PC Flight Simulation: A Beginning

Despite having been an aviation enthusiast from a very early age, it was only until about six years ago I entered the world of flight simulation. My introduction to this fascinating hobby was in the very humble form of a basic low power spec laptop running Microsoft FS2004. The processor was an eye-watering Intel Pentium Dual Core at 2.15GHZ, 64KB cache running Windows Vista Home service pack 2. On the settings menu, I had everything set at its lowest, and was achieving an amazing eight to twelve frames per second, which, at the time was very exciting. I had not one add-on and only flew the default FS2004 aircraft.  I did, however, treat myself to a very basic joystick with a small throttle lever.

After printing out all the relevant manuals, I managed to grasps the basics of flying in the Cessna 172. The funny thing was, I wanted to take it quite seriously right from the start so on the realism setting I put everything on maximum, including crash detection and stress on the aircraft, although I did cheat and have the unlimited fuel on.  This all seemed to work quite well and I did get a fair amount of enjoyment, just taking off and landing at the next airfield that I had put into the default flight planner. I did not know much about navigation at this stage, but I knew how to follow the magenta line on the GPS unit. I never used ATC either so it was really flying simulation at its most nadir.

I experienced a sharp learning curve when I decided to hit the big jets, like the Boeing 737-900. It was at this point I realized there is a lot more to flight simulation than I previously thought. For example, after attempting over twenty-six times to manually land the Boeing at Gatwick without using ILS (I had no idea how to use it) I almost went insane after slamming the beautiful jet into the tarmac time after time. It was then that I configured the realism settings back to “easy” and took logical and structured stance on learning to fly the correct way. I found with the aide of the internet, reference books, and the flight simulation community, you can  teach yourself how to fly with a high degree of success. It was then that the flight simulation world opened up to me.

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Even at this very basic stage of the hobby, I was getting very hooked, so much so that after hogging the family laptop I was given the ultimatum of either giving up or buying myself a PC dedicated to the hobby, so I could sim away the hours without stopping the entire family using the Internet. I then decided to take the plunge, dusted the cobwebs off the wallet, and purchased a mid range desktop PC for the sole purpose to using it as a flight simulator.

My PC specifications are as follows:  Windows 7 Home Premium with service pack 1, Processor Intel(R) Core(TM)i5-3570K CPU@3.40GHZ,(overclocked to 4.17GHZ approx) 4.00GB RAM, 64bit Operating System. While I initially started off with one 24” LED monitor, I soon added another one.

The graphics card is the main compromise as due to budgetary constraints is a Nvidia GeForce GT640. My main train of thought was that at some stage, it would be easier to upgrade the graphics card than installing a new processor, keeping in mind that I am not a PC technical wizard and can just handle the plug-and-play process!

Now that I have this amazing PC set up for the first time I thought it only natural to get some serious hardware. So once again I sent my wallet into a state of shock and invested in a very cool yoke and throttle quadrant. To my utter surprise, a very kind gift then arrived from one of the chaps I fly with on a virtual airline: a set of rudder pedals! This has made a huge difference to the immersion level as the simulation is now hands-on in the literal sense.

Now that I had finally realized my dream to have a PC dedicated to flight simming, I then began my quest for realism, and so I entered the eye-popping world of add-ons. I was like a kid in an unsupervised candy store! By this time I had decided to move over to FSX from FS2004 as it seemed many software developers were favoring this platform. I was very excited that I was now able to push the realism setting up to near maximum, which changed the whole visual dynamic of flight simulation.

In the last three years since I purchased the new PC, I have experienced an extraordinary turn of events that has not only allowed me to take part in this new hobby near on full time, but also put me in a position to start having real flying lessons at my local airfield in a Eurostar EV97. This went a long way to fuel my hunger in the pursuit of realism. With the aid of utterly fantastic Internet flight simming aficionados in forums as well as software developers, I was able to track down some spectacular add-ons which brought my simming experience to the next level.

Recently, I may have made a dubious move to a single 47” plasma screen.The definition is somewhat suspect when it comes to reading the small dials and digital readouts in the cockpit of an Airbus A319, but otherwise, it is breathtaking. As you can see from the main image, I have changed from yoke back to joystick and throttle lever, as according to the manual, this is a far more authentic way to fly the mighty Airbus.  I do, however, feel another change coming as the screen is just too large and unfortunately unreadable in many camera angles.

Once these changes have been implemented, I will let you know how it turns out!


Simon Skyfall