Which Flight Simulator Software is right for me?
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…