FlightGear is an open-source flight simulator. It supports a variety of popular platforms (Windows, Mac, Linux, etc.) and is developed by skilled volunteers from around the world. FlightGear is a fantastic flight sim that will appeal more to novices who just want to get flying than experts looking for hardcore realism and is a great way to experience a semi-realistic flying experience without being a pro.
The goal of the FlightGear project is to create a sophisticated and open flight simulator framework for use in research or academic environments, pilot training, as an industry engineering tool, for DIY-ers to pursue their favorite interesting flight simulation idea, and last but certainly not least as a fun, realistic, and challenging desktop flight simulator. We are developing a sophisticated, open simulation framework that can be expanded and improved upon by anyone interested in contributing.
FlightGear might not be as realistic or polished as Microsoft Flight Simulator X or X-Plane but it’s still an impressive package, especially considering its free. 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.
FlightGear is a free flight simulator project. It is being developed through the gracious contributions of source code and spare time by many talented people from around the globe. Among the many goals of this project are the quest to minimize short cuts and “do things right”, the quest to learn and advance knowledge, and the quest to have better toys to play with.
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 the wizard is recommended 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 taking off, landing and enjoying the scenery.
The idea for Flight Gear was born out of a dissatisfaction with current commercial PC flight simulators. A big problem with these simulators is their proprietariness and lack of extensibility. There are so many people across the world with great ideas for enhancing the currently available simulators who have the ability to write code, and who have a desire to learn and contribute. Many people involved in education and research could use a spiffy flight simulator frame work on which to build their own projects; however, commercial simulators do not lend themselves to modification and enhancement. The Flight Gear project is striving to fill these gaps.
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 very clean and user friendly – there aren’t too many unnecessary dials to confuse you. The game options in FlightGear are clearly presented at all times, as are the customization options. From here, you can specify everything from the time of day to the type of navigation panel and even the weather.
- Directional airport lighting that smoothly changes intensity as your relative view direction changes.
- World scenery fits on 3 DVDs.
- Accurate terrain worldwide, based on the most recently released SRTM terrain data.) 3 arc second resolution (about 90m post spacing) for North and South America, Europe, Asia, Africa, and Australia.
- Over 20,000 real-world airports included in the full scenery set.
- Correct runway markings and placement, correct runway, and approach lighting.
- Taxiways available for many larger airports (even including the green center line lights when appropriate.)
- Sloping runways (runways change elevation like they usually do in real life.)
- Scenery tiles are paged (loaded/unloaded) in a separate thread to minimize the frame rate hit when you need to load new areas.
- Scenery includes all vmap0 lakes, rivers, roads, railroads, cities, towns, land cover, etc.
- Nice scenery night lighting with ground lighting concentrated in urban areas (based on real maps) and headlights visible on major highways. This allows for realistic night VFR flying with the ability to spot towns and cities and follow roads.
There are a wide range of people interested and participating in this project. This is truly a global effort with contributors from just about every continent. Interests range from building a realistic home simulator out old airplane parts, to university research and instructional use, to simply having a viable alternative to commercial PC simulators.
Flight Gear and its source code have intentionally been kept open, available, and free. In doing so, we are able to take advantage of the efforts of tremendously talented people from around the world. Contrast this with the traditional approach of commercial software vendors, who are limited by the collective ability of the people they can hire and pay. Our approach brings its own unique challenges and difficulties, but we are confident (and other similarly structured projects have demonstrated) that in the long run we can outclass the commercial “competition.”
FlightGear implements extremely accurate time of day modeling with the correctly placed sun, moon, stars, and planets for the specified time and date. It can track the current computer clock time in order to correctly place the sun, moon, stars, etc. in their current and proper place relative to the earth.
Another great feature of FlightGear is the ability to team-up with a friend and take to 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.