The word helicopter is a Greek combination word for "spiral wing". The earliest imagery of such a craft comes from no other than Leonardo de Vinci and his "aerial screw" which did not have any provisions for stopping such an instrument's inherent rotation (the little tail rotor in today's crafts).
The first use of rotating blades in a model was made in 1783 using turkey feathers (sounds like our childhood workshop activities using popsicle sticks). A first actual engine assisted flight test was attempted by Paul Cornu around 1907 using two counter rotating rotors and a 24 horse-power engine, and most importantly, a pilot.
What might be considered as one of the earliest commercial American rotorcraft was seen in 1947 pictured below as an air mail helicopter. This information and a lot more I've skipped by, along with the pictures, can be found in the Wikipedia Commons.
The Twin Huey as the Bell 212 is better known was first flown in 1968. Surprisingly, this deceptively small rotorcraft was marketed commercially in 1971 as a fifteen seat, single pilot, twin engine configuration. But that is not how it got its start. The Bell 212 was originally made by Bell Helicopters at Mirabel near Montreal for the Canadian Air Force which took on 50 of them followed by the US Air Force that ordered some 300.
Its predecessor, the Bell 206 Jet Ranger circa 1966, is the familiar default Bell in the FSX library with its maximum speed of 139 mph, a max rate of climb of 1350 ft/min and a 13,550 foot ceiling. Most of you are probably aware that it only seats five. This craft lacked cargo space and it was a cramped fit for the three passengers in the back. The Long Ranger variant, the Bell 206L, sat seven. The 206 also had a small instrument panel, whereas the 212 now has a full IFR instrumentation similar to what you see in aircraft, a maximum speed of 138 mph with a rate of climb to 1745 ft/min to a ceiling of 17.400 feet. The Bell 412 is a further advancement to four blades made on the Bell 212 and was first flown in 1979, and certified in 1981.
Installing the Bell212 is fast. A serial number supplied is entered, then you must make sure the path is correct as the installer assumes your FSX installation is on your primary drive, which in my case it is not. This required the simple substitution of the disk letter as the rest of the path is correct. A 24 page manual is only accessed from the FSX sub folder as shown below as there is no shortcut in the programs menu list (you can easily create a desktop shortcut yourself). There is also a painter's kit in the same sub folder
The manual has no discourse on how to start the engines, just a checklist. This is a challenge for me because I usually fly fixed wing aircraft and am not used to the terminology for helicopters, although I have flown the default FSX Bell, I used the infamous ctrl-shift-E shortcut. In this review I think a more realistic approach is warranted. You can see from the above snapshot of the manual's page for starting Engine 1 that I have a learning curve to overcome.
If you go looking for the Bell 212 folder itself, it is not under SimObjects\Airplanes, but …\Rotorcraft. Inside there are six variations of the Bell 212 to chose from named; Helicol, Helisul, Private, Bundenspolizei. Bald Mountain Helitack, and Great Slave Helicopters as depicted above. The term helitack is a combination of the words helicopter and attack; a term used to denote a firefighting type. Helisul is a Spanish term. Helicol is an operator in Colombia.
NOTE: This product has no 2D panel, only a high quality detailed VC.
FLYING THE HUEY:
THE VIRTUAL COCKPIT VC:
There are only three instrument pop-ups as accessed via the menu-bar/view/instruments path which are for the animation panel, the radios and the GPS (default FSX). The GPS is the default FSX GPS.
The animation panel popup is very convenient as there are many doors to open/close on the Bell 212. It is the first listed instrument in the Menu bar under Views/Instruments and as such is accessed via the shortcut shift-1 unless you voluntarily change the controls' settings. There is no need to try your luck with the ubiquitous shift-E-2 etc… It's quite easy to use: The sliding passenger doors do exactly that, they slide to any position at all as shown with 4 random openings in the picture below. This is done in the animation panel by a sliding of the mouse pointer over the doubled arrows associated with that door. There is also a selection to set all electrical circuits to ON which can be of help, but that’s cheating eh?
Once you open a door, its corresponding identifier tag on the animation panel becomes lit up as can be seen in the picture with all doors open. To add to the realism, you cannot open the engine doors while the passenger door for that side is open, or vice versa.
Before trying to master a helicopter it is a good idea to read up on FSX's lessons about them (menu HELP\Learning Center\Lessons.
With a helicopter, the rotor is what generates lift: Vertically with the horizontal rotors and horizontally by the vertical tail rotor. It also can be considered as the "wing" that directs the flight path. Basically there are four basic flight control inputs you need to know about for piloting helicopters: 1) the collective, 2) the throttle, 3) the cyclic, and 4) the anti torque pedals. These do not directly translate to regular aircraft flight operations' as they have their helicopter-specific functions. These four are briefly explained:
The Cyclic: This is that stick (which it is called) that looks like a joystick found in the place of a yoke in the case of the Bell 212. It controls the rotor assembly's pitch cyclically by tilting the entire rotor disk (think circle) in a desired direction and it is this action that controls the direction of flight. When you push this stick (the cyclic) forward, the blade assembly tilts forward cyclically and a forward thrust results. Similarly, a stick pushed to the left will cause the craft to fly in that direction.
