Note: This report depicts the opinion of the “RC-SIM Team” and is without engagement and non binding.
The first question is why one should buy a “Model Aircraft Simulator”.
Some benefits are obvious:
- Acquisition of the basic stick movements for your maiden flight.
- Practicing of difficult or new manoeuvres without any risk for your model.
- Trying of other model types, e.g. learning of helicopter flight.
- Flying of models that one does not own / does not like to build.
- Fun, fun and ………….fun!
This small list shows that the reasons to buy a simulator can be quite different and thus the expectations and wishes for a simulator are varying!
It is most important that you fly with a RC-Radio or something similar. It does not make sense to fly with your keyboard or any kind of joystick!
It doesn’t matter if you fly with your own (maybe high-quality) radio or if you use a cheap one which might be delivered with your simulator.
When you have decided to buy a simulator, the next step is to find a product that covers your requirements and also fits to your PC hardware. To make sure that the presently leading simulators (Reflex XTR 5.05, Aerofly Professional Deluxe, Realflight G3.5/G4, PhoenixRC 2.0) are running fine you should use a PC with at least 2.0Ghz processor, 512Mb RAM, Geforce 6600GT or ATI 9600 graphics adapter.
(On our reference PC with AMD Athlon64 3200+, 1024MB RAM and Geforce 6600GT with 256MB VRAM ALL simulators are running without problems).
One of the most important parts is always the graphics adapter; it’s sort of an engine for this kind of simulators.
But it has been shown that also a low priced Geforce 5200FX is also somewhat sufficient for most of the simulators. You should of course not expect perfect performance.
Our test is limited to the following simulators:
All other simulators are not very common and therefore of small interest for the majority of model pilots or have not been available while issuing this report.
Now let’s start with the report:
Surely the most critical pro or con is the reality of the simulation. There are always questions like:
“How realistic is Easyfly?”
“Does my model fly the same in reality?” and so on.
Of course a simulator will never reach the flight characteristics of a real model, but the top simulators are coming very close.
However, the main purpose of a simulator is not to provide models that fly 100% the same than the real ones in your hangar. It is primarily used to learn and practice the stick movements and reactions.
With a simulator you will learn how a model could behave in specific situations. With this knowledge you are prepared to avoid bad surprises when you are out on the field (this is where the “learning to fly” really starts).
From the above mentioned simulators the Reflex XTR, Aerofly Pro Deluxe (AFPD) and the Realflight G3.5 (RFG3.5/G4) are definitively the ones which are quite close to reality. The new PhoenixRC does also come close to the top three, but in detailed view there are still considerable differences.
For helicopter simulation the Reflex XTR 5.04 and 5.05 and the RFG3.5/G4 are on the same level with the AFPD a little behind.
In the Reflex XTR the whole flight characteristics of the helicopter models feel just more realistic.
But the differences are very small and only experienced pilots might notice them.
In helicopter simulation the RFG3.5/G4 has caught up a lot and shows that “blade flapping sound” simply is part of simulation. In September 2008 there was surprisingly an update for the Reflex XTR. This update included also new sound files with the user requested “blade flapping sound”.
The autorotation works fine in each of the top-simulators (in the RFG they are a little more difficult than in XTR or AFPD).
Until the new Beta was released in September 2008 the PhoenixRC was a good piece away from the other three. This update significantly improved the flight physics.
The Easyfly2 and 3 we can not rate because we still have not got any version for testing.
In Easyfly and FMS the helicopter simulation is in total too easy but for practicing the stick movements they are fairly suited.
If you like to practice advanced acrobatics like “TicTocs” or “Chaos” you should tend to buy one of the top three.
New in the list of simulators is the Heli-X simulation which is Java based. During the first test the overall picture was good. This simulator does only support helicopter simulation in the current version. It is on the level of Easyfly or FMS.
Reflex XTR has significantly raised the bar with its Indoor-update but AFPD an RFG have meanwhile closed the gap in this respect. Differences might only be perceived by experienced pilots.
A surprise was the PhoenixRC which is still a little behind the top three, but with the 2.0 BETA it has the possibility for slope soaring. The flight physics for gliders have been improved and it definitely has the potential to reach the top simulators.
