Battle of the Helicopters – FSX Versus Xplane

Ok, I’ve had time to survey the new world of FsX helicopters for awhile now, and feel confident in reporting back to you all with a moderate level of experience.

Searching through the various flightsim retailers, I can certainly appreciate the huge variety of helos available for FsX. Many look great, but when you dig deeper and go searching for opinions in the forums, it seems that there’s not many truly great helos.

Funny about that, it’s probably similar in Xplane land. What does it have? Well of course, the high achiever is Nils Danielsson’s BK-117, a seriously detailed work of art, with an excellent flight model/feel. Then we have the Dreamfoil 206, which is quite well-regarded. Then what else? Mainly just high quality freewares. Nicola, one of Xplane’s recognised helo specialists did a great post just today, recommending the best helos to a newcomer, here.

In the first week of my FSX exploration, I bought the Nemeth Designs MD500. Why? Well I’m an avid listener of the Fsbreak podcast, and recalled Mark Stewart being very impressed with their models.

Not sure if I picked the wrong model, but as you’ll see from the pictures below, the 500 is not that visually impressive for a $26 payware. Ok the commandos look cool, but the 3D pit is almost 2D compared to Xplane’s average models, and Nils’ 117 virtually pokes your eyes out with it’s beautifully constructed gauges.

I also found the flight model very disappointing. Far too easy to fly, I did some perfect takeoffs and landings straight away. Helos are MEANT to be frustrating, like learning to ride a bike or drive a car for the first time. You are meant to jump with glee IF you actually land without leaving a 2 ft crater where your $2million craft used to be. Reading some of the review of the other helos from Nemeth, I’m afraid everyone is complimenting them on how easy their models are to fly. Maybe I’m wrong? I’ll never know if you don’t chime in..

Here’s a quick video I just did of the MD500. Watch how smooth the takeoff is – I can tell you, it’s not coz of my skillz!

Before I gave up on FSX for helo flying, I posted a request for good quality recommendations over at the Avsim forums. Success, I received a few consistent recommendations (Wow, they’re really helpful over there). One recommendation that stood out was the ‘Dodosim’ (gotta love that name) Bell 206, available here.

Another that was well-respected was the Seahawk/Jayhawk from Aerosoft, as well as the Bell 412 from Cera Simaircraft.

Ha, well I might eventually try those 2 but I also hear that Dodo is working on a Huey to be released this year…

Due to the common acclaim for the Dodosim, I went for that, and did not regret it. For a taste of how deep this sim is, here’s a link to their publicly available manual:

http://www.dodosim.com/img/x206/mandraftx206.zip

Let’s just say that I’m yet to start manually, indeed progress from sim mode 1, ‘baby bottle suck mode’, to 2, 3, 4 and 5! I feel like I never need to buy another helicopter, this is something I can slowly grow into and appreciate all its subtleties. Sheesh, it feels real enough at level 1, god knows what it’s like at full sim level 5.

Below is a video featuring the helicopter. I hope it captures some of the ‘feel’ and randomness for you.

As a comparison, here’s an earlier video of the BK-117:

For the Dodosim, I can tell you that I had an absolute ball doing little ferry trips from Diamond Point to across the bay and back. I had multiple ‘pinch me’ moments, where it just felt so real, with the sound, the control, the views, the sky, all combining to make it feel so wonderful and just ‘right’. I can also tell you that I have NEVER felt such a buzz and air of reality with Xplane 9. I hear that Xp10’s weather and cloud simulation is going to be something really special – it’ll have to be for me to stick with it.

And the sound, oh the sound! As one of my YouTube commenters said, that rotor slap is so cool! I find the sound superior to even the Dream Engine enhanced sound of the BK117.

I had the most manic grin you can imagine flying this 206 baby! I’m in luurrrrve.

But what about the video and pictures below? Isn’t the BK-117 just so much better looking? Look at those gauges, a work of art! The night lighting is so much better! Well, the xplane model does look heaps better, and it has more complex systems. However I never really got into it, having ended up trying so many other aircraft later down the track. I NEVER went for long flights in it. So it turns out that the most perfect 3D modelling does not count when it comes to immersion. If the flight model is spot on, combined with great eye-candy scenery, weather and clouds, a slightly simpler, but still 3D cockpit, is quickly forgiven, or frankly, hardly noticed! You’re too busy flying…

The Dark Horses – Conex’s 206 and R22

I’d all but written off Xplane, with my newfound joy at the Dodosim flightmodel. Then I came across the incredible Hovercontrol forum, one that is chock full of VERY SERIOUS helicopter sim enthusiasts, many doing real life training.

