Helicopters in Microsoft Flight Simulator. It has always been a thing of controversy. The first helicopter to appear in Microsoft Flight Simulator was the Bell 206 JetRanger, in FS98. Even though it’s been there for a couple of versions, the default JetRanger was never very realistic. Dodosim managed to change that. First for FS9, but with this version also for FSX. It’s been there for a couple of years, but let’s take a more detailed look anyway.
Before I really start this review, a note: this product from Dodosim is never called or compared to the Bell 206B JetRanger. Whether it be on product pages, manuals, checklists, it’s always referred to as the Dodosim 206 FSX. I suspect this has something to do with trademarks on the names Bell and JetRanger. I will stick to this naming in the review. This, however, makes it hard to determine the exact version of the real life helicopter modeled, but I suspect it’s the Bell 206B-3 JetRanger, the latest and most advanced version in the original single-engine, two-bladed, five-seat layout.
When we go further in the review, let’s also keep in mind the fact that this is not a new product. Although I don’tÂ think I’ll ever need to use that as an excuse.
Although the Dodosim 206 FSX has been developed by Dodosim, and is also sold through their website as a download version, it’s also available from Flight1 Software in both download and boxed editions. For this review, Flight1 was so kind as to send me the boxed version.
This CD version comes in a box with a nice cover. As for the contents of the box, there’s obviously the CD, with the actual software. In addition, you get a 15-page ‘Quick Start Guide’, a 79-page printed manual, and my personal favorite: 2 recto-verso checklist cards that cover all checklists from getting into a Cold-and-dark cockpit until leaving it in that same state.
The actual installation isn’t very impressive, and that’s good. Just insert the CD, start the installer if the autorun doesn’t do it for you, and go through the usual yes, next and agree steps. If you have FSX installed in a custom location, the installer will detect this, although I strongly advise you to make check this. The actual copying of files took less than a minute on my laptop.
After installation, you will find the Dodosim 206 FSX under the manufacturer Dodosim in your FSX aircraft selection screen, in no less than 24 variations. There are 3 different liveries (2 red and 1 blue), but they come on 8 variants of the 206: a variant on low skids (the normal), one on high skids (used for more ground clearance), one on floats, and a utility variant which has high skids, a cargo hook and wire cutters. These 4 variants are all available with or without doors.
If you have some extra time on your hands, Flight1 filled up the empty space on the CD with some nice promo videos of other Flight1 products. I’m no fan of advertising and all that stuff, but there are a couple of nice shots and scenes in there.
Now for the actual review. Let’s see what this chopper’s made of! I’ve already stated the amount of variants you end up with, so there’s no point in repeating that. Whatever variant you choose, you end up first of all with a gorgeous 3D model, with even the smallest details correctly modeled. Antennas, light bulbs, air vents, it’s all there. But most impressive of all in my opinion, are the rotor heads. Both the one on the tail rotor as the one on the main rotor are beautifully modeled into the smallest detail, although the only time you can admire this is when the aircraft is shut down, as they’re spinning to fast any other time.
And the modeling isn’t the only part of the exterior that shows this amount of detail. The textures are at the same level. Clear, crisp textures all around. And not only diffuse (normal colors) but also bump and specular textures, so no matter how the light falls on the helicopter, it’ll look great in FSX! There only 2 improvement I personally would like. The first is some wear and tear on the textures. It looks like a brand new aircraft. But, I also know many people prefer this new, clean look, so it’s a personal choice here. Second, certainly when choosing a no door variant, is that many parts of the interior look very dull, without any depth. This could really do with some improvement.
Last part on the exterior: animations. It’s not an aircraft with a complicated flap system, or intricate gear retraction, but nevertheless, there is something to see here. Obviously, the rotors move. Not only do they turn, but the main rotor disk tilts when you make cyclic inputs. Also, when the rotors are not spinning, you can see the angle of the blades change with collective inputs on the main rotor or with yaw inputs on the tail rotor. Further animations include opening doors if you choose a variant that has doors, a moving pilot in the right seat and moving controls visible from the outside. However, in my opinion the best part of the animations is the simple spinning of the rotor. Or, more accurately, the winding up or down. In many other FSX helicopters I get the feeling it’s all or nothing. It either isn’t turning, or it’s turning full speed, with very little in between. The Dodosim 206 FSX does have that in between! Most credit for that goes to the custom systems, but it makes it look so much better from the outside as well.