The Collective: This assembly which is near the pilot's left knee, controls the pitch angle of all blades collectively meaning at the same time as opposed to an aircraft that have individual propeller pitch controls. This is what increases or decreases the helicopter's altitude by moving the collective forwards or backwards thus producing more or less vertical thrust (compares to the pitch on an aircraft propeller). This stick has not sideways motions, which is why it can be placed to the left of the seat, and cannot be physically combined with the cyclic (as its counterpart in an airplane is combined with the yoke) because then their movements would be in conflict (up/down versus forward/backward). It also houses the throttle.
The Throttle: Unlike an airplane, the engine(s) of a helicopter is designed to be run at a certain RPM. Note I did not say a fixed RPM, as the purposeful use of this throttle is to attempt to maintain a certain RPM, within design limits. When you adjust the collective to go up or down, more energy is either sapped or released to/from the engines, requiring more or less power to maintain that certain RPM. That is why when novices in helicopter simulation (who, me?) go straight for the power on the throttle to try to take off they only get nowhere faster. You need to adjust the collective to take off, after giving the engine enough power to deliver the juice that pitch change will demand of it. The Bell212 has both throttles mounted as motorcycle style grips housed in the collective.
The Anti torque pedals: These are analogous to an airplane's rudder pedals inasmuch as they result in a control of the direction that the nose points to. Since the main rotors of a helicopter impart a rotation to the body, a countermeasure is needed called the anti torque The pedals control the pitch of the tail rotor, which then increase or decrease its thrust which influences the tail's horizontal push counteracting any unwanted rotation. You do not control direction of flight solely using these pedals.
In summary, the cyclic controls direction of flight, the collective controls the up/down movements, the pedals control the tail rotor's pitch thus the nose direction and anti torque influence, and the throttles adjust engine power to maintain a certain rpm.
ENGINE START-UP: Thoughtfully, the Cera website provides online videos as tutorials to help get you started and can be accessed here before purchase. There being only a checklist in the manual for this start-up for this rotorcraft, I was saved by the videos freely accessible on their website. You also can view the checklists from the FSX kneeboard.
To get a cold and dark start I first loaded in 2D cockpit view the default Cessna 172 and made sure all switches were in their OFF position, then I loaded up the Bell 212. Nice and quiet, ready to start. You can also start a free flight with the Bell 212 as aircraft selected, which will have the engines running for you on loading. But that's the easy way.
Starting the two engines in this helicopter is a bit different than what we are used to in airplanes. At least in this simulated design it is not too lengthy. The manual for the Bell 212 has a checklist that you can follow and there are a couple of pictures in the manual describing in more detail the collective and what each part does, where they are, and how you can handle them separately and easily.
In the Bell 212, if both engines are not running you will not be getting enough power to properly support the desired RPM and consequently the lift asked by the collective's position. If you do not start the engines correctly, you will have the RPM light remaining lit up even though it seems you are getting a lot of power. But that is not the desired state.
With this Bell 212 simulation, Cera has been considerate enough to set a fixed shortcut mouse click stop for that elusive 5% setting, as shown in the picture of the collective, above. There is also a short cut mouse click to the 100% setting, while intermittent settings can be set manually or by use of your "default propeller pitch" controls. By default the throttle power grips will be controlled by your default controls settings "propeller pitch" shortcut. This is the only way I could get to the elusive 0% from the clickable 5%.
The collective, which controls blade pitch is controlled by default with your joystick's throttle and its shortcuts. This can be confusing for the novice and is usually the point at which they give up on starting to fly helicopters. I imagine you can re-configure everything using your own preferences for the control settings. If you find yourself confused don't worry, with a little practice and you can enjoy a well controlled helicopter.
Also, I made F9 and F10 keyboard shortcuts for incremental decrease/increase of the default throttle, which here translates to the collective. This is very helpful for small adjustments since I found that using the joystick introduced gross changes in position and was jacquard in handling minute changes.
You prepare the engines throttle start to be at 10% (I use the keyboard shortcut to get elsewhere than the clickable 5% or 100% marks), then you start one (use the checklist), which you monitor and set to 85% rpm. Then you start the other engine in a similar way. The start switch must be returned to the middle neutral position in order to get the torque back to the same as the first engine, otherwise you will not take off well. Increasing the rpm to 100% (both) prepares you for the lift off using the collective. I leave the rest for room for your feelings of immersion while this was a short start-up version that will help you avoid the mistakes I made, but there is more you must follow through on the checklist.
HOVERING: If you found starting the engine and getting up was difficult, maybe you should have stayed on the ground because flying the Bell 212 as simulated by Cera is not easy, especially hovering. Even in the real life theatre of aviation, this is a challenge and requires constant adjustments as the air is always being shifted about the helicopter in ever changing gust due to the very nature of the body and aerodynamics for helicopters. What makes hovering difficult is the interactions between the four control inputs as described above. It is almost like the engineering hysterics where one adjustment interferes with the one just made. This leads to a seemingly never ending series of corrections.
