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Old 02-22-2013, 05:58 AM   #1
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Default A Newb tries RealFlight 6.5

OK kids, here's a Newb's take on RealFlight 6.5. I started playing with RC in the early eighties. I flew 3-channel airplanes, a mix of my own foam concoctions and a speed 400 powered ARF, called the Miss2, which I still have. I probably had no more than 10 hours when I hung it up, due to a relocation. It took me nine years to saddle up again, this time in the Brushless/lipo era, still flying 3-channel scratch-built planes. I read forum debates on the pros and cons of flight sims for beginners, but always believed it was just as expeditious to construct simple, foam, 3-channel trainers, and be flying and having fun while the sim crowd still had their noses buried in their computers.

Came a day though, when I began to wonder about the frequently touted ability of sims to develop muscle memory and the opportunity they provided for practicing aerial maneuvers. As I was about to advance to aileron models, I thought it might be worth a shot. It was not an easy decision, as RealFlight was the most expensive hobby software I had ever considered purchasing. But really...a low-end molded foam trainer can cost this much. If this software really is that helpful, it would be worth the money.

I have an advantage. I am a private pilot with two homebuilts to my credit, including one that took eighteen years to complete from scratch. I understand basic aerodynamics, and know what it feels like to be the test pilot of a one-of-a-kind aircraft. I also have many years of experience with computer flight sims, going back to the wire-frame days of the Commodore-64. Those experiences were, for a pilot, always disappointing - the catch usually being a sim's inability to replicate the seat-of-the-pants sensations so critical to operation of a 1:1 aircraft. Plus, from the cockpit vantage point, the flight dynamics and limited views never seemed quite right. The closest to real I have ever been able to come with these sims was when I created a model of my own homebuilt and flew it in X-plane 9. I assumed that RC sims would exhibit the same sorts of disconnects from reality as the 1:1 sims I had tried.

I chose RealFlight 6.5 based upon opinions that the flight dynamics in RealFlight were the best. Since I saw this software as a training aid, rather than a "game," I selected RealFlight. Keep in mind, this is not an "in-depth" review. It is merely one pilot's opinion, after 6-10 hours of usage.

Installation went smoothly on my Win-7 64-bit box. With an i7 CPU, 16 GB ram. and a GTX560 ti video card, I have been able to run the show at high graphics levels without a hitch, though operating temps regularly get up into the 60+ degree C range, indicating this software is very demanding of resources. I had earlier downloaded the add-on files to upgrade my boxed version 6 when it arrived. Adding those, and then the included Mega Pack of airplanes, all went without a hitch.

It takes some time to learn the interface, but it is not overly complex. At first I was annoyed that RealFlight required the use of a supplied controller (fake TX). I wanted to use my own recently acquired Hitec Eclipse 7 Pro. With the purchase of an additional cable this is still possible, but after using the sim I began to realize that I would be putting many hours on my TX. With the wear-and-tear involved, and the hassles of having to keep the TX battery charged, it might be best to just accept the limitations of the RealFlight controller. It's pretty convenient to be able to just plug the controller into a USB port and go. Besides, it's the flight maneuvers I'm
interested in, not operation of a myriad of aircraft accessories. Gear and flaps are really the only additional features I would want to bother with on a sim, and those are available on the provided controller, albeit, not in locations I might prefer.

I tried some of the 3D field environments, but personally found the PhotoField airports to be my favorites. They better replicated the sense that I was outdoors in a real place. Besides, they use fewer resources than the 3D fields. My first 4-5 hours were specifically devoted to flying patterns with a variety of aircraft. Same field. Same patterns, with all the aircraft. This gave me a standard by which to judge the handling and performance
differences between various models. I never altered my view, nor added any of the flight aids, such as the small second window that is available, always showing a closeup of your plane. I wanted my experience to parallel what I got in the real world. For the first hour I flew with calm conditions. After I got a sense of things, I cranked in a 40 - 50 degree crosswind of 7 or 8 Kts. (or MPH...not sure which measurement is used), with turbulence set to 25-35%. This emulates common conditions I
see on a road next to my home, where I have been flying. While flying the pattern I often threw in a few aerobatics to further test the parameters of the individual AC. And of course you can't resist the temptation to try a wide variety of models. I even tried some helis. I could hover them and move about the immediate area very nicely, but couldn't get around the field worth a hoot with no experience.

I am impressed with the flight modeling in RealFlight. I would say it far outstrips the flight modeling of the majority of 1:1 sims I've used. If one is used to real aircraft, the most obvious lackings in 1:1 sims are the bumps and G-forces. In RealFlight you essentially get exactly what you get when standing outside with your models. Of course, there is no wind-in-your-face, and you can't feel any gusts, but since you set the wind conditions yourself, you always know what direction the simulated wind is
coming from, and its speed. The models telegraph the wind conditions superbly and it doesn't take long to "feel" the wind through them.

