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….
It’s sometimes funny how articles are born here on my blog site. I began the framework to a “My Top 10 Payware Airport Scenery” article which more or less started off with a question as to why we purchase payware airport scenery and showing examples. I realized this would become a seriously long article, so I decided to split them into two different writings. So let’s get the why out of the way first, then in a few days I’ll release my top 10 list.
Why purchase payware airport scenery?
If you are new to the hobby of flight simulation or perhaps a complete stranger to it, you might wonder why we spend additional money on airport scenery. After all, this is both a valid question and a very good question.
Unlike other simulation based games in my library (FS19, ATS, ETS2) Flight Sim (and this includes FSX, FSX: Steam Edition, All versions of Prepar3D and even XPlane) does include the entire map of the world. As is the case with American Truck Simulator where we either have to wait for SCS to release a new US state DLC or rely on a mod developer, Flight Sim includes an open world to explore. This means that out-of-the-box, you can start up at just about any default airport in the world and fly to just about any other default airport in the world. Most default airports will include all runways, taxiways and buildings which exist in real life. Some of the buildings may even very closely resemble their real-life counterparts. However, as is the case with FSX/P3D…these airports (including runways, taxiways and terminal buildings) are seriously outdated. Let me give you an example of just how outdated some are.
Example – Chicago O Hare International Airport – KORD
As you can see from the chart below which is dated 2006 versus the second image which is more recent, a lot has changed. By default, even in Prepar3D v4, KORD is outdated by over 10 years.
As you can see, Chicago O Hare looks much, much different with some runways removed and others added.
But by default, if you fly into KORD you’ll be landing on runways which may not exist today and this truly confuses things when you are flying online with other pilots and ATC.
To overcome these obstacles, many of us will purchase add-on airport scenery which will update the airport based on what it looked like at the time the add-on was developed. Of course, even these add-on airports can become outdated rather quickly as KORD is once again due to make changes in 2020. So as you can see, it’s almost a never ending struggle to stay 100% current.
Unfortunately, as is the case with Chicago O Hare…the FSX/P3D community finds itself in a holding pattern awaiting an updated version of this awesome airport. The best current add-on version available today for KORD is based on what the airport looked like in 2011 timeframe.
Maximum Immersion and Eye-Candy
While the main reason to update might be to ensure airport accuracy, another reason is what I refer to as maximum immersion and eye-candy. Denver International Airport (KDEN) by default is modeled based on what the airport looked like around 2006. It’s recognizable in FSX/P3D by its iconic tent looking main terminal. But DIA has undergone some radical changes since it first opened in 1995, replacing the old Stapleton Airport.
Is the image below real or a screenshot from P3D? Hard to tell the difference huh? It’s a screenshot compliments of FlightBeam who developed the most recent version of my home airport. This image is from the vantage point of just north of terminal A. Overlooking the international arrival/departure gates used by Lufthansa and British Airways. You can see the iconic tent roof structure over the main Jeppesen Terminal building and directly in front of that the newly opened Westin Denver International Airport Hotel. Maximum immersion – CHECK! Eye-Candy – CHECK!
Photo Credit: FlightBeam KDEN
More than just the airport
Sometimes payware airports come with a little and some with a lot of additional features other than just a detailed airport. As is the case with the brand new Las Vegas McCarran Airport (KLAS) which was recently released by FlyTampa. In this example, not only do we get a highly detailed representation of the Las Vegas airport, but we also get bonus bling of the Vegas Strip. I personally can’t wait to do a nighttime approach into KLAS with this beautiful scenery. Can you say “Viva Las Vegas”?
Photo Credit: FlyTampa KLAS
Photo Credit: FlyTampa KLAS
Photo Credit: FlyTampa KLAS
I recently read a Facebook comment from someone who said something along the lines of “This isn’t airport scenery simulator” when commenting on a post regarding payware scenery. The great thing about this hobby is there’s literally something for everyone. One can simply purchase the flight simulator platform of their choosing and have a ton of fun flying around in the vanilla or default state. Or you can enhance the immersion and take it to a completely different level. The flight sim world is big enough and welcoming enough for all types of individuals. Enjoy the hobby on your terms.
Until next time…
Thank you….Thank you very much (read this in an Elvis accent).
Not everyone appreciates the joy of study level aircraft in the flight sim world. At one point in time, I was one of these individuals. My argument (and I believed at the time it was a valid one), was simply I just didn’t have the available time to spend 30 minutes or more on the ground flipping switches and programming a complex FMS. I simply wanted to spend less time kicking the tires, and more time lighting the fires and flying.
It must sound strange…
…to a non-flight sim enthusiast that anyone would spend the amount of money and time on a hobby like this, but truly have no desire to learn to fly in the real world. The argument is a valid one, I’ve spent at least a high four figures (perhaps five) over the years which would have more than paid the costs of obtaining my PPL. While I absolutely love flying in real life (as a passenger), I just simply don’t share the same interest in obtaining my private pilots license.
There’s No Right or Wrong Way
Something my YouTube viewers have heard me say many, many times. There’s no right or wrong way to enjoy the hobby of flight simulation. I recently wrote an article titled, “Default/Freeware Aircraft in P3D v4” where I discussed some of the history of both default and freeware aircraft and the fact that there is nothing wrong with using these models to simulate flight. As I was writing that article, I saw a comment posted in one of the Facebook groups I follow. The individual discussed the fact that he simply doesn’t have the time to study, study level aircraft. He expressed many of the same reasons for not flying the complex study level aircraft which I mentioned in the first paragraph and his bottom line was he wanted to spend time flying for maximum enjoyment to escape the stresses of his day-to-day hectic life. Sound familiar? It does to me.
While I’ll always argue and defend the fact there’s no right or wrong way to enjoy flight simulation. I’ll also add that over the years I’ve found I actually get the maximum enjoyment from the more complex, study level, payware aircraft I once avoided.
Point A to Point B and EVERYTHING In-between
I absolutely enjoy all aspects of flight simulation. I enjoy the flight planning, the setup of the aircraft, the taxi, departure, climb, cruise, descent, arrival, approach, landing, taxi…..basically everything. To me, a flight from point A to point B isn’t complete unless all the I’s are dotted and all the T’s are crossed. Yes, it takes some time. But over the years I’ve developed a process which I use to both learn and also fly these types of aircraft.
New Tutorial Series
The past two articles I’ve written did get me to thinking that I should share my processes for how I conduct my flights with the payware, study level aircraft I enjoy flying. I’ve only really started the frame work portion of how I draft and write my articles so I’m not sure just how many tutorials or how in-depth they’ll actually be. But in keeping with my philosophy of “There’s No Right or Wrong Way”, if you are the type of simmer who enjoys dressing up like a real world airline captain and working through each and every checklist, then most likely you’ll not get a lot out of these future tutorials. HOWEVER, if you desire not to spend greater than 30 minutes, 45 minutes or even up to an hour on the ground just to enjoy a flight…then perhaps you’ll learn something from these upcoming tutorials. We’ll see.
The first article will focus mainly on how I learn/study the process of flying a new aircraft and I hope to bring that to you within the next week or so. As I’m looking at my calendar, I have two work related trips I’ll be taking in July, followed by one in early August. Then my wife and I are leaving for Belgium/England for two weeks in late August, early September. I honestly can’t wait for this vacation, but will do my best to at the very least get the tutorial series started before vacation.
As always, thanks for reading. Until next time….happy flying!
P.S. You can read my other Flight Sim Tutorials, by clicking Flight, then Flight Sim Tutorials on the GrizzlyBearSims website.
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,