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Phoenix 4 RC Flight Simulator

Learn to fly better, cheaper and faster

Text & photos by Tom Hintz

Posted – 1-21-2014

Modern day RC pilots have a huge advantage over their pre-computer predecessors. Not so long ago crashing a plane or two while learning to fly RC aircraft was highly probable. Modern pilots from zero stick time novices to long-term veterans can make use of computer programs like the Phoenix 4 RC Flight Simulator reviewed here to learn the basics of flight or perfect a new maneuver with no fear of crashing costing you time or money. Fly something into the ground in Phoenix 4 RC Flight Simulator and you are a reset away from once again taking to the air to work on the mistake that caused the mishap. In this bit of the cyber world your supply of fresh aircraft is unlimited and your practice time unfettered by darkness, rain or winds – unless you choose to impose those conditions on yourself.

Realism

Because Phoenix 4 RC Flight Simulator runs on nearly any modern computer the graphics do not reach the level of Hollywood CGI but what you see on your screen is more than real enough for learning. In addition to being able to control the weather you can choose from an extensive list of 25 (and growing) flying sites. Here again you can’t actually smell the freshly cut grass but terrain is surprisingly realistic and the range of flying sites should let you find one that is similar to where you fly.

Also realistic are the repercussions of flying into things like the ground, trees, buildings and yourself. The designers of Phoenix 4 RC Flight Simulator didn’t spend a lot of time on the graphical depiction of crashing but despite those visuals being a bit lame, you know without a doubt what just happened.

Flight Characteristics

The impressive part of these modern flight simulators to me is the realistic flight of the cyber models. Most of the airplanes and helicopters are digital versions of real world models, often supplied by the original manufacturer with the appropriate fight capabilities and characteristics. While you get a bunch of models included with Phoenix 4 RC Flight Simulator, whenever you start the program it calls home to see if there are new models that you can download for free. With the selection of fixed and rotary wing aircraft available there is almost certainly something close to what you are or want to fly.

You have full control over the characteristics of the plane (left) and your controls (right) to make this as realistic as you want.
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I have to admit that I expected a simple flying game with aircraft that looked like models but they really do have flight envelopes close to the real thing. Underpowered planes at the real field are underpowered in Phoenix 4 RC Flight Simulator. Hyperactive models are just as hyper on your screen.

It is that similarity to the real world models that makes Phoenix 4 RC Flight Simulator a valuable learning tool. You can practice a maneuver in Phoenix 4 RC Flight Simulator and take that experience to the field and execute that maneuver with the real model. Things like flying inverted, flying towards yourself and other common crash-prone situations can be flown in Phoenix 4 RC Flight Simulator until you get used to the controls which are identical to flying the real thing. The difference is the crashes along the way in Phoenix 4 RC Flight Simulator don’t cost a weeks’ pay and you aren’t leaving telltale spinner holes in the runway. Learning to fly with the Phoenix 4 RC Flight Simulator is just more fun when you can confine most of the crashes to the computer and more of the flying part at the field.

Keep in mind that with the Phoenix 4 RC Flight Simulator you use your actual radio transmitter plugged into the computer with a special cord that goes from your trainer plug to a USB port. You get to use the dual rates and exponential along with the actual sticks you manipulate when flying the real model. To me that is an important advantage over RC flight simulators that use game controllers or even plastic replicas of a real RC transmitter. There is something to be said for learning with the real transmitter in your hands.

Adjustable Reality

All of the aircraft in Phoenix 4 RC Flight Simulator are fully adjustable in terms of controls and a long list of physical characteristics that impact how a model flies. You can move the Center of Gravity (CG) to see why you should not do that on a real plane. Though most aircraft fly just fine as they come in the program you can tweak those settings to better match your real plane if need be.

Phoenix 4 RC Flight Simulator includes the ability to force specific failures of the aircraft or you can let the program surprise you with them. This is great for learning how to best deal with a suddenly stopped engine. Getting back to the runway is not always possible so you have to learn to keep the wings level and set it down as lightly as possible to minimize damage. In Phoenix 4 RC Flight Simulator you don’t have to repair the aircraft between these learning episodes but the practice with dead stick situations can save you real money at the field is you have a problem.