I’ll be hanging out there every now and then, especially given their multiplayer facilities (free) and obvious expertise.

It’s interesting that many of them love the Dodosim, in fact from what I can see, it appears to be the only decent model for FSX in their opinion. The good news for Xplane fans though, is that a number of real life pilots swear by Xplane’s ability to accurately model real life flight characteristics very well.

I fell across THIS THREAD, where very nice comments about Conex’s new R22 project are being made.

And THIS ONE has people raving about his fantastic Bell 206. Many say the Dodosim is the better procedures sim, with the xplane model having the higher fidelity flightmodel.

My own initial opinion

As I hoped, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the Dodo’s flight model. I’ve always criticised FSX for its flight model, with Xplane generally having a much more satisfying feel of flight/randomness. I can officially retract my criticisms. As ever, FSX addon developers have proven to be expert at circumventing FSX’s shortcomings, creating wonderful programs to add nuances to the bland flightmodel, to turn it into something thrilling. It’s a pity that it means that the addons seem to be more expensive than Xplane, but in the end it’s all worth it. We can all marvel at the quality of simming we are doing now compared to, heck, 3-5 yrs ago. What is that quality worth?

As I am not doing real-world training, and I see that most of the gurus are happy with the FSX Dodo, I shall be too.  I may buy Conex’s 206 for xplane soon, just to get a true taste of what a real one feels like! Fantastic references Fred!!

VERDICT

  • Both sims have their dross, bulk quantities of blandware. FSX may be more dangerous for those with deep pockets.
  • Both sims have very select, elite quality helos, you need to pick carefully. Don’t hesitate to seek opinions!
  • I’ve always said xplane has the better flight model, with FSX just being a ‘game’. I have to retract that, for certain products at least..
  • Therefore, to me, the combo of a very good flight model and superior scenery makes the FSX solution compelling, ‘Immersion City’.
  • For pure authenticity of handling, apparently the Hovercontrol gurus say that Xplane is the best. If I was spending thousands on training, I’d certainly be spending time with Conex’s creations and Xplane.
  • With such deep and quality simulation, fewer helo addons are needed – this one will keep me busy for 6 months at least.

I now formally open up this blog to a hailstorm of debate and conjecture. Please be aware that I may not reply right away, as I’m very busy ferrying more tourists around PNW, while progressing to level 2 on the Dodo…

Simon

Below are some comparison pics – you can definitely observe the superior presentation of the Xplane models. The first 9 shots are the Dodo, the latter being the BK-117.


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11 responses to “Battle of the Helicopters – FSX Versus Xplane

  1. Good to see the x-plane / FSX comparison! I am a big fan of the BK-117, so I guess I’m biased. As a result of this new forum (I’ve followed x-plane10 for some time), I decided to try out FSX again. I guess I’ll have to spend some money, because default FSX is awful. And that kind of gets to my point. It would be easy to drop LOTS of money on FSX getting it “good.” I’m a professional pilot and when I switched to Linux as my main OS, I basically quit using FSX and started with x-plane. Sure, FSX has pretty clouds, but the runway environment is much more realistic in x-plane – particularly in low IFR conditions. I’m glad you are liking FSX so much – this hobby is different for every user… But I’m sticking with x-plane and hoping x-plane10 is all that it is promised to be! Happy flying!!

    • Very nice to hear your perspective Ian. What do u fly may I ask?
      Yes, for instrument and IFR, scenery doesn’t really make a difference. I’ll still pop back to xplane for it’s flight feel (eg I’ll be buying the Dreamfoils). But as a recreational sim pilot, I’m staying with fsx, at least until we see what xp10 looks like- i’m positive it’s going to kick butt! If they can better the FSX clouds alone, the sim will be significantly enhanced.

      Agree, fsx default scenery is worse than xplane’s, so cartoony. But I bought all of Australia’s original scenery packs for $99, not too bad.

