Gear up for flight

By   |  September 18, 2006

There’s a perception – not entirely unwarranted – that open source games are sub-par. Certainly, open source games that match up favourably against their proprietary brethren are few and far between, especially in the 3D realm. And that’s what makes FlightGear stand out so distinctly from the crowd.

FlightGear is an open source flight simulator that’s been in development for over ten years. The significant amount of development time has certainly paid off, resulting in an amazing all-round smooth and impressive flying experience. Amusingly, the software still hasn’t cracked version 1 – the latest release is version 0.9.10, released on its tenth birthday.

The intense detail of the simulator is what really sets it apart from other open source projects. Starting with the graphics, the 3D engine, textures and terrain are all well rendered. The first time you load FlightGear, you’ll be in San Francisco in a Cessna 172P. Take a walk around the aircraft and check your flaps and aerilons, before popping the brakes and hammering down the runway, off to the side, and finally take a nose-dive into the ground.

It doesn’t sound too appealing, but the simulator is very realistic, right down to the pull of the engine against the aeroplane’s chassis that will pull you off course on the runway. Like a real aeroplane, you’ve got to dedicate some time to learning how to soar with the eagles. Fortunately, there are excellent resources on the Web to get you flying. Check out Eric Brasseur’s excellent tutorial to get into the air – and back onto the ground – safely and with some style.

Becoming proficient in FlightGear will teach you a lot about flying, which is why pilots use and enjoy FlightGear to keep their skills honed. It also gives amateur pilots the opportunity to take a jet, helicopter, Boeing, or even a UFO out for a spin.

When compared to Microsoft Flight Simulator, the bare bones FlightGear might seem a little short on basic features like maps, terrain and a decent launcher. Fortunately there are a ton of plug-ins for FlightGear, including an atlas, a slick launcher, and lots of planes to choose from. Scenery is available for the entire world.

FlightGear supports multiple players, and you can even map your and other pilots’ routes on a Google Maps-based server called FGMaps.

To use FlightGear, you’ll need a decent machine with a 3D video card. FlightGear is available for Windows, Linux, Solaris, SGI, Mac OS X and FreeBSD.

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