• A Small Beginners Guide to Flight Simulation

    A Small Beginners Guide to Flight Simulation

    A Small Beginners Guide to Flight Simulation

    By Paul Mort

    With a new version of Microsoft Flight Simulator just around the corner, I thought now would be a good time to write a short 'Paul Mort' guide to flight simulation.

    Many of us here are long term flight simmers, and so we are used to the jargon which surrounds the hobby. However, for those just venturing into the magical world of flight simulation, it can be quite daunting, so hopefully this little guide will go a small way in alleviating some of that fear.

    Aces Game Studio

    Aces Game Studio (stylized ACES) was an American video game developer based in Redmond, Washington, acting as the developer of the Microsoft Flight Simulator and Microsoft Combat Flight Simulator series for Microsoft. As part of a move that cut 5,000 jobs at Microsoft, Aces Game Studio was closed on January 22, 2009.


    The altimeter shows the aircraft's altitude above sea-level by measuring the difference between the pressure in a stack of aneroid capsules inside the altimeter and the atmospheric pressure obtained through the static system. It is adjustable for local barometric pressure which must be set correctly to obtain accurate altitude readings. As the aircraft ascends, the capsules expand and the static pressure drops, causing the altimeter to indicate a higher altitude. The opposite effect occurs when descending.


    An airfoil or aerofoil is the cross-sectional shape of a wing, blade, or sail. An airfoil-shaped body moving through a fluid produces an aerodynamic force. The component of this force perpendicular to the direction of motion is called lift. The component parallel to the direction of motion is called drag.

    Airspeed Indicator

    The airspeed indicator shows the aircraft's speed (usually in knots) relative to the surrounding air. It works by measuring the ram-air pressure in the aircraft's pitot tube relative to the ambient static pressure. The indicated airspeed (IAS) must be corrected for nonstandard pressure and temperature in order to obtain the true airspeed (TAS). The instrument is color coded to indicate important airspeeds such as the stall speed, never-exceed airspeed, or safe flap operation speeds.

    Attitude Indicator

    The attitude indicator (also known as an artificial horizon) shows the aircraft's relation to the horizon. From this the pilot can tell whether the wings are level (roll) and if the aircraft nose is pointing above or below the horizon (pitch). This is a primary instrument for instrument flight and is also useful in conditions of poor visibility. Pilots are trained to use other instruments in combination should this instrument or its power fail.

    Automatic Direction Finder (ADF)

    The Automatic direction finder (ADF) indicator instrument can be a fixed-card, movable card, or a Radio Magnetic Indicator (RMI). An RMI is remotely coupled to a gyrocompass so that it automatically rotates the azimuth card to represent aircraft heading. While simple ADF displays may have only one needle, a typical RMI has two, coupled to different ADF receivers, allowing for position fixing using one instrument.

    Blade Element Theory

    Blade element theory (BET) is a mathematical process originally designed by William Froude (1878), David W. Taylor (1893) and Stefan Drzewiecki to determine the behavior of propellers. It involves breaking a blade down into several small parts then determining the forces on each of these small blade elements.

    Bruce Artwick

    Bruce Artwick (born January 1, 1953) is an American software engineer. He is the creator of the first consumer flight simulator software. He founded subLOGIC after graduating from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 1977, and released the first version of Flight Simulator for the Apple II the following year. His original Apple II software was purchased by Microsoft in 1982 and became Microsoft Flight Simulator.

    After subLOGIC, Bruce founded the Bruce Artwick Organization which continued development of flight simulator products which were eventually bought out by Microsoft.


    Common traffic advisory frequency (CTAF) is the name given to the VHF radio frequency used for air-to-air communication at United States, Canadian and Australian non-towered airports.


    Flight Simulation is a great hobby, but it's even better when people get involved. There are many ways to this, with some of the most popular being: posting in the forums, writing tutorials and reviews (something I enjoy doing), and if you are really keen, and have the time, creating scenery and objects.

    Delta Wing

    The delta wing is a wing shaped in the form of a triangle. It is named for its similarity in shape to the Greek uppercase letter delta. Although long studied, it did not find significant applications until the jet age, when it proved suitable for high-speed subsonic and supersonic flight.