Torqueing is already possible in almost all of the simulators. The best realization is in AFP, AFPD, Reflex XTR, Realflight G3.5/G4 and PhoenixRC.
In FMS Beta 2.08 torqueing is also possible but only very restricted. In the old Easyfly it is not implemented because the airflow from the propeller onto the wings is not calculated.
According to the information from IPACS the new Easyfly 2 will have this feature because it is based on the AFPD technique.
A nice gift is the damage simulation which varies from bending of parts to total break up of the models during a crash. Since RFG 3.5 there are also small wooden parts and dust clouds visible.
Almost all simulators can handle the simulation of ground unevenness, realistic ground characteristics like high grass etc. are only implemented in the Reflex XTR and AFPD.
The first company that used the current panorama technique was Reflex Products. With there XTR they passed into a new era of model aircraft simulators. The graphics of simulators (XTR, RFG, AFPD, and PhoenixRC) are from the quality point of view equal. The quality of the so called “crash objects” is varying.
In the XTR the depth effect of the view is, because of the patented PANOLusion Engine® , better than in AFPD or PhoenixRC. The quality of the photo sceneries in the RFG3.5 is similar.
A conclusion for the Easyfly2 and 3 we will maybe provide later (in case we can get a test version).
The “old” 3D sceneries are still available but not for the PhoenixRC, it only uses panorama sceneries.
For the XTR there is one standard scenery in which you can move freely. This scenery is with some limitations modifiable. The RFG people have chosen a new way. They have created a big area (no photo scenery) where you can move freely. In this area you can add new flying sites by yourself. This needs just some practice and patience.
In AFPD the space is a little more limited, but it’s also fun to fly around and discover new things. With the TrueScale Add-on from IPACS (November 2007) the quality of the panorama sceneries has been raised again. Since this add-on it is possible to choose different positions (Multi-panorama) on the airport. See also the report of the TrueScale Add-on.
PhoenixRC comes with photo sceneries only but in detail it seems that two of them have been created on a computer (probably with “Terragen”.
A highlight of the PhoenixRC is the simulation of water surfaces which are actually moving. If you takeoff or land with a watercraft it feels like really standing near the water, the sound and the graphics are very good.
Also with the RFG G4 water flight is possible but we don’t have any review at the moment, it will follow soon. Because of the effort of some active RC-SIM users it is possible to land and takeoff on water also in AFPD.
The graphical quality of the models is slightly different in the simulators. In AFPD the 3D lattice models are much more complex than in XTR.
The models in XTR are exclusively created from photos of real models (using the RMK Reflex Modell Konstruktion which is delivered with the simulator).
The models in PhoenixRC and Realflight look fine and are partly covered by artificial textures.
The new Heli-X does support only one position for the pilot but there are many new panoramas which can be used. Crash objects are in the current version only available on the ground. The graphical quality of the sceneries is much better than in Easylfy or FMS (because of using high resolution photos).
After the first simulator flights, when you are already addicted to it, the desire for some alternation and new models will come up. Now you will find out if you have chosen an appropriate simulator for you…………..
For the old Easyfly there are 2 commercial add-ons available.
For Easyfly 2 and 3 are up to now no add-on CDs available.
For Aerofly Professional (AFP) there is an additional extension pack on CD with some nice models and sceneries available (app. 39, 00 EUR).
The models are not only from original appearance, also the flight characteristics are optimized by the pilots and very close to reality.
Since mid of 2008 there is a USA add-on available. It contains flying sites from USA like Golden Gate Bridge or Monument Valley.
A big amount of pay ware add-ons is available for the Realflight simulator. The 5 add-ons from RFG2 are usable for RFG 3.5/G4. Price per CD is about 39, 00 EUR.
For RFG4 there are at the moment 4 Freeware and 2 pay ware extension packs available in the internet.
A different strategy is used by Reflex XTR. You can download the add-ons from their homepage and then you can decide what to pay for it. -> exemplary!!
The free FMS is top in this respect. More than 2500 free of charge models are flying around in the WWW. From A-Z you can find almost anything you like.
