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Saturday, July 13, 2024

A Beginner’s Guide to Flight Simulation

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Let’s face it, seeing a man-made object flying in the sky for the first time is fascinating. We have all heard tales about flying and dreamt about it in our childhood days. Going abroad, traveling, making memories. An aircraft is probably one of the first things that come to our mind when we hear the term, “traveling”. But not everyone ends up chasing this dream. For the ones who are passionate about aviation, flight simulation is simply a charm. Flight simulation can get extremely realistic, and a great way to pass time. You can even go about your work letting the aircraft fly on autopilot like I am while writing this article. Today, We’ll cover the basics of flight simulation, and help you guys get into this great hobby overcoming the learning curve.

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Selecting your simulator and the required hardware

Great! You’ve made up your mind to be a virtual pilot. Time to get started. But you can’t fly jets in MS Paint, can you? You need a simulator. Currently, X-Plane, Prepar3d, and Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020 are the most popular. Among these, X-Plane and Prepar3d are a bit hardcore, but Flight Sim 2020 is a bit casual. If you are dedicated, then X-Plane 11 and Prepar3d are the way for you. But if you just want to get a feel of flight simulation, I’d suggest getting the Xbox game pass and giving Flight Simulator 2020 a shot, as you get a lot of other games alongside, so you get something out of it even if you feel like flight sim is not for you. You can learn quite a bit in Flight Simulator 2020, but it has its limitations at the time of writing. For starters, the lack of high-quality aircraft is a big downside. Its physics also leaves something to be desired. But over time, I hope this simulator will improve.
If you like it, then you should pick up X-Plane 11 or Prepar3d. But remember, X-Plane 12 is right around the corner. So you might want to hold your wallet for now. Flight simulation revolves around addons, and that’s where Prepar3d excels. The number of addons available for Prepar3d is just insane compared to X-Plane 11. The addons excel not only in quantity but also in quality. You can find a lot of freeware scenery for Prepar3d. But the problem is, Prepar3d has no freeware aircraft as good as the Zibo 737 for X-Plane 11. Zibo basically modified the default 737 and took it to the next level. Although not being as good as the PMDG 737, it is really good, and I might even go as far as saying, it comes close to the PMDG 737. Yes, PMDG does go the extra mile, but Zibo’s 737 is far beyond what has been achieved by freeware available for Prepar3d and MSFS. MSFS does have the FlyByWire A320 built upon the default A320. Although not as good as the Zibo, it is really good. At the end of the day, you can do nothing with the simulator if you don’t have a good aircraft to fly. So pick wisely. I’d say if you have money to spend, go for Prepar3d, and if not, X-Plane would be the better option.
Even after lacking the addons that Prepar3d has, X-Plane 11 is the best as a simulator. Hands down. The physics are the absolute best. Prepar3d doesn’t have physics as good as X-Plane 11, but still, they’re great and better than Flight Simulator 2020. Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020 however, does not have bad physics by any means, and I hope that it will improve over time.
When it comes to visuals, it totally depends from person to person, so I won’t touch upon that. Make sure to check the minimum system requirements before purchasing your simulator.
At the end of the day, all simulators are great, and they excel in their own ways. You have to decide for yourself what you care about more, and then make the move.
Flight sims are best enjoyed with a HOTAS (Hands on Throttle and Stick) setup, but a controller would do just fine. I’d suggest one with a bit of resistance. My 1st gen PS4 controller does fine for me. If you can, however, get a HOTAS, or at least a flight stick. They used to sell only the Logitech Extreme 3D Pro in Bangladesh, but they are all out of stock now.

Choosing the right aircraft to get your feet wet

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Flight simulation isn’t exactly a hobby that holds your hand. I mean, come on, you’re going for nearly 1:1 replicas of real-life aircraft and the systems. So you’re can’t exactly open up your sim, press a button or two on your keyboard, and get up in the air. The sim won’t hold your hand, yes, but do you know what will? Studying. Studying aviation, studying the planes you’ll be flying, studying its systems. No, you don’t need to get a Ph.D. on aviation or something, some YouTube tutorials would do just fine. Now, if there’s one thing you need to realize, is that commercial airliners will always be harder compared to general aviation aircraft, like a Cessna. For a beginner, I’d always speak against flying a commercial airliner. Start with a Cessna. The default Cessnas in both X-Plane 11 and Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020 are great. However, none of them are 1:1 replicas of their real-life counterparts. But they’re good to start with.

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Starting to fly

Great! You’ve got your sim, got your hardware, now it’s time to fly! I’d suggest learning to start up your aircraft first. Countless tutorials on YouTube show how to. It’s not too hard, it gets easy after the first try or two. After that, you can start with VFR patterns, or just try taking off, flying around, then returning to the airport. X-Plane 11 has a tutorial for patterns. It will help you get better at taking off and landing. Once you think you’re doing well at patterns, you can fly to destinations. Just take off, fly to the destination, line up with the runway, and land. Try to hold a certain altitude throughout the flight. It would be good to learn the autopilot systems during this time. Holding the Heading and Altitude, the flight would be really easy. After you are comfortable with that, I’d say you should start learning about SID and STARS. Departures, Arrivals, and Approaches. Finish a couple of flights maintaining these, and then you can move to proper IFR or instrument flying. At this point, you should start inserting airways into your flight plan and start using the autopilot like they do in commercial flights. At this point, you should be comfortable with a Cessna. After you’re seasoned with the default Cessna, you can give the more advanced Cessna aircrafts a shot, for example, the Simcoders Reality Expansion Pack Cessna 172 in X-Plane 11, or even other General Aviation aircraft.

