Which Flight Simulator Software to use?
Simquip.com presents an interesting tutorial which aims to resolves the primary conflict in the minds of most new home cockpit builder, "Which Flight Simulator Software to use", gives you an insight into different flight simulator softwares available for your home cockpit.
What Software to Use
The world was a pretty cool place as far as simulation software was concerned. We had a choice of Microsoft's Flight Simulator, Flightgear, or Xplane.
Microsoft Flight simulator
MSFlight simulator was a pretty amazing program and had most of the market out in Simland. There was a distinct developer bias toward MSFS because of its popularity and most add-ons were designed for this simulator. While MSFS was at the top of the heap in terms of sales, it had several distinct failings that serious simulator constructors hated with a vengeance.
The flight model on MSFS was seriously flawed and no amount of tweaking would correct this failing. An example of this was that if an engine was failed during climbout , the aircraft would swing about its yaw axis and continue to fly sideways through the sky. The only way to realistically simulate a single engine failure was to programatically induce a roll in the direction of the failed engine. Another problem was that services on the failed engine would continue to operate normally.
MSFS required massive amounts of computing power to be really usable. Upon each new version of MSFS it would require computing power that was simply not available to the average consumer. When each version was released, the consumer would have to wait sometimes years for computing to become available and catch up to run the program properly. For this reason, some people would not upgrade to a newer version. The last release of MSFS was FSX(10) at the time of its release there were some users still using FS98.
To be truly usable in a simulator it required a module called FSUIPC which was written by an British guy called Peter Dowson. FSUIPC was a piece of software that would interrogate MSFS and retrieve requested data for the sim software developer to use to communicate with the rest of the simulators software. Although this seems like a simple, great idea, it meant that if the hard work done by Mr.Dowson in writing FSUIPC was not repeated on every release of flight sim, then sim developers and constructors could not communicate with flight sim and their simulators. To compound this problem, Microsoft provided very little information to Mr. Dowson as to where changing data could be found within the running simulator software. The address or Location of this data was commonly called an 'offset. The fact that Mr. Dowson managed to map the location of this data within MSFS for so many years is a miracle in itself. One of the huge vulnerabilities of FSUIPC was that it relied so heavily on one person developing a single third party product. Without Peter Dowsons efforts, there is little doubt that the Amateur simulator market would not have not have progressed to the stage it is today.
The weather modelling in MSFS was dodgy to say the least, even programmers with intimate knowledge of the inner workings of the program could not not always produce reliable ad-hoc alterations to weather.Sending a Cavok command might sometimes clear all weather except for a slight fog. Using weather commands was not simple even at its most basic level as it relied on the programmer understanding weather time-zones and other factors.Data at certain addresses within the program would change unpredictably and would render the weather model unusable and unresponsive. From some of the feedback that I have heard, even Microsoft were not sure how the weather worked intimately within MSFS.
Without a doubt the biggest failing of MSFS is that in 2009 Microsoft announced that it was shutting down its game studios, thus putting an end to further development of Flight Sim.
Flightgear is a free flight simulator program released under the GNU license agreement. It is based on the LaRCsim flight model from NASA.By modern standards Flightgear has moderate graphics and lacks some of the 'eye candy' of its contemporaries.
FlightGear is completely open source — it has a rich set of existing external interfaces, and most of the major configuration can be done with standard XML-based text files. Flightgear developers make no attempts to obfuscate or hide the internals (data). This is big win for people using FlightGear as an academic or research platform, or for those that want to interface it to their own home-built cockpits. There is not a substantial user base of Flightgear and therefore advice as to the integration into a simulator would be limited if not highly restricted.
With the demise of MSFS, this is the only realistic choice in both simulation engine and visual output. Actually in the opinion of this writer, Xplane has been the superior product for a long time. Xplane comes with many utilities that MSFS users have to pay for. These include computer to computer networking, aircraft and airfoil designers. It comes with an airport and terrain designer. When MSFS was being criticised for its poor flight model, Xplane received FAA approvals for use as bona-fide training software. Xplane is developed on a Mac with highly optimised code and as a result runs on a minimum of computing power. Mac mini owners can even run Xplane. Unlike MSFS, Xplane has both Mac and windows versions. If you need to extract data from Xplane for use in your simulator it does this without the need for addons.
From a flight model point of view, Xplane is far superior to any previously mentioned simulator here. Its flight model is based on scientific formulae and aeronautical fact, rather than a compromised game. Eye candy wise most users prefer Xplane particularly in night mode. It produces black nights, nice stars and more accurate landing lights that replicate calligraphic effects. One of the really cool things about Xplane is that if you have a great idea for an improvement, you can email the developer Austin Myer and suggest it to him. If its worthy he will usually implement it. Try doing that with Microsoft!!
Another huge advantage of X-plane is that it is available on Windows and Mac platforms. X-plane was created on the Apple Mac, but its creator also compiles the program to run on Windows and Linux.
Contributed by: SIMQUIP