PC Flight Simulation – Understanding the Hobby (Part 1)

By Derek Davis – Editor of PC Pilot Magazine

So, you’ve just bought Microsoft Flight Simulator: Steam Edition, but have you ever stopped to think: ‘What is PC Flight Simulation?’ This is not an easy question to answer. For in truth PC Flight Simulation is a wide and diverse subject that encompasses many disciplines, technologies and people. The flight simmers themselves have varying wants and needs, which in turn has a direct influence upon and is reflected by the diverse levels of technology within the industry – in terms of software and hardware.

So when one tries to find a definition for PC Flight Simulation, one has to begin with the people that make up the PC Pilot community. PC Pilot readers come from different backgrounds and all walks of life. They also have diverse needs and varying levels of virtual and real-world experience. Some are trainee pilots and use flight simulation as a training tool – which in the long-term helps to reduce the learning curve and ultimately save them money in flying lessons. Some are current PPL or Commercial pilots and use flight sims to hone their existing skills in the real world. Then there are the ex-service personnel who want to perpetuate their interest in aviation. Finally, there are those who have no flying experience whatsoever and perhaps may never be able to afford to fly for real. For them, flight simulation gives them the opportunity to “Realize their dream to fly!”

And then there are some that are more interested in the military side of things rather than the civil. For them combat simulation is a kind of virtual laboratory in which one can explore not only aviation history, but also the strategy and tactics employed in aerial combat. In fact, it may not be real flying, but in so many respects, flight simulation does give one a more rounded understanding for the subject of flight and opens up the multi-faceted world of aviation.

Here’s a letter from one of those PC Pilot readers. This letter is entitled “Back to Basics!”, and is written in response to one of our on-going series of articles in which we show readers how Microsoft’s Flight Simulator can be used as a training tool for real pilots:

Dear PC Pilot, 

I am writing to congratulate you regarding the “Back to Basics” article published in issue 45. I have been enjoying using Flight Simulator X for preparation before embarking on my PPL and the hints and tips for using the simulator for flight training purposes, provided in the article, have proven very useful and timely; I am very much looking forward to the next article in the series.

I recently logged my first hour in a Cessna 172 and was very careful to remember to look outside and not at the instruments, which I had practiced within the simulator environment as suggested in the article before my first flight.

I have been very much struck by the realism that is provided in Flight Simulator X , which has made the transition to the real aircraft cockpit feel very comfortable and familiar. The wonderful add-on VFR sceneries for Flight Simulator X  (reviewed by yourselves in issue 44), add to the whole realism and experience, so much so that I was able to easily spot ground features at the real airfield – it really was like I had flown the circuit a hundred times before!

Before my experiences with Flight Simulator X, I had viewed PC-based flight simulation as simply a ‘game’. It is now clear to me that the capabilities of PC-based flight simulators far exceed that simple description when they are used in an appropriate way. Certainly I will be utilising Flight Simulator X as an extremely useful aid throughout my training.

It is only left for me to say that as a new subscriber to your excellent magazine the content has exceeded all my expectations, very well done and keep up the excellent work.

A PC Pilot reader.

So, if this letter is anything to go by, PC Flight Simulation does give people the ability to ‘Realize their dream to fly’. In fact, that’s the main motivation amongst our readers and what also perpetuates the passion for flight simulation as a hobby on the home PC. Their needs and expectations have increased over the years and this is reflected in turn by the increasing complexity of products currently available on the market today. For a PC Pilot reader, flight simulation is ‘serous’ fun! In fact flight simmers generally do not like their hobby being referred to as a game. For them, flight simulation is a tool for education and exploration, and above all, fun. As a result, the majority of our readers ‘crave’ high fidelity – in terms of flight modelling, cockpit functionality and graphical representation – the closer to reality the better! One Microsoft representative once told me that in the past, earlier versions of Flight Simulator could be viewed as being games. Now, with the increased sophistication, complexity, graphics engine and flight fidelity of the latest versions, the franchise can now really be regarded as a long-term hobby.

In terms of sphere of interest, the users can be categorised into three sections: General Aviation, Airliners and Combat simulation – with many instances of cross-over. The bulk of our readers have an interest in GA and Airliner aircraft – with interest in these two areas being almost equally split.

PC Pilot readers also vary in age: from 16-65 and beyond. In terms of my own personal correspondence, the youngest reader has been 12 and the oldest 86!

Some useful links

PC Pilot Magazine – www.pcpilot.net

Microsoft Flight Simulator – The Essential Guide – http://goo.gl/TuKfyd

Claim your FREE issue of PC Pilot magazine – www.pcpilot.net/freeissue/

PC Pilot Magazine

PC Pilot brings sense and expert opinion to the exciting and often daunting world of flight simulation. Contributors include many real-world pilots and aviation professionals to ensure that what you read is as real as it gets! Published bi-monthly, each issue of the magazine is packed with detailed news, advice, reviews, features and views on all aspects of flight simulation. Each issue also includes a free CD. Find out more at www.pcpilot.net