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May 31, 2006

Learn and Practice Radio Controlled Model Skills

Itís been a while since weíve had so much fun using a program, but RealFlight G3 is much more than just a fun program. Itís a serious simulation of radio control(R/C) model aircraft, including airplanes, helicopters, gliders and lighter-than-air ships. The program gives you the chance to learn, practice and perfect R/C control--any time and in any weather, without the worry of expensive crashes (aircraft that is, not computer).

The program includes the InterLink Plus controller made by Futaba, a name familiar to R/C hobbyists. The controller feels and handles like a real model-plane R/C controller, with two joy sticks (gimbals), trim tabs and multiple switches. Some controls are specific to certain aircraft and some can be customized for special uses. You can also use your own R/C controller to run the program by using the included interface cables to connect it to the InterLink Plus.

You can choose to fly from 15 different locations such as the Sierra Nevada flight school, a soccer field, a sod field, near a castle or on a mountain slope. An airport editor lets you customize all these sites with items such as flight control towers, trees, hangers, stadium seats, people and much more. Since wind is a factor in real R/C flying, for additional "realism," you can add a steady or gusty wind. You can even create a new flying field by importing photos of your own favorite flying site and adding fun elements as above. The program includes more than 5,000 square miles of terrain to explore, adding to the fun of your flight.

You can choose from more than 44 aircraft, and most of these are based on model planes available from GreatPlanes Model Mfg. Co. Many of the model aircraft are patterned after their real-life counterparts such as the WWII fighter, P-51 Mustang, Cessna 182, F86 SabreJet (complete with turbine), Ranger or Huey helicopters, gliders and a blimp. Other craft are exclusive to the modeling world, including some far-out designs. Each aircraft can be customized so you could determine, for example, how changing a propellerís blade count will affect the aircraftís performance, or changing the airfoil on a helicopterís blades will affect its flight characteristics. RealFlight G3 uses real-world physics for the most accurate simulation in computing flying characteristics. Add more weight, and the aircraft performance reflects the effect of that extra weight. Other customizations vary with the aircraft and may even include different paint trims.

If you donít have enough choices in the program, five volumes ($29.99 each) of optional add-ons can add an additional 70 aircraft and 22 new flying sites to the list. Some free downloads of aircraft and flying sites are also available at the programís Web site www.realflight.com.

When you start your flight, your aircraft will be on the ground, engine running (if powered). You have a choice of camera views: a cockpit view shows what the aircraft sees ahead of it, a chase view from behind keeps the aircraft close in sight, but the usual view (for the R/C modeler) is stationary, on the ground close to where your aircraft starts. As the model flies further away, it is often hard to see what itís doing, but you have the option of a very helpful binocular window to check on the attitude of your craft. As your skills improve and you learn a few tricks of your own, you can record the flights, along with your narrations, and share them with others across the Internet. The program supports two R/C pilots on a single PC using split screen mode. This will give you a chance to practice formation flying, or just fly with a friend.

The program was easy and straight-forward to use despite the ever-growing pile of crash debris, but thatís a matter of practice, practice, patience, practice and more practice.

If youíre a beginner, the included training videos help get you up and flying. These are presented by champions in R/C competition, and the more advanced maneuvers will give you a taste of what youíll be in for. Even experienced R/C modelers may learn a trick or two to apply next time they are in the field. Help in using the program comes from a quick-start 15-page printed manual and from a 397-page on-line help file that includes more than you may really want to know about the program and its many features.

The scene and aircraft graphics are good, with moving control surfaces, cool sun glints and see-thru aircraft canopies. Since these effects are 3D realtime rendered by your computer, however, the more powerful the computer, the better the display and the more smoothly the program will run. The optimum recommended configuration is Windows XP with Pentium 3.0+ GHz, 1GB RAM and a 3D accelerated video card with 128MB RAM. You can reduce some of the display options to accommodate slower computers.

RealFlight G3 is a terrific program that will better prepare you for flying your real-world R/C models. Or just stick with the simulator and still have loads of fun.

From GreatPlanes, Windows XP with Pentium (see above) $199.

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