You have to look at the sport of flying radio-controlled aircraft like you would gambling: If you can’t afford to lose (crash), you can’t afford to play (fly).
A basic almost-ready-to-fly trainer aircraft (.40 gas motor, four-channel radio) will set you back nearly $500 after you pick up everything needed to get in the air and maintain the airplane. If money’s tight, the mere act of taking off for the first time can put you in a panic!
RealFlight G3 is an RC simulator that can give you the edge you need to make that first flight a success, and keep you from committing basic mistakes that could put your bird in the shop—permanently. Take it from those who have crashed and burned!
With a robust hangar of 30 aircraft and nine helicopters of the electric-, gas-, and wind-powered varieties, you won’t get bored for a while, either. The mix includes trainer aircraft, high-performance aerobatics masterpieces, and everything in between. Training modes step you through basic maneuvers, and your skills will also benefit from a variety of optional onscreen visual aids—such as a radio that mimics your control inputs, and unlimited viewpoint windows to help you better gauge runway approaches and obstacles. (Each one you open puts a big hit on your frame rate, however.)
The sim ships with a USB controller that mimics an actual Futaba 4-to-10 channel transmitter. The controller includes inputs and patch cords to connect the transmitter from your own RC kit, if you prefer to use that instead, or you can connect with a second transmitter to fly split-screen with a friend. The game allows online play for up to eight people, but Great Planes does not provide a match-making service.
Also included are 17 airfields replicating some 5,000 square miles of terrain modeled from satellite and digital elevation data. Locations range from open training fields to the tight confines of a soccer field—complete with the dreaded light posts! Each locale is best suited to a particular type of aircraft, and together the fields represent a generous stable of options. Still, you can use the included tools to tweak just about anything on the fields, and the aircraft themselves, which is a big selling point for RC gear-heads. Want to see how that PT Trainer will fly with a four-bladed prop? No problem!
The 3D aircraft models are gorgeous, with moving control surfaces and articulating gear. They crash really well, too, thanks to the addition of an enhanced collision-detection engine. Brush a tree branch with your plane and you’ll know it—you’ll hit the ground hard and your craft will break into pieces. (Take comfort in knowing that all you need to do is hit the reset button on the transmitter to put it back together.) The engine is far from perfect, though, as we often hit objects with no discernible damage penalties, and terrain effects are not modeled—taxiing on grass feels the same as a smooth runway.
While the aircraft look fantastic, the rest of the sim looks average at best—and some background objects are fugly to say the least. RealFlight has a long way to go before it will be confused with a high-end PC flight sim. We also experienced some nasty crashes when switching back and forth between different views in-game.
At $200 RealFlight G3 is not cheap—and you don’t even get a printed manual! If you’re at all serious about the sport, however, it’s worth the price of admission.
+ HIGH-SPEED PASS: Lots of aircraft/fields to try; highly configurable; included controller.
- CRASH AND BURN: Expensive; background graphics need work; no manual; unstable.