Helicopters! And just like that, you can hear Wagner already, right? As of today's big update - "The Valkyries" - they're now in free-to-play vehicular combat sim War Thunder, joining a legion of tanks, a swarm of planes and a slowly growing bathtub of boats. Five choppers (and a fistful of variants) are now available to fly, though access to them is limited at present.
While helicopters are the headline feature of update 1.81, they're currently in beta testing, accessible only if you buy a premium helicopter pack or complete objectives in-game to earn your way in. Thankfully, there's plenty left for the rest of us, including a sack of tanks, a couple planes, and a bushel of maps. Check out the patch notes here, or the ten minute update trailer below.
Right now, helicopters are only for America and Russia. You'll either need to buy one of several costly premium bundles to get yourself in on the ground floor (an odd thought for flying machines), or complete ten daily tasks, as detailed here. If you want to fight your way in, you'll also need a Tier 5 tank or plane from the USA or Russian tech tree - helicopters are high level stuff. The choppers so far are the US AH-1 and UH-1, and the Russian Mi-4, Mi-24 "Hind" and Mi-35. Most of them with variants, though the Snake-bothering Hind D is premium only.
Choppers can be flown in special chopper-only Event battles, or in Combined Arcade, Realistic and Simulator battles. Helicopters also have a 50% chance to replace call-in plane support in Arcade mode ground battles above Battle Rank 9. One kill lets you briefly control a gun or cannon chopper, two for one with rockets, and three kills for a tasty whirlybird with anti-tank missiles.
On the ground combat side of things, Gaijin continue to expand into Korean War and Cold War era tech. Despite not having any infantry to carry, the iconic Russian BMP-2 is now drivable. As is the still-in-service British FV510 Warrior, the American M247 "Sergeant York" anti-air unit and the lesser-known Char 25t to fill out the French tech tree a little. The Char is a post-war prototype that never made it into mass production - despite this, it's available to all and sits in the tech tree just past the AMX-13. There's a total of eleven new tanks in all.
Planes didn't get much love this update, with only the Russian I-225 (an experimental high-altitude fighter) being new, while the German ME-163B jet gets a new model and one variant. At least you'll have some new locations to fight on. Two new large maps have been added - American Desert (1960s Arizona, to be precise) for ground battles, and Vietnam for the air. The patch also includes two new naval battle maps - a Mediterranean port environment, and a Scandinavian coastal zone, both of which look lovely although I've not yet had a chance to try out ship combat yet.
There's plenty besides the new vehicles in this update. Improvements have been made to audio, flight models have been tweaked, commander view in tanks has been reworked and spawn costs in Realistic ground battles have been cut. Check out the full and exhaustive patch notes here.