and I can fly together with a split screen. These activities tend to hold their interest longer than more traditional flying instruction. Click to enlarge each image.
Another option is to use both inputs at the same time for split-screen, multiplayer action. I’ve exercised this feature with my son, Austin, using the Interlink Elite, and me using my Futaba 7C. We’ve tried everything from simple games of follow-the-leader, to no-holds-barred RC Combat. It’s always a good choice for some rainy-day bonding time. Just don’t tell Austin that shooting virtual rockets at my airplane is actually making him a better pilot—it might ruin the fun!
Going for a Spin
A new feature of Real Flight 6.5 is the welcome screen, which places many training options just a single click away.
One of the first things to appear when I start the program is the welcome screen that is new to version 6.5. This pop-up window lets you quickly choose the model and flying site you desire. The full menu of choices is there, as well as a separate area showing your most recent selections.
This screen shot could easily be mistaken for a real photo taken at the flying field. Realism is one of Real Flight’s primary bragging points.
For my first several uses of 6.5, I took the traditional route and simply emulated a day at the field with my aircraft du jour. Even after dedicating many hours to this effort, I still have not come close to using all of the aircraft and flying sites. It will be quite some time before I can punch that ticket.
Great Planes claims that the physics within Real Flight have improved over previous releases, but I don’t think my senses are fine-tuned enough to notice the nuances. All I can say is that my virtual piloting experiences feel similar to my real-life piloting experiences. Isn’t that the point of a simulator? In terms of the core function of replicating the challenges of RC piloting, I think that Real Flight 6.5 hit the mark.
I often wish that my real transmitters had a reset button like the one on the InterLink Elite. One push of that button immediately grants you forgiveness for a crash-causing error and sets a new model back on the runway. Think of it as a virtual do-over.
There is also an alternative mulligan option. Holding the reset button down will “rewind” the simulator until the button is released. This lets you go back to the specific point where you made the offending move, rather than start with a new flight. It’s a handy feature that I’ve used often.
My only gripe is that is that it is sometimes difficult to emulate my control positions at the point where I halt the rewind. Any rudder or throttle input is lost during the time it
takes to get my finger from the reset button to the control stick. A slight delay here would be nice.
Real Flight offers numerous optional on-screen “gadets” that provide data like gauges on a dashboard.
Concerning control inputs, you can have an overlay on the screen that shows your real-time stick positions. It is just one of many overlays (Real Flight calls them “gadgets”) that are available to provide data in a heads-up display fashion. Austin typically has several gadgets active when he’s on the simulator. I’m more of a minimalist and prefer a clean screen when I fly.
Just as you may have an instructor helping you to learn the ropes at the flying field, Real Flight doesn’t expect you go it alone either. There are many features that are intended to help newcomers conquer those unintuitive aspects of RC, whether it’s basic flight or 3-D aerobatics.
Real Flight includes flights recorded by world-class pilots to help guide you through the learning process. They talk you through maneuvers while the transmitter on screen shows their exact stick movements.
Among these features are introductory videos and recorded flights narrated by top pilots. There are also training scenarios where you can work on mastering just one channel while an autopilot manages the others. You can add more channels to your realm as you become more proficient.
Once I felt that I had adequately explored most of the traditional flying options within Real Flight, I began to poke around in the more off-beat scenarios. Certainly, these options provide a refreshing change of pace and scenery. Yet, I also found that I was able to find unexpected and unusual, yet equally effective training opportunities.
My first diversion from the beaten path was to Real Flight’s aircraft carrier. On the surface, this scenario provides an opportunity to pilot a fairly complex, turbine-powered airplane. Having a short runway surrounded by water definitely forces you to mind your landing approach!
It’s fun to get inside the cockpit of your favorite aircraft and explore the uncharted areas of Real Flight’s virtual universe. Who knows what you might find?
I found it more enjoyable when I switched to the cockpit view. I still benefitted from having to fly the airplane and manage all of its features, but stepping from the flight deck to the cockpit was a fun diversion.
