During the course of Take On Helicopters' development, the team were presented with several opportunities to experience the varied world of copter flight. Be it air-shows, ride-alongs or cooperation with experts, we embraced any chance we could to help improve and expand our knowledge, and try to feed that back into the game!
Over the next couple of weeks, Project Lead, Joris-Jan van 't Land, reports on just some of the activities we got up to. Today, he kicks things off with a trip early on in development, where several of the team got to grips with the amazing MD-520N!
A Sports Car Among Helicopters
Arriving at the private compound somewhere in the Czech hills, we were greeted by the helicopter maintenance crew. Our sound engineer had already arrived a little bit earlier and was preparing his sound recording equipment in the hangar, while one of our artists was capturing photographic references from every possible angle. The helicopter in question was a MD-520N, an incredibly awesome specimen. One thing that makes this helicopter unique is its distinct lack of a tail rotor; instead, it uses the NOTAR system and jets of hot exhaust air to counter torque. On more than one occasion it was described to us as a 'sports car' among helicopters.
The owner himself had not yet arrived and so we simply admired the machine and looked on as the technician got it ready for flight. It was great to be able to see all the details under the maintenance hatches and in the interior. Moreover, it showed us the procedures they went through for pre-flight checks, and we took an inventory of the items and equipment available in the hangar. Once we got the call, the pilot was only a few minutes out: time to get the aircraft out of its Bond-style hangar home. The doors opened automatically and the helicopter rolled outside on a dedicated track and platform. Once in the lift off position, a power cable was attached as Ground Power Unit and we were almost ready to lift off.
Sounds about right...
Our sound engineer positioned his microphones all around the helicopter so he could record various different components as individual tracks. Not long later the pilot arrived, got out of his car, introduced himself briefly and jumped in the copter. We actually expected a long briefing and preparation, but this guy knew the vehicle like the back of his hand. To him it seemed like not much more than driving his car but, of course, it just looked that way to us. This helicopter had been a long project for him. First it had to be custom manufactured in the United States, where he also received weeks of training in the specific model. It then had to be shipped to the Czech Republic by sea and road. Quite an undertaking; but, in turn, he now had a gorgeous machine to play with.
Time for the actual flying! The project lead, technical design lead and senior artist boarded with the pilot, as he ran through his checks. Having done quite some research on start-up procedures, this one was surprisingly brief. We were ready to go in minutes, but luckily got the entire procedure recorded. For those of us who had never been in a helicopter, from the moment we got off the ground, we knew how awesome flying helicopters really is. The pilot did a quick turn off the pad and proceeded to accelerate very quickly, while only just clearing the tree tops. The adrenaline rush from a roller coaster ride pales in comparison. Another thing we immediately noticed was the difference to fixed-wing aircraft. It's hard to put into words, but you feel much more movement in all axes. It's very weird to be moving forward, but turning around the vertical axis as the pilot controls the pedals; like you are drifting. This is rally racing in the air.
At one point during this winter flight we were buzzing the tree tops and our pilot spotted a large low-flying cloud directly in our flight path. Instead of going through, he took the opportunity to demonstrate some extreme banking turns: an awesome thrill-ride. Not much later we were right over a medium-sized town and ready for our first landing, in order to pick up a colleague. There would be a total of four lift offs and landings that day and we enjoyed all of them. One funny detail was all the people running to the landing area, kids waving and everyone admiring the aircraft.
Second time's the charm...
The second landing was where the pilot had his business meeting. We were particularly surprised by the method of identifying where to land. As we approached the farm, the pilot asked his friend where he should be landing. After some looking around and searching, he replied: 'land next to that goat'. This is how it went down.
While waiting for the meeting to be over, we explored the interior and exterior of the helicopter in more detail and discussed the experience so far. It was very good to analyse what the world looks like from a helicopter flight level, which is much different from an airplane. We listed the details which you could still see, such as cars, large animals, trees and obviously buildings, and took note of the details less clear from the skies.
The final flight offered an interesting opportunity for one of our team, who was sat in the co-pilot seat. He was allowed full control for a brief moment (the flight controls are available in both seats). Initially, the helicopter started swaying in all directions, but he got it to a steady cruise quickly enough. The pilot then asked over the intercom whether he should simulate an auto-rotation procedure; not fully to the ground. Unfortunately, he ended up deciding against this because of the weight of four people and safety concerns. We then arrived back at the heliport and landed after an extremely steep bank, right onto the landing platform with incredible precision. All in all, it was an amazing day and we all thought the car ride back to Prague was terribly dull.
Joris-Jan van 't Land
Project Lead, Take On Helicopters