I'm a heli novice - I've only really been flying since xmas and it was with the aid of a simulator as I've never had a heli lesson and no one has ever tried to teach me how to fly a heli. I have a Fury 60 Expert which I can fly as fast it will go and I haven't crashed it yet. I'm flying with confidence, without having to think too much about what I'm doing and enjoying every minute of it.
When I first got into aeromodelling I wanted to fly heli - as usual, I didn't check with anyone as to what was involved I just went out and bought a complete setup including a brand-new unassembled Kyosho Nexus-SS and OS32SX-H from Ebay and Futaba FF6. Shortly after getting it home I realised I'd bitten off more than I could chew and put it all to one side.
My first RC flights were with a fixed wing trainer with an instructor on a buddy box at my local club field - just how it should be. Within a few months I'd taken my test and was able to fly solo. Whilst all this was going on I was larking about on my PC with the Reflex simulator and was basically figuring out the whole heli-flight-thing on my own. My priority was no longer learning to fly helis as I was getting into gas turbine jets and was brushing-up on my FW aerobatics to take my B test, but the interest was still there in the background and from time to time I was putting in the hours on the PC.
I've always enjoyed electric flight and had a selection of electric FW models and when the opportunity of a cheap 2nd hand Eco8 came along I couldn't let it pass me by - perhaps this might be an interesting and cheap model with which to learn the basics of heli flight ? Wrong! I got a friend from my club field to help set it up and fly it for me but he soon pronounced it as "unflyable" - mostly because of the way it had been assembled by it's previous owner (no wonder they sold it). We got info from the dream-models website on how to sort out the Eco8 (CCPM conversion) and I also took some time to read the info on learning to fly helis - I found this quite useful and after I managed to get the Eco8 into a flyable condition (thanks to my friend) I used the material on the dream models website to get me into the air for the first time and I started to practise hovering in my back yard and from time to time, still practising on the simulator. Wow, I could hover, but I realised that just hovering out pack after pack and having to wait to recharge in between flights wasn't allowing me enough stick-time, so time to buy a good quality heli that will last me for a long long while. I'd sold the Nexus some time ago so I didn't have an IC heli any more so I bought a new MA Fury 60 Expert and a YS61ST2, got it assembled and once again had my friend help me set it up and started to practise hovering with that - all the time still practising on the simulator whenever I had the inclination.
Then, around xmas '04, someone gave me a Hirobo XRB SR. What a revelation! I was burning this thing around my living room, practising nose-in, chasing the cat and generally flying it like I'd stole it. I've been through so many sets of blades but the model is actually still in good condition. I bought an extra battery for it and I put in loads of time on this little toy - which was huge fun at the time but now I find quite boring although it's still amusing to blast it around the livingroom from time to time. These days I've been using it to practise pirouetting circuits and backward circuits.
The simulator taught me the basics and sorted my thumbs out.The XRB taught me to "hold the tail" and develop my "get out of trouble" maneouvers and gave me the confidence to try new things on my Eco8. The Eco8 has given me the confidence to fly my Fury 60. Now, I only fly my Fury 60 and I think I'll sell my Eco8 and get an Ion-X. All that aside, I would never have been able to acheive what I have without the aid of some really knownledgable friends that I've made at my club and my local store.
Looking back I would say that the simulator was an extremely useful tool and I would say that it played a large factor in getting me to where I am now - but it is not the only factor. Knowing what I know now, If I had to line up all my "assets" that have helped me into the air (the simulator, the XRB, the Eco8, and my friends) and had to do away with one of them I wouldn't know which to choose. Each one has played a part - but the experts I've been lucky enough to have around me have played the largest part of all.
In many respects it is actually harder to fly the simulator than my models. The one thing that I do understand more than anything else is that it is all in the mind. I would also say that getting to grips with helis has definately made me a better FW pilot. Before I used to fly all my FW models without hardly ever using the rudder and now I just can't help myself.