Once upon a time, there was an abundance of various freeware add-ons available to the flight simming community. During the late 1990’s and very early 2000’s the amount of freeware (as compared to payware) was huge. Actually the amount of payware content was actually pretty scarce. Of course I’m talking about the time period when Flight Simulator 98, Flight Simulator 2000, Flight Simulator 2002 and Flight Simulator 2004 (FS9) were in their hay day.
With the rise of FSX in 2006, third party developers (of whom, many are still in business today) came onto the scene and began producing the most excellent payware products from airport sceneries, ground based textures, weather add-ons and of course some really awesome aircraft. Unfortunately this is the same time period that we began to experience a decline in freeware alternatives. Or should I say “Quality” freeware alternatives.
The freeware decline continued through the life span of the Prepar3D reign. However, for the most part the X-Plane community during this time frame did have a very active modding community which produced some really good freeware add-ons, but for me I just never could enjoy X-Plane the way I had enjoyed FSX or P3D. As I’ve mentioned in previous articles, I had a fairly sizeable investment in FSX/P3D that I just couldn’t ignore and was most likely the reason I never considered X-Plane a substitute. But I digress…
Fortunately, for those of us who are fans of the Microsoft Flight Simulator family (including P3D) the introduction of the new Microsoft Flight Simulator (MSFS) platform has brought about a renewed interest in quality freeware add-ons. Almost from day one of the release of MSFS back in August of 2020, fellow flight sim enthusiasts have been releasing quality freeware add-ons for the new platform. Of course one of the absolute best freeware additions has been the Airbus A320 mod from the FlybyWire team. This team took the default Airbus A320 which was included in MSFS and over time have created a freeware version that rivals that of just about any payware, study-level aircraft on the market today. The Microsoft Flight Sim family of platforms (including P3D) has never seen this level of quality in a freeware product and the FBW team won’t just stop at the A320. They are hard at work in creating an Airbus A380 model from the ground up which hopefully will be released sometime in the Q2 or early Q3 2023 timeframe. I honestly can’t count the number of previously announced A380 projects which have been announced over the years for P3D that have never made it beyond the planning stages and the FBW team will have one in our sims very soon.
Of course there are hundreds if not thousands of other freeware add-ons available for MSFS including various utilities, aircraft liveries and airport mods. There are a few airport mods I’m using in my sim today that rival the quality of work we typically see from payware developers. I frequently check the Flightsim.to website which has become the “go-to” place for creators to host their freeware add-ons.
Why is Freeware so important to the community?
First and foremost, not everyone can afford to spend their hard earned money on all the various payware that has and will be released for MSFS. Due to the willingness of these freeware developers to devote their time to creating quality add-on alternatives for the community at zero cost, this allows everyone the opportunity to enjoy the hobby without a huge investment. In addition, I also believe the vast catalog of freeware options is helping to keep the prices of payware at a more affordable price level. I believe we’ve already experienced the impact of this with the Fenix A320. The Fenix A320 is available for an incredibly low price of just £49.99.
The Quality of Freeware Alternatives
As I’ve already mentioned, we’re already witnessing examples of freeware being on-par with payware options. In addition to the FBW A320 I’ve already mentioned, another example is the recent release of the Doha Hamad International Airport (OTHH) which released in early December at the price tag of €19.99 by MXI Design. An absolutely stunning freeware version has been available on Flightsim.to since May 2021 which not only includes the OTHH airport but also various enhancements covering much of the city of Doha is included.
However, it must also be said that not all freeware is created equal. But of course the same must also be said about payware options (but I’ll save those comments for another article). One of the major challenges with some of the freeware airports that I’ve run into has been centered around issues when MSFS has been updated through the various Sim Update versions and the time it takes for the freeware developers to make the various adjustments needed. Of course, this is not an issue isolated to the flight sim community. We see the same issues with other games which allow mods to be used like ATS, ETS2 and Farming Simulator.
In closing, as someone who has been been enjoying the flight simulation hobby for over four decades and has witnessed freeware come, go and come back again…I’m extremely excited for the future of MSFS with successful freeware efforts at the very heart of the platform. I hope you are as well.
Until next time….
Before I get going with this article, let me just clarify who the target audience is for this default/freeware aircraft in P3D v4 article. I’m NOT writing this article for the seasoned, hard-core flight sim enthusiast who most likely will read the title of this piece and even without reading the article immediately pass judgement on the author and/or on others who may actually benefit from the information it contains. I’m writing this piece for those who don’t buy into the hype that only sophisticated, complex, study-level, payware aircraft is the end all, be all in our hobby. Not every individual who is new to our wonderful hobby can immediately afford to drop money for whatever sim platform they have chosen, then turn around and drop even more money on payware aircraft.
