Real Flight RF-X
Knife Edge, Hobbico’s software division, is switching gears with the latest edition of their flight simulator: it is so different that the simulator was even renamed to RealFlight Experience (or RF-X for short). The latest edition of the simulator is a step change from the original RealFlight series, most notably with the greatly improved graphics offered by the new 3D engine. The RealFlight team decided to move away from their own 3D platform (Real Rendering and True View) to use the commercially available and critically acclaimed UNIGINE 2. This is a drastic change to the simulator’s look-and-feel, with immersive and nearly photo-realistic 3D for all of the flying field. It is a great challenge to change the core of a software without losing key features and functionalities in the process. Let’s see how Knife Edge did with RF-X!
Test performed on a 64 bit Windows 10 PC with i7-3770 CPU @3.4GHz, 10GB RAM, SSD drive and Nvidia GeForce GTX770
The User Interface
The simulator greets the user with a general menu, which is already a big novelty compared to the original series. The menu shows the main flight options available to the user and various settings, with a typical RC workshop in the background. As you navigate through the menu, the camera moves in the workshop, with lights turning on and off depending on where you are. This is a visually attractive and welcomed change.
This user interface was developed using Coherence UI by Coherence:Labs, as advertised on Hobbico’s website. The company is known for the user interfaces they developed for many video games, which explains the resemblance of this simulator with the gaming world. The interface has the clarity and simplicity of those of video games. It is a beautiful menu, with a very intuitive navigation. The simplicity of the menu has one drawback: many of the very detailed settings for the environment, graphics and models are not available to the user anymore. The environment is certainly the category that has suffered the least from the setting reductions, now featuring new parameters including the possibility of defining the sun positions, resulting in astonishing lighting effects for dawn and sunset.
The new InterLink-X
The interlink-X is built from the body and components of the Tactic radio TTX610 / TTX810. It is a robust interface, with precise control sticks.
A (Mild) Abundance of Models
Scroll though the pictures below to have an idea of the quantity of planes and helicopters the simulation has to offer. RF-X has a decent selection of airplanes, which will keep the user quite busy for some time if the goal is to master them all. The offering is not as impressive for helicopters with a rather limited selection of 6 different helis: 2 fly-bar-less, 1 scale, one trainer and 2 helis with traditional fly bar stabilization.
- 36 propeller/EDF airplanes
- 4 jet airplanes
- 7 multi-copters
- 6 helicopters
- 3 models equipped with light for night flying
- 1 blimp!
While the above is a descent number of models for a simulator, it is considerably less than the previous version, which had 140 models to offer. The new 3D engine makes the old model not compatible with this new version, so none of the models available on the KnifeEdge/Realflight forum will work, nor the commercial add-ons of the previous version. RF-X may not be yet be the simulator that will submerge you with planes, helicopters, and other models to fly; however, there is no doubt that the database of models will expand with time, especially with the recently announced model editor which will soon be available and enable the conversion of older files.
Click on the images below to see how amazingly detailed these models are.
“Practice” and “Scenarios”
These two options are very similar. The main difference is that the user gets to choose the plane and field independently in Practice mode, whereas they come as a predefined combo in “Scenarios” mode. Once you select a scenario, you can always change the airplane and the field. There are some differences in the field and planes available in the two modes: for example, the night fields are only available with the “scenarios” menu.
Scenarios were created to get the user to the flight line faster with a good match between the selected model and the flying field. This avoids ending up on a slope with a jet, for example (not that that wouldn’t be fun, it just wouldn’t be a perfect match).
Racing is the most game-like part of the simulator and it is fun! RF-X brings you to different fields keeping the same objective: completing a defined track as fast as possible. The track is marked in the air by floating gates which turn green as the model passes each of them. There is a specific model already selected for each track and the user doesn’t get to change that. In fact, the setting on the model cannot be changed either: dual rate or flight mode for multi-copters are disabled.
The tracks are of increasing difficulties, and it gets really hard to reach the top levels. To make it even more difficult, the minimum time to enable the next group of races (from beginner to expert) decreases for new levels reached. You will have to go back to previously mastered races to beat your own score to get access to the next level. For the top most level (Expert), you must have earned a “gold” medal on all of the races – and you’ll find that most are really challenging to get!