    Microsoft DirectX is a collection of application programming interfaces for handling tasks related to multimedia, especially game programming and video, on Microsoft platforms. Originally, the names of these APIs all began with Direct, such as Direct3D, DirectDraw, DirectMusic, DirectPlay, DirectSound, and so forth. Both Microsoft Flight Simulator and Prepar3D use DirectX.


    The elevator is a moveable part of the horizontal stabilizer, hinged to the back of the fixed part of the horizontal tail. The elevators move up and down together. When the pilot pulls the stick backward, the elevators go up.


    FlyWithLua is an X-Plane plugin which allows users to add additional features to the simulator. These include: removing haze, improved clouds, airport traffic, maps and charts, plus many other features.


    FlightGear Flight Simulator (often shortened to FlightGear or FGFS) is a free, open source multi-platform flight simulator developed by the FlightGear Project since 1997.


    FMOD is a high quality commercial sound engine and sound authoring environment for games.


    FSUIPC is a small utility which allows third-party programs to interact with the 'inner workings' of FS2004/FSX/P3D.

    Graphics Processing Unit (GPU)

    A graphics processing unit (GPU) is used to display the virtual world you fly in. A fast GPU can render scenes very quickly (frame rate), whilst GPUs with greater memory, can display higher detail (textures). As GPUs have increased in power, so too has the visual detail in flight simulators.

    Heading Indicator

    The heading indicator (also known as the directional gyro, or DG) displays the aircraft's heading with respect to magnetic north when set with a compass.

    HDR Lighting

    High-dynamic-range rendering (HDRR or HDR rendering), also known as high-dynamic-range lighting, is the rendering of computer graphics scenes by using lighting calculations done in high dynamic range (HDR).

    Horizontal Situation Indicator

    The horizontal situation indicator (commonly called the HSI) is an aircraft flight instrument normally mounted below the artificial horizon in place of a conventional heading indicator. It combines a heading indicator with a VHF omnidirectional range-instrument landing system (VOR-ILS) display.

    Instrument Landing System (ILS)

    An instrument landing system enables a pilot to land an airplane by instrument approach when the pilot cannot see the runway.

    JoneSoft Generic Mod Enabler (JSGME)

    The JoneSoft Generic Mod Enabler allows simmers to easily enable and disable mods - for example winter scenery textures in X-Plane.

    Lockheed Martin Prepar3D

    In 2009 Lockheed Martin announced that they had negotiated with Microsoft to purchase the intellectual property (including source code) for the Microsoft ESP (Enterprise Simulation Platform) product. Microsoft ESP is the commercial-use version of Flight Simulator X SP2. On May 17, 2010, Lockheed announced that the new product based upon the ESP source code would be called Lockheed Martin Prepar3D (P3D). Lockheed hired members of the original Aces Game Studio team to continue development of the product.

    Magnetic Compass

    The compass shows the aircraft's heading relative to magnetic north. Errors include variation, or the difference between magnetic and true direction, and deviation, caused by the electrical wiring in the aircraft, which requires a Compass Correction Card.

    Microsoft Flight Simulator

    Microsoft Flight Simulator began as a set of articles on computer graphics, written by Bruce Artwick throughout 1976, about flight simulation using 3-D graphics. When the editor of the magazine told Artwick that subscribers were interested in purchasing such a program, Artwick founded subLOGIC Corporation to commercialize his ideas. At first the new company sold flight simulators through mail order, but that changed in January 1979 with the release of Flight Simulator (FS) for the Apple II. They soon followed this up with versions for other systems and from there it evolved into a long-running series of computer flight simulators.


    Terrain mesh is the underlying wireframe detail of the scenery. The higher the resolution (elevation points), the greater the detail.

    Normal Mapping

    In 3D computer graphics, normal mapping, or Dot3 bump mapping, is a technique used for faking the lighting of bumps and dents - an implementation of bump mapping. It is used to add details without using more polygons.

    Non-Directional Beacon (NDB)

    A non-directional (radio) beacon (NDB) is a radio transmitter at a known location, used as an aviation or marine navigational aid.

    Object Libraries

    Many flight simulators require the use object libraries to display sceneries correctly. This includes those from both payware and freeware developers.


