Enhancing Realism: Customizing your Full Flight Simulator
Amplifying The Immersion of Your Full Flight Simulator
From humble beginnings in the 1980s with cassette tape-based simulators featuring only basic gauges, today's flight simulators offer an unparalleled level of immersion and realism. In this blog, we will explore the crucial aspects of software, hardware, and flight controls that will help you unlock three distinct levels of flight simulation experience.
Selecting a Flight Simulator
Before diving into customization, it's important to define the purpose of your simulator. Are you an aviation enthusiast, a student pilot seeking enhanced flight training, or a certified pilot wanting to replicate your real-world aircraft? Regardless, certain foundational elements are essential for a satisfying flight simulation experience.
Must-Haves For Everyone:
In this section, we'll discuss the key components that are considered essential across all levels of flight training simulators.
When it comes to flight simulation software, it boils down to X-Plane vs. MSFS. We tend to recommend X-Plane, with highly accurate flight dynamics, systems modeling, and extensive customization options, X-Plane is geared more toward in-home flight training.
There are still multiple benefits to MSFS as well. The main difference being the enhanced visuals. With ultra realistic landmarks and graphics, an optimized visual system means that MSFS is better when practicing VFR flying.
If you’d like to do some more research you can read along here: X-Plane 12 V. Microsoft Flight Simulator for an in-depth comparison.
An essential component for any flight simulation experience, the correct yoke offers a level of realism, intuitive control, and precise aircraft handling that cannot be replicated. Below you can find 4 different Yoke manufacturers that each offer their unique benefits.
Tip: You may have heard of “control loading” regarding flight simulation. Simply put, this is the resistance or force applied to flight controls in a flight simulator to replicate the feel and feedback experienced in a real aircraft. Something to consider when looking at the specifications of any software or Yoke.
Using your keyboard for throttle control can get old fast, so we recommend including one of the following for your initial setup.
Practice taxing, coordinated turns, and maintaining control during crosswinds. We recommend the following as a good set of introduction rudders. Later we’ll discuss advanced options.
Now it is possible to tailor your PC to the actual flight sim software that you will be using. However, if you’re just getting started, the basic requirements are what you’ll find below.
- Operating System - Microsoft Windows 11
- Computer Processor - Minimum i7-12700K
- Computer Memory - at least 32 GB
- Hard Drive Space - 2TB SSD
- Graphics Card Video Memory - at least 8 GB
- Graphics Card Other - RTX3070
In addition to a PC, you’ll need a monitor to display the simulation software. Choosing a monitor can be a critical step in the process and if you’re looking for some help, look no further than our latest blog where we dive into the world of monitor selection.
The Different Levels of Flight Simulators
For this blog, I’ve separated flight simulators into 3 three different tiers:
The Starter Package features a simplified cockpit experience. The Advanced Package highlights add-ons that provide more realistic controls and visuals. And the Professional Package, consisting of high-fidelity replicas and immersive environments for comprehensive flight training.
What is the best flight simulator for learning to fly? That will be contingent on your experience as a pilot, your budget, and the purpose of the simulator. Let’s dive in.
Above we discussed the basics that everyone needs. When talking starter package, this is the first foray into additional hardware to complement your training. For a lot of pilots, the additions below fit that bill.
- GNS 430
- Practice IFR procedures, flight planning & navigation
- GMA 350
- Provide realistic audio and communication features, pair with Pilot Edge for Live ATC practice.
Looking to add an assortment of add-ons? Our Desktop Bundles offer a plethora of customization options for your specific aircraft.
Here we’ll discuss the software and hardware add-ons that can bring you the realistic experience you’re looking for.
- Gaming PC
- A PC with a better graphics card can make a world of difference.
- Experience authentic real-time air traffic control services, significantly enhancing the realism and training potential.
- If you use ForeFlight during real flight, adding it to your sim will only increase your proficiency with flight planning tools and real-time weather.
- Enhances realism by providing accurate and up-to-date navigation data, including charts, airport procedures, and airway routes.
Airfoil Labs Cessna offers a Cessna 172SP Skyhawk with extremely accurate flight dynamics, systems, and a visually immersive cockpit.
Hardware/flight control additions:
- 3 piece or curved monitors offer the greatest level of immersion. Click here to learn more.
- The link above offers a more realistic set of rudders, better replicating the rudder experience during real flight, and committing it to muscle memory.
- If your real plane is equipped with a G1000, then implementing the same system in your sim can provide an even greater level of replication.
Tip: In general, any Hardware or flight control additions are best purchased to mimic the aircraft you intend to fly in real flight or simulation.
When considering some of the Advanced package add-ons, the Yoke Top Desk Package offers nearly everything mentioned above and conveniently sits atop your desk while providing a next-level simulator experience.
Professional Package (FAA Approved Systems)
If you’ve landed here, then you’ve likely acquired the add-ons mentioned above and potentially some extras along the way.
You’re dreaming about how to create a simulator experience that completely mimics the real plane you’re flying every week. Look no further.
- Turnkey packages
- Offered by RealSimGear, the Turnkey packages shown below provide a completely self-contained simulator that offers the highest level of training experience. Also known as BATD’s, these systems are approved by the FAA to log actual flight hours in.
- 3 screen upgrade
- As detailed in our blog, a 3 screen setup creates a wrap-around effect that brings the user into a more immersive experience, being able to look out over each wing.
- Seat and frame system
- Adding a seat and frame is the final step in creating a professional setup, this addition will complete your ultimate flight simulator build.
Full Cockpit Home Flight Simulators
Looking to go above & beyond? Check out the featured picture below. With a CNC, free time, and patience, this customer was able to build a cockpit frame encompassing his turnkey system, and even add a door to create the most real-looking in-home simulator that we’ve seen to date.
Resources for Customizing Flight Simulators
What flight simulators do training pilots use?
This is dependent upon the level of the pilot and where they are training. A student outside of flight school is likely to use something close to the starter package mentioned above. A pilot enrolled in a Part 141 or 61 is likely to be using an aviation training device, and a pilot in training at any major airline is certain to be training with an FFS mentioned above.
What is the best flight simulator for learning to fly?
The best simulator is the one that suits your needs. Most student pilots can significantly improve their quality of training by building a simulator that most closely resembles the aircraft they tend to fly, either in real flight or in the simulator.
What is the best flight simulator equipment to use?
Many of the links throughout this article are some of the highest-quality products on the market. Brands such as Logitech, HoneyComb, and Thrustmaster are most commonly used in the aviation community.