Once upon a time…
Once upon a time all we had available to us were default aircraft. I spent dozens, hundreds of hours back in the early 1980’s flying around Meig’s Field on my Commodore 64 in a Cessna. It’s all we had and we made do. I vaguely remember at some point subLOGIC released additional scenery disks which included more airports and larger regions to explore. As I moved from the C-64 to a PC in the early 90’s things began to change. But change really didn’t start happening until the dawn of the internet age and around the time of Flight Simulator 95 (1996), Flight Simulator 98 (1997) and then Flight Simulator 2000 (late 1999).
Actually, I believe it was the release of Flight Simulator 2000 which we owe the biggest amount of gratitude for as it was this particular release which brought about the largest amount of improvements and helped to launch the online network SATCO, which eventually became VATSIM in 2001. It was also FS2000 which brought us the Concorde and the Boeing 777 as default aircraft.
Freeware is Cool
Freeware began making the flight sim scene through early websites created by Avsim and Flightsim.com. Even online networks like CompuServe offered the ability to upload/download and share various freeware add-ons. My earliest memories of good, quality freeware aircraft was from a group called Project OpenSky or POSKY for short. I believe of all things (not including Microsoft Flight Simulator) that could be singled out as the #1 draw of bringing more enthusiasts into the flight sim community, it would be POSKY. POSKY had the very best freeware models available anywhere. You wanted to fly a Boeing 727, 737, 747, 757 etc. POSKY had it and the community supported them. Some of my fondest and earliest memories of flying on the VATSIM network in the early days were flying POSKY aircraft.
Birth of Payware
I honestly can’t remember when I first began to see payware aircraft hitting the market. I can tell you the first payware aircraft I ever purchased was the Level-D 767 and I absolutely loved it. I would take a wild guess and say it was around 2002/03 timeframe. Next was the iFly 737 NGX as it was released before PMDG released their NGX and honestly the rest were purchased as they became available.
Payware kill the freeware star?
Just a little play on words there and another musical reference. The more you read my articles the more you’ll see small references to my favorite decade of music. But in all seriousness, there was a period of time where both the freeware and payware markets were healthy, vibrant and lived together in harmony. But at some stage the unfortunate thing began to happen. As payware aircraft began to gain in popularity, the decline of good, quality freeware (and those who were developing it) also began the slow decline. Today, it’s difficult to find descent looking and performing freeware aircraft for Prepar3D (especially v4). But I’ll share a website with you shortly that may be changing all this.
The Advancement of Default Aircraft
If you look back at the different versions of Microsoft Flight Simulator, each new release offered something new. The earlier versions all focused around single engine aircraft. Today I view this as all part of my overall sim-based learning as one must crawl before we can walk. I think it was sometime in the very early 90’s before the 747 appeared as a default aircraft in MSFS. One thing I remember about the MSFS default aircraft is they always performed really well. Some of the POSKY aircraft I mentioned earlier was more or less based on the default aircraft and performed equally as well.
But if you’re a fan of the tubeliner, and you’ve just purchased Prepar3D…you’ll be disappointed as you won’t find a Boeing 737, 747, 757 etc. in the fleet of default aircraft. But of course, there’s an important reason for this…as P3D isn’t licensed for entertainment purposes even though I firmly believe the majority of licensed users fall directly into that category. But let’s not go down that rat hole.
Freeware Still Lives Here
As I mentioned at the top of this article, not everyone can afford to shell out the cost of the new sim (P3D v4), then rush out to purchase their favorite Boeing or Airbus airliner. While I’m of the opinion that most payware (even study level category) is far superior in performance and provide a higher level of immersion and overall enjoyment than freeware, I must admit that I’m impressed with the selection of freeware aircraft available from Rikoooo.com. I’m not really sure how long this site has been operational, but I see more and more folks posting screenshots on Facebook from some of the freeware aircraft options available. There’s even a pretty descent Airbus A380 which I’ve installed and spent a little time playing around with.
No Time for Study
As I was writing this article, I saw a Facebook comment posted in one of the flight sim groups I follow. The individual posting mentioned the fact that he really didn’t have time to study, the study level aircraft. He didn’t want to spend the necessary time to flip switches, program a complex FMS. He wanted to basically fly and that’s how he defined his level of enjoyment. I take my hat off to this individual for recognizing what he wants from his time in the sim. But if did get me thinking and I’ll share my thoughts next week. I also plan to document/create a short series of tutorials breaking down how I learn and fly the more complex, study level, payware aircraft. After all, if I can do this….anyone can do this.
I’ve already started drafting the frame work for next weeks article. I think the title will be something like “The Joy of Study Level Aircraft” (or something like that). It’s shaping up to kick start a short series of tutorial articles on the processes I go through when flying these types of aircraft. Yes, you’ll need to devote a bit more time….as one does need to do a little switch flipping and FMS programming, but I believe the satisfaction is much greater in the long run and I’ll explain why I believe this as well. But between now and then, let me leave you with something most of my YouTube viewers will have heard me say more than once in my videos.
