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Review of FlightGear: The Free & Fun Flight Simulator!

Last updated Tue, 03 Oct 2017 13:54:20 GMT
Originally posted on Sun, 16 Sep 2012 11:05:26 GMT

Let’s be honest. Flight simulation can be an expensive hobby. Once you acquired a quality program, it's not long before you purchased several others. Not to mention the tens, maybe hundreds of aircraft that are beginning to fill up your hard drive. Over time, all those acquisitions add up to a serious investment.

Bomber in FlightGear v2

Wouldn't it be nice to find a high-quality, free flight simulator? Your prayers are answered, my friend. If you haven't already heard of it, let me introduce you to FlightGear, an open-source flight simulator produced by the FlightGear project.

A flight simulation enthusiast named David Murr first kicked off the project in April of 1996. The first official release was the following year, and the latest release was made available in August of 2012.

In July of this year, FlightGear celebrated its 15th anniversary. Begun by volunteers, it is continued by enthusiasts whose primary goal is to develop the world's best and most realistic free flight simulator. The program is used by university researchers, aerospace engineering firms, interactive exhibits and, of course, thousands of flight simulation enthusiasts around the globe.

Because FlightGear is open source, developers can create commercial projects from the code. Although not endorsed by the FlightGear project, several commercial products including "Flight Pro Sim", "Pro Flight Simulator", "Virtual Pilot 3D" have hit the market.

Beginnings

Like many open source projects, FlightGear was started by enthusiast programmers who believed they could build a quality open source version of commercial software. FlightGear utilized custom graphics 3-D code, as well as other open source data, including flight models from NASA, and elevation data that is free for public use.

Scenery from first versions of FlightGear

Once the original binary code was released, development continued as more stable and sophisticated releases were produced. By 2005, the code was relatively mature and the program garnered more recognition and reviews. By 2007, the developers ended beta development with the official release of version 1.0.0.

The next year, in 2008, the FlightGear project conducted a major shift to OpenSceneGraph, a 3-D open source graphics program environment. The change allowed them to produce new features and enhancements which contributed to increased realism of the graphic imagery.

Various weather animations include distinct lighting changes and three-dimensional clouds. The terrain is driven by a terrain engine known as TerraGear. FlightGear is known for the wide range of aircraft: Airliners, jet fighters, helicopters and gliders are all available.

New Features

The latest release incorporated many new features and improvements:

  • Random buildings and vegetation match the surrounding terrain.
  • Textures can be designated to be specific to a certain region, and pilots can change between, for example, summer and winter textures in-flight.
  • Better atmosphere scattering and terrain haze modeling creates better ground lighting.
  • Scenery submissions are now automated and are wrapped into the overall distribution model.
  • Project Rembrandt-although not enabled upon activation, this addition creates real-time shadows, and extensive support for multiple sources of light. Effects like rotating beacons can be implemented with extremely accurate illumination.

Flight Dynamics Models

Every flight simulation program uses a Flight Dynamics Model (FDM). FlightGear is unique in that it combines several different models: JSBSim, YAsim, and UIUC. Earlier iterations of FlightGear used flight dynamics models from NASA. That system was exchanged for the “flexible FDM” approach.

Networking

FlightGear has a multi-player option that allows it to communicate with other players over the Internet, or in a local network. Players can locate other pilots on a moving map, which keeps track of all participants.

Multiplayer mode in FlightGear

Several additional software packages allow FlightGear to launch as an executable file, rather than from the command line. FlightGear Launch Control, KFreeFlight, FGTools, FGKicker, Kelpie Flight Planner, FlightGear Scenery Designer, The World Custom Scenery Project, Taxidraw, and FGCom are some of the software programs and utilities that allow FlightGear to run all the different features in the program.

Worldwide Coverage

FlightGear’s database for scenery covers the entire globe. Users can download blocks of scenery, or purchase sets of DVDs that include the entire world. There is also a Terrasync feature available. It downloads the required scenery while the flight is in progress.

Users can enable Terrasync by accessing "Environment" and clicking "Scenery Download." Pilots should also check out the "Places to Fly" section of the FlightGear.org website for tips to discover unique locations.

The majority of FlightGear aircraft have 3-D panels and moving parts. You can even download aircraft that are not finished yet, and enjoy the process of seeing the developer finish the project. Cockpit interiors include environmental lighting which changes the interior lighting as the aircraft changes direction, and the sun changes position in the sky.

