The Eurocopter EC-135 comes with a very impressive 3d cockpit with photorealistic texturing – one example of very few aircraft in Flightgear.
Unfortunately, many of the switches are not yet functional, and the procedures to start the engine are very simple. Some work on support for more detailed procedures would be beneficial for the helicopter. Nevertheless, the realistic looks of the cockpit create a very nice feeling of immersion into the simulation.
The exterior model, for which a variety of liveries are available, is likewise very impressive – it makes use of state-of-the-art reflection shaders and has animations for lights, the rotors and the doors.
If the model crashes, the crash is also (partially) animated by showing the broken rotor blades.
Lacking any experience with any helicopter in reality, it is somewhat difficult to judge how well the FDM is done. Helicopters in Flightgear are not easy to fly due to the overall high degree of realism. However, compared with other models such as the Bo-105 or the R-22, the EC-135 handles certainly a bit easier and is a suitable helicopter for a beginner to learn the basics of helicopter flight. Also as compared to many other helicopters in Flightgear, the EC-135 has a rather powerful engine and can quickly climb vertically.
The model shows a lot of phenomena characteristic for helicopters: For instance, the rotors generate a lot more lift in forward flight than in hover flight, which needs to be compensated for when approaching for landing. In slow or hover flight, the EC-135 can swing like a pendulum under the rotor – this is a very nasty condition and difficult to deal with. The torque of the main rotor is clearly felt and must be compensated by the rear rotor, although this is not as tricky to balance as with other helicopters. The helicopter can easily be flown backwards or sidewards – it’s however tricky not to lose control when doing so. Another interesting experience is to hover at high altitude, then reduce lift via the collective – the helicopter drops down rapidly, and one can observe the blades spinning up.
My personal wishlist
More functionality in the cockpit and more implemented procedures would be a very nice addition to the model.
Things to experience
There are plenty of heliports in the Flightgear world. One nice tour is to load the Vinson AI scenario, and, starting out from the carrier itself, visit its escort group (provided you don’t mind that it’s not a US Navy helicopter…). Most of the ships have a helipad where you can land and enjoy the view you usually don’t get to appreciate. Also, many buildings have helipads on their roofs. It’s somewhat tricky to land on such a tight spot, but it can be done, and usually results into a good feeling of accomplishment.