Have a crash (left) and the model will suddenly reappear (right) ready to go for another try. I have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in cyber crashes which so far have helped me eliminate the real crashes at the field!
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In addition to the aircrafts' flight characteristics Phoenix 4 RC Flight Simulator lets you control the weather or let the program come up with its own idea of what the day is like. What I like about this capability is you can learn to fly a certain plane fairly well and then start adding light winds, then moderate winds to see how the plane changes. You can also change the direction of the wind so you can learn to deal with cross winds, something you will need to know at any flying field.

Other Features

In addition to learning to fly or simply practicing Phoenix 4 RC Flight Simulator has several other features to keep it interesting. It does have a training section that walks you through many of the aerobatic and common flight techniques. It also has a competition section where you can test various skills. They included a flight recorder so you can go back and watch your successes and failures, both painless. Phoenix 4 RC Flight Simulator also has an on line component where you an fly against others on the Internet if your connection supports game play.

At the Field

I originally bought the Phoenix 4 RC Flight Simulator on the suggestion of a hobby shop salesman that was also selling me my early airplanes and small helicopters upon my re-entry to the hobby. It turns out that the Phoenix 4 RC Flight Simulator program was the best thing he sold me. I should have noticed the dominance of toys over real RC merchandise but that realization came later and in the mean time I had the Phoenix 4 RC Flight Simulator to expand my RC horizons.

What Phoenix 4 RC Flight Simulator did me was to help get my fingers connected to my eyes and brain without the cost of smacking aircraft into the Earth. The digital planes and helicopters in Phoenix 4 RC Flight Simulator helped me overcome the dumb-thumbs condition so many of us face in the early part of our RC experience. Plus I was having fun doing it and could experiment with different aircraft types. That helped me make better purchase decisions as my flying skills improved.

Now that I am flying things like my T-Rex 550E PRO DFC helicopter Phoenix 4 RC Flight Simulator continues to pay off in that I can try new things on the computer before taking them to the actual field. Again the crash visuals in Phoenix 4 RC Flight Simulator are kind of lame but you get the point. The dead aircraft miraculously heals and resurrects itself on the runway ready for another attempt. That lets you see what you did wrong so you can learn to avoid it.

The Downside

The program comes with dozens of models like the 9-foot-wingspan Cap (left) and the very realistic flying Apache (right) that each have very real-world flight characteristics. And they keep adding models (free) to the list!
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The cyber world is not perfect either and Phoenix 4 RC Flight Simulator has a couple limitations. Most pronounced is the small size of the aircraft representations on even large computer monitors. For me trying to fly the smaller helicopters up to 300-range ships is all but impossible. I did find out that the Align Trex 700 in Phoenix 4 RC Flight Simulator flies exactly like my T-Rex 550E PRO DFC so I use it all of the time. So far everything I have leaned on the 700 in Phoenix 4 RC Flight Simulator turns out to be identical to when I do it with the T-Rex 550E PRO DFC in the real sky.

Perspective is another issue in any simulation. When doing maneuvers that are height sensitive the ground gets to be a problem because it appears suddenly. In real life your eyes always have a reference well below the aircraft and well below the bottom of the screen. So far this as not proven to be a big problem other than I find myself pulling out of maneuvers considerably higher than is necessary. That is an easy thing to fix at the field but we need to be aware of this visual limit when flying a simulator.

Conclusions

Anyone that wants to learn to fly RC aircraft or wants to explore the limits of their capabilities will benefit from having the Phoenix 4 RC Flight Simulator. It will save you lots of crash dollars as well as the frustrations of banging up an expensive model. You can learn more and do it faster with the peace of mind the cyber flying field provides. The accuracy of the flight models makes what you learn on the computer easier to apply to real models in a real sky.

 

The Phoenix 4 RC Flight Simulator sells for $129.99 (1-21-2014) on the street and comes with the trainer port to USB cord so you can use most modern transmitters. I know that is not cheap but if you consider that the firs crash you have in the SIM rather than at the field is likely to cost as much as the program the real savings begin almost immediately.

Click Here to see the Phoenix 4 RC Flight Simulator product page.

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