There are various flight sims out there but there are few that are totally free. FlightGear bucks this trend to offer a user-friendly but realistic introduction to the skies, all built on open-source programming. Just because it’s free though, don’t think that FlightGear can’t compete with the big boys such as Microsoft Flight Simulator X – it’s as good, if not better in many ways.
Firstly, it’s not isolated to Windows – in true open source spirit FlightGear also works on several Linux/UNIX platforms and Macs. Like most flight-sims however, the installation and startup takes a good 5-10 minutes to install the various backdrops and 3D graphics. Once started, you’re presented with around 20 planes to select ranging from Messerschmitts to Cessnas. Next up, you’re asked to select an initial selection of around 30 locations around the world. You can download a whole lot more – enough to fill 3 DVDs, apparently – from the developer website.
FlightGear can be controlled in two ways – through the command line and through a graphical wizard called ‘fgrun’. Both do exactly the same thing but we recommend the wizard for ease of use. Once you’re done with this, you hit the runway and off you go! There are no missions to complete or battles to win – it’s simply a case of take-off, landing and enjoying the scenery.
The 3D graphics are surprisingly detailed and for those with programming know-how, the fact that it’s open-source means that the sky is literally the limit in terms of what you can create and do with FlightGear. Fancy flying a rocket from Washington to London or putting an ejector seat in a 747? Just make them yourself!
The major drawback of this flight-sim however is that it is very heavy on resources. Users of older machines may find loading times painful and the graphics sluggish so it’s recommended that you shut down all other applications or expand your RAM before trying FlightGear. What makes FlightGear standout though is the fact that even taking control of the most complicated aircraft is possible due to the excellent tutorials on the developer site which take you step by step through take-off. Whilst most flight simulators are aimed at experienced flyers, FlightGear is designed for those who’ve never sat in a cockpit before but want to learn the essentials. The general interface is also very clean and user friendly – there aren’t too many unnecessary dials to confuse you. The game options are clearly presented at all times as are the customisation options. From here, you can specify everything from the time of day to the type of navigation panel and even the weather.
Another great feature is the ability to team-up with a friend and fly the skies over a network. Many users report that the lag time is incredibly short when playing over a network on FlightGear compared to professional sims such as Flight Simulator X. However, don’t expect to log-on being able to have dogfights and shoot passenger planes out of the sky – there’s no arcade or action mode available as yet although you could always program one yourself.
This is a fantatstic flight sim that will appeal to both novices and experts. Surprisingly high quality plus the fact that it’s totally free, explain why FlightGear is becoming an increasingly popular download.
Pros: Free – No registration or licence fees, Great tutorials to get you going, Clean and easy to use flightdeck
Cons: Very heavy on resources, No missions