Beginner to Helicopter Simulation


I am interested in learning my way around the cockpit of a helicopter, as well as helicopter dynamics and movement. I believe a good helicopter simulator would be great for this. I have done some research but I will be honest with you, it’s very overwhelming in regards to what sim to get, what Hotas system etc, so I thought I’d ask some questions on here.

I am not technology knowledgable so forgive me on my understanding of computer specs. The computer I plan to use for my heli sim would be my 2013 iMac:

2013 macOS Catalina 27inch (version 10.15.4)
3.2 GHz Quad-core Intel Core i5
8GB 1600 MHz DDR3
NVIDIA GeForce GT 775M 1 GB

I dont have much idea on what any of that means but I hope it would give you some idea of what I have to play with.

Question 1: Which Simulator is best for me? As I will be playing on Apple iMac I believe this be X-Pane 11, I have not found any other heli simulator that works on apple configuration. If there is other sims that can be used on apple, please let me know. I am interested in hoist/winch operations as well as longline and sling loads, I would like a simulator that involves some of these techniques.

Question 2: Joysticks. I will obviously want to invest in an iMac compatible joystick to improve my experience. From what I have researched, Thrustmaster seem to be the stick of choice for alot of simulators. Would any recommend me NOT purchasing this Hotas system linked below? Or does anyone recommend anything better or a better price?

Question 3: Pedals. What are recommendations for operating pedals? Can you programme a button on the joysticks or would you recommend purchasing some simulator pedals for under my computer desk?

Question 4: If I decided to purchase X-Plane 11, would you recommend buying it on Steam or the X-plane 11 website? Or does it not make any difference?

If you have any other recommendations for a newbie to helicopter sim please let me know!

Many thanks for your time and any answers to my questions would be greatly appreciated!

Hello there, CodeRed. Welcome to the forums.

I think you will struggle with managing to run a sim on that system. It’s rather dated and X-Plane 11 will have a hard time running. And X-Plane is really the only feasible option right now. You should probably try the demo first.

X-Plane does have some sling loading but it’s not the best solution out there (honestly, we don’t have a “best solution” except, perhaps, DCS which does a decent job.

Regarding joysticks, that is a good option. But, if you can, I would recommend the Logitech X-52 or similar (X-55 or X-56). Why’s that? Because you can compress the spring, which is a huge help when flying helicopters. Just confirm with the vendor if it’s compatible with Mac. I tried to find that info but some places said it is, some say it’s not.

That being said, the one you linked IS a fine joystick.

Pedals: yes, get some pedals. Pedals work with an axis, not with buttons (on/off) and you will need as much control as possible since helicopters need to have all axis properly controlled.

My recommendation is for you to AT LEAST get the Thrustmaster TFRP pedals. Again, I am not sure if it’s Mac-compatible, sorry.

As for your final question: I always recommend the stand-alone one for several reasons:

  • You are paying the developer directly (and a bit more)
  • It’s easier to move your installation if required
  • It’s easier to keep a stable version and a beta version if you want to try betas
  • Non-Steam version always updates a bit earlier than the Steam one

The sim is basically the same but you have less constraints than using Steam.

I hope that helps. I would honestly try to get a better computer. That poor Mac will sweat bullets trying to run X-Plane (if at all).

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Hey Sergio,

Thanks for your reply, I really appreciate it!

So I downloaded the X-Plane 11 demo. I had to scale back to basic graphics and it actually just about runs on the mac. Unfortunately I could’nt do the helicopter flight school due to only having a mouse and key board but I did manage to get through some of the fixed wing tutorials which was fun.

In terms of computers, if I was to purchase a new computer, would there be any you would recommend? I’ve heard that gaming computers are different to simulation computers, but I could be mistaken. I would rather purchase a gaming/simulation laptop than a desktop, so I can take it with me to uni easily. I would not want to spend over £500 on another computer. Would you say this is too low or do you think I could find a decent gaming laptop for that?

Many thanks

Hello CodeRed. You are welcome. That’s why I’m here for :slight_smile:

Simulation computers are pretty much the same as gaming computers nowadays.

You get the best graphics card you can afford, the best CPU and the most RAM (well, up to 32GB) and build a computer around it. Hopefully with a good motherboard and a BIG SSD drive.

I understand your dilemma but you won’t find a computer that’s able to run X-Plane decently at that price range. I am not a Mac specialist so I will advise you on PC components. Perhaps if you get a Mac expert that person can point you out to a similar system.

A reasonable system would have the following components (of course, everything above this is stellar)

  • CPU: Intel Core i7 8700 (or AMD similar)
  • Graphics card: nVidia GTX1070 or RTX1070 or AMD similar
  • 32GB of RAM (16 is passable, I recommend 32)
  • 2TB SSD or 1TB SSD + 2TB HDD

You CAN get away with less than this. My system is worse than this one and it’s doable:

  • CPU: Intel Core i7 7700
  • Graphics card: nVidia GTX1660
  • 32GB of RAM
  • 2 x 500MB SSD + 1TB HDD

I hope this helps you.

I’m butting in again but would like to ask would you see a strong preference between 2 tb ssd as compared to 1 tb ssd and 2tb hdd. Would like to get it right first time.

A word for the rotary wing newbie. I feel for all of you making your first flights with any of the wonderful helicopters available in X-plane. My first attempts at it were very frustrating. I was told that NOBODY could crash the freeware Bell 429 with the default SCAS. Well, I could! and did frequently. I considered a successful flight landing spinning side up within 100 yards of my chosen spot. All of the experienced helicopter pilots, both real and sim, said “practice, practice, practice and it will come.” For a while I didn’t believe them. Then, guess what. It did! After about 30-40 hours of careful and orderly practice I can now hover well, transition from enroute to landing flight and land reliably on a small oil rig helipad. And it is FUN! My favorite aircraft are the 429, the Cowan 222 and the Alabeo R66. I enjoy oil rig service and mediflight missions. DON’T GIVE UP .q

No sim will currently push you over 1TB, even on the drive windows is installed on.

Current best practise is to have at least 2 drives.
One for your system and important files, one for you sim and other games that is high speed.
SSDs are cheap enough now to do this and have high access speeds.

The access speed is important to load scenery.

Most new motherboards will also have an NVME SSD slot, or two of them.
These are exactly like regular SSDs, being a “hard disk” that uses memory chips for storage, but they are around 4x the speed for read access.
If you have two of them on your board, go for 2x 1TB and you will have enough for pretty much all you need.

Hey Bill. I’ve been flying sim helicopters since MS9, (A Century of Flight,) and in the beginning it was real frustrating. Even with the realism sliders set to minimum, it took all I could manage just to take off and fly. Hovering and landing were usually a crash. Then I joined Hovercontrol and their instructors began patiently teaching me how to handle the MS default Bell 206 with the realism sliders set to max. One member joked that my helicopter should be green, as all proper lawn darts should be green. (I landed on the nose a lot back then.)
I think the two things that helped the most were cutting the centering spring out of my joystick, and investing in a set of rudder pedals. That, and lots of practice. After 17 years of practice I think I can safely say I can fly anything with rotors, (although I still won’t touch a Robinson with a ten foot pole, I just hate Robinson’s.) Currently, I’m working on a new skill, learning to fly, and land older, taildragger airplanes. It’s not easy and I bounce most of my landings followed by some real interesting ground loops. Like you mentioned, practice, practice. The Cowan Sim 222B is a great little helicopter. Just love it to bits.