If you have some real word flying experience, have just started training, or you are serious considering it, I want to introduce you to what I feel is the kit which will help you most. The sort of areas I plan to cover are:
- What space you need to set up your Sim?
- Which Flight Sim software to use?
- How can I make it as realistic as possible?
WHAT SPACE DO YOU NEED?
The consideration here must be what space do you have available for you to go virtually flying. If you have to share the space with your nearest and dearest, your kids, the family cat, etc. then it is possible to use the computer you are already using, preferably a desktop PC, although a laptop could be used at a push. Where space is less of and issue and for a number of reasons you are best off finding a bit of room where you aren’t going to be disturbed by the usual household hubbub and the household isn’t going to be disturbed by your calls of ‘clear prop’! That said, you don’t need a great deal of space. Being a bit cramped can add to the realism – just ask any Jabiru pilot!
If your chosen area is only available on a temporary basis and has to be vacated now and then, having something on wheels is a good idea. I would suggest picking up one of those small computer workstations, much beloved of student bedrooms, and which can be picked up for next to nothing (£0 – £50 or so) through your local small-adds, charity shop, or Gumtree, etc.
The one pictured here (there are wheels on the back legs) was available on Gumtree.com* for just £15.00. For a little more space and slightly less portable I picked up a simple desk from Ikea for about £40.00. Both are cheap enough for you to not worry about making the odd screw hole here and there.
A few things need to be considered when positioning your new… erm, aircraft cockpit. You will need to have sufficient power but this need not be an onerous requirement. A simple domestic double socket will suffice. You will need to ensure that any natural light can be suitable blocked out. I’m not talking about a total black-out here but sunlight can be a real nuisance when trying to view your computer screen so some reasonable curtains should be fine.
WHICH SOFTWARE SHOULD I USE?
This is really an article all on its own, and even then there probably wouldn’t be enough space to discuss it. I still don’t know the best way to present the options to you, but I’ll keep it simple! Basically, your choice of a practical flight simulator which wont break your bank balance is such:
- Microsoft Flight Simulator X (FSX)
- Microsoft Flight Simulator X (FSX) Steam Edition
- Lockheed Martin Prepar3D (P3D)
- Flight Sim World
Which of these you choose will probably depend on what your budget is, what your experience is with simulators and real world flying and what your friends are using. You can the see the sim in action.
I recommend checking out Aviation Pro YouTube Channel.
Microsoft produced a number of versions of their popular Flight Simulator. Versions 1 and two were very much developmental products which matured with the launch of version 3 in 1988. Development of the product stopped with FSX, launched in 2006. Many users were upset and feared that it would put an end to the development of compatible Flight Simulators when the Aces Studio closed in 2009, but it seems that the opposite has been the case. All but one of the five mainstream simulators are based on Microsoft simulators and a reasonable amount of backward compatibility exists with all but X-Plane. Useful if you already have some old add-ons from previous Microsoft sims.
X-Plane, produced by Laminar Research, produces a simulator which uses a different way of calculating flight dynamics; that is the way in which the aircraft responds to changes to control surfaces and other outside forces such as weather. Many users prefer this saying it is far more realistic to fly, and I have to say I agree, however all this added realism has come at the cost of a more complicated set-up and a lack of compatibility with the vast number of Microsoft add-ons available. It also requires more in the way of computing power to achieve the same level of graphics than Microsoft.
But back to FSX and its offspring. It is still possible to purchase FSX to install onto your computer or more recently a version of the software has been developed by Dovetail Games on the ‘Steam’, cloud based, platform. Around the same time Lockheed Martin, (yes, that Lockheed Martin), announced they had purchased the intellectual property for Microsoft’s ESO, the enterprise version of its software. Using the somewhat unusual name of Prepar3D (pronounced Prepared) it is currently available in a number of licenced versions or professional or educational use. The latest to join the party is Flight Sim World and who is becoming a respected member of the Flight Sim community.
There is little more to be said for the purpose of this article. Any more will probably be confused even more than you probably are already! There is a wealth of articles and very good videos available where you can see these sims put through their paces, so please give them a look.
HOW REAL CAN IT GET?
Realism can be generated in many ways. The visuals, the physical touch, the feel, the sound, (I can’t add smell to this list, but who knows.)
*Gumtree is a 'small ads' site for people to get rid of their unwanted items, etc.