FLYING MOTION: As there is no autopilot simulation with Cera's Bell 212 this requires a constant vigilance but is not as hard as hovering since variations don’t seem to be leading to hysterical or dramatic responses. Similar to what happens with an airplane, pushing the cyclic stick forward will lower the nose and increase the speed with subsequent loss of altitude (without the adjustment of the collective). Deviation from the ideal is not as noticeable due to the perception of smoothness even though you may be violating altitude assignments…
On the other hand, pulling back on the stick will cause the nose to point upwards with an initial climb and slowing down. So what you have to do is coordinate the movements of the cyclic and collective to maintain or achieve the desired altitude while going where you want to go. Sounds simple but it is not. Takes practice like learning to ride a bicycle. Pedals are used as they would be in an airplane, although they may be used more since there is such significant body rotation without their use.
NEVER EXCEED Vne … WHY NOT?: Helicopters are slow. Why is it you never see helicopters going 300 knots? This is the inherent limitation of helicopters by design. The rotor’s rotation causes differential lift, when the forward moving blade goes faster than the retreating blade with subsequent different lift and drag characteristics. So they have designed into the blades a system of give and pull by dynamically changing their angle of attack ever so slightly depending on their forward or retreating movement to dispel the effects of the dissymmetry of lift.
Complicated engineering, but this also results in the speed limitations as the blades will stall if the speed of the airplane is more than that of the retreating blade. therefore there is a serious boundary called the never exceed speed of Vne. The forward blade could also exceed the speed of sound causing untold imbalances and vibrations. I could be somewhat incorrect here but it as deep as I like to go into aerodynamics and engineering stuff.
SOUNDS: It is not too often that you get the dynamic variable sounds for the whipping sound the rotors makes depending on their rotation velocities, but Cera's Bell 212 has them well implemented.
I am using Aerosoft's Manhattan and San Francisco Cities scenery here, it is the best place to need a helicopter if only for sightseeing their amazing scenery. Note that the night lighting is activated from any of the six knobs for lighting in the overhead panel, making it easier to turn them on at night as it gets pretty dark in the VC without them on.
They light up the flood and the gauge lights at the same time, without any dimmer functionality. The landing light switch is on the "hand" of the collective. The light does not shine ahead of you as in a typical aircraft, but under you, and in this case is not very large when in proximity to the ground. To get it to make a familiar forward projecting cone, you have to use the EXT (extend) switch beside the ON switch which then extends the lamp to give you the cone shape.
THE BELL 412:
Cera also sells a reproduction of Bell's 412 model. It is a separate product with identical installation procedures but requiring another payment (no bundle…). What you get is essentially the same helicopter with higher speeds and a higher service ceiling, along with some more liveries. I would suggest you buy either the 212 or the 412 as I found no real need in buying both for what amounts to double the price of one. It does have more modern designs especially with the seats as seen below. I prefer the 412. Note that the 412 has four rotor blades as opposed to the two that are on the 212 which also has a smaller engine/transmission casing. The paint kit for the 412 is absent.
The 412 has a movable searchlight and a better landing light as evidenced in the pictures below. There are two switches, one to turn the light on and one to extend the lamp out. They both operate such that when you extend the lamp you can actually see the luminous cone change position (not able to take a snapshot of that).
INHERERITED LIMITATIONS from FSX:
Do not expect to gain any really great experience about helicopter flight characteristics from the Microsoft Flight Simulators. In French we have the word "divertissement", and that is about what it is: a fairly nice looking imitation for amusement purposes only. As to what pertains to aspects of static navigation and cockpit layout, you do get a fairly realistic imagination experience, but flight characteristics are a mathematical marvel of complexity.
It is not the developers that are ignorant of the flight dynamics, but rather that they are restricted inside a small framework of available parameters without the ability to change the core structure of FSX. Hopefully with the advent of i7 multi core processors, the next generation of flight simulators from both Microsoft and others like Laminar Research will make more room for the entire real world of flight dynamics at long last. Yet they will always only simulate the real.
And last but not least is the finicky nature of the human mind: what seems realistic to one is unrealistic to another.
What makes Cera Simaircraft's Bell 212 better than the default Bell 206? To name a few features: Virtual cockpit, sounds, animation panel, and better immersion/realism. The cyclic stick and the collective with its grip handled throttles are well modeled and usable in the VC. The sounds were quite realistic and dynamically edited.
The two models are quite similar inside the VC but have different flight models which are reflected in their speeds and service ceilings. I preferred the 412 as it has a more civilian style compared to the 212 which is more military in design. The 412 also has a prettier VC and more gadgets to play with, like the movable search light.
The lack of an functioning autopilot in both models was only compensated by the fact that the Bell as reproduced by Cera is easily handled and will achieve level flight without too much trouble.
Helicopters remain a difficult subject to faithfully reproduce inside the FSX environment.
What I Like About Cera's Bell 212 & 412
What I Don't Like About Cera's Bell 212 & 412
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