Even with the wide array of models provided, it's apparent that Great Planes products prevail. There's nothing wrong with this, as you can still find examples of just about any aircraft type. However, If you find yourself liking a particular model enough to imagine actually purchasing it, you may discover it has been discontinued. It would be best not to purchase this software with the hope of flying a particular model you may currently have interest in. It may not be available in the sim, or as an add-on, and for most of us, creating our own version is just too complex. That said, somewhere in the stable you will find a model that will closely replicate just aboutanything you're interested in flying.

There are several very nice 4-ch high-wing trainer types available. My faves were the Sig Senorita, the Switch Sport/Trainer, the Electristar, and
the Aircamper. All of them have slightly differing flight qualities, which are very distinguishable, and all would make great first-time aileron trainers. Two low-wingers I found to be very enjoyable and easy to manage were the Space Walker and the Travel Air Mystery Ship. I selected e-powered models when they were available. I tried to edit the J3 Cub to use e-power instead of the default IC engine. The sound changed, but the visuals did not, and exhaust smoke continued to eminate from the cowling. There may be other tweaks that would change this, but in the limited time I spent with the editor I didn't find them.

By setting up the wind conditions mentioned earlier I was able to get a very good idea of how these types were likely to react to real-world conditions. My most frequently used routine is to take the plane up to a high, short, close-in downwind leg and cut the power completely when slightly beyond, or adjacent to the approach end of the runway, then try to dead-stick it in. With a head, and crosswind, the airplane's glide characteristics are soon revealed. Many are floaters. Some landed like stones. A few needed some power all the way in.

Other differences become apparent. Smaller craft quickly become tiny objects, mere pixels, if you let them stray too far out. Too tiny to control, except by guesswork. I would personally avoid building or purchasing small models like these as I now know these types would be very difficult to see for vision-challenged oldsters like myself. I also realized that any of the fast planes required lots of area and tend to get small VERY quickly. I don't think, at this stage, that those types would be suitable for me. I
need slow, and close-in. The sim helped emphasize these facts. I won't make the mistake of purchasing some sexy, but speedy model hereafter.

One of the questions I've asked myself has already been answered thanks to the sim: How difficult will it be to fly ailerons? The answer was...not difficult at all, at least for an experienced pilot, who understands the functions and usage of ailerons on real aircraft. The question about muscle memory has also been answered for me. IMO, the most difficult thing about RC flying is the changing orientation of aircraft in flight, which requires "thinking backwards" on the controls half the time. (Honestly, it's much easier to control a real aircraft!) The sim does help to develop an ability to think backwards on the controls. I think it takes a long time for this to become second nature however. The importance of this skill is highlighted when you try to fly 3D, and with one wrong twitch in the heat of the moment, a $3000 aerobat is in pieces...fortunately, virtual pieces. With self-experimentation I got to a point where I could do harriers, knife edge flight, inverted flight, and a bit of sloppy hovering, but I'm a long way from being in total control and would not risk an expensive model trying this stuff in the real.

There are many additional features in RealFlight, which I have not tried. Most address more "game-like" aspects, which do not interest me, but may help to extend interest for those who are not using the sim strictly for training.

One of the most useful features is the ability to edit AC characteristics. A wide array of parameters are alterable. This area of RealFlight can take some time to learn. I found occasion to use it early on when I tried flying the J3 Cub mentioned earlier. This model just didn't feel right, probably because I have 40 hours of real Cub time. The model seemed too
powerful and speedy, and yet, it refused to come down in the wind, even with power off. It just kept floating, and at times, virtually hovered in the wind on final. It flew like a sailplane! Using the editor, I tried the simple change of reducing the power from 100% down to 80%. That gave it a climb rate and speed that was much closer to the real thing. It didn't resolve the float issue though, which I suspect is due to the airfoil used. There's probably a better match, but it would have required some
research on my part to decipher a substitute from the long, included list. The main point here is that you do have the tools available to alter things to suit your taste. Very nice.

The RealFlight manual is quite comprehensive and will answer most questions if you take the time to dig through the PDF file. Being a bit old-world, I might have expected an actual printed manual for $200, but hey....show me a developer who DOESN'T increase their profit margin these days by not including one.

There's so much more that can be said about the features of RealFlight 6.5, but it would take many pages. Bottom line for me, just a few hours in...RealFlight IS pricey, but as a tool for developing or practicing RC flying skills I would have to say it is worth the money. I'm sure others who use competing products like Phoenix, probably feel the same way, but as a private Pilot, with experience in many different aircraft, and an RC pilot with perhaps, 20+ 3-CH hours, I must say that the flight dynamics
and adjustable environmental options in RealFlight offer an absolutely convincing simulator experience that far outstrips what I was expecting. I recommend it!
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Old 02-22-2013, 01:35 PM   #2
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Nice reveiw, I read through the entire thing.

