I feel like a newbie all over again as I’ve now taken my first steps into piloting a virtual helicopter. The DCS: Mi-8 MTV2 Magnificent Eight is a beast of a Russian transport helicopter that can sling some impressive loads and back up any situation with a ton of firepower. This is my first experience with the DCS: Mi-8 and my first experience piloting a virtual helicopter. Hilarity ensues!
Big and magnificent
An incredible 17,000 Mil Mi-8 NATO reporting name ‘Hip’ helicopters have been constructed since its introduction in 1967 being flown by governments and organizations all over the world with dozens of different sub variations. The Mi-8 is still in active use and, according to Wikipedia, is the third most common military aircraft in operation in the world as of 2015.
The Mi-8 was to the Soviet Union in the 1980s Afghanistan conflict as the UH-1 Huey is to the United States and the Vietnam conflict and the Mi-8’s employment was, at least in part, inspired by the UH-1.
Able to carry large numbers of troops, equipment, or be equipped with bombs, rockets, and gun pods, the Mi-8 TV2 in DCS World can be setup as a potent gunship. Albeit… a large one!
Flying a helicopter… or maybe crashing one
The huge benefit of simulation is that you can crash, start over, crash again, and eventually get the hang of it. Flying a helicopter is immediately like and unlike flying a regular fixed wing aircraft and it’s those familiar moments that get you most into trouble with a helicopter.
You have to learn words like what a “collective” is (you use it in place of a throttle in essence though its operation is more like adjusting the angle on a propeller) and you need to understand some helicopter physics.
Terms like ‘retreating blade stall’ enter into your vocabulary quickly. This is a situation where the retreating rotor blade has a lower relative blade speed and an increased angle of attack. What does that mean? Essentially you’re in a dangerous situation where part of your helicopter’s blade is in a stall and you’re in danger of loosing speed or altitude or both.
How about vortex ring state? This is another dangerous situation in a helicopter where a helicopter starts descending into its own downwash and can lead to a rapid loss of altitude. Not a good situation.
DCS World ensures that you can experience all of these situations and it makes flying a helicopter a challenge.
Beyond that, helicopters are already a challenge on their own as they tend to drift, require constant trimming to tweak the flight parameters. You feel like you’re riding on the back of a wild beast that requires a lot of stick work just to keep stable.
Eventually I was able to get the hang of it after several crashes and a lot of trial and error. My message newbie virtual pilots of both fixed wing aircraft and helicopters, this is a normal way to experience a flight sim. There are no consequences with these pixels so when it comes to learning to fly… don’t sweat crashing the aircraft. It happens and it can happen a lot.
To illustrate my point… here are some of the many crashes I had at first.
Just getting started
Flying the Mi-8 feels a bit like driving a bus. Albeit an armed one that can carry several dozen rockets and 23mm gun pods. It’s a huge, hulking presence and I think that adds to the appeal as a big, tough helicopter.
In a fun multiplayer scenario created by Jon Coughlin, creator of Roger Meatball, we took off from a base in the Caucasus to chase down armed speedboats. Though not everything went to plan, I was able to take off in the Mi-8, fly to the boats, and use a combination of 23mm cannon fire and rockets to blast multiple boats before taking some ground fire and being forced to return home.
It was an auspicious start to flying the Mi-8 in a more combat oriented scenario.
Combat is not all you can do with the Mi-8 as it can be operated with logistics in mind with both single and multiplayer scenarios offering opportunities to fly the helicopter in non combat or supportive combat roles.
In servers like Blue Flag or Georgia at War, the Mi-8 and UH-1 can be flown into a combat zone to deploy troops to capture a FARP or drop off forward deployed SAM sites. It’s a cool role that I hope to check out sometime soon as an alternative to the fast jet combat that I so often partake in.
I’m looking forward to flying the Mi-8 more as time goes on!