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I have only flown helicopters in a flight simulator (X-Plane) and I have found it exceedingly hard to fly in certain regimes (especially hovering and close to hovering) because it seems like there is no point on the controls at which I can stay and not have the helicopter start moving in a direction I want. As a result, I wind up having to constantly move the control inputs (cyclic and yaw) in small amounts back and forth across where the stability point should be. On flight simulator forums I have actually seen a couple of people recommend doing this.

But my question is, does this accurately reflect how a real helicopter behaves? Is it possible to maintain a stable hover or slow speed movement in or out of ground effect once achieved without moving the control inputs much or at all?

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    $\begingroup$ I've hovered a Robinson R66 and I can tell you that in a hover it's almost EXACTLY like balancing a broom stick on your hand.Add in collective and anti-torque, and it's more like balancing a broom stick while you also write something with your other hand,while also steering your car with your feet on the steering wheel.It's like learning to play the drums. At the start the broom stick is falling this way and that, and eventually it's second nature and the broom stick just sits as you make tiny corrections.It takes a helicopter student about 8-10 hours of dual instruction to get the hang of it. $\endgroup$
    – John K
    Dec 3 '20 at 4:42
  • $\begingroup$ Find an X-Plane model of a Kamov helicopter. Those really stay where they are if you let go of the stick. Sikorsky type helicopters are unstable in hover. $\endgroup$ Dec 3 '20 at 11:30
  • $\begingroup$ Years ago I got a commercial helicopter pilot licence, having learned on a Robinson R22, and a bit on Bell 206 JetRanger. As @John K pointed out, learning to hover seemed to just "click" at around 10 hours. Before that, the tendancy was to overcorrect for everything. Once you "get" it, you tend to just hold the cyclic in one spot and largely ignore the tiny bits of feedback you get, and only react when you really need to. ie there is a real gust of wind from the front, so push the cyclic forward a bit. As for simulators, I've found that they are usually way harder than flying the real thing $\endgroup$
    – Gaston
    Dec 3 '20 at 14:15
  • $\begingroup$ The R66 had boosted controls and no force trim, so there is no pressure to work against, not even a force trim bungee spring, at all. It was like I was holding a T shaped piece of wooden dowel upright, and if I let it go it would just fall on the floor. I was surprised about how sensitive and snappy in roll it was while in forward flight, while being more or less neutrally stable. Long cross country flights in these things must be very tiring with the level of continuous attention required. $\endgroup$
    – John K
    Dec 3 '20 at 15:58
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In answer to your main question, Yes that is how they behave. In theory in a perfectly world, there would probably be some sort of balance point, but in real life there is always something slightly affecting the helicopter causing it to start to drift.

As for how to actually fly, beyond telling you to get real lessons [don't do it], the strategy of constantly moving the controls is something sometimes called "stirring the pot" and in real life is generally a sign of an inexperienced pilot. With training and experience your control inputs will eventually become so small and so far "ahead" of the aircrafts movements that it will look like your not moving your controls. if you are not using full size controls for your sim, this may be impossible to achieve.

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Many Hiller helicopters used mechanical stability-augmentation systems which allowed them to be flown completely "hands-off" without loss of control. Those models required positive control inputs on the cyclic to push the helicopter out of its stable zone and make it change course- the opposite of "normal" helicopter pilotage today. I do not know why that control design approach was abandoned.

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