The best helicopter simulator (2023 edition)

If you are curious about the previous articles, here’s the one from 2016 and you can find the one from 2019 here.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://www.helisimmer.com/articles/best-helicopter-simulator-2023

Hi Sergio, I was looking forward to reading your review and step by step as you walked though them all, for those I am familiar with and spend a lot of time on, I found myself agreeing with your comments. I am looking for 1. Realistic flight dynamics 2. Excellent VR performance 3. Good quality / immersive scenery. I have xplane 11 and 12, Aerofly FS2, msfs, and DCS (which I have never really got in to). I have the Vario Aero VR headset which is amazing but, I am having 10 second freezes with xplane 11 & 12, and the best working /performance/clarity is with Aerofly FS2. xplane 11 is my go to sim though because of the awesome vskylabs R44 that is my real life aircraft, and I have that pretty much down to perfection - mass and balance, weather, density altitude, flight dynamics in general - all close enough and good enough to be beneficial in currency and competency to a private pilot. In conclusion and per your review,


I’ll go and update my MSFS and see where they have got to as I’d left it on the shelf for a while as helicopter flight dynamics were improved. Thanks Sergio, cheers, Dan p.s. images are sim version and real life of my airfield Peterborough Conington EGSF with the Italian Simulations painted Vskylabs R44 G-CFCM.

For me, right now I settled with MSFS and DCS. I actually got tired of waiting for X-Plane 12 to become stable in VR that I switched over to MSFS. Hands down, MSFS scenery is much more superior than X-Plane and for me flying helicopters VFR, it is the best experience. The only drawback is that I don’t have a stable and fast internet connection at home and so at times starting a flight in MSFS is a terrible experience. But I have come to accept it. I came from X-Plane 11 as my original sim and looking at things, developers are slowly dropping support for XP11 and moving forward to XP12. I am still keeping my XP12 to see what unfolds next from Laminar Research.

The recent update of the Gazelle made me hop on to DCS once again after abandoning it for some time. Sometimes it is just nice to learn some combat stuff.

1 Like

Dear Sergio :blush:; thank’s for all your effort and passion, and for still not being jaded regarding our beloved hobby. It’s a bless to have such an awesome and passionate guy like you in our community !!!

You wrote:

…the best sim for helicopters in 2023 is Microsoft Flight Simulator.

Cannot agree more, and theres is a big, big chance that with the upcoming MSFS2024 our helicopter-pilot dreams will com through finally next year.

Regarding Aerofly FS 4 you wrote:

That’s because IPACS decided that their professional Version VRM-Swzitzerland is Aerofly FS 3; but officially it was called VRM Switzerland back than. Besides and interestingly this company (VRM Switzerland) have branded themselves Loft Dynamics (behold my link), which is pretty worthwhile, but I don’t know why they’ve rebrandend themselves.

What’s a big shame on IPACS and their Aerofly FS4, and they main reason why I’ve quitted to buy, is the fact that all the goodies we rotorheads crave for - like Sling Loading and the mighty H125 - are already represented since years in Aerofly FS 3 ( former VRM Switzerland= Loft Dynamics) - and still not available for the consumer market.

By the way IPACS has so much focused on Airliners since the release of AFS4, that I wouldn’t consider them a simulator for helicopter pilots anymore, at least on the consumer market.

I’m done with Aerofly and this company called IPACS after a period of huge disappointment about them. Lukily we got a bunch of excellent alternatives meanwhile :grinning:

1 Like

And you can always use X-Plane once they fix the performance issues (they have been working on it)!

Thank you very much for your kind words, Gustav. If anything, my passion for the hobby and the community has grown over time, especially since I am much more in touch with people all over the world, including developers and manufacturers. I am living the simming dream!

I did not know IPACS was considering the professional version to be v4 internally. That’s still a bit confusing for the market, though but I get it.

