Table of Contents
A simulator is highly recommended for helicopter beginners.
A typical well-trimmed helicopter will only hover in place for two or three seconds "hands-off" before it starts to drift in a random direction. Therefore, a helicopter requires constant correction to hover in one spot. In addition, a drifting helicopter will gain speed much like a ball rolling down a hill. If you are slow to move the stick to correct the drift, then you need more input to arrest the drift, so it is best to arrest the unwanted motion quickly before it gains speed.
The hardest part of flying a helicopter is developing the "reflexes" to move the stick in the correct direction regardless of helicopter orientation and the "delicate touch" required to adjust the helicopter movement without overcompensating. A simulator will help you develop these skills quickly without spending a lot of money on replacement parts.
Here is a quick subjective review of some simulators, with links to get additional information:
Free! (score: 3/10)
FMS is okay for learning hovering in all orientations. The models move extremely slowly so hovering is a little too easy. However, it does not seem to model forward flight correctly, so when you are ready to practice forward flight, I would recommend finding a better simulator.
Futher information available from n.ethz.ch/student/mmoeller/fms.
You need to buy, or build an interface lead. There are several different designs for serial, gamesport or USB connection. Many of the suppliers listed in Chapter 27, Electric Helicopter and Parts Vendors sell them and a search on the web will produce a lot of suppliers, but here are a few to give you an idea of what is available: