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….
Back in the early days, we didn’t have much choice when it came to selecting flight simulator software. When I was a teen back in the early 80’s, I had a Commodore 64 computer. I had a version of flight simulator which ran on the Commodore 64 computer. In those days you only had a small selection of airports to fly to and from and typically only one type of aircraft. I spent many, many hours flying the Cessna around Meig’s Field in Chicago.
As time passed, the sophistication of the various flight simulator software titles evolved from just one aircraft and a few airports to any aircraft one could imagine and an entire globe full of airports with tons of eye candy to look at while flying from point A to point B. Today, flight simulator enthusiasts have many different software platforms to choose from when it comes to setting up their flight simulator.
Microsoft Flight Simulator
Perhaps some will argue this point, but I believe Microsoft Flight Simulator leads the popularity contest when it comes to flight simulator software. From Microsoft Flight Simulator 1.0 released in 1982 all the way to Microsoft Flight Simulator X released in 2006, Microsoft has certainly done its part to create the industry behind the flight sim hobby.
Tip – Microsoft released a new ‘simulator’ titled Microsoft Flight in February 2012. While Microsoft referred to MS Flight as a simulator, the flight sim community does not. Unlike all other versions of Microsoft Flight Simulator, Flight is geared to be more of a ‘game’ versus simulator. On July 26, 2012, Microsoft cancelled any further development plans for Flight.
If you are looking into purchasing a version of Microsoft Flight Simulator, you’ll find Flight Simulator 2004 (AKA FS9) and Flight Simulator X as the most common versions used among Microsoft enthusiasts. You’ll also find software add-on options (including scenery, aircraft and other accessories) widely available for both FS9 and FSX versions of Microsoft Flight Simulator. I wouldn’t advise purchasing any version prior to FS9.
FSX will function (as well as just about every add-on) without issue on the Microsoft Windows 7 OS (32 bit and 64 bit). I’ve also read in various forums where users have installed FSX on the new Microsoft Windows 8 OS. However, I can’t confirm Windows 8 will handle all the other add-on options available.
X-Plane, developed by Laminar Research is another popular flight sim platform which has been around for a number of years. Designed for Mac, but also available for 32/64-Bit Windows and Linux OS systems, it has become a solid alternative to the Microsoft brand. Most 3rd party developers designing the various add-on options include X-Plane versions. Unlike Microsoft, the developers of X-Plane continue to develop the software and as of the present time the most current version is 10.10.
Prepar3D or P3D is the new kid on the block with regards to payware flight simulation software. Announced in 2009, Lockheed Martin negotiated the purchase of the intellectual property including source code of Microsoft Flight Simulator X along with the hiring of many of the MS developers which were part of ACES Studios to develop what would become Prepar3D. From what I understand, most add-ons as well as the default FSX aircraft work in Prepar3D without any adjustment since Prepar3D is kept backward compatible to FSX. However, there are some small technical changes that must be made if you want to fly online via either the IVAO or VATSIM networks.
There is some debate whether or not Prepar3D is designed to be used in the flight sim hobby community. I don’t believe Lockheed Martin plans to develop a public version, but the Prepar3D website does state that the academic license version is available for students from kindergarten through undergraduate and is suitable for home use. You can learn more about the licensing of P3D here.
Freeware/Open-Source Alternatives and a warning
There is an open-source alternative to flight simulation software available from FlightGear. While I’ve never spent any time testing or flying using the FlightGear flight simulation software, I know others do use it and there are methods of importing planes from Microsoft Flight Simulator into FlightGear. In addition, there is also an on-line client for the VATSIM network called SquawkGearthat will allow you to use FlightGear to fly on-line. It is extremely encouraging to see developers like FlightGear contribute to the flight sim community with their open-source program.
Unfortunately, there are some individuals who have taken the open-source code from FlightGear, made a few minor modifications and are attempting to market the product under various names such as Flight Pro Sim, Pro Flight Simulator etc. I first learned about this back in 2010 and blogged about it here and here. But please….don’t take my word for it. Read the official statement released by FlightGear and judge for yourself.
I base much of my decision around what flight simulator platform I continue to use around the fact that I have a large investment of money and time in the Microsoft platform. I built a custom PCback in 2010 which would handle the demands of Microsoft FSX. I have hundreds of dollars tied up in add-on software and hardware to enhance my flight sim experience. If I woke up tomorrow and could no longer run Microsoft FSX, I would probably further investigate Prepar3D as a solution. However, if you are just starting out….the sky truly is the limit in the direction you proceed.
While there are many reasons to select Microsoft Flight Simulator as your software of choice, the fact that Microsoft discontinued development and in my opinion will never develop flight simulation software again is perhaps a reason to steer away from this as an option. But for now, FSX continues to be my platform of choice and it works well for me.
Until next time…
To some individuals, a computer based flight simulator is just a game and to many others it is much more, it’s an important hobby. I’ve even known many younger individuals who were inspired to pursue aviation careers and became pilots and air traffic controllers as a result. Regardless of your motive, one can learn and experience many different aspects of aviation and even learn something about geography through a computer based flight simulator program.
For me, flight simulation changed from being “Just a Game” around the year 2000. As it was around this timeframe when I was first introduced to the world of internet based virtual airlines or VA’s. I’ll discuss VA’s in more depth in a future article. Before 2000, I would load up a flight in my simulator, pick a destination, take off and come back in a hour or two and land the plane. I was happy if I could land within a hundred miles or so of the airport. However, with a little practice (practice does make perfect after all), I could navigate my aircraft and found it was actually interesting to fly the aircraft versus letting the autopilot do it.
Tip – It is easy to get caught up in wanting to fly “Big Iron” aircraft like the Boeing 747. However, you’ll learn more about flying and navigating when spending time in the default Cessna type aircraft which are featured in all versions of the popular flight simulator programs. Work your way up from the single engine prop models just like real pilots.
While I have no desire to take flying lessons or earn my private pilots license, the flight simulation hobby has taught me much about aviation, about the world we live in and I’ve met some really wonderful people as a result.
Next time I’ll discuss what flight simulator software is right for you (there are many to choose from) and some tips on setting it up. Thank you for reading my blog.
Until next time…
I’ve been flying computer flight simulators since the early to mid 1980’s. During this over 25 year period of time I’ve learned a lot and I would like to share what I’ve learned with my readers. If you’ve been flying for a while, then perhaps nothing I’ll tell you will be new information. However, I know our hobby continues to attract new blood and if I can help those through my knowledge, then it is worth the time I’ll spend blogging about these various subjects.
I’ll “Kick the Tires and Light the Fires” on this content in the coming days. I have a list of topics to discuss and knowledge to share. Please bookmark my site or subscribe via RSS to stay current on my content.
OK…where to start? Oh I know…let me tell you about myself. My name is Jerry, I live in Denver, Colorado. I’m less than 5 miles from KAPA and about 20 miles from KDEN. I’m married to a wonderful woman who supports all my various hobbies. Before moving to Denver in 1998, I lived in Dallas, Texas. I lived very close to KADS and about 15 miles from the awesome KDFW airport. As a child we would visit the Dallas/Ft. Worth area and one of my two highlights would be visiting Six Flags over Texas and KDFW to watch the planes.
I’ve always been fascinated with airplanes and flight. Now the weird thing is I’ve never had any desire to learn to fly and/or pursue my private pilots license. I know….this may sound weird…but it is what it is. My Uncle has his PPL and he took me flying for the first time in a small Cessna when I was a small child. While I wouldn’t fly again for 10+ years (and my first commercial flight was around the age of 16) I always loved watching airplanes. Even as a “Big” kid, I love all aspects of travel (well perhaps not the waiting in security lines). I love getting to the airport early and watching the planes and the people.
I’ve been flying computer simulator games for over 25 years. Yes….they’ve been around that long. It all started for me with the Commodore 64 computer. The Commodore 64 computer launched my flight sim hobby, but more importanly it helped launch the career I’ve enjoyed for almost 20 years in IT. This IT career has helped to further my enjoyment of the hobby with a better understanding of how computer hardware and software functions together and has provided the opportunity for me to fly around the world.
In the early days of computer flight simulation it was all very basic compared to what we have today withMicrosoft Flight Simulator X. While a friend of mine had a TRS-80 around 1982-83, I didn’t personally own a flight simulator program until 1984 when a company called SubLOGIC created Flight Simulator II. This was the second generation flight simulator and was amazing.
While I was interested in a few other “computer games”, flight simulator was the one that I spent the most time playing. Now I already mentioned that these early versions were basic. While I haven’t played Flight Simulator II in over 20 years, I do remember you would start off at Meig’s Field in Chicago. I honestly believe that was about it. I believe (but not 100% certain) that KORD was represented in the software as well as several other smaller airports. However, that was about it. I also remember a few updates to the Commodore 64 version. Towards the end of my Commodore experience I had obtained some sectional maps and such of the areas where airports were represented. I still only flew with a joystick but my skills were improving with every hour of flying time.
