• FlightGear 1.9


    By Dominic Smith

    FlightGear opening menu on Mac


    A little while back (maybe a few years) I wrote a review of FS2004 on Bootcamp. For those of you who are not familiar with Bootcamp; Bootcamp is an Apple boot manager which enables an Apple Mac to run Windows OS natively. It's a wonderful idea and enables Mac users to run Windows software at the same speed as a normal PC. The biggest drawback from a Mac user's perspective is that you can't run both OS's at the same time. It requires the user to reboot into either Windows or Mac OS. The other option is to use a program like Parallels or VMware to run your flight simulation software; but although this enables you to run both OS's simultaneously, you lose so much in terms of frame rates, that it isn't really a viable solution for flight simulation. So, if you don't want to reboot, then another option is to try the wonderful FlightGear.


    FlightGear is an open source flight simulator, which covers the whole world. It has a wonderful community and following and really is a great sim for Mac users and even for that matter, Windows users. It has a worldwide scenery database of the whole world and the user has the option to either download a block of scenery from a graphical download display, or purchase DVD's of the whole world from the FlightGear web site. The latter is just for convenience, but the proceeds do help to maintain the FlightGear web site.


    FlightGear has some great aircraft. Most of them have 3D panels and all have fully moving parts. Many of the aircraft that you can download are pre-production, which means you can download them in either alpha or beta form. Although unfinished, it's interesting to see them develop. Some of the best, production aircraft available for download are the Cessnas. The Cessna, are in my opinion, better than those I have used in another simulator, also available for the Mac. The flight models on them are great and are a real joy to fly. They also have great panel lighting, textures and sound. One thing I forgot to mention about the 3D cockpits is the environmental lighting. It's so cool to fly with your back to the sun, and watch the glare change on the panel as you change direction. It works really well.

    Lined up and ready for take off

    Sunset at Vancouver

    Night lighting in the 3D cockpit


    The scenery in FlightGear is pretty good. I would say it is somewhere between FS2002 and FS2004 in terms of quality, but with a better default mesh of the world. The ground textures are not as good though, often appearing rather bland. Buildings and trees are all there and it's nice to see chimneys with smoke and ships in the water. For example, flying close to Dover (UK) you get quite a few tankers and ferries in the channel. Night lighting looks great and there is a quick setup option where the user can select morning, afternoon, dusk, etc. for different daytime options. Clouds are another area where FlightGear has improved, with nice 3D clouds. Again these aren't as good as FS2004, but they work well. Rain and snow effects are available as well, but I find that they have a serious detrimental effect on frame rates. Light rain is flyable, but with a thunderstorm (on my system) it does bring my flying to a crawl. Real world weather is also available via the weather menu. Lastly, a feature which shouldn't be overlooked and which is quite impressive, are the sloping runways. Its a strange but exciting feeling to take off and not be able to see the end of the runway.

    Flying over British Columbia

    Looking out, over British Columbia

    Have a guess!


    I first tried FlightGear about two years ago, and the two things I found lacking (in my opinion), were a moving map and decent joystick support. Well, with the latest version of FlightGear, all this is now taken care of. You now have a moving map, courtesy of Atlas and now it's just a case of plugging in your joystick and away you go. ATC is there as well, similar to FS2004, but minus the audio output. All the sounds, which should be present in a flight simulator, are there. There are environmental sounds, engine sounds, systems sounds and background ATC chatter. The latter is just a series of audio samples looped I think.

    Screenshot showing Atlas (moving map) and the different menu's available

    Scenery download page


    It has to be said that I have a fair few simulators on my Mac. If I wasn't so lazy, then maybe I would reboot into Windows and use FSX or FS2004 as these still are the benchmark simulators in terms of flight simulation, but because of the other software I use on my Mac, I find it difficult and time consuming to reboot. Which leaves FlightGear. FlightGear is like a little bubble car. It looks at you and smiles. It tempts you to take it for a spin, because, even though it's not the fastest or best looking kid on the block it's honest and decent and will always try and please you.

    Dominic Smith
    [email protected]

    Learn More Here

    Tags: flightgear

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