Improved Scenery

FlightGear's scenery is much improved from original versions. However, it is still not on par with commercial competitors. It excels in certain areas like night lighting. Water reflections and atmosphere shading are fantastic. There is a landmass shader which designates a set layer of snow at a preset altitude above the ground.

Greatly improved scenery in version 2+

Weather effects work well, and FlightGear's 3-D clouds are impressive-- the programmers have improved shading and blending. However, heavy weather conditions put a strain on average computers – severe thunderstorms really require a more powerful system. Users can choose real-world weather, which will use the local weather and apply it to their current flight.

FlightGear has a working ATC. Included audio includes engine, system, environmental and background Air Traffic Control sounds.

Installation

FlightGear can be downloaded at http://www.flightgear.org/download/ or directly from our own file library - Windows Version, Mac Version. Binaries can be found for Windows and SGI IRIX. Users can also find downloads for Linux by SuSE, Mandrake and Debian. Ubuntu users can install FlightGear with the Synaptic Package Manager.

The FlightGear project can be downloaded from the FlightGear website and many other locations. It can be purchased on CD, and users are encouraged to distribute it to their friends and other flight simulation enthusiasts. The best scenario is to distribute it with an operating system, which will make it simpler for new users to get up and running quickly.

Users interested in compiling FlightGear source code should log onto SimGear (http://simgear.sourceforge.net/). It is critical to have the correct matching edition of SimGear when compiling FlightGear.

Wide Range of Aircraft

While FlightGear only includes a few aircraft in the core program, users and developers have created hundreds of models. Here are a few of the FlightGear aircraft available:

Passenger

  • Douglas DC-6
  • Douglas DC-3
  • Douglas DC-2
  • Couzinet 70
  • Aérospatiale-BAC Concorde
  • Cessna Citation X
  • Cessna Citation Bravo
  • Cessna Citation II
  • Carreidas C-160
  • Sud Aviation SE 210 Caravelle
  • Cessna C-310 U-3A
  • Cessna C-310
  • Boeing 314
  • Beechcraft Model 99
  • Beechcraft B-1900D
  • Airbus A380
  • Airbus A340-600
  • Airbus A320 Family
  • Airbus A320-300
  • Airbus A300
  • Boeing 787-8
  • Boeing 777-200ER
  • Boeing 747-100 and 747-400
  • Boeing 747-400
  • Boeing 747-200
  • Boeing 737-300
  • Boeing 737-100
  • Boeing 727
  • Boeing 707

Light and Recreational

  • Columban MC-15 Cri-Cri
  • Comper C.L.A.7 Swift
  • Cessna C-182RG Skylane (Retractable Gear)
  • Cessna C-182 Skylane
  • Cessna C-172R Skyhawk
  • Cessna C-172P Skyhawk (1981 Model)
  • Cessna C-150
  • SZD-9 Bocian
  • Schleicher ASW-20
  • Schleicher ASK-21 MI
  • Schleicher ASK-21
  • Antonov An-2
  • Fantasy Air Allegro 2000
  • Piper Aerostar 700 Superstar
  • A-24 Viking

Early or Experimental

  • Colditz "Cock" Glider
  • Caudron C.684
  • Bugatti Model 100
  • Bernard HV 220
  • Bleriot XI
  • Arup S2
  • Arado Ar 234
  • Airwave Extreme
  • No. 21 Demoiselle
  • 14 Bis Santos Dumont

Military

  • Convair XFY Pogo
  • English Electric Canberra B-8
  • Blohm and Voss BV-141
  • Blackburn Buccaneer
  • Messerschmitt Bf-109G
  • Bristol Beaufighter
  • Boeing B-52 Stratofortress
  • Boeing B-29 Superfortress
  • de Havilland Mosquito
  • Martin B-26 Marauder
  • North American B-25 Mitchell
  • Consolidated B-24 Liberator
  • Northrop Grumman B-2 Spirit
  • Rockwell B1-B Lancer
  • Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress
  • Avro Lancaster
  • Arsenal VG-33
  • Dassault/Dornier Alpha Jet
  • Mitsubishi A6M2 Zero
  • Grumman A-6 Intruder
  • Douglas A-4 Skyhawk
  • Douglas A-26 Invader
  • Fairchild-Republic A-10 Thunderbird II
  • BAC TSR-2
  • Grumman C-2A Greyhound
  • Lockheed C-130 Hercules
  • Grumman HU-16 Albatross

