How To Fly Like an Eagle in FlightGear

My father has been a pilot for more than thirty years; and he passed on that hunger for flight to me. In fact, the very first video game I ever played was Microsoft’s Flight Sim back in the very early nineties. It ran terribly- only black and white with hardly any textures- but I liked messing with it.

Years later, when I was about seven years old, I bought a flight sim called “Jet Fighter II” and a joystick. I considered myself a real hotshot pilot: I could fly around without crashing and shoot down Migs that manoeuvred like gutted pigs.

Now, many years later, I crow that I’m an armchair ace because I can take off and land on a simulated carrier and make five kills in a mission while flying a Mitsubishi A6M “Zero” in a game called “IL-2 Sturmovik”.

But real flying isn’t about hosing enemy fighters with 20mm cannon rounds or whipping your plane around the sky to shake the bad guys off your six. Real flying is tedious waiting, thumb twiddling, routine, and very very boring. But then, pilots like to be bored. Anything that makes life interesting while cruising 700 miles per hour at 35,000 feet is the kind of excitement that real pilots try hard to avoid.

If you’re tired of hard core RPGs, blood-and-guts shooters, and insanely difficult roller-ball games then consider turning the lights down low, laying back in your lay-zee boy, and loading up Flight Gear.

Flight Gear is the open source flight sim. It features a ton of airplanes, more than 20,000 true-to-life airports, accurate world-wide terrain, and three different physics models to make you feel the dream of flying even if you could never get into the cockpit of a real plane. FlightGear is for anyone who wants to practice up for his license, relax with some smooth family-friendly game play, or experiment with what realistic flying is like. Best of all, it’s free and installs easily on Linux:

1. Do a standard apt-get installation: sudo apt-get install flightgear

2. Run it through your system menu: “Applications” >> “Games” >> “FlightGear” or else run it from the command line with: fgfs

Keep in mind that FlightGear is under constant heavy development; so some things may change between my install and yours (i.e. the entry in the system menu).

The instrument panel of a Cessna. Where to Cap'n?


Q: The game runs real slow on my computer. Am I doing something wrong?

A: Number one, do you have hardware 3D acceleration enabled on your system? Number two, FlightGear requires some decent hardware to run: do you have what it takes?

Q: Ok, I got it installed, now how do I fly around n’ stuff?

A: Suprise! You can’t just sit in the pilot’s seat and make engine noises with your mouth. Sarcasm aside, check out the controls under the “Help”  menu (“Basic Keys” and “Common Aircraft Keys”). Try to keep ‘er steady and level until you get a feel for how your plane handles. Most planes simply aren’t built for fancy jet fighter style aerobatics: you’ll rip the wings right off a 747 if you try diving, and even most jet fighters can’t point their nose into the sky and keep climbing.

Q: How do I use my joystick?

A: That sort of depends on what kind of ‘stick you have. You’ll want to look into installing the “joystick” package in all cases. If your joystick connects through the gameport on your motherboard, and for configuring it for FlightGear, read through this thread. For Sidewinder type ‘sticks the command sudo modprobe sidewinder seems to work, based on this thread. This thread on the FlightGear forums was also useful for me.

Q: I get it that boring is a good thing, but wouldn’t it be nice to play with other people?

A: Right you are. In fact I joke with Dad that the seat belts are to keep people from jumping out of the plane in search of excitement; and the co-pilot is there so the pilot can have someone to talk to, not because he actually does anything useful! Check out the FlightGear wiki entry on multi-player here. There exist some FlightGear “clans”, you might want to check them out if you’re serious about flying with company.

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