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  • Writer's pictureAaron "Ribbon-Blue" Mendoza

Thunder Helix: Tornado S.A.R!

Non-combat? In my combat flight game?

Skyward Flight Media thumbnail for Thunder Helix.

Thunder Helix by David Walters is a flight game that both recreates the visual aesthetic of games from the early 1990s with improvements to gameplay we all wish we had from back then. It has been roughly four months since Thunder Helix entered Early Access on Steam. If you are on the Beta testing branch for the game there are approximately four missions in the game. It launched with one single player campaign mission and one scenario mission. To clarify, campaign missions are a part of a consistent story, but scenario missions are self-contained missions. 

With one complete scenario mission ready and another only available in beta testing, the obvious question someone may ask is “what is taking so long?” 

Thunder Helix crash wreckage and survivor.
An unknown wreckage? Someone in need?

The developer discusses what happened in their June 2024 Patreon update blog post, where they discuss how randomized missions were always a plan for Thunder Helix, but an unexpected journey into new concepts changed the original plan. While being side-tracked, they developed a randomized island chain generation system and a custom-made weather system. This journey is somewhat of a “classic” indie developer decision which may have resulted in a pause in the flow of content post-release, but also expanded the dev’s knowledge. 

So what was this side bar for? A mission type I never expect even the most high fidelity combat simulator to emulate. Search and rescue. Imagine that! That is a rather interesting decision for Thunder Helix.

Combat helicopters are capable of saturating hundreds of meters with unguided rockets or precisely striking a window with a laser guided missile. Though their ability to easily fly at low altitudes at low speeds, ability to land in hard to reach areas and operate away from long runways also makes them ideal for something like search and rescue (SAR). 

Thunder Helix civilian being rescued.
Civilian being rescued with a rope ladder.

In the “Tornado!” scenario, the player can use one of the three helicopters in game to travel from Home Base to multiple islands in search of people stranded because of an ongoing storm. The aforementioned island chain generation system is used to change the locations of the islands each time this scenario is played. Unpredictability equals replay ability and that holds true in this mission. 

Two examples of random island placement.

You would think a mission without an anti-aircraft weapon threat would be a walk in the park, but the storm is genuinely dangerous. Besides inclement weather, multiple tornadoes roam between the islands. Being faced with a force of nature, which cannot be defeated with 30mm chain guns or anti-tank missiles, is a new challenge. One that can only be overcome by mission planning and correct flight decisions to avoid or brace for the effects of the tornadoes. 

Thunder Helix tornado approaching.
A tornado moments before the helicopter loses control.

Getting too close to a tornado can spin the helicopter out of control with very little players can do about it, depending on how close to the eye of the tornado they are. While out of control the helicopter loses a significant amount of altitude. At times, dropping over one thousand feet in less than 20 seconds. The simplified flight controls of Thunder Helix do not lessen the effect of the tornado, but I think they do give players a chance to try and keep the aircraft level. As someone that is not exactly an expert with full fidelity rotary-wing aircraft, I assume if I had full authority over all flight axes I would have been nearly upside down.

Thunder Helix tornado chase.
Monitoring a tornado passing near the aircraft.

Over land, players can do their best to maintain a level attitude and focus on throttle control to try and counter their descent. If needed, an emergency landing can be performed away from hills or trees while the tornado passes through. Even landing before the tornado approaches can negate danger. With a potential emergency landing not being an amazing option in an ocean, traveling at high altitudes is recommended when moving from island to island. 

Thunder Helix tornadoes ahead.
Tornadoes ahead! Monitor and press foward.

Depending on how far apart the islands are, players will be traveling a great distance. Multiple trips of dozens of kilometers round trip. Managing fuel and how many survivors can be held in the aircraft per trip are a factor.

While the high speed RH-2K Raven scout helicopter is recommended in the pre-mission helicopter selection screen, for my playthroughs I decided to fly with the UH-58 Lewis heavy utility transport. While much slower, it does have a higher passenger capacity and more stability. A helicopter like this fits the role of search and rescue better in my mind. 

Thunder Helix weather radar.
The weather radar is looking... dangerous.

I've played this mission three times (all using the Lewis! Fight me!) and I have to say overall I am satisfied with this unasked for but successful scenario. I hope that the developer utilizes the new map and weather system they developed for the single player campaign or future scenario missions, as they have proven themselves to be effective in diversifying the player's experience.


About the Writer

Co-founder of Skyward Flight Media. After founding, the first English Ace Combat database, he has been involved in creating flight game-related websites, communities, and events since 2005. He explores past and present flight games and simulators with his extensive collection of game consoles and computers. Read Staff Profile



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