My Commodore 64 computer was finally replaced in the late 80’s with an IBM PC. My flight sim hobby took off from there with the Microsoft Flight Simulator version 3.0. This was a HUGE jump from the version I had been flying on the old Commodore. In the complete history of Microsoft Flight Simulator software, I did miss out on versions 1.0 and 2.0. Microsoft Flight Simulator 3.0 (the first MS product I used with a PC) 3 aircraft including the Cessna we had all known to love along with a learjet and a Sopwith Camel. The graphics were much improved over the Commodore 64 version and for the first time you could actually look outside of the aircraft. From MSFS 3.0, I’ve owned every version released and each release was better and better and I couldn’t wait until the next one would come out.
Over the years as the graphics improved so did the options. Microsoft began adding more scenery and a lot more choices for aircraft to fly. With the birth of the Internet, an entire industry was born to cater to this exciting hobby. No more were you just limited to the features Microsoft provided….you had access to hundreds…probably thousands of different add-on products to enhance your experience. You could fly around the world and land just about anywhere. “Real World” airports and the accurate scenery around them was all being developed into the software or available through a third party add-on.
Again, while I’m fairly confident I’ve owned every version of Microsoft Flight Simulator since version 3.0 (circa 1988), for me personally it was Microsoft Flight Simulator 2000 (aka version 7.0) that really pushed the game experience into a true hobby. I picked up a flight yoke and peddles and joined a virtual airline or VA for short. I have flown for several VA’s over the years. The first was a VA setup as American Airlines. It soon went bust. I then joined a VA operating as Air Canada and then found another American Airlines VA which looked awesome. I joined and within a short period of time had worked my way up in the management ranks to VP of Operations and also managed the DFW Hub.
In this timeframe I began flying online and experiencing operating with other online pilots and online ATC (Air Traffic Control) through a network called VATSIM. During this same timeframe I was traveling more and more both through work and for personal reasons. I would fly from KDEN to KDFW, then down to KILE (now KGRK) to visit family a few times a year. One of my favorite things to do would be to re-create the flight before and after a trip. I would fly the same aircraft at the same time of the day etc. It almost became a pre-trip ritual. My first real international (over the pond) flight was in the Spring of 2001. I was headed to our London office for 3 weeks. My real-life trip would take me from KDEN to KDFW then to London’s Gatwick airport EGKK. I simulated this trip in Microsoft Flight Simulator 2000 (version 7.0) before and after my real-world flight.
Microsoft has used the phrase “As Real As It Gets” since at least the days of Flight Simulator 95 (version 6.0). It all became too “As Real As It Gets” with the release of Flight Simulator 2002 (version 8.0). Microsoft had planned to release FS 2002 in mid-September 2001. When the terrorist attacks of 9/11 happened, Microsoft delayed the release of 2002 so developers could remove the WTC twin towers from all copies of the software. As a way of paying respect to those who perished that day, all online flights taking place on VATSIM were suspended for the same duration that real-life air traffic operations were shut down. I was scheduled to fly to London on 14 September for business. Needless to say this trip was cancelled. I wouldn’t fly again until just before Christmas of that same year.
I continued participating with VA’s until sometime in late 2006 when life just really got busy for me. Like with any hobby, my flight simulation hobby had to be set aside. My wife and I bought a house and my job has changed dramatically over the years. Just before I put the cockpit and software in storage I had purchased the latest version of Microsoft Flight Simulator X (version 10.0). At the time of FSX release, my computer was a weakling and there wasn’t a lot of add-ons available. I’m also not even sure FSX at the time would work on the VATSIM network. But I had to have it and purchased it soon after it came out.
Now it is late Summer 2010. I was flipping through the TV channels and came across a History Channel program about to start called Extreme Airports and I was reminded of how much I loved flying the flight simulator software. The PC I used back in the 2005/06 timeframe still had FS9 and FSX installed. I connected my GoFlight gear, my yoke and peddles and flew from KDEN to KDFW in FS9. My old PC just wasn’t powerful enough to run FSX. But this was soon resolved.
I’ll blog about my new “Beast” of a PC on the next post and bring you all up to speed on what I’ve been doing to get started in this awesome hobby again.
Until next time,