There are various flight sims out there but there are very few that are totally free. FlightGear bucks this trend to offer a user-friendly but realistic introduction to the skies, all built on open source programming.
FlightGear might not be as realistic or polished as Microsoft Flight Simulator X or X-Plane but it's still an impressive package, especially considering its free. Like most flight sims however, the installation and startup takes a good 5-10 minutes to install the various backdrops and 3D graphics. Once started, you're presented with around 20 planes to select ranging from Messerschmitts to Cessnas. Next up, you're asked to select somewhere to fly around from choice of 30 locations. You can download a whole lot more – enough to fill 3 DVDs, apparently – from the developer's website.
FlightGear can be controlled in two ways - through the command line and through a graphical wizard called 'fgrun'. Both do exactly the same thing but the wizard is recommended for ease of use. Once you're done with this, you hit the runway and off you go! There are no missions to complete or battles to win – it's simply a case of taking off, landing and enjoying the scenery.
The 3D graphics are surprisingly detailed and for those with programming know-how, the fact that it's open source means that the sky is literally the limit in terms of what you can create and do with FlightGear. Fancy flying a rocket from Washington to London or putting an ejector seat in a 747? Just make them yourself!
The major drawback of this FlightGear, however, is that it is very heavy on resources. Users of older machines may find loading times painful and the graphics sluggish, so it's recommended that you shut down all other applications or expand your RAM before trying FlightGear. Also, while some people have reported in runs fine in Windows 7, others have had major problems running it and as yet there is no official support for it.
What makes FlightGear standout though is the fact that even taking control of the most complicated aircraft is possible due to the excellent tutorials on the developer site which take you step by step through take-off. Whilst most flight simulators are aimed at experienced flyers, FlightGear is designed for those who've never sat in a cockpit before but want to learn the essentials. The general interface is very clean and user friendly – there aren't too many unnecessary dials to confuse you. The game options in FlightGear are clearly presented at all times, as are the customization options. From here, you can specify everything from the time of day to the type of navigation panel and even the weather.
Another great feature of FlightGear is the ability to team-up with a friend and take to the skies over a network. Many users report that the lag time is incredibly short when playing over a network on FlightGear compared to professional sims such as Flight Simulator X. However, don't expect to log on being able to have dogfights and shoot passenger planes out of the sky – there's no arcade or action mode available as yet, although you could always program one yourself.
FlightGear is a fantastic flight sim that will appeal more to novices who just want to get flying than experts looking for hardcore realism and is a great way to experience a semi-realistic flying experience without being a pro.
- Major update, full details here.