FlightGear: Flight Simulator

There are hundreds of games out there. Games of all different types: first person shooters, RPGs, arcade, sports, military combat; probably a hundred or more variations of each. But, being quite big on airplanes, when I was looking for a Flight Simulator, I found I had only one commercial program available: Microsoft Flight Simulator 2004. It had a lovely price tag of $50 (even after being out for a year!). I decided it was time to look into other alternatives; that being open source programs.

This week, I review FlightGear, an open source flight simulator that will match, if not beat Microsoft’s $50 alternative. Not only does it work for Windows, but also on several Linux/UNIX platforms. It has a wide variety of airplanes available to fly, and many awesome features that you can only get from an open source program. FlightGear can be downloaded here: http://www.flightgear.org.

The first thing I noticed about FlightGear was the selection of airplanes and terrains available. The list of available planes went from the Wright Brother’s first plane to today’s state-of-the-art military fighter jets. As for avaible terrains, you can download the entire planet (said to be large enough to fit on 3 DVDs), or download 10 x 10 squares off of their website (I found each square to be around 80 MB, give or take a few). There are also several attractions that were custom-made for accuracy, also available on the main site.


Based on OpenGL graphics rendering, this program can really do just about anything and make it look realistic. You can program your own graphics including: terrain, create airports, and airplanes, if the wide selection of pre-made planes are not enough for you. You can program (or reprogram) flight controls and control response. The graphics features are virtually as limited as your imagination.


Performance and ease of use are both pretty good considering the scale of the program. It is a little sluggish on old machines and video cards, but faster systems have no problem running it. It is very simple, with a limited knowledge of flying, although it may take some getting used to. There are tutorials and links on the FlightGear site that offer many beginners the direction they need to get started.

The user interface is very clean and easy to use. I enjoy being able to see my options clearly in front of me, not having to dig through menu after menu or annoying wizards. You can customize every aspect of your flight; a common feature on flight simulators. From the time of day to the type of navigation; even control over the weather and clouds, as well as the ability to toggle the 3D cockpit on and off–you can do it all! I’m very impressed with the interface overall.


A cool feature that has been toyed with in past versions of flight simulators (although a similar feature is included in M$ flight sim 2004), is the networking capability. If you have a friend over and want to practice your formation skills or just fly around for fun, you can now do that. I think it is pretty sweet that you can fly around with your buddies over the network. Although I haven’t had a chance to try it, it is said to be nearly-perfected. For those of you who are interested in trying out a flight simulator, but are not interested in paying for one, I highly recommend this program. The features are simply unlimited. It is about as realistic as you can get without overloading the memory, and files sizes are reasonable. FlightGear definitely meets my standards. Go out and give it a try for yourself!

Comments

  1. What a terrible review! It reads like a true fan boy wrote it. Here is how I experienced it; and before people start accusing me of anything, I’m a big advocate of open source. I’m running linux, listening to music on VLC media player, running firefox etc.

    I ran flight gear v1.0 on a dual processor Intel Xeon machine (which shows up as 4 cores in the task manager due to hyper-threading), a graphics card with 256mb on-board memory, and 1gb of ram. One would think that this would be enough for a low end flight simulator, but one would be wrong. Flight gear was incredibly choppy as each frame took about a second to render even on the lowest setting. Flight Simulator X on the other hand runs smoothly on the machine. Why?

    I’m a programmer myself. I can think of at least a few things that could’ve gone wrong behind the scenes, but that doesn’t excuse the crappy behavior in the end product. By giving an enthusiastically positive review of a bad piece of software, you are not doing those who wish to switch to open source a service. If anything, a bad experience will steer them away from open source for a long time. Add to that the fact that if one wants the scenery to go with the simulator, one has to donate money ($50 for the whole package). For that price, one could just as easily buy Flight Simulator X, which runs smoothly, has better cockpits, more realistic flight models, better looking terrain, fantastic shading, and a buttload of other sweet features. Either that, or go with X-plane, a simulator whose physics has been FAA approved.

  2. Jim Michigan says:

    I agree, this review is awful. I’ve been running FlightGear on my dual-core machine, overcloked to 3.5GHz with an overclocked GT8800 graphics card and 4Gb of RAM and FlightGear just won’t run smoothly. It’s bad enough when it chops around in flight, but it also does it on final approach. Invariably this means you end up burying a wingtip or bouncing down the runway because it takes 10 seconds to respond to throttle control.

    The game itself is nice, and it’d be great if it ran smoothly. The terrains and aircraft are well-made and when it isn’t choppy it responds very smoothly. For me, though, having to land at 0.1fps is just too stressful. I’m going to the store today to buy a copy of MS Flight Simulator. At least if that doesn’t work, it’ll give me an excuse to climb onto the bash Microsoft bandwagon.

  3. Tyler Thompson says:

    Just to note, this review was written in March of 2005, which would have put FlightGear at version 0.9.8. Numerous updates have occurred in the past three years, as noted by the current version number of 1.9.1 as per their announcemnet list: http://www.flightgear.org/announce.html

    I stand by the review of the product I reviewed (version 0.9.8) at the time it was written. The review was never intended to apply to future versions – which is in fact quite silly to assume. For instance, to review Office 2003 and then have people telling you that your review sucks because Office 2007 is terrible just doesn’t make much sense.