For the old simulators like Aerofly V1.2 and AFP there are several which can be downloaded from our website www.rc-sim.de . For these older simulators the supply of new models is very rare because the newer simulators have more functions.
The Easyfly is still supported by some colleagues from our forum. They still develop nice models for this older simulator and keep it alive.
The Easyfly models are even working in AFPD. Therefore the amount of add-ons for AFPD is raised up to 920.
For Easyfly 2 and 3 there are up to now no free models available.
In 2006 Knife Edge (producer of Realflight G2 and G3.5/G4) has revealed the model format and has provided a possibility to import free models. In the near future probably some free models for RFG 3.5/G4 will appear. In the Knife Edge forum there are already many new models, variants and flying sites in 3D or photo realism for free download available.
In RFG2 there was only the possibility to change the skin (new texture for existing models).
With the aid of 6 photos (left, right, front, back, top and bottom view) and the included RMK you can build your own models in Reflex XTR. However the level of detail is limited by the number of 2000 points for the lattice model. At the moment there are about 500 models and sceneries which have been built in this way.
Also for the older Aerofly 1.2 you can download countless models here on RC-SIM.
The creation of free add-ons can be learned quickly, the effort for the different simulators is differing.
The easiest are FMS and Reflex XTR. More extensive are the models for AFPD and RFG, there you will need some more patience to create the models. You will have to get familiar with the program structure. But this is not an unsolvable exercise. A helpful support are the workshops on RC-SIM (see Menu).
For the PhoenixRC it is up to now not possible to create own models but according to the information from the developers they are working intensively on a so called ADK (Aircraft Development Kit). At the moment it is only possible to change the texture of the models.
A multitude of features for Easyfly and AFPD have been developed and implemented by the RC-SIM community. IPACS has taken over some of them into their simulators (some have also been improved).
Here a small list that shows how flexible the IPACS simulators are:
- Glider sound
- Real shift rotors (functional and visual)
- Engine start up via trimming
- Self-luminous objects (jet engines, car lights)
- Glider sound for AFP ( Hans Wonner was 1 year ahead of IPACS)
- Self-luminous objects (switch able)
- Acoustical, optical and functional afterburner for jet engines.
- Captive flight
- Side arm launch
- Stunt kite
- Engine start up function (one after another on multiengine aircrafts)
- 4 sounds per engine.
- Jettisonable loads.
- Adjustable swing load rope.
- Talking pilots
- Fully animated pilots
- Moveable spoilers, doors, cabin hoods, engine hoods etc.
- Reverse thrust
- Lowerable nose (Concorde)
- Wind depending waves on water surfaces for 3D sceneries.
- Extensive weather adjustments for 3D sceneries.
- Watercrafts (race boats, water ski, submarines)
- Weather, clouds and mood of light
- Wind machine (change wind direction by chance)
- Additional tools for changing models.
With an update that is available for free on the IPACS homepage it is now also possible to fly 4D aircrafts with simulated variable pitch propeller in AFPD. This works fine in AFPD because this simulator also calculates the airflow for backward flight.
Unique in AFPD is the aero tow mode for launching gliders. It allows two pilots on the PC to practice aero towing. AFPD also has a “2-player mode” in which two pilots can practice together on a split screen.
For a multiplayer mode via the internet we still have to wait in AFPD. But we already have it in Realflight G3.5/G4, Reflex XTR and PhoenixRC. All these simulators support multiplayer mode since their updates in summer 2008. Now you can fly online with up to 8 pilots from all over the world. Also multiplayer mode via LAN has been implemented.
Except the AFPD all top simulators (Realflight G3.5/G4, Reflex XTR, and PhoenixRC) provide functions to gradually learn hovering, torqueing, acrobatics etc.
In Realflight you even can have your own teacher that shows you the basics or special manoeuvres.
In Realflight G2 and G3.5/G4 you can also create your own sceneries. With an integrated editor you can create and save your favourite site by drag and drop.
Another feature that is supported by RFG3.5/G4, Reflex XTR, AFPD and PhoenixRC is the probability of damage. With this a sudden and unexpected engine breakdown, a damaged servo or radio and an according emergency situation can be simulated.
A reasonable simulation of slow- and indoor-flyers is included in almost all simulators.