Helicopters

  • Eurocopter AS365 Dauphin
  • Sikorsky CH-53 Super Stallion
  • Boeing-Vertol CH-47 Chinook
  • MBB Bo-105
  • Hughes AH-64D Apache Longbow
  • Aérospatiale Alouette III
  • Aérospatiale Alouette II
  • Sikorsky S-64 Aircrane

Restricted Aircraft Updates

Keep in mind that the aircraft available for download at the official aircraft download site are only updated when FlightGear issues a new release. This is done because many of the aircraft and development are created using unreleased FlightGear products. If the aircraft downloads were updated on regular basis, most of them would not work with the current stable version of FlightGear. FlightGear aircraft can also be found at the Git version control system (wiki.FlightGear.org/Git) and various third-party FlightGear sites.

KLM 747

Aircraft can be imported from Microsoft Flight Simulator by utilizing the 3-D Convert program which converts the MSFS 3-D model to the FlightGear system. Although the models can be imported, the flight dynamics cannot-- they must be created from scratch for FlightGear.

Users that want to place buildings and other objects into FlightGear must have the correct scenery files where they want to position the buildings, the model, and the accurate latitude and longitude where the object will be positioned. Complete instructions are available at wiki.FlightGear.org.

Mapping

FlightGear has a popular moving map feature provided by the Atlas project. Multiplayers can use an online map called MPmap. An alternative to the Atlas project is OpenStreetMap-- more information can be found at FlightGear mapping at JMapView (http://wiki.FlightGear.org/JMapView).

Screenshot using FGMap

FlightGear utilizes the same navigational and airport databases used by the X-Plane flight simulator. Anyone with updates or corrections to any database should contact the maintainer. Instructions for doing so can be found at the FlightGear site.

Thanks to the contributions of the wide-ranging FlightGear community, there are a number of highly detailed airports and cities. Some are more advanced than others. Some of the higher quality scenery is available in these areas:

  • Paris, France
  • EGKK London Gatwick, LFPG Paris Charles de Gaulle and EHAM Amersterdam Schipol airports.
  • TCNM St. Maarten, Saba, St. Kitts, Nevis and other nearby islands.

Pilots should also consult a wiki page entitled "Places to Fly" at wiki.FlightGear.org. There is a database of airports and navigational aids at World Aero Data (http://worldaerodata.com/). U.S. Data can also be found at AirNav.com (http://www.airnav.com/airports/) and SkyVector.com (https://skyvector.com/).

Common Problems- Slow Program Speed

Occasionally FlightGear does not respond as expected. Users should check that hardware acceleration is activated. They should also make sure that all OpenGL libraries are present and set properly. Also, check that the latest drivers for the computer's video card are installed.

Common Problems- Upside Down

At times a pilot may find that their aircraft is stuck in an upside down position after a full-on crash. Unfortunately, FlightGear does not have a quick recovery for this situation. There are a couple options. Pilots can reset the program back to its starting location from the File --> Reset menu.

Alternatively, experienced pilots can try to roll back to normal by raising the elevator to around 500 feet and then attempting a 180° snap roll. Either the aircraft will be right side up at this point, or it will break in two!

Common Problems- Time Zone

If FlightGear displays an error saying "time zone reading failed" and quits on startup, it is a problem in the time zone files. Windows 32-bit users can fix the situation by acquiring a DOS to UNIX conversion program. The link is available at FlightGear.org.

Common Problems- Aircraft Incompatibility

New aircraft are often developed in tandem with the latest updates to the FlightGear code. Because new aircraft utilize newer features and code, they may not work on older versions of the FlightGear program. Earlier versions of aircraft (and program) are available at several archives which are detailed at the FlightGear.org/download section.

Common Problems-Controls Acting on Their Own

If controls are returning to certain positions, and otherwise acting as if they had a mind of their own, check to see if the autopilot is engaged. If it is, it can take over some of the controls. Also, certain laptop products have a built-in sensor that FlightGear may think is a joystick. You have to configure FlightGear to ignore this nonexistent joystick. Instructions to do this are available at wiki.FlightGear.org.

Common Problems- Disappearing Panel

Most FlightGear aircraft have 3-D cockpits. However, some have 2-D panels that may be only visible when viewing in a fixed position. For example, the Cessna C172P has both a 2-D panel model, and a 3-D panel model. Pilots should make sure they choose the correct one.