There’s no right or wrong way to enjoy a simulation based game. Only each individual (YOU) can determine what they want from the time they spend playing. If a default or freeware aircraft model does that…then you’ve checked all the boxes and don’t let anyone tell you different.
Until next time…
Enjoy Flight on YOUR TERMS!
And I don’t play one on TV, nor did I sleep in a Holiday Inn Express last night. You may need to be familiar with American TV to fully understand those comments.
I’m often asked why do I want to sit behind a computer for hours at a time and pretend to fly an airplane from one destination to another. No, it’s not the wife that asks this question. She is actually very supportive of my hobbies. I personally think this question is a relatively new one in the scheme of things. Computer flight simulation dates back to the mid to late 70’s but really didn’t gain mainstream attention until versions were released for the Commodore 64, Apple II and the TRS-80 (or Trash 80 as my friends referred to it). Computer flight simulation was just in its infancy and certainly just in its game stages. While I did spend hours at a time flying around Meig’s Field on the Commodore 64, I was after all in my teens (late teens) and what else did teenagers do back then?
As I have described in this blog many times, for me the game of flight simulation grew into a hobby about a decade ago. While I believe I may have had a SATCO account, I never used it until VATSIM was born in July 2001. I’ve also described in detail my getting started with virtual airlines etc. It was these elements which turned a game into a hobby for me.
I know it may sound weird to hear someone who is so passionate about the hobby of flight simulation to say that he has no interests to learn to fly in real life. I simply don’t. However, I do love, love, love flying commercially. I consider myself a pro at it. I know when to take off my shoes, my belt and empty my pockets and I pride myself for being able to pass through security without anything beeping at me. By the way, my wife and I will soon travel to Europe to visit her family in Belgium and I’m looking forward to the trip.
Everyone who will read this blog has his or her own reasons for participating in the flight simulation hobby. Many of you hold a real world private pilots license and even some of you are professional commercial pilots. Some of you are like me and either don’t want to become a real world pilot or can’t. The reasons are many and none of those really matter. Some of you are young, some of you are old and some of you are in between. This also doesn’t matter. But this does lead me to an interesting statistic I’ve been pondering.
When I started flying online and flying for virtual airlines ( a decade ago), the impression I certainly got was the age demographics were slightly skewed to the younger side. Keep in mind I was in my mid-30’s at this time and most of the pilots I encountered on VATSIM and who flew in the VA were squeaky voiced teenagers. Please note, I’m not speaking bad about young people (then or now) and I owe the fun I have today on VATSIM to one of those squeaky voiced teenagers who today works as ATC.
But today, I rarely encounter a young person on VATSIM (or at least the squeaky voiced kind) and it somewhat concerns me. Like any hobby, the hobby survives and is renewed with new products and such by younger people coming into it. Now the good news is most of the teens from a decade ago are still in the hobby…they are just 10 years older and of course so am I.
Back on subject. While I have no desire to take my computer pilot skills to the next level, I do really enjoy making my experiences on the computer “As Real As It Gets”. Meaning, I’m really enjoying adding different hardware elements to my home setup which mimic those of real world instruments. Just as I recently blogged about my entering the payware market with the iFly 737NGX, I’m really loving the experience of flying with an FMS/CDU setup. So much so I purchased a hardware CDU which provides the look and feel of a real Boeing 737 CDU. This adds to my growing collection of external hardware including the CH Products Yoke and Peds and many GoFlight modules including the MCP Pro.
Before I wrap up, I just want to give a shout out to Moshe who has started his own Flight Sim Blog and kicking off an around the world adventure of his very own. Please visit and bookmark his blog website by clicking this link. Alternatively, you can look to the right side of my blog page under blogroll. Just look for FSX Scenic Adventure Around the World. This is one adventure I plan to follow very closely.
Well…this wraps up another edition to the blog. I know my blog posting schedule is somewhat sporadic. I struggled with posting anything earlier in the year and in May I posted several. I hope to share with you my cross the pond flight which will simulate the real world British Airways flight I plan to take in real life in a few weeks. It’ll be a BA 777 flight from Denver to London Heathrow then a VLM flight in the Fokker 50 from London City over to Antwerp, Belgium. I plan to fly the round-trip the week before I fly it for real. Both will be extremely fun.
Oh…before I fly off into the sunset (or in the case of the pic to the left, away from the sunset). I also wanted to mention I recently added the LevelD 767 to my virtual hangar. The LevelD 767-300 also easily supports and works with the GoFlight MCP Pro. I’ve only taken her on one round trip, but plan to put more hours on her in the very near future. The photo to the left is the LevelD 767 in the American OneWorld Livery. I’m sure you’ll hear about it here.
Until next time,