In fact, I can keep this very short, as the story on the interior (the virtual cockpit) is about the same as the exterior: great and accurate modeling, clear and crisp textures without any wear and tear (but with some subtle smudges on the overhead, which is nice) which look a little dull in some less important locations, and clear and smooth animations. That’s very short, but there’s really nothing more to say. However, don’t let that fact that I keep this short fool you into thinking the interior isn’t good. But describing it all, would basically be just a copy of what I wrote about the exterior.
I’m just going to add one thing here: the gauges in the VC. These are all 2D gauges (while the modern standard is moving more and more towards 3D but remember me saying this isn’t a new addon?) but they’re smooth and accurate, so no complaints there either. Except for one: the altimeter pointers. No problem with the larger one (hundreds) but the shorter one (thousands) really suffers from low resolution. Instead of an almost diamond shaped arrow, it looks like a blob op pixels to me. But it’s still readable, and if that’s the only thing I don’t like about the VC, you get an idea about the quality of this product.
Apart from a fully functional 3D cockpit, Dodosim also provided everything in 2D. So no matter what you prefer, you can have it your way in the Dodosim 206 FSX. Personally, I prefer the 3D VC, but I find myself going back to 2D in the Dodosim 206 FSX a lot, primarily for startup and shutdown. There are 5 usable 2D panels. First of all, the main panel, which is basically the same in layout as the default FSX Bell 206, but better and with some extras. Second in the overhead panel with some (functional) circuit breakers, and then you still have the radio stack, the collective lever (with starter button, landing lights and throttle) and a compass popup. I’m no 2D fan, but these are good. They aren’t overly cramped, they’re clear, easy to read, easy to use and run smooth. Finally, there’s also a default FSX GPS popup provided.
Systems and flight dynamics:
I’m putting two Â of things together here, which I normally separate, but in the Dodosim 206 FSX they just can’t be viewed separate, as they’re interconnected.
Well, time to get going and tell you about the Dodosim 206 FSX. First of all, there’s a system, controlled with what’s the heater switch in the real aircraft. This little system is the difficulty setting, and works completely independent from FSX’s difficulty setting. There are 5 difficulty settings, ranging from very simple (1) to very realistic (5). In level 1, the only difference from the default FSX 206 is a more realistic low speed handling, and the fact that using auto start (crtl+E) will give you visual cues on the 2D panels on what’s happening. In levels 2 and 3 auto start no longer works, but the cues are still there, so actually the chopper tells you what to do when you press ctrl+E, while on levels 4 and 5 there’s no startup help at all. Obviously, there’s no shame in using level 1 first and slowly progressing when you’re ready. You can’t run before you can walk, now can you? The same increase in difficulty happens with all other systems, and with the flight dynamics.
From now on, I’ll describe the full features, so what’s basically level 5, but always keep in mind it will easier on lower levels. When you’re running the Dodosim 206 FSX on level 5, you will be in the most realistic helicopter available for FSX today. Features go from realistic engine management to control cross-coupling and a lot of aerodynamic effects that make helicopter flying so unique, and so difficult for novices. I will not describe everything here, because then I could just copy the 79-page manual here, but I’ll lift a tip of the veil, so you can know what to expect.Â An example on engine management: if you’re fuel pressure drops to low, the engine will flame-out. The engine is mounted above the fuel tank in the Bell 206, so gravity will not bring fuel to your engine, like it does in many airplanes. Also the spool up time for the turbine (and thus also the rotors) is much more realistic here than in the default FSX model.
As for the flight dynamics, there’s very little change compared to the default 206 if you fly at level 1. But at higher levels, you might want to know what ‘dissymmetry of lift’, ‘vortex ring state’, ‘retreating blade stall’ and ‘transverse flow’ means, and how it affects your flying. For people who don’t know what all these terms mean, I’d suggest Google, Wikipedia, or the Dodosim manual. People who do know what all this means, know it’s something you will not find on the default FSX 206. It goes even further. The variant on floats flies differently than the one on skids, no door variants will handle differently than those that have door installed…
To keep it short and simple, the Dodosim 206 FSX takes helicopter flight dynamics in FSX to a whole new level. But if you’re not a helicopter junkie (yet), the incremental difficulty system makes the Dodosim 206 FSX not only a highly advanced ‘read-the-manual-before-you-even-think-about-flying-addon’, but also a great tool to learn more about helicopters, even if you start from zero. That being said, I do suggest to read the manual before you fly…
Here’s a chart (borrowed from the Fligh1 product page, also available in the manual) with a summary of key features per difficulty level:
I said the Dodosim 206 FSX had very realistic engine management, didn’t I? Well, I’ve only mentioned low fuel pressure problems before. Not highly advanced if that were all, I’d think. Luckily (or not, depending on your point of view) that’s not all. You can over-torque the engine in flight, you can exceed exhaust gas temperature (EGT) limits on startup, you can exceed rotor-rpm limits in flight maneuvers… and that’s not all. Not only will it register this problems, they will actually cause the helicopter to wear down.
