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.

A Few Good Men

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!

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18 Comments on How to Fly Helicopters in Battlefield 3

Anthony S

On October 31, 2011 at 7:22 pm

Loved every minute of reading this. Also loved the vid at the end haha!


On October 31, 2011 at 8:14 pm

Firstly, I am a long time franchise follower (since the BF1942 demo)and true believer that the desert combat mod for BF1942 was the driving force behind the current range of Dice games in this franchise. I have been flying helicopters in-game since that time and have, for the most part,(not so much in BFBC2)loved it. I am a BF helo junky. Secondly, I agree with many of the tactics in your piece, but as far as BF3 being easy to configure a joystick, I respectfully disagree. I have a group of 10 friends that play battlefield 3 and each one of us are experiencing different levels of usability with joysticks. I personally have a Saitek Evo Cyborg that I used throughout BF1942 and BF2 without issue, but currently BF3 doesn’t even recognize the stick. If I try to rebind a key (doesn’t matter which one)I simply see the popup window “press a new key” (not sure if that is the exact saying). No matter what button I push or axis I use, the application does not recognize it. I have followed the advice online of clearing out all joystick bindings from ground and vehicle settings with no change. I have emailed EA support hoping to at least get a list of usable joysticks if not an eventual patch for the game. Any suggestions you have in this venue would be greatly appreciated. Other than that…great article for those that have wanted to try but may have been to scared to.

p.s. You mention in your article “After a few runs (concentrate on increasing your score each time), hop into a virtually empty server (or one you create yourself), and practice flying a helicopter around.”

How exactly do you create a server yourself without leasing a dedicated server?


On October 31, 2011 at 8:36 pm

i lold so hard on the video, thanks for that :)


On October 31, 2011 at 11:18 pm

omg! i fukin rofled at that video. awesome!

Ben Richardson

On October 31, 2011 at 11:49 pm

Interesting input, Capt. Badger. I didn’t encounter the complaints of angry joystick users in my research, but I have edited the article to account for your experience, and I will keep an eye out for new information about the situation as it becomes available. If I were to guess, I’d say that wonky joystick compatibility is at the back of the very long list of launch-day issues that EA is currently working through — they certainly botched the roll-out something fierce!

You’re right, of course, about the dedicated server. It’s unlikely that anyone would bother to lease a server simply for the sake of practicing their helicopter skills. I’ve edited that graf to compensate for my getting a little carried away.


On November 1, 2011 at 5:59 am


Thank you for your response and the update to the article. Unfortunately I agree with you on where the joystick issue sits with DICE/EA. For individuals like myself that based their purchase on the ability to be able to utilize a joystick for flight, not having that ability is nearly devastating. That being said, I am thoroughly enjoying every other aspect of the game from ground pounding with tanks to class unlocks and yes, even learning to fly choppers with a keyboard and a mouse. Thanks again for a great article.

One Clean Sh0t

On November 2, 2011 at 11:37 am

HAHAHA, my video got put up!!!!! SWEETNESS…. Thanks for the pro tips by the way.


On November 17, 2011 at 2:16 pm

You’ve provided some tips, and basic advice, but you’ve not really shown people how and why they crash. I know how I crashed! I’m a BC2 veteran, and got real good (with a helluva lot of practice) in the helicopters, and when I hopped on the glorious BF3 bandwagon, used the right stick to turn left. BURNNNNNNT to a crisp. So now all that practice is actually harmful, as I have to partially unlearn my helicopter training. What would be nice is if there was an option in the “options” menu (where else), to change the controls for the helicopters from BF3 style to BC2 style. That’d make my day. Or next 2 years :3


On December 29, 2011 at 6:24 pm

One trick that I don’t see pulled too often is how to position the enemy chopper when you are attacked by surprise from above.
Flying low and fast whilst ducking behind cover will ensure that the enemy chopper will loose altitude whilst trying to shoot or lock on to you.
It will also be either behind you or thereabouts after a few moments giving you a chance to whirl around, gain altitude, and get him well into your sights.
The last thing they seem to expect is for you to turn on them


On January 2, 2012 at 9:36 am

Learning to fly choppers right now. Helpful article. Video fragment is hilarious! :-)


On January 7, 2012 at 2:55 am

I recently started playing bf3 and love it but i have encountered so much difficulty with flying especially the choppers. I thought getting a joystick would solve the issue but no it hasnt. Ive erased all the bindings on foot soldier as instructed but when i bind on the joystick my bindings are not reading right to its corresponding bind. Like for ex. If i bind primary weapon on my button 2 it would bind on a different button ..which in the game throws me off because im pressing everything to find my primary weapon. I dont know what causes this and its quite annoying.


On January 12, 2012 at 9:14 am


I used the battlefield3 editor you can download. I had the same trouble, when my joystick was plugged in i couldn’t use other any vehicles, except planes and helos

using the editor allows you to delete key bindings.. so i went to ground vehicles and deleted only the joystick bindings leaving the keyboard bindings alone.

worked great.. now i can move to the differnet types. Now i just need to learn how to fly better. Grin)

Mike B.

On January 30, 2012 at 8:01 pm



On February 5, 2012 at 10:08 pm

Man, helos definitely require you to put in some time, but once you get them down, it’s easy stuff.

Len F.

On February 19, 2012 at 7:26 am

The problems with Joysticks not working properly is that they have to be able to be used on a 64 bit system. Windows 7, is normally run in 64 bits not 32. That means that all of the older Joysticks we may have kicking around, like the Sidewinder Force Feedback etc. are not able to be used with BF3 if you are running in 64 bit mode.

As for practicing in the Helicopters and Jets, what you have to do, when you browse through the servers, is type in “1 Player” or “1 Player Start” for a filter. That will identify which servers are able to start the game with only 1 person in the round. It is much better not to have an enemy at first because getting shot down every minute doesn’t give you much practice time.
Once you get better, then you can pick a server that has 1 or 2 people on it so you have a few people to practice against without being overwhelmed.


On February 24, 2012 at 1:18 pm

That video is…. epic…. I can’t say i’m THAT bad, but I could use some practice. Thanks for the heads-up on the co-op mission, I’m getting a little better.


On February 27, 2012 at 12:41 pm


i got a question for how to get the black/white screen with gunning in one of the fighting choppers like m28-havoc or AH-1z viper

Adrian O

On February 25, 2013 at 1:52 am

when in an attack helicopter with missiles(or the Little Bird) i think its pretty obvious to not to start shooting at infantry or tanks to steep, if you do sometimes you cant pull back up, same with jets.