Military Scenarios

Pilots interested in military flying like dog-fighting have limited options. FlightGear is mainly concentrated on civilian aviation. Recently, however, third party producers have created bombing scenarios for the A-10, and other aircraft outfitted with armament. Examples of these aircraft are the General Dynamics F-16, the North American OV-10A Bronco and the F-117 Nighthawk. Other new add-ons provide single and multiplayer dog-fighting and bombing capabilities.

Coding FlightGear

FlightGear is written in C++ with a little bit of supporting code written in C. Ohloh (https://www.openhub.net/p/flightgear) has code analyses that can provide programmers with more information on the languages used in the program.

Developers interested in creating new aircraft can use several flight dynamics models, although two are used the most: JSBSim and YASim. YASim is simpler to use and guides are available in the FlightGear base package.

Major Strides

Flightgear has made major strides in its recent release. Improved aircraft and textures, region-specific terrain for different parts of the world, better urban graphics, improved night lighting, better placement of random objects and the ability to change between seasonal scenery in flight are just a few of the improvements.

Scenery from version 2.8

Other changes include a better rendering system created for complex Heads-Up-Displays and other glass cockpit configurations, better language translations capability of the main menu, improved API options, and new and improved planes like the Airwave Extreme 150, and the Cessna 337G Skymaster.

Additional improvements include

  • The scenery database now allows easier additions and deletions.
  • The aircraft download page lets pilots find quality aircraft quickly with fine-grained status-indication filtering.
  • There is better atmospheric light scattering.
  • An experimental renderer has been added.
  • Users can look forward to an expanded list of supported joysticks and rubber paddles.

Conclusion

FlightGear is an impressive program featuring over 400 aircraft, multiplayer capability, flexible aircraft modeling, multiple networking options, display support, an adaptable scripting language and open architecture. It is not owned by a single corporation or organization. It is owned by the users, the developers and the entire FlightGear community.

As a flight simulation “game”, it offers a tremendous amount of fun and excitement. As an open-source project, it is a wonderful opportunity for anyone to get involved and contribute. 

You can grab a copy of FlightGear either from the official website (most recent) or our free flight sim downloads section (along with many others).

Let's see your comments - post below!

Download iconDon't forget... We have a huge selection (over 24,000 files) of free mods and add-ons for FSX, P3D & X-Plane in the file library.  Files include aircraft, scenery, and utilities  All are free-to-download and use - you don't even need to register.  Browse on down to the file library here.

Ian Stephens

About Ian Stephens

Ian Stephens is a flight simulation enthusiast also with a keen interest in aviation and technology.  Ian spends a lot of his time experimenting with various simulator packages but has a love for Microsoft Flight Simulator X because of the huge selection of add-ons available.  However, Ian also has copies of Prepar3D and X-Plane installed. 

Ian has been writing for Fly Away Simulation for over 9 years.  Should you wish, you can contact Ian via email at ian.stephens@flyawaysimulation.com.

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17 comments

Leave a Response
maxMon, 17 Sep 2012 14:01:33 GMT

Can you please put Airbus A330-300. Thank you.

Oscar C SalinasMon, 17 Sep 2012 23:31:46 GMT

I bought Flight Gear a couple of months ago. Up to now I have not used it at all. It seems difficult for me to get to make it work (not as easy as Microsoft Flight Simulator). Can I download the program to a CD to keep it in a file? Maybe somebody else can use it later.

Thanks

Olaf WADINTue, 18 Sep 2012 06:59:55 GMT

Hello, it is hard to understand that you still mention Flight Gear. I know what I am talking of. I bought PROFLIGHT. The handling is so clumsy and complicated that if you know MS (I know it from the early days) you cannot manage it easily. With some extra expenses it was approx. Ä 180 for the whole thing. I am not amused at all. Please answer directly. I still use fs9 and have fun. (Olaf.Wadin@gmx.de) Regards OLAF

RobTue, 18 Sep 2012 08:28:52 GMT

It sounds interesting but if it is anything to do with Pro Flight I don't want to know. I spent £60 on the Pro Flight sim - what a waste of money. Aircraft hang in the sky when they land above the runway - the scenery is dreadful - the cockpits are basic look as though they been hand drawn. There is no backup from pro Flight. It must be a quick money making exercise for this company. Why don't you contact them for information?

JoeTue, 18 Sep 2012 14:01:01 GMT

I am surprised that anyone would pay for ProFlight, Flight Gear is entirely free but quite a download.

