Flightgear has been around quite a while in fact since 1997, what makes this simulator stand apart from other simulators is that it is available free. Lots of developers submit both airplanes and rotary craft to the library. Over the years Flightgear has become more and more user friendly. For example you can now load download aircraft from a graphical user interface on launch.
Flightgear also has some great helicopters. We asked our flightgear people to name 5 helicopters for us to review and here they are in no particular order. To discuss Flightgear with the flightgear developers join the original and oldest Helicopter Simulators group on Facebook. As well as Flightgear developers we have members from Polychop, Dreramfoil, X-Plane and Eagle Dynamics. Click here to join in the discussions with fans of helicopter simulators and top developers.
Aérospatiale / Westland Gazelle
The Aérospatiale Gazelle is a French five-seat helicopter, commonly used for light transport, scouting and light attack duties. It is powered by a single Turbomeca Astazou turbine engine and was the first helicopter to feature a fenestron tail instead of a conventional tail rotor. It was designed by Sud Aviation, later Aérospatiale, and manufactured in France and the United Kingdom through a joint production agreement with Westland Aircraft. Further manufacturing under license was performed by SOKO in Yugoslavia and the Arab British Helicopter Company (ABHCO) in Egypt.
On loading the gazelle, you have options to autostart and autoshutdown. This is a very useful option for those who want to quick dive into flying the helicopter without wasting time working out the start up procedures. For more hardcore simmers ther is a start up sequence you can follow.
The cockpit is nicely laid out and is also clickable in some but not all areas, although not to the same graphical standard as the DCS version it is well presented and dials are clear and easy to see. A pilot is also included and various views are available.The external graphics are nicely done and the helicopter looks great although I'm not too sure of the searchlights light effect, it looks too much like just a simple cone of light with no gradient of light intensity but I'm sure the guys will improve this. Another neat touch, yet not important is that you can also click on the doors and they open and close.
The screenshots below say it all, payware like graphics, well textured, nice hi res detail, rotor blades well animated and modelled. The light though is a little basic as you can see above but FG has optional rendering engines available. ALS or Rembrandt. Both have pros and cons. ALS can deliver better terrain effect, Rembrandt better lighting effects to name just a couple. Rembrandt tends to be more frame heavy as its calculating real time lighting. Improved lighting under ALS is on the cards but as it doesn’t work over Multilayer yet, we have the light cone effect until it does. Like the interior a lot of work has gone into the gazelle's exterior and this easily matches many x-plane and FSX payware helicopters. Difference is this one is free!
The flight model seems very solid and it is a challenge to fly, like it's DCS counterpart you have to be gentle on the controls. Sounds are good. Rotor blades animate nicely too. It certainly doesn't feel arcade like and am sure any helicopter simmer will appreciate the flight dynamics for this version of the gazelle. Newbie helicopters simmers may get frustrated with how sensitive it can be...but that's good ey..it means more of an achievement when you do master how to fly it! Once the engines are fired up and flight systems ready take off needed some concentration, as in DCS the gazelle is very sensitive. You have to carefully treat this helicopter, overcontrol it and you are asking for trouble.
For more visit the gazelle page here : https://forum.flightgear.org/viewtopic.php?f=4&t=24443
Extensive FDM rework to provide a more realistic Gazelle flight performance.
Realistic flight instruments. Westland version is based on the British Armed forces version.
Light switches now located on the Main panel. landing light switch is located on the Collective.
Collective, Cyclic, Pedals, Rotor brake and Engine power lever all animated.
Manual start / shut down possible ( see help file ).
Both support Multiplayer passenger modes so you can take your friends for a flight.
All cabin doors are animated ( Click to open / close )
Configuration options. Westland has the Military kit option, the Aérospatiale has Onions ( try the onions ! )
17 Liveries available between both versions
Browser based Help file available in the "Gazelle" menu option in sim.
