X-Plane whet our appetite for flight simulators on the iPhone, with an impressive showing of accuracy in simulation, coupled with first-rate graphics. The feeling of flight that the sim provided was impressive, but the limited choices available in terms of planes to fly and places to fly them disappointed us. Laminar Research, the developer behind X-Plane, has set out to address that situation with two new releases: X-Plane-Airliner and X-Plane-Helicopter. We’ll look at both titles, starting with X-Plane-Helicopter.
Moving beyond fixed-wing flight, X-Plane-Helicopter brings helicopter simulation to the iPhone platform. If you’ve already mastered the airplanes in X-Plane, these new helicopters will send you back to flight school. At the same time, the sim opens up a whole new space to fly in’”the Grand Canyon. Between these new flying machines and the new terrain, how does X-Plane-Helicopter measure up? Well, we found it frustrating to fly, smacking into canyon walls on just about every flight… if we even got that far.
Some understanding of the mechanics of helicopter flight are critical to get started. To control the lift generated by the rotor, you’ll need to manage the “collective,” represented by a sliding control on the left-hand side of the screen. The collective controls the pitch of the rotor blades, where pulling the control down tilts the blades down, increasing the pitch, and generating more lift. The simulator will adjust the throttle automatically (represented by another slider on the right-hand side of the screen), although you can also assert manual control.
To take off, slowly move the collective down, until the helicopter takes flight. Once in the air, the craft moves according to the “cyclic” control’”which tilts the rotor forward or backward, left and right. You’ll control this by tilting your iPhone/Touch. There are control alignment adjustments in the program’s settings, so that you can fine-tune the neutral point, etc. One control that is missing is the ability to turn the helicopter in place, a maneuver that is made possible by controlling the machine’s tail rotor. Perhaps it’s a good thing that this control is missing, however, because the simulator is hard enough to fly as it is.
We’re not helicopter pilots, but we’re pretty sure it’s not THIS hard to fly a helicopter. In the desktop version of X-Plane, helicopters are a lot more manageable’”although they require a good joystick and some practice. But even with a good deal of practice with X-Plane-Helicopter, we had a hard time flying around in more than the most rudimentary manner. Flying aggressively near the ground is a real challenge in this program.
The ground you get to fly above is pretty interesting in X-Plane-Helicopter, if one could stay in the air long enough to appreciate it. The game promises 60 square miles of the Grand Canyon, and that gives you a lot of terrain to explore. However, we kept finding ourselves wanting the Cirrus Jet from the original title to zoom through the canyon at a higher speed.
One thing you won’t notice in your exploration is the familiar “whump-whump” of a helicopter: these birds are nearly silent. Unlike the first X-Plane offering, which featured good engine and wind noise, this game is oddly silent’”secret black-helicopter-conspiracy silent.
In all, this sim is a pretty big disappointment at the moment. The helicopters are so hard to fly it really takes the fun out of the equation. The enjoyable “feeling of flight” from the original X-Plane is gone without a trace. The helicopters in this simulator are just too hard to enjoy, so we advise that you steer clear until the controls improve.