    Microsoft Flight Simulator 9 and 10 are both good flight simulators; in fact, I own both of them. This review was intended to point out that there are other decent alternatives to paying for the Microsoft product. I’m sorry to hear their developers have let a good program slip; but do not think that I’m a “fanboy” because I wrote a review of a decent program almost 4 years ago.

  4. You guys with choppy frame rates otta get a video card that supports open source.

    I’m running a vintage (3 yrs old now) P4 3Ghz Dell machine, 2.5gigs RAM with ATI Radeon X300se with 128Mb video RAM.

    It ran great the first time I installed it. Although scenery wasn’t displayed properly, all I had to do was update my video card driver and wohoo! Awesome. I was getting about 60 fps, not too bad at all.

    Microsoft flight sim has too many restrictions. Difficult to create your own models. Flight gear has many models available and lots of people to help you make your own model. Not to mention the myriad of tutorials available to grind your way through to a finished model. It takes a bit of digging but it’s there somewhere, and if you can’t find it people are glad to help you out on the forum.

    I’d also like to say that Flight Gear has aerospace engineers and physicists who have worked and are working on the flight models for flight gear, I can’t say as much for microsoft they have deadlines to meet so people come and go as projects finish up (not to mention some layoffs at the microsoft flight simulator team in Jan 2009 resulting in cancelled and delayed projects). That can’t happen with FlightGear, it’s open source :) !

    The worst thing that could happen is you try it out and you don’t like it. No problem! It didn’t cost you anything. Besides if you didn’t like it, post what you didn’t like. Developers are always looking for improvements, or maybe add it or contribute to the project yourself if you can.

  5. Boy…I wish I could get FG to RUN! I’ve dl’d versions 1.91 and 1.90 and as soon as I pick an a/c the “encountered a problem” screen comes up and then nada.

    I’m using WinXP Pro, 2.60gig Intel P4, Intel82845G, and I’ve tried the numerous suggestions on the FG forum abount cmd file changes but no luck.

    Anybody got a clue?

    Thanks

  6. Flightgear SUCKS. Here’s my story:

    I downloaded flightgear, thinking how cool would it be to finally have found a free flight sim that was fun and easy to use. Unfortunately, flightgear was not it. I double-clicked the app icon, (this is on a Mac G5) and it told me that it would not run properly if it was not put into the apps folder. So, I drag it to the apps folder and start it up. It takes around 30-45-60 seconds for it to start up (it varies for some reason) and I see the interface. Looks decent. Pretty simple looking. Pick a plane, and a place to fly. I start out with the default airport and plane. Takes around 1:30 seconds to load. My first impression is, the graphics are crap. I have them on their fullest rendering settings, and the screenshots on the internet are no comparison, completely different. I go to the tutorial to learn the controls. “Press Shift-B to release the parking brakes, and put the throttle to full.” Well first of all, HOW DO I PUT THE THROTTLE TO FULL?! They NEVER give you an instruction manual?! Then, I realize, I had to go to the Help toolbar to look at the vast amount of control buttons. I search for 5-10 minutes and finally find the throttle. “PgUp-PgDown.” I press page up, nothing happens. Ugggggh! This thing sucks already!! A controls don’t work and the graphics suck?! Can this get any worse? Yes, it can. I choose a different plane. Maybe the control scheme is different. “Loading Scenery Objects”……………………….10 minutes later, “Loading Scenery Objects”……….. 10 more minutes later, STILL LOADING THE FRICKING SCENERY OBJECTS. I give up. I’m sticking with GOOGLE MAPS FLIGHT SIM, WHICH IS MUCH BETTER!!!!!

  7. Flightgear009 says:

    Yep Flightgear does have its occassional lags…this happens when you are in multiplayer environment and what the MP server reaches its capacity. Having said these, for a totally free flight simulator, Flightgear beats some commercial products based on its accuracy and realism. Get flightgear and additional add ons from the website http://www.unitedfreeworld.com and you have a near complete simulator…which you will enjoy!

    TC

  8. all you people knocking flightgear are knocking it because you are incapable of getting your systems set up to run it.
    There are people who can use computers and people who use or should use microsoft products.
    cheers,
    dave.

  9. I’m uding FG every day for several hours and I never had a problem. I’m running it on a new iMac. The graphic detail is awesome, the response is immediate and the gameplay is simply perfect.
    Go buy a Mac…

  10. Jet Pilot says:

    You get what you pay for. Stick with Microsoft for a hassle free experience. Open source usually = second rate. It's true with FG. Too many “do this, do that, download this, copy that, configure this, update that, ad infinitum.”
    The people at FG just….don't….get…..it. KISS. Keep it simple, stupid. I have no problem downloading 1/2 a GB worth of files, but don't make me have to think to get the damn thing to work. I just want to push a button and start flying. MS gets it. YOU SHOULD TOO!!!!!!!

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