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Moving to commercial airliners

Now that you’re a seasoned Cessna pilot, you can move on to the larger commercial airliners we all are used to. While training with a Cessna, you have probably researched about aviation, and you know about those commercial airliners and the different models. As a beginner, you’re probably flying in X-Plane 11 or Flight Simulator 2020. For X-Plane 11, there is the freeware Zibo 737 which is just amazing, maybe even study level. For Flight Simulator 2020, there is the freeware FlyByWire A320, which is not as good as the Zibo but is a great start. As of writing this, Flight Simulator 2020 does not have a good library of aircraft. But PMDG is releasing their 737 soon. It will be expensive, yes, but it will be great, judging from their 737 for FSX and P3D.

Screenshot Credits: Mahdi Sobhan

Getting into Vatsim

Vatsim is basically the multiplayer mode of flight simulation. You get to fly with other people. But here’s the catch, there are real people as ATC (Air Traffic Controller). You can use literally any simulator for this. You just have to pass the exam (yes, an exam), download the client for your simulator, and finally install the model matching, and you’re done. You aren’t going to find shenanigans in Vatsim. The network is designed to deliver realism, so you won’t have much trouble here. The ATCs go through a good amount of training, and the pilots are expected to follow every procedure. Now, don’t be intimidated by that. It’s fairly easy to get the hang of. Being good at English should be the first step. No matter how good you are at flying, you need to contact the ATC. After this, you should be fluent at flying, and knowledgeable about your aircraft. You don’t want to be figuring out why that alarm is going off while the ATC is constantly trying to contact you. The next step should be learning the phraseology and procedure. I was lucky enough to have a friend who was very supportive (Thanks Mahdi), so I didn’t have much trouble. If you have a friend who’s a Vatsimmer, ask them to help, and if not, there’s a channel called AviationPro on YouTube. You can follow his videos, they are very informative. Vatsim also has resources on their official site. If you have done enough research, you should be able to pass the test. After that, you have to use xPilot for X-Plane 11, and vPilot for MSFS, P3D, and FSX. For MSFS, P3D, and FSX, you have to use a plugin called AIG Traffic. For X-Plane 11, you’ll get prompted to install the Bluebell CSL modules while installing xPilot. Those ones will do fine. After that, you should be ready to fly. If there is one tip to give you, just do what the ATC says, co-operate with him, and don’t overcomplicate it. That should do it. And if you don’t know something, or have any confusion, ask the ATC in private chat.

Guide to payware

Before finishing the article, I think I should make you familiar with the payware market.

Screenshot Credits: Mahdi Sobhan

Let’s talk about X-Plane first. One of the major downsides of X-Plane is the payware aircraft market. There isn’t many good payware aircraft. When you purchase an aircraft, always remember to avoid JarDesign. There is a phrase in the community called “you got jar’d”. That’s because JarDesign aircraft are generally not very accurate, and the quality is low-key, bad. For the quality, they ask a pretty steep price. And most importantly, the autopilot keeps disengaging. IniBuilds has good A300, A310, and Beluga. FlightFactor’s 757, 767, and A320 are great, but I can’t say the same for the others. Toliss is also good for Airbus. Their A321/19 and the A340 are great. I haven’t used the FlightFactor A320, so I can’t comment on how it compares to the Toliss. As I said
P3D and FSX are the best for payware. Prepar3d is built off of Flight Simulator X, so the developers didn’t have to face a lot of difficulties porting their products over. For Prepar3d, anything from PMDG will be great. When it comes to Airbus, FlightSimLabs has great A319/A320/A321 aircraft, and you can’t go wrong with them. Aerosoft is also great if you don’t want to pay all that premium, and that’s what I think most people should get. For the Q400 fans, Majestic has a great one. For General Aviation, you can look at A2A and Carenado. Comparatively speaking, Prepar3d kills X-Plane when it comes to addons.
When it comes to FS2020, it is really new, so it is hard to comment on that.

Screenshot Credits: Mahdi Sobhan

Flight simulation is a unique hobby that allows you to learn and enjoy at the very same time. If you can get attached, then you will certainly have a long ride ahead. Remember, the love for aviation is the most important part. If you love aviation, you will get attached, no issue. If you are worried about surviving these long flights, well, just leave it on autopilot, read a book, or do other work. In fact, a good portion of this article was written while my aircraft was cruising on autopilot. I love to work while flight simming. Yes, flight simulation is expensive. Yes, it has a learning curve. But at the end of the day, I enjoy it, thanks to my love for aviation. Are you like me? If you are, then make sure to give it a shot.

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