As an ex aircraft engineer who specialised in helicopters with the British Army, I’ve always retained a fondness for rotary craft. Unfortunately, these aren’t very well represented in flight simulators with many of the freeware models I’ve come across leaving a little something to be desired.
Not to be deterred, I’ve kept a watchful eye out for potentially good models and, a couple of weeks ago, I found the H&S Design EC-135. I wonder if my prayers may just have been answered…
|EC-135 REGA (Rescue Fit) with additional Hellas, SX-16, FLIR, winch, double controls and GPS tracker attached.|
Taking a first look at this presentation of the EC135, I would have to say that there are payware aircraft out there (not necessarily EC135’s) that don’t meet up to what is offered here. Although this aircraft has been updated from FS9 to FSX, it doesn’t really appear to have lost too much across the board, being visually detailed and relatively crisp throughout.
The guys at H&S Design have clearly put a great deal of time and energy into this aircraft, just the volume of options available by bringing up the 2D panels gave me an immediate ‘kiddie in a sweetshop’ type grin. The interior has two generic virtual cockpit styles (with 18. further subtle combinations) and can be fitted out as a VIP, rescue or police equipped craft, in addition to the initially offered ‘cargo’ variant. External options include everything from Hellas, to alternative skids, winches and even missiles (on the included 635 military model) offering up some 58 possible combinations.
|Another of the base VIP model not far from Southend Airport (EGMC)|
Available liveries are numerous and, assuming you know how to change the aircraft.cfg files, you can switch them across differing models if there’s a particular vc setup and livery combination you like. Although with the 18 possible VC combinations, it could take some time to find the one you really like.
H&S Design have also included a paint kit so that you can create your own liveries if you wish, as well as different crew textures that you can also switch out to really customise how you have your EC set up.
All in all, I am very impressed so far.
H&S Design provide a relatively short manual to assist in start up and shut down procedures. The document also contains details of the various controls that are available, so that you can find all those buttons for turning on things like the Hellas and sand filters (yep, even comes with sand filters!).
Whilst concise, the manual provides what you need to get airborne and I was preparing to get off the tarmac in just a few minutes. The wind up time of the engines and rotors possibly isn’t too realistic, with full rotor rpm arriving in no more than a few seconds. However, I’m more than happy to overlook this as the EC still offers a quality feel as you go through the startup procedures.
|Base EC135 VIP model in flight from Sansted to London City|
Throttle response (using my Thrustmaster T.16000M) is fast and I found myself initially over-torquing the engines as I took off, This was quickly remedied and, once I’d got a feel for how the 135 reacted to collective inputs, the whole affair of hovering at low altitude became relatively intuitive. Lateral movement is generated from any wind and this provided more of a challenge. I found myself having the tendency to overcompensate for wind driven movements, causing the quite realistic instability to start to escalate. With some practice though, I’m sure that this is something that will get easier to control.
Whilst the initial flight from Stansted to London City wasn’t actually my first in the 135, previous attempts at a decent flight were somewhat thwarted by a strange quirk in the fuel system. All I’ll say here is that it’s not a direct model issue, more an FSX quirk that I’ve posted about HERE (The post includes a fix for the issue)
Flight dynamics of the 135 are smooth and responsive and, unlike a lot of the other rotary wing craft I’ve flown, not too difficult to control. The 135 feels stable and, even at low speeds, doesn’t get harassed too much by cross winds although some pilot input is definitely needed to keep her on track. On the initial flight down to London City, I kept things gentle with wide sweeping turns and relatively gradual changes in altitude. At all times, the EC responded well and with accuracy, making the flight a very pleasant one.
|Putting the EC through her paces over George Best Belfast City|
Going against this positive stability, perhaps, is the lack of realism in it’s flight dynamics. If I compare this craft to the freeware and payware versions of the Dash 8 Q400 that are in my hangar, the EC definitely flies much more like the freeware. But then.. It is freeware and, personally, a helicopter that I’m having to personally fight against wouldn’t be anywhere near as much fun.
On arrival at London City, I switched to a Dash 8 for the flight across to Belfast Aldergrove before picking the EC back up again for some more aggressive testing, this time in the REGA fit.
Even under more aggressive control inputs, the EC continued to respond with the accuracy that I’d found in my initial, more gentle, flight. I placed the REGA EC into some steep turns and climbs, relishing in the way that she rolled and pitched without getting too bent out of shape.
A couple of short hops later on arriving at Newcastle (Ireland, not UK), I decided to switch out into another model, this time a military EC635 variant. Loaded out with flare pods, hellfire missiles, battle seats, sand filters, amour plating and the FLIR and ready for another round of more strenuous testing, this time very low altitude (300 feet or below) navigation.
|EC635 With additonal attachments: Weapon mounts (left and right), battle seats, armour plating, flare pods (left and right), hellfire missiles (left and right), out-mirrors (left & right), sand filters and FLIR|
Another handful of hops on through the tour route and I’m still grinning. I’ve just spent the best part of two hours navigating through the hills of Ireland, keeping the EC as close to the ground as I safely could and as fast as I could (130 to 140 kts). Not once did the EC left me down, the only close call completely my error as I skimmed the small trees on top of a hill, only to find a pylon just over the crest.
One last mention before I move onto landing the EC is the virtual cockpit. At first glance, it looks well fitted out and, truth be told, it is. However, things like the radios and gps system are inoperable from the VC, despite it being apparently possible to do so. In fairness though, I feel it’s important for me to point out that I’m using FSX: Steam Edition, rather than the more traditional versions. The H&S Design never did a SE version of the EC-135, so it’s entirely possible that these minor inconveniences in the VC dont’ occur in SP2 or Acceleration (the two versions of FSX that the EC is designed to work on.
|Inside the virtual cockpit of the EC-135|
Like all FSX rotary wing craft, landing is an interesting challenge in the EC-135, but, again, not as bad as I’ve experienced in some other freeware. The EC still feels responsive and, after only a few legs of the journey, I’m starting to touch down in a more controlled manner. I’ve no doubt that with a little more practice, I’ll be able to make landing this bird look a piece of cake.
What I have noticed is that it really doesn’t pay to hang around too long when you’re only a few feet above the ground. Once you’re down to less than 50 feet or so with very little forward movement, crosswinds can have you off your spot quickly, especially if they’re above around 15 kts. There’s certainly an art to this, but with only about 8 landings in the EC in my logbook, it’s still fairly early days.
|Landing the EC-135 REACH Rescue variant|
(Edit: I was enjoying the EC-135 so much during the Ireland Tour that I decided to complete the second half in it, rather than change to another craft as I’d planned)
Still with a handful of legs of the tour to do before I had planned to conclude testing with the EC, I think I’ve seen all I need to. She’s fast, agile and the multitude of liveries and add-ons provide an almost infinite supply of fun things to do.
Whether you’re into piloting VIPs to secluded locations, looking to perform rescue missions from oil rigs or coming over the brow of a hill at 140 kts to launch your hellfire missiles at an unsuspecting enemy, this fantastic freeware has the lot.
I have just one small word of warning (or criticism) though. On occasions where I was flying close to built up areas, such as London City, frame rates took a real pounding. At worst, these would drop to as low as 1fps. This is something that I’ve never experienced with any other craft I’ve flown, although I do take brief momentary hits to my fps from time to time. However, in defence of the EC, I am running addons such as Orbx Global, with graphics set to high, and my graphics card (although a high spec Nvidia) isn’t the most up to date. It could be an issue specific to my setup, but just keep an eye on those frame rates.