PC Flight Simulation – Understanding the Hobby (Part 3)

By Derek Davis – Editor of PC Pilot Magazine

Third-Party Add-ons for Flight Simulator X

The added benefit with flight sims, like Microsoft’s Flight Simulator, is that you can also build upon the core simulation in terms of aircraft, scenery and utility packages. This is why a whole third-party “add-on” market has, over the years, built up around this one franchise.

Third-party ‘add-on’ products are designed to work in conjunction with Flight Simulator and are therefore not ‘standalone’. The subject matter covered by these products is diverse, which reflects the fact that they have to appeal to a wide audience – from those who want something fairly simple, to those who want high fidelity at every level!

Add-ons can be divided into specific categories:

  • Aircraft – which includes GA, Airliners and Military (note the firing of weapons is not possible in Flight Simulator).
  • Scenery – products of which encompass terrain of particular areas – most notable of which is Horizon Simulation’s VFR Photographic Scenery for England and Wales and PC Aviator’s Megascenery.
  • Airports – These are fully detailed areas which include animated activity and also interactivity.
  • Utilities – These are programs which allow the user to control certain aspects of the simulation. Popular amongst this category are programs which allow you to have control over weather patterns and conditions.
  • Missions – This, as noted earlier is a new feature of FSX and is still to be fully explored by third-party publishers, but many are in the pipeline.

The Multiplayer aspect

All flight simulators incorporate some form of multiplayer element. This feature turns an essentially solitary hobby into a tool for socialising with people from all over the world. Microsoft’s Flight Simulator allows you to fly online with other people or you can fly with someone in the same aircraft. This latter capability within Microsoft’s Flight Simulator is, for example, useful for teaching people how to fly. Out of this multiplayer module has grown whole communities where people meet on a regular basis. Some have even gone to the extent of setting up structured organisations to service this need.

Civil Multiplayer

On the civil side Virtual Airlines are a thriving concept where airlines are created and run like their real-life counterparts in terms of scheduling.

The term “Virtual Airline” (VA) is in itself something of a misnomer and we prefer to think of these organisations as flying clubs. Whilst it is true that some of these VA’s aim to provide an airline-style experience, others provide a service to a wide range of enthusiasts including: general aviation, helicopter and military interests. What these organisations do have in common is a club structure and culture. With most clubs, registration and membership is required as a precursor to active participation. Some VA’s may offer a simple entrance test to aspiring pilots, or ask you to take a sample flight or simply allow direct entry.

Most organisations have a structure that entails being assigned a ‘flight mission’. After completion of this mission, a report is relayed back to the VA, which monitors your progress and accumulated flight hours, and makes another assignment available. As with a real aviation organisation it is possible to rise through the ranks of the club, with many offering the ability to expand the fleet available to you as you attain hours and promotions. For example, you may only be allowed to start your career on a small ‘prop’ plane and have to work your way towards that dream seat on a Boeing 747!

Some VA’s operate using the timetable and aircraft fleet of a real airline and try to match their operations as closely as possible. Others are fictitious airlines that make no effort to simulate any real-world carrier, but instead have created their own fleet and timetable. If your preference is to operate a fighter aircraft, then many military clubs are available – the Virtual Royal Air Force and Virtual United States Air Force being two popular examples. However combat or weapon deployment is not possible within Microsoft’s Flight Simulator. That capability is only possible by using a combat-dedicated simulation, such as IL-2 Sturmovik, Rise of Flight, and the Digital Combat Simulation (DCS) range of flight sims.

Conclusion

Flight simulation is as diverse as the people that enjoy it. The challenge for the future will be to persuade not only those people who have been with the hobby for many years to get onboard this new franchise, but also convey our passion for flight simulation to those who have never considered it before.

Some useful links

PC Pilot Magazine – www.pcpilot.net

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

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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