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Flight Log – Dodos Can Fly

February 5th, 2011 · 1 Comment · Gaming

So I wanted some better-modeled aircraft to play with now that I was getting more settled in to what I’m currently flying. I was considering buying a plane but recently realized the default Cessna 172 is still doing it for me, especially considering my range is not far at all given that I’m still in the state of NJ. So while there are several options for even slower and shorter-ranged aircraft (Piper Cub comes to mind) that’s not really the direction I wanted to go – plus I’m not fond of tail draggers. So that left a helicopter. There are just as many helicopter options out there as there are planes, but one product in particular stands out among the crowd and is one I’ve seen mentioned a lot around the FSX community – Dodosim.

So what Dodosim has apparently done over other helicopter products is base their flight model entirely on their own physics system that talks to FSX from outside the game. Whereas the majority of FSX helicopter add-ons tweak the base simulation that ships for FSX helicopters, Dodosim has surpassed it with their own that covers numerous aerodynamic factors of rotor wing flight that FSX’s model simply ignores or doesn’t fully calculate. Examples are torque-induced yaw, transverse flow effect, rotor droop, vortex ring state, and others. I’m sure you may have heard how hard helicopters are to fly – no surprise being that they are inherently unstable machines – but in reality it’s more that they are hard to understand.

This is made very apparent by the 84-page product manual that ships with the helicopter in order to explain to you in detail all the aerodynamic modeling and what exactly it means to you as a pilot in control of the bird. In addition, you are also walked through the proper start up and shut down procedures that real 206’s require in order to avoid engine damage and undue wear and tear. Speaking of which, if so enabled you can let the Dodosim engine track how you fly and operate the helicopter. Doing so will allow it to build up a profile of your helicopter’s mechanical stresses over time. If you keep over-torquing your engine guess what will happen? Boom! Or you could lose a tail rotor transmission if you like to stomp around on your rudder pedals a lot. These failures don’t happen suddenly either, you will see and notice warning signs in time to get them repaired through the Dodosim menu – unless you choose to ignore them and suffer the consequences.

So after I finished pouring over the manual I got busy setting up my X52 HOTAS for the task of flying. The Dodosim introduces several new controls over the default 206 that are needed to conduct a proper manual start up, so some re-mapping of my joystick buttons were necessary. Happily, I managed to get everything on the collective that exists there in real life – throttle twist, idle latch button, start up button, and RPM governor. I also reversed the axis on my collective so that pulling it back would increase collective like it would in a real helicopter. Up until now I had it behaving like a fighter jet throttle – this caused me some consternation for a while in the beginning of my flight time with the Dodo as I would pull the collective in the wrong direction at times. But I’m used to it now, and the thought of pulling up to go up made the transition easier.

Finally I had the X52 set up perfectly (here’s my Saitek profile file) and was ready to hop into the cockpit. The Dodo has 5 difficulty levels with each level adding more and more physics modeling for various aerodynamic effects that you have to take into consideration. When I loaded for the first time, it was set to 5, so I figured I’d just step down if I needed to. With the checklist open, I ran through the start up procedure – it was cool to have to hold down the starter button while the engine spools up. If you let go too early you’ll get a “hot start” that will severely damage the engine. After I got the engine warmed up and the RPMs into the green, it was time to take off, fly around and try to land again.

For my flight exercise, I would take off without caring about heading, climb to 1000′ MSL, circle around while maintaining altitude, descend back to the airport and land. While in cruise, the Dodo behaves very similar to the default 206 with minor differences in specific situations where the additional physics modeling come into effect – but by and large if you can make it to this point you can fly around pretty easily. However, the advanced modeling of the Dodo becomes readily apparent during take off, hover, transition to cruise, transition to hover and landing. So pretty much everything else. My first two attempts at landing saw me approach the ground traveling slow enough for speed not to register on the airspeed indicator – but I failed to add collective enough in time to keep my vertical airspeed from being to great. The third landing attempt finally saw me safely (if a bit roughly) on the ground.

After a second successful landing I decided it was time to up my game a bit, so I took off into a hover and hover taxied down to the runway. The going was slow as I meandered about a lot, but generally was able to stay over the taxi way. It also took me a while to find the sweet spot in the collective that would let me pitch forward without picking up to much speed or altitude. Still, it’s not like I could just leave the collective alone – the sweet spot was actually a setting where very minute adjustments were all that was needed to keep me low and slow. And by minute I mean varying the pressure of my grip on the collective, not really even moving it. Eventually I made it to the runway although the whole time I looked like I was flying drunk. I took off and worked hard to maintain runway heading as I climbed out – the transition from hover to cruise requires you to adjust to a lot of things you know will happen before they happen, like the transverse flow effect.

Back in the air again, I decided to head east for Manhattan to try my hand at the helipads out there. I was pleasantly surprised to be able to place the Dodo on the pad at all 4 heliports while only crashing once. I think because the Dodo models things so well, it’s a lot easier and more natural to expect and compensate for the various effects you experience while flying a helicopter. That said, there were still instances where I was struggling to keep the helicopter right-side up, especially while in a hover. The low-speed control inputs are way more sensitive on the Dodo than the default 206 (as they should be) and you really feel like you’re trying to stand up on a big workout ball. I’m pretty sure anyone flying with me would need a barf bag handy for when I make a roller coaster ride out of hovering.

Despite my relatively good performance today for my first experience with the Dodo, I should also mention it was carried out at sea level, under clear skies, moderate temperatures and no wind. I definitely have further challenges ahead of me when it comes to varying atmospheric pressure and real-world weather. The lack of any sort of wind probably made things at least 1/3 easier overall. Hell wind can even affect your start up – if you have a tailwind blowing hot exhaust gases back into your engine you’ll get a hot start!

I’m looking forward to flying the Dodo more and understanding better how helicopters operate. For example, I need to figure out still why, when on approach to 6N5 today, I suddenly lost rotor RPM and spun out into the water. I mean, I was only like 400′ MSL and I must have flipped over like 6 times before hitting the water – and this was from a very stable and slow approach. I guess we’ll see what the NTSB says 😛

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