I discovered the depth of the aircraft carrier’s training potential when I switched from the jet to a quadcopter. With the chase view or cockpit view, I was able to explore the inner hangars of the ship. The exploring itself was fun, but it forced me to develop skills for precise control of the quadcopter, lest I smack into a Harrier stored below decks. Several of the flying sites have similar areas that lend themselves well to inquisitive snooping.
On my first foray into the bowling scenario, I dismissed it as a quirky sidebar (possibly snuck into the software by a mischievous programmer while the rest of the team was at lunch). I admit that it was fun to plow the Yak 54 into the cardboard cutouts of the programming staff, but doing so did little good for my flying ability.
Hover trainers for airplanes and helis let you choose whether to control all channels or as few as one while you are learning the ropes.
Then I discovered a superb way to practice my airplane 3-D chops. By hovering over the “pins” and knocking them down with the Yak’s tail feathers, I was able to hone my skills with a goal other than simply not crashing. It is the little things like this that keep us engaged in the simulator and developing our talents.
The most challenging scenario for me so far has been the junkyard grapple. Here, you have a helicopter with a virtual winch to snag and schlep various artifacts about the junkyard. I typically do well getting to an artifact and hovering over it. But, once I try to lower the winch, things get interesting! Let’s just say that I still have much to learn about the subtleties of rotary-wing flight. Once I’ve mastered this scenario, I will certainly be a more confident and capable helicopter pilot.
One big aspect of aeromodeling is sharing the experience with others. A cyber version of this interaction is available with Real Flight. There are several online multiplayer options where you can connect with other pilots to hang out at a virtual flying field, or duke it out in different types of aerial battles. And when it comes to battles, these guys don’t fool around—the competition is fierce.
Great Planes advertises Real Flight 6.5 as an RC training tool. Yet, there’s no doubt that this software blurs the line between simulator and video game. And that’s just fine with me!
There is also no doubt that all of the scenarios, whether realistic or far-fetched, are making me a better pilot. It has the accuracy I need to perfect new skills and ample variety to keep me interested.
This Sig Kadet Seniorita not only looks like the real thing, it also flies in the same gentle manner. Click to enlarge each image.
I think that the most compelling endorsement I can give for Real Flight 6.5 is what’s happening right now as I type on my laptop. All three of my kids (ages 4, 8, and 10) are in front of my home computer having a ball flying a Real Flight’s blimp, and laughing out loud as they try to land airplanes in the swamp (without floats). Of course, it’s just a silly game, at least for the younger kids. Even so, they are certainly learning how to fly, and perhaps a seed of interest in RC is being planted. Time will tell.
Learn more at www.realflight.com.
PC System Requirements
Minimum Recommended System:
Some graphical features may be disabled.
Aerodynamic calculations will remain high quality.
Windows* XP, Windows* Vista™, Windows* 7 or Windows* 8
*Local administrator access required.
Intel® Pentium® 1.0GHz or equivalent
512 MB RAM
7 GB Hard Drive Space
3D Accelerated Video with:
32 MB Dedicated Video Memory
Full DirectX 9 compliant (Shader Model 2.0 or better)
For best graphical performance
Dual Core 2.4GHz CPU
2 GB RAM
3D Accelerated Video with: 512 MB dedicated video memory
Computer microphone for voice chat
InterLink® Elite Controller:
Compatible FM or FM-selectable transmitter (if using the interface mode)
Note: The connectors on the InterLink Elite cord and included adapters make the InterLink Elite compatible with the trainer jacks on most Futaba® and all JR®, Spektrum® and Tower Hobbies® systems. Special adapters for use with most older Futaba and Hitec® systems are available separately.
Minimum Recommended System:
Windows* XP, Windows* Vista, Windows* 7 or Windows* 8
*Local administration access required.
Intel Pentium 1.0GHz or equivalent
512 MB RAM
1 GB Hard Drive Space
3D Accelerated Video with:
32 MB of Dedicated Video Memory
Full Windows DirectX 9 support