How to Fly Helicopters in Battlefield 3
Vehicles are one of the big Battlefield 3 selling points when compared to Modern Warfare 3. There are lots of awesome, heavily-armed rides to choose from, but helicopters are among the most appealing — who hasn’t dreamed of flying with Robert Duvall in Apocalypse Now and dropping a little “Death From Above” on unsuspecting server-mates?
As anyone who’s crashed a helicopter in Battlefield 3 can tell you, however, flying a chopper isn’t as easy as it looks. With all those dead soldiers, charred helos, and wasted tickets in mind, we present our guide to flying helicopters in Battlefield 3.
Practice Makes Perfect
Like we just pointed out, crashing helicopters in Battlefield is incredibly easy. In the early days after release, we saw fool after fool dash up to a helicopter, hop in, and immediately find himself on the one-way express train to Failville Junction.
Don’t be that guy! Crashing helos in competitive multiplayer matches will infuriate your teammates and cause you to lose. Like with many things in life, you’re better off practicing by yourself in a controlled environment before you attempt something risky.
Perhaps anticipating the difficulties that players would have with the helicopter controls, DICE ensured that one of the first two co-op missions, “Fire From the Sky,” is all about helicopter piloting. Try it out with a friend or a matchmaking partner, and you’ll get to practice flying to your heart’s content, without having to worry about losing the round or being called a n00b by 31 angry teammates. Get a feel for the control set. There are three inputs: throttle, pitch/roll, and yaw, and the way the three of them interact is not intuitive — it takes some serious getting used to.
After a few runs (concentrate on increasing your score each time), hop into a virtually empty server and practice flying a helicopter around. Once you feel confident enough to pull off tricky maneuevers — flying close to the ground, near buildings, etc. — you can try a competitive game, but not before internalizing the rest of the tips in this guide.
Keep Your Heads-Up
The helicopter heads-up display is there for a reason — it’s got useful information that will help keep you alive. Pay attention to it.
Some elements are obvious — the ammo counter in the bottom-right corner, for example. Some are not. See that flat rectangle near the bottom of the screen, with the circle in it? The circle represents the direction your gunner is aiming. In most cases, in order to give him a better shot, you’ll want to steer the helicopter in that direction.
Then there are the series of readouts that look like brackets, arranged in the center of the screen around your cross-hairs. Use these to quickly ascertain your position relative to the ground. The horizontal lines that form part of the brackets will always stay parallel to the horizon, no matter how much you roll to the right or left. The numbers on each side represent the amount that your bird is pitched forward or backward. A helicopter with its nose-to-tail axis parallel to the ground will display no numbers to the right or left of the cross-hairs.
Slow Your Roll
The main reason that flying a helicopter on PC is difficult is the fact that your mouse doesn’t act like a joystick — it doesn’t snap back to the center of the mousepad after you’ve used it to issue a control command. It’s easy, therefore, to get locked in a death-slide when using the mouse to roll right or left or pitch forward/back.
There are three ways to handle this problem. The most straightforward, though not the cheapest, is to purchase a joystick. Battlefield 3 allows you to configure joysticks for use with airborne vehicles, and you can switch back and forth seamlessly when you want to hoof it as an infantryman.
If you don’t want to go the joystick route, you can use an Xbox 360 or PS3 controller. This is easy to do with the 360 controller, but harder and more complicated with the Dualshock 3. Still, the use of a console controller means you get to take advantage of the same spring-loaded snap-back that makes joystick flying superior to mouse flying.
Finally, if the two options above don’t appeal, you can try reconfiguring your mouse. Many modern gaming mice enable you to change your sensitivity on the fly. Making your mouse less sensitive will enable you to perform the subtle course corrections crucial to helicopter combat, and avoid the aforementioned death-slides.
Always fly with a gunner. Battlefield 3 helicopters, like tanks, are intended for two people, and they’ll be much less effective with only one.
Moreover, the right class combination can make all the difference in the air. Always fly with at least one engineer, in case you need to land and perform repairs. Flying with a Support soldier on board will automatically replenish your ammo. In passenger helicopters, an Assault class grunt can heal his fellow passengers. If you get the right group together, you can turn a helicopter into an unstoppable juggernaut.
Tricks of the Trade
As you get more confident in the cockpit, you’ll start picking up on tricks and tactics that’ll keep you alive longer. Most basic is the circle strafe move: by yawing in one direction while simultaneously pitching in the opposite direction, you can circle a target from the air, enabling your gunner to get good effect on target.
If you hear the tell-tale beep warning you of a Stinger lock, drop lower — you’ll have a better chance of survival if tall buildings, trees, and other detritus block the dastardly Enginner’s view. If you climb higher, you’ll just silhoutte yourself against the sky, making you easier prey.
Don’t Do This
Speaks for itself.
The Battlefield community is vast and knowledgeable, and chances are there are ways to improve your helicopter piloting that didn’t appear in this guide. If you know of one, don’t hesitate to drop it in the comments!