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Trying out FlightGear - Initial comments

As promised in my previous post, here are my initial comments on FlightGear.

The installation of FlightGear went like a breeze. FlightGear is cross platform, so it requires OpenAL and OpenGL. So make sure that your graphics card supports OpenGL.

The first thing that struck me when I saw the manual was that FlightGear has to be launched with the command line. The position of the aircraft, the type of aircraft, the weather, time and many other options are passed as command line arguments. However, there is an easy GUI launcher that manages this for the user. Another disappointment was finding that most of the aircraft models shipping with the simulator were still under development. I tried my hand at the Cessna 172P, which was a production aircraft, meaning that it was not under development. Again, I must remind you that the only experience I have of sitting in the pilot's seat is in other simulators, so I can only draw contrasts with the other simulators.

The first difference that I noticed was that the Cessna 172P starts rolling on the taxiway at idle thrust (around 850rpm). This does not happen in MS Flight Simulator, nor did it happen in Terminal Reality's FLY! Can someone who has actually flown a Cessna 172P confirm that this is it's natural behaviour?

Another difference is that the graphics feel rather primitive. The aircraft seem to have loads of sharp edges and plane surfaces. Or it may be that the lighting engine is not very good.

The aircraft seem to handle great. In case you don't have a joystick, the aircraft can be controlled with just a mouse. Of course, the mouse yoke exists in MS Flight Simulator too, but somehow, I found the mouse yoke in FlightGear to be much easier to use. Elevator trim can be adjusted using the scroll wheel, a rather nice touch. It means that most of the time, I just need the mouse to control the aircraft, and need not touch the keyboard. The mouse can easily switch from mouse to look-around to yoke with the right-click, again a very useful feature. It definitely beats MS Flight Simulator's rather complicated right-click then check/un-check mouse yoke. Further, holding the middle mouse button and moving the mouse forward/backward adjusts the throttle.

I have a CH Products FlightSim yoke along with CH ProPedals. What I found was that FlightGear already has bindings for these particular controllers, and I did not have to re-assign any buttons. In fact, the gear and flap switches behaved just the way CH products intended to have them behave, and trim for the elevator and rudder was also in place on the right buttons. In contrast, in MS Flight Simulator, I had to manually reconfigure the buttons, as the default bindings were only for a standard 4-axis, 4-button joystick with a POV hat. In contrast, FlightGear has bindings specific to the gaming hardware that you possess, and it is reconfigurable via XML files. So, even if you have a non-standard gaming hardware, you may create the XML file yourself, and submit it to the creators of FlightGear so that it can be included in the next version. A notable difference was that there were separate buttons for gear up and gear down, so the flip switch on my yoke meant to control the gear could actually be used like in a normal aeroplane. In contrast, MS Flight Simulator simply allows one button to togglet the state of the landing gear.

However, the POV hat switch is treated like a joystick, and pushing the hat down makes the camera look up and pushing it up makes the camera look down. This is not how I want the hat switch to behave, a quick edit of the XML file, and I have the configuration of the controller exactly how I want it.

The lack of good graphics is more than compensated by the excellent response that the simulator provides. I can hardly call it a game, that would be blasphemy. FlightGear is a simulator, and is free from the frills like the missions and stuff that come with MS Flight Simulator. However, it is not yet bug free, and nothing can be more irritating than to have the simulator hang up and then terminate a few feet from touchdown. On the occasions that it did not hang, I was more than pleased with the response of the simulator, it definitely feels better than MS Flight Simulator. Whether it is indeed more realistic than MS Flight Simulator is a question that I cannot answer, not having flown a real aircraft myself. However, I would urge the pilots reading my blog to give FlightGear a try and give us their valuable opinion.

I shall definitely put up more of my comments on FlightGear as I explore its features further.


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