    Open Graphics Library is a cross-language, cross-platform application programming interface for rendering 2D and 3D vector graphics. The API is typically used to interact with a graphics processing unit, to achieve hardware-accelerated rendering. The flight simulator X-Plane uses OpenGL.


    A precision approach path indicator (PAPI) is a visual aid that provides guidance information to help a pilot acquire and maintain the correct approach (in the vertical plane) to an airport or an aerodrome. It is generally located on the left-hand side of the runway approximately 300 meters beyond the landing threshold of the runway.

    Physically Based Rendering

    Physically based rendering (PBR) is an approach in computer graphics that seeks to render graphics in a way that more accurately models the flow of light in the real world. Both X-Plane 11 and later version of Prepar3D use PBR.

    Plane Maker

    Plane Maker is a program bundled with X-Plane that lets users design their own aircraft. Using this software, nearly any aircraft imaginable can be built. Once all the physical specifications of the airplane have been entered (e.g., weight, wing span, control deflections, engine power, airfoil sections, etc.), the X-Plane simulator will predict how that plane will fly in the real world; it will model the aircraft's performance just like it does for X-Plane's built-in aircraft.

    Pitot-Static System

    A pitot-static system is a system of pressure-sensitive instruments that is most often used in aviation to determine an aircraft's airspeed, Mach number, altitude, and altitude trend. A pitot-static system generally consists of a pitot tube, a static port, and the pitot-static instruments.

    Program Files (86)

    When installing any of the Microsoft Flight Simulators (including P3D), it's always advised to install outside of the 'Program Files' directory.


    The rudder is typically mounted on the trailing edge of the vertical stabilizer, part of the empennage. When the pilot pushes the left pedal, the rudder deflects left. Pushing the right pedal causes the rudder to deflect right. Deflecting the rudder right pushes the tail left and causes the nose to yaw to the right. Centering the rudder pedals returns the rudder to neutral and stops the yaw.

    SAM Jetways

    SAM is a native X-Plane 11 plugin offering different possibilities to animate sceneries with jetways, hangars, marshaller and more.

    Scenery Packs

    X-Plane scenery packs are loaded in priority order; in order to ensure that you see your payware or custom scenery, it must be higher priority than the global airports.


    A Software Development Kit (SDK) is a set of development tools that allow developers to create applications for a certain software package (for example, Microsoft Flight Simulator).

    SIDs and STARs

    A SID is sometimes called a Departure Procedure (DP). SIDs are unique to the associated airport. A STAR, or Standard Terminal Arrival Route, ('Standard Instrument Arrival' in the UK) defines a pathway into an airport from the airway structure.

    SimObject Display Engine (SODE)

    The SimObject Display Engine (SODE) enables FSX/P3D scenery developers to control the display of their objects depending on certain conditions and/or triggers.

    Solid State Drives

    Solid State Drives (SSD) are storage mediums like traditional hard drives, except they allow for faster transfer speeds. Whilst more expensive than hard drives, they are the preferred choice for simulators, especially those with large sceneries, as they reduce loading times.

    Turn Indicator

    These include the Turn-and-Slip Indicator and the Turn Coordinator, which indicate rotation about the longitudinal axis.

    Transverse Axis (Pitch)

    The pitch axis (also called transverse or lateral axis) has its origin at the center of gravity and is directed to the right, parallel to a line drawn from wingtip to wingtip. Motion about this axis is called pitch. A positive pitching motion raises the nose of the aircraft and lowers the tail. The elevators are the primary control of pitch.


    Tutorials are an excellent way of learning how to do something, and luckily there are plenty for FS2004, FSX and X-Plane.

    Virtual Air Traffic Simulation Network

    VATSIM, or Virtual Air Traffic Simulation Network, is a non-profit organization operating a dedicated, worldwide, Internet-based flight-simulation network. Users can connect to the network to either fly online as a pilot using flight simulation software such as Microsoft Flight Simulator X, Prepar3D or X-Plane, or direct traffic as an air traffic controller (ATC) and participate in what has been described as a close approximation of real-life aviation procedures.

