In our simulation level classification system, a Level 1 simulator is the basic “buy and fly”. You purchase the software, install it on your desktop computer or laptop and experience on your screen the thrill of flying. But this poses one of the most debated questions: Which software do I buy?
In this article we assume that you have a computer or a laptop that it is sufficiently equipped and capable to run graphic-intensive software and that you are making a choice on which simulator brand to acquire. This choice has repercussions as what may, in the future, work for a simulator brand may or may not be working for another. Here we explain the differences between two ‘families’ of fight simulators. The choice is yours, but this information should enable you to buy what’s best for you and your current and future budget.
For the technically minded, the two simulation families are those based either on blade element theory or using flight dynamic models specified by complex data contained in one or more files. You can read more about these concepts in many simulation forums but, essentially, the former involves breaking the aircraft down into many small elements and then finding the forces acting on each little element many times per second. The latter describes how a specific aircraft model should fly according to factors such as at which speeds it stalls, how it responds to turbulence, effects of improper weight loading and thousands more. These diverse concepts determine how realistic the simulation is, but may not affect most users as they are both extremely sophisticated. Moreover, users can today add features by buying ‘add-ons’. An add-on is software that improves anything ranging from graphics, weather depiction, airports’ layout and look and feel of the aircraft, down to details like weight loading and even cabin crew announcements and passengers on board.
In the following table we note the most important characteristics of the most common brands of simulator software:
Where to obtain
|Microsoft FSX||LM Prepar3D v4||X-Plane v. 11||Aerofly FS 2|
|Cost in USD, regular license*||9.99||199.00||59.99||59.99|
|Tablet version||No||No||Android, IoS||Android, IoS|
|Historical facts||Oldest simulator dynasty going back to Bruce Artwick in the 70’s. No longer updated by Microsoft.||LM acquired IP and source code rights for the Enterprise Simulation Platform (ESP) from Microsoft||Austin Mayer’s brainchild, developed ground up.||Icarus produced radio controlled miniature aircraft simulators. This is FS, Full Size.|
|Popularity||Very high||High||High||New Product|
|Other versions available||Several||V.2, v.3||10||N/A|
|Built-in Flight School||Yes||No||Yes||Yes|
|Worldwide Airport Database||Yes||Yes||Yes||US, Switzerland|
|Works with external controls (e.g. yoke, throttles)||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Allows custom interface for physical adjustment of flight instruments and controls||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Quality of graphics vs. user’s available hardware**||Adjustable||Adjustable||Adjustable||Adjustable|
|Minimum computer requirements||CPU: 2.0 Ghz or higher (single core) Memory: 2 GB OS: Windows® XP Service Pack 2 or later. Graphics: DirectX9 compliant card 256 MB video RAM. Hard Drive: 30 gb.||Cpu: quad core 3.0 ghz (per core) + Os: microsoft windows 7 (64-bit) Video: graphics card with full directx 11 support and 4 gb + (gddr5 or better). Free disk space: 30 gb, with at least 10 gb on c:||Cpu: intel core i5 6600k at 3.5 ghz or faster. Ram: 16 gb. Os: windows 7, 8, or 10, 64-bit. Video card: directx 12-capable video card from nvidia, amd w/4 gb vram. Free disk space: 20 gb.||Cpu intel dual core cpu 2.4 ghz. Os: 64bit versions of windows 7 Video card: opengl 3.0 compatible 3d graphic card with at least 1 gb of ram. Free disk space: 35 gb.|
|Ease of flying||Easy||Easy||Medium||Not tested|
|Flying ‘feel’ off the box||Realistic||Realistic||Very realistic||Not tested***|
|Aircrafts included||Yes, several ranging from GA to Airliners, Military||Yes, several ranging from GA to Airliners, Military||Yes, several ranging from GA to Airliners, Military||Yes, several ranging from GA to Airliners, Military|
|Third-party Interfaces***||FSUIPC||FSUIPC||XPUIPC||Not tested|
|AFSBI Level Compatibility||1-5||1-5||1-5||Not tested|
|Virtual Reality (VR) compatible||Third-party||Yes, natively||Yes, natively||Yes, natively|
|Air Traffic Control||Yes||Yes||Yes||No|
|Artificial Intelligence (AI) –created traffic||Yes||Yes||Yes||No|
|2D/3D cockpits, external views||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
- *USD, Please note that prices may vary according to re-sellers and other factors.
- ** This allows users to adjust the level of graphic quality according to the hardware of their computer in order to obtain the most realistic images and still preserve smooth motion.
- *** We are planning to review soon. Information presented from website and published reviews.
- ****Allow more extensive interfacing with other third-party add-ons and physical controls.
As we stated in our Primer: ‘at Level 1 you essentially install the software on your computer, and fly it using the keyboard and mouse to control the aircraft control surfaces and throttle levers (which make it turn, climb and descent, accelerate and slow down). You will be able to control radios, GPS navigation, lights and many more aspects of your flight using the mouse to click and turn controls on the screen. It’s an initial step but one that will deliver a lot of enjoyment and a great learning path for beginners with a rather modest investment.’
You will want to move quite fast from Level 1 as you likely will want to experience a better ‘hands-on’ feeling of controlling the aircraft. Nonetheless, just installing and playing with the software is already quite fascinating. Some of the platforms described above will allow you to follow basic flight instructions, where the aircraft will be flown for you by AI. You will also learn about tweaking the graphics to get the best performance and details resolution out of your sim. There is plenty to do and learn at this entry level and you are guaranteed to want to learn more within a few hours.
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