Plane & Pilot
Monday, September 1, 2008

X-Plane 9.0 Flight Simulator


Better airplanes and scenery for your home computer


tech talkYou may view a home flight simulator as akin to a game. True, simulators can be fun to play with, but X-Plane is much more than a game. Twelve years ago, I bought X-Plane 1.0, the work of one pilot, aeronautical engineer and programmer, Austin Meyer.
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You may view a home flight simulator as akin to a game. True, simulators can be fun to play with, but X-Plane is much more than a game. Twelve years ago, I bought X-Plane 1.0, the work of one pilot, aeronautical engineer and programmer, Austin Meyer. Each subsequent version offers vastly increased capability, and because of the extremely flexible and accurate way the planes are treated, X-Plane has been approved by the FAA to drive several commercial simulators that can be used to log time toward a license. No other home simulator has that distinction. Avionics vendors also use X-Plane: Garmin has a flight-training device built around a three-screen G1000 panel connected to a PC running the program.

tech talk
X-Plane offers a choice of views. This one shows the avionics panel as well as the exterior of “the-jet” by Cirrus, which is in a roll.
X-Plane’s scenery includes more than 18,000 airports, as well as aircraft carriers, helipads on rooftops and oil rigs, and even NASA-generated terrain on Mars. The model plane is divided into hundreds of small areas; aerodynamic forces on each of these are calculated many times per second. These forces are summed up, and physics is used to complete the flight modeling.

I’ve used X-Plane to practice the procedures for FAA-S-8081-29, the Sport Pilot Practical Test Standards. This includes takeoffs (normal as well as short and soft fields), landings, cross-countries and go-arounds, all of which I performed at the simulation model of my home field, Henderson Executive Airport (KHND) in Las Vegas, Nev. Slow flight, steep turns and stalls all handled very well.

There are two things that are difficult or dangerous to practice in the real world: flying in weather and reacting to emergencies. With X-Plane, you can set up your own winds, temperatures, rain, turbulence, microbursts and even thermals. When I tried some real S-turns and turns about a point, I had trouble with strong winds and turbulence, so I immediately re-created those conditions on my computer and practiced until I could do a better job the next time up.

There’s also an option to download real weather from the Internet and automatically update your computer data to match conditions at the weather station nearest your plane’s current location. Once, I was sitting in my darkened office simulating a short flight from KLAS (McCarran International Airport, also in Las Vegas) to KHND. Halfway there, I was surprised by the raindrops depicted on my computer screen. I had forgotten that I had turned on the real-weather function. My office is about halfway between the two airports, so I went outside and looked south—there was a large black cloud, and rain was falling on this desert country.

Emergencies are, perhaps, better and more safely simulated on the computer than they are in the air with an instructor. X-Plane allows almost any part or system of the plane to fail at specified or random times, speeds or altitudes. When an instrument fails on the computer, it’s much more deceptive than when your instructor places a card over the device in a real plane. On the simulator, the gauge is still completely visible—it just isn’t working! This is much more like an actual failure.





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