    Vertical Axis (Yaw)

    The yaw axis has its origin at the center of gravity and is directed towards the bottom of the aircraft, perpendicular to the wings and to the fuselage reference line. Motion about this axis is called yaw. A positive yawing motion moves the nose of the aircraft to the right. The rudder is the primary control of yaw.

    Vertical Speed Indicator

    The VSI (also sometimes called a variometer, or rate of climb indicator) senses changing air pressure, and displays that information to the pilot as a rate of climb or descent in feet per minute, meters per second or knots.

    Very-High Frequency Omnidirectional Range (VOR)

    The VOR indicator instrument includes a Course Deviation Indicator (CDI), Omnibearing Selector (OBS), TO/FROM indicator, and flags. The CDI shows an aircraft's lateral position in relation to a selected radial track. It is used for orientation, tracking to or from a station, and course interception.

    VR Ready

    VR ready means that the add-on can take full advantage of virtual reality headsets/hardware.

    WorldEditor (WED)

    WorldEditor (often abbreviated to WED) is an open source 2-D scenery and airport editor for X-Plane. There are several versions of WED from which you can download.

    X-Plane (Simulator)

    X-Plane is a flight simulator produced by Laminar Research. X-Plane can be used professionally with the correct license, or used personally. A personal use desktop version is available for macOS, Windows, and Linux, while a mobile version is available for Android, iOS, and webOS. X-Plane is packaged with several commercial, military, and other aircraft, as well as basic global scenery which covers most of the Earth.


    A yoke, alternatively known as a control wheel is a device used for piloting some fixed-wing aircraft.

    The pilot uses the yoke to control the attitude of the plane, usually in both pitch and roll. Rotating the control wheel controls the ailerons and the roll axis. Fore and aft movement of the control column controls the elevator and the pitch axis. When the yoke is pulled back the nose of the aircraft rises. When the yoke is pushed forward the nose is lowered. When the yoke is turned left the plane rolls to the left and when it is turned to the right the plane rolls to the right.


    This is not a complete list by any stretch of the imagination (far from it). It is meant purely to help newcomers get to grips with some of the language and idiosyncrasies found in flight simulation. To that end, it would be wonderful if other members could add to it in the comments section below.


    Paul Mort

    Tags: guide, terms

    1. W33's Avatar
      W33 -
      Very nice Paul.

      My contribution: BGL file format seen in sceneries.

      BGL is the file format used by Microsoft Flight Simulator to store scenery. It uses the .bgl file extension. BGL stands for BAO Graphical Language, where BAO stands for Bruce Artwick Organisation who was the original creator of the Flight Simulator series.

    1. zswobbie1's Avatar
      zswobbie1 -
      Well done Paul. A very well thought out Guide indeed.
      If I may add:

      Pedals - a hardware add-on to control the rudder of aircraft.

      Joystick - popular handheld controller, with a twist grip, to simulate rudder movement

      FS2004 (also known as FS9) released in 2003 - was shipped with several historical aircraft such as the Wright Flyer, Ford Tri-Motor, and the Douglas DC-3 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Wright Brothers' first flight.

      FSX released in 2006 - Microsoft Flight Simulator X is the most recent version of Microsoft Flight Simulator. It includes a graphics engine upgrade and compatibility with preview DirectX 10 and Windows Vista. It was released on October 17, 2006, in North America.

      FSX:SE (Steam Edition) On December 18, 2014, Dovetail Games released Flight Simulator X on Steam titled Microsoft Flight Simulator X: Steam Edition. It includes content that was provided with the original FSX: Gold Edition which includes FSX: Deluxe Edition, the Acceleration expansion pack and both official Service Packs and repackages them in one bundle and a single installation.

      Microsoft Flight Simulator (MSFS)
      Microsoft revealed that they will be bringing back the Flight Simulator series with an updated release, featuring Microsoft's Azure AI. The new flight simulator includes 4K ground satellite textures and aircraft. The title is due to be released in 2020.[27] This is Microsoft's first simulator since Flight Simulator X in 2006 and Microsoft Flight in 2012.[28] This will also be the first of the Microsoft Flight Simulator series to not be PC exclusive, as this installment is also launching on the Xbox One. Asobo Studio assumed the lead developer role.
    1. RonaldVermeij's Avatar
      RonaldVermeij -
      Nice summary Paul, well done. Here's a suggestion for further improvement of this article:

      - crystal clear illustrations to your next version, since "a good picture is worth a million words"
      - links to website where your readers can dig deeper into the aviation / flightsim matter at hand if they want.

