Vital and Versatile Heliborne Transports
Updated: Sep 22, 2022
I appreciate that Heliborne has not relegated flying transports to be anything more than a necessary burden.
If there's one type of helicopter that's always underrated, it is the transport helicopter. This is especially true in military arcade flight games. Take a look back at decades of rotary-wing-centric titles, and you'll see that they're primarily about legendary attack helicopters or promising prototypes. If we're going by the "rule of cool," making a game about a high speed, maneuverable heli slinging missiles and rockets at treetop level is an easy choice. But there is a game that gives transports their chance to shine and become welcome force multipliers where attack helicopters are usually king.
Heliborne is a military helicopter-focused arcade flight game that is well known for having solid co-op player vs. environment (co-op PVE) and player vs. player experience (PVP). Its roster of helicopters from the USA, USSR, China, Europe, and Russia are divided into three classes. Of them, the transport class is vital for the core gameplay of Heliborne. So much so that it's tough to win without them. With there being over 20 transport helicopters in the game, their usefulness inherently will impact a large part of the gameplay and the game's reception.
In PVE, PVP, and single-player, at least half of the reoccurring objectives can realistically only be completed by transports. Objectives call for deploying dozens of infantry to far-flung locations, recovering shot down aircrews surrounded by enemies, and most importantly, interaction with outposts. In Heliborne, capturing and holding outposts is done by ferrying troops from the main base. Whether the landing zone is safe or under fire, transports land to deploy soldiers to operate them at full strength. As casualties accumulate through combat and control over the outposts weakens, additional troops are needed to reinforce and hold. Though the number of troops each transport can hold varies, transports are generally able to capture or reinforce more than one outpost at a time. While the clear downside of losing too many outposts is failing the mission, what is also lost is a secure forward area to operate from.
The main base allows players to change their helicopter mid-game, rearm and repair, but it is located far from the frontline. Flying from the combat area to the main base takes a significant amount of time when allies are under attack. There are ammunition and repair crates in the main base that can be sling loaded by transports to forward positions. Carefully landing these crates into the defended landing zones provides allied attack, scout, and transport helicopters a faster means to repair and resupply than flying back to the main base every time. The crates can be destroyed by landing them improperly or destroyed by hostile forces. Placing the crates in allied landing zones is the most orthodox location, but skilled pilots can place them anywhere on the map. A clearing in the jungle, a secluded field, next to a river in a valley - so long as the crates and a helicopter can fit, it is an option.
Related to this freedom of movement, transport helicopters can deploy three types of specialized infantry units almost anywhere. RPG soldiers bring rocket launchers with three rockets used for destroying enemy vehicles. Placing them near landing zones enhances their defenses, while landing them ahead of enemies on the move can provide an obstacle or ambush. Anti-air soldiers come equipped with Man-Portable Air Defense Systems (MANPAD) that target hostile helicopters. They are beneficial in player vs. player game modes for denying opposing forces access to certain areas. Finally, Mortar teams provide indirect fire support for scout class helicopters that use mortar observer equipment. Depending on the number of active units, their indirect fire alone is enough to clear landing zones and thin out waves of enemies. When out of ammo or destroyed by enemy fire, these units disappear and need to be redeployed as desired.
The common weapons that transport helicopters on all sides of all generations carry are different flavors of machine guns, cannons, and rocket pods. By far, the most valuable weapon they carry is the door gunners. Hostile vehicles and defenses are easy to visually identify, but harder to see enemy soldiers in the terrain are not easy to spot while flying at higher speeds. Usually, a scout is needed to make smaller targets easily visible on the screens of all players by marking them with icons above their heads. Door gunners automatically and independently scan for and attack targets that are unseen even to the pilot. This makes door gunners both great defensive weapons and an easy way to direct allies onto hidden troops by letting them follow door gunner tracer fire. Manual control over the gunner positions can be taken as needed.
While cannons and rockets are excellent for attacking soft targets and certain types of armored personnel carriers, it is safe to assume that most of the fighting columns of main battle tanks supported by anti-aircraft units will be done by attack helicopters. In Heliborne, there are plenty of 3rd and 4th generation transports that can equip anti-tank guided missiles like the AT-6 Spiral, AGM-114 Hellfire, and KD-9, for example. But when transport helicopters are employing ATGMs, remaining near the maximum range is best. Though there are specific assault transports, mainly the Hind family, that are represented well in Heliborne as the heavily armored troop transports they were designed to be, they have compromises made to achieve this balance, Such as the reduced number of troops they can be carried.
Specific transports can even mount short-ranged air-to-air missiles like the R-60 and AIM-9, alongside MANPADs like Stingers and Iglas for worst-case scenarios. Still, again purpose-built attack helicopters are preferable for these situations.
I appreciate that Heliborne has not relegated flying transports to be anything more than a necessary burden. Being able to deliver supplies, capture a landing zone, deploy various types of infantry and still be a part of the front line action makes flying transports a very satisfying experience.
About the Writer
Aaron "Ribbon-Blue" Mendoza
Co-founder of Skyward Flight Media. After founding Electrosphere.info, 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.