The failure system has 2 settings: timed failures, which are similar to FSX’s build in failure system, only custom for the Dodosim 206, or you can use ‘Cumulative wear and damage’. If choosing the latter, how you fly will affect the health of the machine. If you over-torque the transmission regularly, it will wear down, and if not fixed, eventually fail completely. Hot starts, when the EGT rises far over the limit, will completely break your engine, and even the tail rotor transmission can be broken. This system only kicks in on difficulty level 3, so if you break your helicopter on level 5, and then go back to level 1, it will work just fine. Only remember that if you go back to level 5, it will still be broken.
Repairing or servicing your helicopter can be done through a menu (either activated through the VC, 2D panel, the FSX addons menu), and will cost you ‘Dodosim dollars’. These Dodosim Dollars do not represent any actual currency, but let you keep score on how expensive it is to fly your helicopter. Inspecting your aircraft costs money, servicing it cost more, and completely repairing something is very expensive. Even fuel will be charged to your account. But, if you don’t care about all this cost stuff, you won’t notice. It has no real effect in game, other than a reference.
All this data, both wear, damage and costs, is kept per tail number, not per actual helicopter. So if you break G-DSIM with floats, G-DSIM on high skids will also be broken, while G-DODO on floats is just fine (if not broken previously). This will also work for 3rd party repaints.
Sounds… that’s another part of the Dodosim 206 FSX that has me impressed. A very important part of immersion, this is yet another feature the Dodosim developers went all out on. Everything has it’s sound. Every switch in the cockpit, the engine, the transmission, the tail rotor, the main rotor… And most impressively, these sounds change under changing circumstances. For example, if you over-torque the main transmission, will you will hear this. You will hear the main rotor blades ‘flap’ under certain conditions, while this ‘slapping’ is not heard under others. And if you break some parts if wear and damage is enabled, be it timed or acquired, you will definitely hear and feel it.
The Dodosim 206 FSX comes with a very extensive manual. If you completely read it, and I suggest you do, you’ll not only learn how to handle the Dodosim 206, you’ll also learn a great deal about helicopters and helicopter handling in general. The manual is included in electronic format (PDF) in both the download and boxed editions and consists of 88 pages. This manual can also be download for free, even if you haven’t bought the addon, from the Dodosim product page.Â As previously stated, the boxed version also comes with a printed manual. The printed manual is a couple of pages shorter, but as far as I could tell, the differences are purely cosmetic. The manual is easy to read, clearly written in good English, and is very comprehensive without reverting to overly difficult language. One of the very best I’ve seen for any FSX product to date.
This isn’t a short review, but still, this product is so extensive that I feel I’ve barely said anything about it. As said, you can download the manual for free if you want to read more before you’re going to decide whether to buy this or not. The experience of using the Dodosim 206 FSX in flightsim is so completely different than that it will completely change your view on helicopters in flightsim if you decide to buy it. It’s so much better than any default helicopter, that I for one will never again fly the default Bell 206. Ever since the Dodosim 206 was released for FSX, it has been head and shoulders above any other helicopter available for FSX, whether it be payware or freeware. Since then, there have been attempts to close the gap, but none has ever tried to take the Dodosim 206’s position. When it comes to realistic helicopters in FSX, the Dodosim 206 FSX is still, by far, king of the hill.
- Great visual representation, both exterior, interior and 2D.
- Amazingly realistic in both flight dynamics and systems
- Easy to get started due to good manual and incremental difficutly
- Very useful checklist cards in the boxed version
- A little more wear and tear on the textures would be nice, and more texture detail in some parts of the cabin