Eurocopter EC130 B4
“EC130 B4” is a marketing name by Eurocopter, now known as Airbus Helicopters, the real name is still AS350 B4”. It is a widebody variant of the “AS350 B3” with a completely new designed passenger cabin and fuselage and rotor and hydraulics system from the AS355.
The helicopter was designed especially for tours, so it features a great visibility, a left-seated pilot and plenty of space inside. The “EC130 B4” is also used by the police in Long Beach/CA and by several medical services.
First this is in our opinion one of the best helicopters for flightgear. The interactive tutorial is excellent for both beginners and newcomers to flying this aircraft.
Clicking on the flightgear menu you are presented with a whole list of options on how to configure and fly this aircraft.
You can choose the livery, number of passengers,which views you want and which cameras to include, how much fuel to load, equipment you want to carry etc. Pretty good attention to detail!
Like the gazelle the cockpit has clickable buttons and switches. instrumets can be clearly read, graphics are ok although not photorealistic. Polygon count seems a little low and doesnt look as high res as it could be.
The crew also have stretched textures in parts but hey this is free and there are plenty of plus points to this excellent version of the europcopter.
Externally it looks very good, lots of various liveries you can choose from , 3D model is well designed, although the reflectivity of the aircraft could be a little improved as the lighting seems a little on the simple side.
The sounds again are authentic, sounds like a helicopter not much more to say on this.
The Ec130 will give you an autostart option only after completing 5 manual starts but the excellent tutorial will get you up in the air in a few minutes. The flight dynamics are challenging, although not as sensitive as the gazelle it is again a challenge to fly, lack of concentration and it will come away from you so beware! The startup procedure is quite involved and the flightgear guys have done an excellent job in helping with the interactive tutorials.
more can be found here
UH60 Black Hawk
Named after the Native American war leader Black Hawk, the UH-60A entered service with the U.S. Army in 1979, to replace the Bell UH-1 Iroquois as the Army's tactical transport helicopter. This was followed by the fielding of electronic warfare and special operations variants of the Black Hawk. Improved UH-60L and UH-60M utility variants have also been developed. Modified versions have also been developed for the U.S. Navy, Air Force, and Coast Guard. In addition to U.S. Army use, the UH-60 family has been exported to several nations. Black Hawks have served in combat during conflicts in Grenada, Panama, Iraq, Somalia, the Balkans, Afghanistan, and other areas in the Middle East.
The cockpit is very basic in this helicopter some dials are missing so not all the instrumentation is implemented. Also we couldnt find any clickable switches either. It looks as though this still has much development to be completed.
Very blocky interior, pilots are in the cockpit but their hands are outstreched and not holding anything, they are just in mid air. Textures too are vey basic and interior is on the blocky side.Externally its not bad, the doors open too when you click on them. Some textures seem to be lacking near the rotor blades. Again as with the interior pretty basic wheels , lights lack the realistic glow effect and it looks a little too simple , not highly detailed. 3 Liveries are available, Austrian army, default and Detlef. Also the doors can be opened.
The rotor blades starting up is very authentic, the noise of the spinning blades cutting through the air are excellent. All in all the sounds cannot be faulted!
No tutorial or autostart is available with this helicopter but from the help menu you can select the aircraft help option where you can see the basic commands needed to get the helicopter off the ground. Once off the ground its not too difficult to take off, not over sensitive but very similar to xplane in the way the flight engine works. You need to concentrate as with all helicopters. Take off has the torque effect which you need to counter with your pedals. A shame the cockpit isn't all there and no collective or cyclic to see your joystick movements, flies as good as any xplane helicopter, better than the FSX black Hawk but at the same time there is a lot of attention to detail missing to this version and it feels not incomplete. You have nothing to lose by downloading and installing this if you are a black hawk fan. Well worth waiting for more development on this one! More info can be found here.
Both the UH60 + CH53 can perform Air-Air refuelling if you have a suitable tanker ( C130K is available in flight Gear ). This can also be done over multiplayer.
All FG Helis you have listed support Multiplayer Passenger/crew positions for bringing your friends along.
