This post is the second of a short series on how to develop your own home flight simulator. It’s for the complete beginner, keeping things simple, not meant to be a comprehensive guide.
In the previous post, I discussed “big picture” items such as what simulator software I recommend, and the fact that you should have a powerful enough computer to run the simulator.
As I mentioned at the end of the last post, I will now concentrate on the X-Plane12 flight simulator (XP, XP12, sim), though much of this will apply to Microsoft Flight Simulator as well.
By now, you have probably investigated X-Plane and have an idea of what it is all about. Even before you make a final decision on buying it, you can download and install the Free Demo. You might want to download it to your normal laptop or desktop computer, even if it is not as powerful as recommended, as this will still give you a good-enough glimpse at the sim.
The Free Demo gives you all you need–airplanes and scenery. If you are asked to choose what scenery you want, keep it to a minimum. For example, if you live in the US, just download the US scenery. That will limit the size of the download (which is quite large) and the computer processors’ workload. After it’s downloaded, explore the menus and the settings, just to get an idea of what they include. You will gradually get to know these very well.
Then start a new flight. Here’s how you do it. After clicking “New Flight”, pick a simple “General Aviation” single-engine piston airplane, like a Cessna Skyhawk, though it doesn’t have to be that. Then pick an airport close to home. After you pick the airport, look at the upper right-hand corner of that window and click on “Customize”. Find the Ramp/Runway toggle and choose “Runway”. Don’t worry about the wind direction for this one, just pick any long runway. Then start the simulation. For most small single-engine piston airplanes, you can take off when the speed is about 55-60 knots, so keep it on the ground until you reach that speed. (BTW, the letter “B” on your keyboard is the brake toggle. You’ll want to take off the brakes. LOL) It might take you a few times to figure out how to maintain the centerline and how to raise the nose of the airplane to take off, but you’ll get it eventually. Keep trying, and you’ll be flying in no time. If you’re a newbie to all of this, look for the included tutorials.
If you do download the demo version to your normal laptop, you will quickly encounter some serious limitations. The first is the size of your laptop screen. Yes, you can run flight simulators this way, but your view is greatly restricted by the small size of a laptop screen. You’ll realize that you’ll want a bigger one. I’ll discuss this further in the next post.
The second is that flying an airplane with mouse, trackpad, and keyboard commands is awkward, to say the least. Yes, you can fly it that way, but it makes flying much more cumbersome, less enjoyable, and less realistic. You’ll realize that you’ll want some airplane-like controllers. I’ll also discuss this further in the next post.
The third is possibly poor visual output on the screen. If what you see on screen is pixilated or otherwise glitchy, you may not have a strong enough internet connection or (more likely) a powerful enough computer.
This is a good time to mention fps, or frames per second. Fps is a number that we use to keep an eye on the net result of the computer’s processing and final output to the screen. Any fps below 20 is not good enough. 20-30 is okay, Over 30 is best. To keep a constant eye on this, go to Settings>Data Output and click the box that corresponds to Frame Rate/Show in Cockpit. This will give you a tiny, unobtrusive green display in the upper left-hand corner of the screen showing moment-by-moment changes in fps.
If the fps is too low, you can make changes in Settings>Graphics to help your processor out. Start sliding things one notch to the left to increase your fps.
After a few demo flights, you will have a very good idea if this is something you want to keep doing. If you like it enough, you won’t mind spending money on the full version. If you do buy it, you’ll get a product key/number that you will use to activate the sim to its full version. Then follow the prompts to update the files. X-Plane makes it very simple and intuitive to do updates.
Your next assignment: make a priority list of what you want/need to make your sim experience more enjoyable.
Next post: Essential Hardware Peripherals