Flying has been a wish for many since childhood. Many people have dreamed of becoming a pilot and soaring the skies but have forgone it due to the high costs associated with pilot training. Fortunately, there are many flight simulators available for PC that can allow you to experience the joy of flying (and maybe crashing).
When they were first launched, flight simulators were laggy and lacked realism. That has all changed. Today’s simulators offer so much realism on different procedures that even real-world pilots use them to brush up on their skills. The simulators can be made very accurate by the use of add-ons offered by different companies. This tutorial shows you how to set up a flight simulator at home.
A High-End PC
Simulators, like high-end games, can be very demanding on a system. The default version of a simulator may work fine on a normal system, however additional airport scenery, weather generators and aircraft addons can reduce performance if the specifications aren’t adequate enough. It is recommended to invest once in a high-end system so that your experience is as realistic as possible.
Every simulator has a set of minimum and recommended specifications that can be found on its website. In the case of Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020, the latest simulator on the market, the recommended specifications are as follows:
A general rule to keep in mind is that simulators are more CPU- and GPU-dependent, thus no compromise should be made in these areas. We recommend trying the simulator once on your current system and see how it performs. Only then consider investing in a new system. Don’t forget to check out our Hardware Buying Guide if you need help building a new PC.
Buy a simulator
The next step is to decide which simulator you’d like to purchase and use. Currently, there are three main simulators available, which are regularly updated:
1. Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020 by Microsoft and Asobo Studios (starts at $59.99)
2. Prepar3D v5 by Lockheed Martin (starts at $59.99)
3. X-Plane 11 by Laminar Research (starts at $59.99, available for Windows, macOS, Linux)
4. DCS World (free)
Different simulators have different functionalities and add-ons available. Flight Simulator 2020 is relatively new on the market and currently lacks in terms of add-ons and airport sceneries. Similarly, X-Plane 11 has a small but loyal fanbase. Currently, most aircraft add-ons and sceneries are available for Prepar3D, since it is built on the same base functionality as the once-famous Microsoft FSX. DCS World is mostly used by enthusiasts interested in fighter aircraft flying. Which simulator you choose is up to you. You cannot go wrong with any of them.
Buy a Joystick / Yoke
In real life, aircraft are flown using either a yoke (which resembles a steering wheel) or a HOTAS (hands on throttle and stick). You can use nearly anything to control the aircraft in the simulator, like your keyboard and mouse. However, this is usually very tricky and unrealistic. You can also use a console gaming controller with various sims (provided your PC and simulator support it): For instance, an Xbox 360 / Xbox One controller linked via Bluetooth. For the best experience, invest in a decent-quality joystick or yoke before starting your flight sim experience.
There is a variety of different options available. The most decently-priced good joystick available is Logitech’s Extreme 3D Pro Joystick. You’ll also have many more offerings from Thrustmaster and other companies depending on your budget. Be sure to read different reviews online before investing in one. Alongside a yoke, you can also choose to buy a throttle quadrant (used to control the aircraft engines, flaps, speedbrakes, etc.), rudder pedals (used to control the aircraft on ground) and more accessories. However, if you don’t want to invest so much money at this point, don’t worry. All the functions that the additional accessories do can be remapped to different buttons on your joystick and keyboard.
You can also set up a full flight simulator at home – like in the following image.
Invest in Add-ons
Once you have your entire flight simulator setup done, its time to invest in add-ons. Different add-ons are available for each simulator from different companies. These range from realistic aircraft add-ons to weather engines to airport and terrain sceneries. For example, PMDG Simulations offers different Boeing study-level aircraft that are approved by Boeing themselves. FSLabs offers a wonderful detailed Airbus A320. If you’re into general aviation, A2A simulations and Carenado have some very detailed aircraft available. Most of these are available for Prepar3D.
ActiveSky takes the game to weather engines, offering realistic real-life weather phenomena no matter where you’re flying in your simulator. Similarly different companies offer different airport and terrain sceneries depending on the region you’re flying in. ORBX Simulations has some very beautiful scenery for many European airports. Most add-ons can be browsed and purchased on different websites, such as simMarket.
Setting up a flight simulator is a task that requires patience – each small setting needs to be tried and tested before anything can ever be perfect. But if you’re truly a fan of flying, it will be worth it in the end.
If you prefer a simple flight simulator game without much setup, you can try the Flight Simulator game in Google Earth, one of the hidden Google games you need to play.