Geoff coyleTue, 18 Sep 2012 16:05:05 GMT

I have spent my carrer in civil aviation, many years as a licensed aircraft maintenance engineer then progressing on to twenty six years as a flight engineer on B707 logging some five thousand flying hours and then on to the B747 logging some six thousand flying hours, so you can be assured I am familiar with Boeing aircraft. I find it surprising therefore that with all the research, accuracy and realism that goes into Flight Sim that you have switches on the featured Boeing aircraft having to be selected DOWN for ON. The fact is they should be UP for ON, or if you will forgive me for using the expression, a quote from one of my early instructors on the 707 "Boeings have the right idea UP FOR ACTION". I leave it with you.

Kind regards

Geoff Coyle

DavePTue, 18 Sep 2012 16:59:21 GMT

Nowhere do you give the minimum specification of the PC, graphics card, RAM, etc., to run this simulator successfully. What is it, please?

GijsSat, 22 Sep 2012 12:04:08 GMT

@Rob: those FlightProSim and the like sell scammed, non working packages of an outdated version of the free, opensource project FlightGear. It is NOT support or endorsed by FlightGear. Please read the statement at the FlightGear website to learn more about this scam:
http://www.flightgear.org/help/flightgear-flight-pro-sim-statement/

@Geoff: not sure what 747 (and what simulator) you're talking about, but the -400 in FlightGear at least has all switches UP for ON...

@DaveP: see http://wiki.flightgear.org/Hardware_Recommendations

Pro MemberIan StephensSat, 22 Sep 2012 15:19:04 GMT

@Rob: You can also read our article on the topic of those scams here: https://flyawaysimulation.com/news/4363/

Dave CheethamFri, 28 Sep 2012 17:36:05 GMT

I am amazed at the number of people still being scammed by the "paid" version of this free software. Maybe this article's first paragraph should outline that fact. Important to keep people informed of that rather dubious marketing practice of sellingf a piece of free software under a different name.

Flightgear really should add their own notice to the license stating it cannot be rebranded and sold under a different name. That way, any updates would be protected.

john perrierFri, 26 Oct 2012 03:16:02 GMT

I just downloaded and installed this, but for some reason I can't get it to run. I'm a rookie with all this computer stuff. It's probably something stupid that I'm doing or not doing. I'm running Windows 7 on a Hewlett-Packard Omni all-in-one 27 pc. Does anybody have any ideas? Thank you!

A MacleodSat, 17 Nov 2012 23:21:44 GMT

John - you will get better help on FlightGear's own forum (or IRC channel) www.flightgear.org/forums

FlightGear might initially take a little more effort to get started with but it's well worth sticking with it.

Charles ShraderSat, 08 Dec 2012 16:49:57 GMT

Pro Flight in my personal opinion is the biggest rip off of the ages. I will NOT recommend it to fellow simmers, collegues nor friends. (Words to the wise)

charles balesTue, 15 Jan 2013 11:59:41 GMT

I'm uninstalling my flightgear right now, I can't get the damned thing to even start up... it's a pain and i wont bother with it anymore, try introducing something that actually works.

BrianMon, 04 Mar 2013 13:19:47 GMT

I'm relatively new to flight sims and downloaded the new release of Flightgear a week ago. I'm running it on a fairly hot Windows 8 machine I have which is dedicated to gaming. The install went without incident and FG runs great! I also have FSX, Strikefighters and DCS World. Each has it's own strenghts, but FG is in there swinging and I applaud the open community effort. FYI - Some FG features require OpenGL which is best supported by NVIDIA video cards. I'm using a GTX 660.

TonyWed, 06 Nov 2013 12:16:07 GMT

Just downloaded it and tried it. Install file is big. You really need a proper downloading program to get it down in reasonable time and in one piece. Install seems reasonably easy. You have to have open gl compatible video card and driver. Loads reasonably fast. User interface is not too bad. However, like most open source projects, it's rough around the edges. Stuffed full of annoying bugs. No real big crashes (in the software) but everything is just buggy and unstable. It still has a long way to go to catch up with MS FS or X-Plane.

Jim BensonThu, 14 Nov 2013 18:06:25 GMT

I HAVE FS9 AND QUITE HAPPY WITH IT, I WOULD LIKE TO TRY FLIGHTGEAR I BOUGHT PRO-FLIGHT ABOUT A YEAR AGO, IT NEVER WORKED AND THEY REFUSED TO RETURN MY MONEY WITHIN THE 60 DAYS MONEY BACK GUARANTEE. I CAN'T BELIEVE THEY ARE STILL OPERATING.

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