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Helicopter Simulation and Complexity

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We have had it good! We are about to have it better.

As we watch the 206 cloned helicopter simulation packages fade in the rear view mirror, the more accurate and realistic helicopter simulation packages will replace them. It is unlikely we will see these high quality packages being released at the same rate that we have enjoyed with the more simple ones, but as the bar rises, serious helicopter flight simulation enthusiasts will be continuously drawn to the packages that challenge them, and bring them the most immersion. The fixed-wing community has been enjoying this change for the last 2 years, the helicopter community will likely do the same.

With the onset of these more complex packages will come many new possibilities and challenges, and also more questions.

Basically stated, there are many tasks and simulated concepts in the simple packages available today that are not as accurate as they could be, and that can lead long-time users into thinking that is the way it should be. Some of these misconceptions are going to start coming to light as newer and more accurate projects start to introduce new tasks, procedures, and aircraft behaviors that are more true to life.

New packages will most likely suffer from complexity derived misunderstandings. Where a user has been used to doing something in a simplified or incorrect way for so long (because everything they have ever flown was based on the default aircraft, or some popular misconception). That when they finally get to something more realistic, they are under the impression, that things are wrong, when in fact they are now correct and accurate.

One of the biggest examples of this in our helicopter community is in the area of flight dynamics (this is pervasive in the fixed wing community as well). The misconception that larger aircraft are expected to be less responsive to pilot controls than smaller ones. When in fact, sometimes exactly the opposite is true (especially in the helicopter world). In some cases, larger aircraft that have been developed with unresponsive flight models, recieve feedback and comments like, "it feels realistic, and you can really feel the weight, and the response is slow like you would expect for a large helicopter". Although the average person might expect this to be the case, in many cases its just a misconception. While "feeling the weight" is one thing, and perfectly valid, having sluggish and unresponsive controls in a multi-million dollar helicopter is probably not a good selling point. In most cases, it would be a very unrealistic experience.

The Aeroworx KingAir was a good example of a fixed-wing aircraft that suffered from complexity misunderstandings, because while it was very realistic in systems and their proper operation, many customers had only ever experienced the default MS King Air or aircraft based upon the default King Air, and with no real-world King Air experience, they expected everything to work the same. It is not clear why they would want this, but it was an issue that plagued Aerorworx for months, (For example, most reported bugs, were just misunderstandings or misconceptions) Eventually, enough professionals and serious enthusiasts started to help build its reputation for being nearly spot-on in function and behavior, within limits of MSFS of course. It has since slowly become a must-have on many people's list, and generally recognized as being a terrific task simulator, and quite accurate from top to bottom.

In addition, developers can still make mistakes. Just because a package is more complex, and very professionally developed does not always mean it is correct. It is entirely possible for bugs, or simple misunderstandings by the developer to find their way into the projects. So there will always be legitimate short-comings in projects as well. However, as the projects become more complex and realistic, more often, it will be the professionals with experience in that aircraft type that will spot these problems first. As some of these bugs and inaccuracies are so obscure, that it would take a lot of real-world systems knowledge in some cases, to even know that there is a problem.

If the serious flight simmer wants to be involved with this growing process within our community, what can they do? They can take the time to learn about individual aircraft, and really enjoy that process. Hopefully, we will see the end of the "one size fits all" helicopter approach. Instead, we will see packages that require some level of learning that is specific to that package. A type of package, that once mastered, would leave the virtual pilot with a strong sense of accomplishment and mastery. This is one of the greatest feelings that flight simulation can provide. Especially when the aircraft being simulated is accurate and complex.

What can developers do? They can try to provide the type of information that the serious user would need in order to begin educating themself on a particular aircraft's functionality and behavior. Aeroworx is once again a good example of a developer that included a spectacular set of documentation for their aircraft. The type of documentation that users routinely chose to print and have available during flight operations. This type of documentation can be considered a project in itself, and is a large undertaking to do well. Even when done well, and made available to the users, it doesn't answer every question and concern.

Developers can also make sure that a core group of serious flight simmers get some special training on how to use the package properly. These people can than help the large number of other simmers that will no doubt have many questions. Most developers have highly dedicated users that will take the time to help educate others. Programs that help reward, or give credit, to these types of users will probably become more popular. As their role becomes more important. We are already starting to see this type of relationship with users expanding as certain developers create banners and signature images so that their most ardent followers can signify that they are very familiar with a particular aircraft.

As aircraft become more complex and accurate in terms of systems and behavior, websites like Hovercontrol can also incorporate training ideas that are no longer generic to flight operations, but might actually focus on particular aircraft types. For example, courses that are specifically tailored to help virtual pilots get the most out of a particular aircraft type. Much like the real-world has training for specific aircraft types.

Flying a good flight properly, is a great feeling. Doing the same with a highly realistic aircraft is goint to be even better. So we certainly have a lot to look forward to!