Coming from an actual piolt standpoint, I can see why the planes would feel floaty or too powerful. I can't help but think that it MUST be easier to control a real aircraft. Orientation shouldn't be an issue, and you can actually feel the plane reacting to the controls.

A model airplane is more like reacting to the plane then actually flying it. There I quite a bit of guess work as far as how the plane reacts or how far away it is. But, you can get spectacular power to weight ratio's. Even my little slow stick I fly with a 1:1 thrust to weight ratio. I found the wind to be very hard to get used to in the sim. I was able to fly fine in up to about 10mph winds. It just seemed way too gusty, and it was hard to interpit how the plane would be effected. 15-20mph, I consider to be uncontrolable on the sim.

When I was a kid, we had realflight 2, and I loved flying inside of the cockpit on the jets. I had no problem taking off or landing this way, from other games and "flight simulators" what makes it hard is controlling it from the ground.

I personally feel it is a good way to train your thumbs to react, and familarize yourself with lots of other planes and get a good feel for it. But there still is nothing like the real thing. Getting butterflys after being too excited to sleep for a maidien, and the satisfaction of bringing the plane home in one peice can't be beat. One you go aleroins, some find it hard to go back. I learned to fly on my slow stick, then went to a mini ultra stick and then a alpha 450 sport. Dusting off the slow stick, it took a bit of getting used to putting in up elevator for turns and banking. I find this to be a bit mushy compared to the sim, the 3 channel models don't seem to dip the noe enough from my experiances.

Nothing else though, on a day like today, with all the wind and snow, I can get my fix sitting infront of the big screen on a recliner.

Thanks for the reveiw.
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Old 02-22-2013, 03:21 PM   #3
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Thanks, I know what you mean. I've had several "days like today" since I installed RealFlight, Wx not fit for models OR my open cockpit homebuilt, and getting my hands on the simulated sticks for a few minutes has been better than nothing. I tried the 3 CH stick-type model in RF only very briefly, and without any wind, just to see how it felt. I wouldn't feel the need a sim for a simple 3 CH flown in appropriate conditions. I fly my 8 oz. 3 CH scratchbuilt foamies in direct winds of up to probably 6 mph. and must land them crosswind. I've tried higher velocities, only to have them blown downwind out of my control. I do find it interesting to push the limits with these inexpensive foamies, and of course, their capabilities relate a lot to their power, the amount of dihedral, and the effectiveness of the rudder. I figured that 7-8 mph was a reasonable average to set for the more weighty 4 CH models in the sim. Any more and it would be a matter of testing the limits of myself and the model, rather than getting a feel for how they might fly (or having fun). I think 7-8 probably gives a good idea of just how far you might want to push it for real, before reaching the point where fun turns to hope-and-pray. I would guess that anything over 10 becomes too much for most people just looking to have a good time. As an old, scale free-flight guy (who can no longer see well enough to construct them) I must also admit a bias against a lot of model types that have very high power-to-weight ratios. It's one of the elements that takes a lot of realism away from some very beautifully constructed models. I understand the draw of 3D flying. I even enjoy the challenge of it myself. But most of the high-powered models completely depart from anything remotely resembling real aircraft performance (that's why a Cub zipping around like an aerobat annoys me). They could have totally abstract forms at this stage, because they certainly don't perform anything like the real airplanes after which they're modeled. Of course, at this point my flying is no longer so "testosterone-fueled." I'm more interested in having the illusion of reality play out before me. To be honest, I find RC flying can become rather boring after a relatively short time (that's what fuels the need for many of the enormous collections of airplanes a lot of people end up with). The 3D challenge can keep a lot of people going, and I personally find glider flying to hold my interest longer than other types. the challenge of finding lift and staying aloft is very engaging. It's an area of RealFlight I've yet to explore, but am looking forward to trying it.
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Old 02-23-2013, 02:49 PM   #4
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I started flying back in the 70's as a boy with my father, who was both a scale pilot (P-51) and an accomplished R/C pilot. I ran across a version of Realflight, 2 I think it was, a few years ago to teach my son on now...

I recently purchased 6.5 to sharpen my skills on Heli 3D and normal 3D flying...Wow what a help it has been! My ability to think ahead of the aircraft is way better with newer, faster graphics and flight engines in the program. I have arthritis in both hands, and this lets me practice on days I don't feel like going to the field.

I am in love with the newest version of Realflight.
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Old 02-23-2013, 03:47 PM   #5
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Yeah, some people comment about the innacuracies of some of the models, but I think the most important thing is the operational flight models feel absolutely convincing. I actually have a hard time faulting them. It would be impossible for software like this to accurately emulate every possible model. For training and practicing I don't think you could get much better. The main thing that's missing are those rapid and unexpected changes that nature can throw into the mix during real flying. The only way absolute beginners are going to get a sense of what I'm describing is to handle a real airplane outside in the wind. Other than that, this software is pretty darned good.
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