      - Not everyone is as experienced as you already are
      - images make a far more efficient way of knowledge-transfer

      Looking forward to the next version of your guide.
    1. llivaudais's Avatar
      llivaudais -

      While we don't yet know the specific resources that will be available for the next sim, The Learning Center in FSX is in HTML format so it can be accessed with your favorite browser even while flying: no need to interrupt flight to go into 'help'. Find the startup file (LC01.htm) with Windows Explorer and then create a link to [your FSX installation]/Uires/lc01.htm

      The Federal Aviation Administration provides numerous manuals, handbooks and guides in all aspects of real-world flight in PDF format for FREE. The "Airplane Flying Handbook" is probably the best starting place.

      And certainly don't forget that Google/Bing search, as well as Wikipedia can help with almost anything you need.

    1. zswobbie1's Avatar
      zswobbie1 -
      A bit of Technical Terminology:

      Hyperthreading (HT)is Intel’s name for simultaneous multithreading. It basically means that one CPU core can work on two problems at the same time. It doesn’t mean that the CPU can do twice as much work. Just that it can ensure all its capacity is used by dealing with multiple simpler problems at once.

      Is the extraction of three-dimensional measurements from two-dimensional data (photo's) to successively estimate, to create the a 3D view of the subject.

      Azure AI:
      Artificial Intelligence, cloud based, used by Photogrammetry, and map data to create 3D objects (buildings, trees, terrain).

      Bing Maps:
      is used by Microsoft, combined with Photogrammetry & Azure AI to provide accurate scenery for thenew Microsoft Flight Simulation.

      Photo scenery:
      Add-on scenery based on real life photographed scenery. (a bit 'flat'looking).

      FlightGear Flight Simulator is a free, open source multi-platform flight simulator developed by the FlightGear project since 1997. It has a large range of detailed aircraft and scenery, and probably the best and most detailed Space Shuttle out there.. Freeware!
    1. napamule2's Avatar
      napamule2 -
      Pitot: pronounced 'p-toe' (as it's French in origin).
    1. goodpaster's Avatar
      goodpaster -
      A great resource for real simulation. https://www.aopa.org/news-and-media/...-of-simulators

      To sum it up simulators in the U.S. are certified by the National Simulator Program, an office of the FAA, and for motion are certified A through D and designated Full Flight Simulators (FFS) and 4 through 7 for non-motion Flight Training Devices (FTDs.) There is also a category called Aviation Traning Devices (ATDs) that are certified as either Basic or Advanced. Not all motion sims are FFS, howver, as Redbird, choose not to get their motion system certified and their devices are Advanced Aviation Training Devices (AATDs.)

      At one time the FAA did certify a device call the PCATD (Personal Computer Aviation Training Device) which is now a defuct category of training devices.

      Listing simulators from most capable to least:

      FFS Level D
      FFS Level C
      FFS Level B
      FFS Level A
      FTD Level 7
      FTD Level 6
      FTD Level 5
      FTD Level 4

      Your personel setup does not even make the list and is considered amature simulation or hobby level computer simulation.
    1. Roger Wensley's Avatar
      Roger Wensley -
      There are things in real life that flight simulator users are not aware of, and which I have occasionally been asked about. Two of them that cropped up more than once was:
      "Why do the small GS planes go a bit sideways when they stop at the hold short in FS9?" (was hold short in your list?) The answer is that when small planes stop on a taxiway they point the nose off to one side so the other small plane behind doesn't get a load of hot air and maybe small stones shot at it.
      "Why don't helicopters just go and land, or take off and go where they want?" and the answer is "At airfields with no control tower all planes, and that includes helicopters, make the same announcements and follow the same taxiways and runways so that there is only long queue with everyone doing the same thing and no surprises".
    1. Sean McLeod's Avatar
      Sean McLeod -
      Thank you, Paul!
    1. CRJ_simpilot's Avatar
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