The astonishing graphics offered by UNIGINE2, the new 3D rendering engine, are by far the most amazing new features of RF-X. Many of the fields are extremely eye pleasing, especially if you set the sun right above the horizon to give a sunset quality to the light. The “golden hour” cherished by pro photographers can be the chosen setting for virtually endless training sessions on RF-X. The simulation may not be photo-realistic all of the time, but quite often, it is jaw-dropping photo-perfect. The very fine details of a model will show under the right light, making all the panels and rivets apparent. The motion blur provides a very immersive feeling of speed, especially when flying FPV very close to the ground. The amazing rendering quality of 3D engine brings you right inside the cockpit.
The world around the aircraft doesn’t feel static and infinity rigid like many other simulators. Objects move when touched by the plane. You will see signs wobble and fall over if hit with enough force.
RF-X is a graphically demanding software. Cranking up all of the graphic settings to the max is only possible on a high-powered gaming PC. The simulator runs in full screen mode as window mode causes it to be extremely slow. The visually attractive smoke will put a moderate computer on its knees begging for mercy.
This hunger for computational power is something that has always been there in most simulators, and it was mitigated by the photo-fields. In this environment, the model was displayed against a 360-degree picture of a field, which limited the rendering need, and allowed RF7.5 to run on the average PC. This was an acceptable solution for planes and helicopters when flying from one fixed position, and is not suited for quad racing and flying FPV. The 3D-rendered scenes are necessary to practice FPV. Non 3D photo fields are not included in RF-X.
Knife Edge recognized that the simulator is demanding for most PCs and promised a new, less graphic-intensive field, on the soon-to-be-released game update.
Physics and Realism
This is possibly where RF-X is at its best. The physics used in the simulator is as close to reality as it has ever been, and there is no doubt that learning on this software will guaranty success for the first flight at the field. The physics algorithm has been fine-tuned for generations of RealFlight simulators, and it is amazing to see it still evolving. It was great before, and it is even better now. After weeks of practicing with RF-X, going back to RealFlight 7.5 feels odd now, as the planes feel more “on track” as if guided by invisible rails. No doubt that RF-X will help anyone become a better pilot. There are a few details that are still slightly off and cause the piloting to feel different from reality. For example, the prop wash at take off is barely noticeable even for the warbirds.
For the most part, the simulator physics are extremely close to the real flying experience, which makes RF-X a great learning tool. A simulator is a very, very (very) good way to start learning to fly. You can crash and reset as many times as you like, without spending more time fixing your model at the shop. The simulator will get the flying experience engraved into your muscle memory, and the first flight with a real model will be far much easier.
Lost in Translation
The Realflight series has evolved through the years and accumulated many features that were loved by the user. Many of these have disappeared with RF-X. We contacted Knife Edge and asked about these and the answer is clear: watch for future updates! The team confirmed the will to always improve their releases based on customer feedback. So, head to your keyboard, and don’t hesitate to let them know what you want (Apple user: wink, wink)
- Water takeoffs and landings: no hydroplane with this version. If you fly far enough on some of the fields, you may find water. You will then notice that you can land on open water as if it was a real concrete runway. The engine doesn’t handle water (yet?).
- Field Editor and Model Editor*: no possibility to fine tune a model, change the engine, adjust the CG, etc..
- Multiplayer and MultiMode Unlimited combat: no possibility to play online. That is something that should really come back, especially with the quad racing capabilities.
- Virtual flight instruction: no more Jason Noll or John Gleszellis to help us master the Harrier Roll or the Hovering.
- The trainer modules in general are gone: take-off, landing, heli and airplane hover.
- Radio gadget was removed for some reason. It is a great tool to share moves and techniques on YouTube, and other video sharing platform. But it will be back! Hobbico confirmed this feature to be on the wishlist, and should be released with one of the future updates.
This is our personal request for future features we want address with Knife Edge. We never know, we might get heard! We would really like to see a course on fine tuning a model. It takes some experience to correctly trim a plane, adjust the throw right or get the CG to right place on a plane. It is also a challenging task to adjust all the PIDs right on a multicopter. A simulator would be a great teaching tool in that aspect. A training module which could point out specific model behavior, explain the cause and show how to improve it, would have a lot of benefits in our view.
KnifeEdge sets the bar high with their new platform. They successfully ported the best of RealFlight to their new engine, even if they didn’t yet transition all of the beloved features from the original RealFlight series to RF-X. There is no doubt that future patches will close the gap slowly, as they are already starting with the first update to be released in November. It is clear that RF-X is the future of RealFlight, and the older generation simulator, while still on the shelves today, will be phased out eventually.
RF-X sets itself as a good new platform for replacing RealFlight 7.5. The flight realism and graphical prowess will satisfy the beginner as well as the most demanding RC pilot, as long as they own the powerful computer required to run the simulator.
What do you think a simulator should offer? Let us know in the comments!