After some days or even nights of flying you might wish to adapt or adjust the model to your personal desires. Especially in the Realflight G2, G3.5 and G4 as well as in the Reflex XTR there are distinctive adjustment possibilities available. In the Realflight this functions are more clearly arranged, but not that flexible than in XTR. It is easy to test how your model would fly with a different engine or a battery cell more or less.
The APFD has not that much parameters to adjust but the most important are available. The model editor in the AFPD is much less flexible than in the old Aerofly 1.2!
In the Easyfly and FMS there is no editor but at in the FMS you can quickly change (with a text editor) the parameters of the .par file which is responsible for the flight characteristics.
Very well arranged is the model editor in the RFG3.5 and G4. The values can be changed fast and precise. The others should take out a leaf of this book.
Also in PhoenixRC the models can be adjusted fast and effective, well done for a start.
The weather conditions (except of rain and snow) can be set in all simulators (more or less comfortable). Thermal streams, blasts and changing winds are adjustable in most simulators.
(Hint from RC-SIM: Wind of 0.3 – 0.7 m/sec. will boost realism significantly).
Handling is quite simple within all simulators:
- calibration of radio
- select model
- select scenery
Big problems should not appear with any simulator. Therefore the handling is of minor importance for your buying decision. If you face any problems first check the FAQ / support on the supplier homepage or the tips and threads in our forum. If you can not find a solution you can also ask in our forum.
After now we have compared the simulators from different points of view the next question will be
“How much does it cost?”
Because the prices are quite unsteady and some simulators can be bought in several configurations we recommend to check the current prices online.
Aerofly Professional deluxe:
Realflight G3.5 or G4:
To get a first idea about model aircraft simulation the free FMS or Heli-X are a good choice.
(Within a row the names are in alphabetical order)
1. Aerofly Professional Deluxe + Realflight G3.5/G4 + Reflex XTR
3. Aerofly Professional + Realflight G2
5. FMS 2.8 / Heli-X
No ranking for Easfly 2 and 3 because we don’t have had a test version yet.
The decision which simulator to buy is up to many factors. We will not give a recommendation for a specific product here, because each user has different priorities. It is also very difficult to say in which simulator the simulation is the most realistic.
Many people think that Reflex XTR is better for helicopters and AFPD for fixed wings. Others say that Realflight is the best one. Which one you buy is finally your own decision. Just compare assets and drawbacks and decide for one or better two simulators.
If possible it would of course be the best to test them by yourself (for some there are demo versions available).
Here another adequate excerpt of a thread from Marcus from our RC-SIM forum:
“I can not understand all the discussion if an update does pay off or not, or which simulator is the best. I fly helicopters since 2 ½ years now and can affirm that all my flying competence I could only achieve because of intensive training on simulators.
In the beginning I exercised on AFP and later also Reflex / Reflex XTR and Realflight G2. My training sessions took up to 2 h per day (Sim only) and I can definitely affirm that it absolutely doesn’t care which simulator you use. Whether it is AFP, Reflex or Realflight, it doesn’t care. Finally the training is just about to learn and accustom the stick movements and reactions that you need when you are out on the field. The necessary realism is available in each present simulator. I would even affirm that the “ancient” EasyFly does provide enough reliability (serious training assumed) to be able to go out and hover your heli. To be honest, the real reason to buy all this awesome simulators were the graphics. It is just damned fun to bomb your 3D-heli around in Reflex XTR or AFPD. But this doesn’t help you out on the field. There it’s all about that your expensive model is really in the air and the sense that you can really damage something, namely you seriously earned money. The only things that can help you here are the subconscious reflexes that you have learned on the simulator. That is what simulators are all about: training. Playfully and without any fear to damage your model you can prepare for the situations on the field. These situations can be trained with each well known simulator. The differences that are discussed in this forum are only secondary for the training. I know a lot of people that are very proud about the amazing simulator they have at home but on the field they are hardly able to hover for 5 minutes without any crash. Therefore: Use any simulator you like, practice a lot and transfer your achievements out to the field and your real model. Finally what it’s all about is flying your real model. Are we PC-gamers or what? No, we are model pilots!
Best regards, Markus.