I do know about Loft Dynamics, thank you. I’ve been keeping them on my radar. I do know IPACS likes helicopters, though, and they released the Black Hawk, so they have not really abandoned it. Especially since they have such a strong relationship with Loft Dynamics. It only made sense that they would get stronger on that area.

While I understand the professional market is where the money is, I also feel weird for not seeing more progress on the consumer side of things but I guess they are comfortable being in the niche they are serving. It’s a shame since the sim has so much potential and they are working with folks that know a lot about helicopters too. Perhaps they have something saved for the future? Who knows? I would love if they did.

You are correct Sergio, sorry I’ve forgotten the Black Hawk in their inventory. That’s another trait I really appreciate about you, because you never bash on developers; you always try to find something positve, always beeing attentive to find the right words.

For example in the main article you wrote regarding helicopters in P3D:

Cons

  • The helicopter flight model is not great;

This verdict is worded gentle and mild :wink: . Because in reality the flight dynamics in P3D are horrendous and still the same like in FS2004 (FS9) 20 years ago.

Sergio Costa: not only a gem for us rotorheads-community but also a gentleman in real life.

Again, you are too kind, Gustav, thank you. I just don’t think bashing anyone will help our community. Not that I would bash people anyway. It’s not in me to do so.

We can criticize but we should always make it so that our critics are valid and constructive because most developers are willing to listen and act, but they need good, valid, coherent feedback, not aggressiveness from their userbase.

And yes, I could perhaps be a bit more edgy with the P3D flight model but I think the point gets across :slight_smile:

Hi Sergio…

Thank you for updating this article. As a recent convert to helicopter flying I was glad to see my choice of MSFS 2020 was confirmed as a good one, as I don’t have the background myself to decide whether any given sim is a good one or not for helicopters. It’s been great fun so far and I look forward to exploring more of the MSFS 2020 low and slow.

1 Like

Hello Nels! Thank you for reading.

Yes, when I put everything on a scale, it definitely tips towards MSFS. That’s not to say other sims are not good, of course, and some of them do some things better than MSFS. But, in general, and it also depends on the helicopter you use – and even if you are plagued with some of the weird issues we see now and then or not – MSFS is a valid platform for helicopters and it’s currently my go-to sim.

Update: Getting frustrated with the various issues on helicopter turbine modelling in MSFS, I decided to revisit X-Plane 11. Flying the classic Dreamfoil Bell 407, VSkylabs R44 and FlyInside B47. I can now perform the startups and all other checklists by the book. Since my goal is to master the ins and out of each helicopter, by referencing to the actual POH, accurate systems modelling is very important.

With a couple ORBX True Earth sceneries which I purchased long ago, tweaks to the sky, clouds and water and ActiveSky XP, the visuals are good, but still not up to par with MSFS. Another immersive feature of X-Plane is the ability to teleport in VR. So I can start from outside the helicopter, slowly approach it and “enter” the cockpit, or even perform a walkaround inspection. Same for shutdown, I can open the door, “step outside” and walk away from the heli. Then there is the virtual keyboard in VR and I can use my VR controllers to type things. I can also select when I want to start cold & dark or with the engines running, unlike MSFS where on runways and helipads, the helicopter always start with engines running. Plus, I don’t need to have an active internet connection to fly (except for live weather from ActiveSky XP), which makes loading a flight way faster.

1 Like

Hello I’ve stumbled over this great comparison list by coincidence and signed up to make a suggestion:

Instead of listing Arma which has a rather “simple” rotary wing simulation (even with Advanced Flight Model) you may rather look at “Take on Helicopters” from Bohemia Interactive which offers a more detailed flight model with the same fidelity as Arma 3. As you state in the article, Arma 3’s focus is on infantry / combined arms combat. “Take on Helicopters” is basically only about helicopters - as the name suggests!

Hello there! Thank you for the suggestion!

Take On Helicopters is quite good and uses the same flight dynamics library as ARMA3. Nonetheless it is quite dated, no longer supported and limited in terrain and the possibility to expand in the future. ARMA3 is still supported and helicopters have been added over time.