Introduction to FlightGear

What we’re hoping for here is that this will be a series of articles exploring the Open Source alternative to the commercial Flight Sims out there: FlightGear. Not being commercially funded it might not quite be as polished straight out of the box (there’s also no box)  as you’re used to and hopefully we’ll be able to help with that as well as guide you through installing, configuring and finding the real gems within the community which give you a truly free Flight Sim experience. We'll start with an introduction to FlightGear.

About FlightGear

FlightGear EH-101 Merlin

FlightGear is an Open-Source flight simulator which has been an active project since 1996 and initially released in 1997 - In that nearly 20 year history a lot has changed.

The thing that attracts most people to FlightGear is the fact it is Open source which means a lot more than it just being free.

The whole ethos of the FlightGear project is to have a complex simulation with the emphasis on being able to create very realistic scenarios and flight models for not only enjoyment but also as an engineering and pilot training tool.

It’s entirely cross platform so regardless of your chosen Operating System you shouldn’t have any problems running it.  

You might say, quite validly, that you’ve tried FlightGear and you got anything but that. A poorly finished aircraft and scenery that you wouldn’t call groundbreaking (excuse the pun) well that’s again down to the nature of open source. Anyone can contribute and sometimes that means that things aren’t always released when they are finished but more put out into the community for others to have a go at finishing and adding their own touches as the aircraft or whatever else it may be, goes on.

Not content with just a standard Flight Dynamics Model (FDM) Engine there’s actually 6 to choose from by “standard” and the ability to write your own if you really fancy but the most recently publicly updated and supported are called YASim and JSBSim, both do things a little differently and have very different applications but we’ll cover that in later articles. For now it’s enough to know that just because you’re not happy with the way one FDM engine handles then there’s others to try.

Everything there on from the 3d Models, sounds, textures and scripts required for scenery, aircraft, sounds and functionality can be coded in entirely free software and in an open way with many contributors across the community if you want. Or you can spend months or even years fine tuning your own creation until it’s perfect.

flightgear-04 FlightGear B206 FlightGear - Sea Stallion

Getting Started

Installing FlightGear is actually quite simple. The main download page has links for all platforms and the precompiled versions contain everything you need: http://www.flightgear.org/download/main-program/

The Only thing I’d recommend is that you use an older “launcher” interface to get the program going. The new one is still being refined and contains a few less features than are available in the old which I think are useful, especially to newer users.

To get to this older launcher you need to look for “fgrun.exe” by either searching for it on your PC or going to your Flightgear directory, looking for the “bin” folder and it should be in there along with your other executables.

The interface it will give you is like the 3 screenshot series shown here:

FlightGear UI FlightGear UI FlightGear UI

Apart from the main download you don’t need anything else. It comes with some stock aircraft which are a good introduction but the community is where the really special ones can be found.

The FlightGear UK Hangar contains some primarily Military themed but well developed models: http://fguk.eu/index.php/hangar/category/13-rotary-wing

A good selection of all types, not full systems simulations but an excellent starting point:http://helijah.free.fr/flightgear/hangaren.htm

There is also a selection of other downloads available listed here: http://wiki.flightgear.org/FlightGear_hangars

With the above information you should be able to get the sim installed and running with some good aircraft to enjoy.

In the next article we will be covering further configuration of the sim to help hone performance and improve visual effects, as well as showcasing some specific aircraft that we think you will enjoy.

Alex Barrett

About Alex Barrett

Alex Barrett is a long time Flight Simulation fanatic and developer, having worked extensively over the past 17 years on both Commercial 3rd Party simulation projects and open source ones. He has, more recently, turned to the Open Source side entirely and enjoys contributing to the FlightGear project and all the opportunities that Open Source provides which aren't available in commercial products, as well as the camaraderie and multiplayer community around it.

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