The MBB/Kawasaki BK117 is a twin-engined medium utility–transport helicopter, originally developed by MBB/ Germany and Kawasaki/ Japan. Developement began 1977, certification had been finally reached 1983. It was developed from the successful BO 105. So it shares the same scaled up main rotor system and tailrotor. Many variants had been built since then, the current variant is the BK 117 D2 now under Airbus Helicopters, also known as H145.
Wow for a freeware cockpit it's pretty awesome.Clickable cockpit buttons and switches, Cyclic and collective modelled correctly and also animate as you move your joysticks. Dials are clear and easy to read.
As mentioned above the cockpit graphics are excellent indeed for a non payware helicopter. Some of the textures on the floor and sides are a bit basic but overall the cockpit is one of the best Ive seen in flightgear. Externally one of the best again, nicelly modelled aircarft, nice reflection, good detail, doors open and close.The other navigation lights are pretty good. This helicopter also has lots of various liveries to choose from including East Anglia Air Ambulance, Japenese Air defence, Devon and Cornwall police , Bk117 Space desing and more!
No change here as with all other flightgear helicopters, rotor blades on start up spinning up, very realistic, general flight authentic helicopter sounds. No issues at all with the sounds for this helicopter at all.
No tutorial available here or autostart options. Again as with the Black Hawk if you navigate to Help then select aircraft help a list of keys necessary to start the helicopter are shown. Again the flight model is very good, we also flew the BK117 for xplane and these flight models are very similar. Hardly a difference - a compliment to the flightgear team in getting this helcopter to fly similar to it's payware counterpart at Xplane. ALthough not as hard or challenging to fly as the Gazelle and the EC130 it is a pleasure to fly. You are not fighting the controls to keep control if you know what we mean. If you want a leisurely flight this is the helicpter to use. We have to say this ranks as one of our favourite flightgear helicopters. Great cockpit, great graphics, goreat flight model and a pleasure to fly. Official page here.
The Sikorsky CH-53E Super Stallion is the largest and heaviest helicopter in the United States military. It was developed from the CH-53 Sea Stallion, mainly by adding a third engine, adding a seventh blade to the main rotor and canting the tail rotor 20 degrees.
Like the BK117 one of the best flightgear helicopter cockpits and can easily match other payware helicopters. Attention to detail is immense, clickable buttons and switches (not all however). Falls a little short of the quality of the BK117 in that the pilots are holding out their hands and holding nothing. However the cyclic moves in the cockpit as you move your joystic too. I couldnt see a collective there however.
As you can see from the screenshots the graphics externally match those of the interior. Nice attention to detail. The immense size of the helicopter is well captured. The textures are well placed not stretched. The rotor blades are modelled with detail and textures applied evenly. The only thing i noticed were the window frames looked a bit simplistic,, but that is a very minor issue. Lights were OK not amazing they flickered on and off with the same intensity you would see on an aircraft in real life.With this helicopter also comes a walker option which allows you to take control of a character and walk around the aircraft!
Again excellent as with all the other helicopters we reveiwed here. Authentic and lifelike helicopter sounds.
No autostart option here or tutorial .Click the help menu and then select aircraft help and up pop a list of keys On such option and a neat touch is the rotor folding option select this and you will see the rotor blades folding away. Animated doors are also included. However one noticeable issue here is that no quick keys are listed to start the engine etc. However if you go to the web page for this helicopter you will see the keys listed here http://wiki.flightgear.org/Sikorsky_CH-53E_Super_Stallion.
This helicopter is a heavy beast and this cleverly is reflected in the flight model, no fancy moves with this heavy thing. You need to be careful when making manoeuvres due to its weight no loop the loop with this aircraft. Taking off you need to be steady and counter any torque with the pedals , it doesn't seem to take off as quickly due to its weight, again an indication of how well they programmed the flight model. For us this was definitely one of the top 3 helicopters for flightgear. Official website here.
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