      Simon

      • Well, as a bit of a confession, I fly the Challenger 300 and was the main beta tester for ddenn’s model. That does not change my perspective on FSX vs X-plane however. I used FSX for years, had TONS of add-ons (mostly freeware but some payware) and worked very had to get it as realistic as possible. Then I started to dabble in Linux which turned into a switch to Linux as my everyday operating system. That’s how I came to x-plane. And it was honestly, from my perspective as real-life pilot, night and day. It made FSX seem buggy, slow and hard to deal with. And, as you mentioned in other posts, the default flight models in FSX are really bad. Some of the x-plane free-ware was really quite good (XPFW and x737 for example). I purchased some payware like the BK-117 and it just blew me away! Some of what’s in the pipeline looks great as well. I have not spent the money for the really good FSX add-ons, which would be the only fair comparison. Again, to each their own. I’m now firmly in the penguin club so I’m limited to x-plane. But I don’t mind – it’s been an excellent transition!

      • Nice to know Ian- so what’s your opinion of the 300’s flight model?

        Yes linux makes it hard to run other sims, but our other regular Gloworm swears by Linux and claims some pretty obscene frame rates to boot.

        I can see me flitting between the two sims, especially to keep comparing and enjoying the best addons. I do feel however, that the flight impression is better in fsx than 2 yrs ago, due to hardware catching up to it. 45fps in my Bonanza, during snowy weather for example, is pretty slick, literally!

        To counter that though, xp10’s weather sounds pretty special, if they get that right and people like you confirm it’s just like the real thing, it’ll help the cause. Keep in touch, your experience and opinions will help!
        Simon

      • Flight model is tough nut to crack in flight simulation. I think the 300 flight model is very good for x-plane. By that, I mean it climbs, descends and banks like the real thing. The time to climb and fuel burn numbers are very close. Single engine work is realistic. If you fly it like you fly the real airplane, with the autopilot on most of the time, it is a very good representation. Beyond that, I don’t know what you could do to a PC based simulator to improve the “flight model.” For example, I don’t think the flight model in the 20million dollar simulator I use for re-current training is particularly “good.” And it is a full motion simulator with hydraulic control loading that the FAA said is good enough for 100% pilot training. But it’s still a simulator, not an airplane. They are what they are. And no simulator, x-plane to Flight Safety, does a very good job with ground interaction. Crosswind training? Not even close… I enjoy simulation and ddenn’s Challenger is easily the best corporate jet for x-plane… But I’d rather fly the real thing :). BTW, did you have any issues with it?

      • Ha, you can’t beat being there, you lucky bugger! I’m fascinated with the ‘feel’ I get in these sims- ESP xplane, as it feels more fluid- almost too fluid? Ignoring the numbers, eg descent rates at certain speeds, do these sims give an approximation of what it’s like at the controls?

        I know, it’s like when I play granturismo for ps3. I can feel and see an approximation of oversteer, but it ain’t the same as that seat of the pants feel of real life. I used to have a Subaru, I could feel the rear lose traction and then the front take over. You could never replace that in sim.

        I didn’t have any issues with the challenger, other than sound problems.

        Speaking of feel, I upped my dodosim reality setting to 2, doing confident cold starts now! My god the ‘feel’ of that! Such finesse of control, like stroking a…well, you work it out…

      • Well, I can say that x-plane’s “blade element” flight model felt much more realistic then FSXs lookup table flight model. The impression of “being there” was much higher in x-plane. But again, I have not tried any expensive FSX add-ons… Interesting enough, the full-motion simulators we use for training are lookup table simulators – and they feel like it! This power setting plus this pitch equals this airspeed etc… Like FSX, it feels like you are flying a computer, not an airplane. X-plane is in many ways an improvement over the big full motion simulators in the impression of flight it gives. That being said, x-plane could use a bit of refinement. The turbulence and gusty wind simulations are way off. A gain or loss of 10kts of wind in the real airplane is a lot and in x-plane the airspeed jumps around all over the place. The indication also needs to be averaged out or slowed down or something. If I set up a small gust or rain shower in x-plane, it looks like it’s flying in a tornado – not so good…

      • Ah, it’s good to hear from you re. The weather simulation, I’ve always found GAs to be ridiculously hard to handle in mild wind conditions in xplane! Anything above 15 knots and you’re lucky the plane doesn’t go floating off the airfield. Xp10 will be much better I hear and hope. But crosswind approaches are definitely more challenging/fun in Xp. Haven’t even tried it in fsx yet.

        Simon

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