New to FlightGear

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Welcome to FlightGear! Here we'll try to get you up in the virtual air in the shortest time possible. We'll also introduce you to some of the features of this flight simulator and also a few information on its community.

Installation and setup

Hardware requirements

For FlightGear to run smoothly, it requires a video card with OpenGL drivers 2.0 or higher. This is usually not a problem, but take a look at Hardware Recommendations to have a better idea.

Many laptops are known to have issues with FlightGear, as the graphics card(s) on them are usually lower-end. See notebooks known to run FlightGear for reviews of several laptop systems.

Getting FlightGear

You may download the latest files from FlightGear Downloads page. Choose the source or binary files appropriate for your particular system. Most Linux users will find that most distributions have a packaged version of FlightGear (the package name could be fgfs or flightgear.)

Depending on your technical expertise you may choose the Git development version of FlightGear, which typically has more features and can be required by some of the latest developmental aircraft, but can be unstable and is more complicated to get for non-Windows users. In general, the development version is not advised to the average user, but if you're willing to do some testing there's a nightly build for Windows or Mac available for download at the FlightGear Build Server.

Also, note that those using the Git version of FlightGear may choose to update their aircraft files through the Git system.

You may also order FlightGear on a set of DVDs, available on the FlightGear main site.

Installing on Windows

After installing FlightGear on Windows a dialog box appears to define file locations. This is FlightGear Launch Control, also known as FGRun.

Apply the following settings:

  • Executable: the full path to the FlightGear program (fgfs.exe, usually C:/Program Files/FlightGear/bin/win32/fgfs.exe ). One can choose it directly using the file selection dialog that pops up when the folder button is hit.
  • FG_ROOT: the full path to the FlightGear base package (data/ directory, usually C:/Program Files/FlightGear/data). If this path is wrong, no aircraft would be displayed and FlightGear won't run.

Once you have defined these default settings, you can press Next to select an airport, aircraft and edit additional settings.

Installing on Mac OS X

Installing FlightGear on Mac OS X is very simple. Just drag and drop the FlightGear icon to the /Applications folder. That's it.

The first time you launch FlightGear, its icon on the Dock bounces for several seconds while loading aircraft and airport info. When the GUI launcher appears, select an aircraft and and airport by clicking the "Gear" buttons at the right of the names. Pressing "Start flight" will launch the simulator. You can configure more options using the GUI launcher. see the Users Guide for more details.

If you'd like to launch FlightGear using command-line, launch /Applications/Utilities/Terminal.app and type the following.

cd /Applications/FlightGear.app/Contents/Resources
./fgfs --options..... 

The $FG ROOT and $FG SCENERY are not set on Mac OS X. If you want to specify these variables yourself for command-line use, run the followings on Terminal.app:

FG_ROOT=/Applications/FlightGear.app/Contents/Resources/data
FG_SCENERY=$FG_ROOT/Scenery

After launching the GUI launcher, you will have the alias to $FG ROOT at $HOME/Documents/Flightgear/<version> so you can browse the data folder using Finder.

Note: Once you have installed FlightGear, mac users can locate their $FG_ROOT folder by opening their applications folder in Finder, right clicking on FlightGear, and clicking "Show Package Contents". This will take you inside the FlightGear folder. You are now able to access all files including Data/Aircraft for installing new aircraft.

Configuring OpenGL

FlightGear runs best with current OpenGL video drivers. If you are having trouble running FlightGear, see Graphics drivers configuration for more information.

Getting scenery

A limited set of scenery comes installed with FlightGear, which consists of the area surrounding San Francisco International Airport (KSFO).

In FlightGear, scenery is generally stored in you $FG_ROOT directory, and is divided into three kinds of data:

  • Airports holds airport data, like runway usage and parking spots.
  • Objects are the buildings, bridges and radio towers, etc. that represent three-dimensional structures.
  • Terrain represents the contours, elevations and type of ground you fly/taxi over.

The current way of "installing" new scenery is enabling TerraSync, which will automatically download and update any place you visit - even on the fly! However, some might have problems with that, so you can also manually download and install new scenery parts, either official, the World Scenery, or custom.

The official scenery is available at the scenery download section of the FlightGear website, and can be installed following Howto: Install scenery. You may obtain additional and more up to date scenery objects as they become available through the FlightGear Scenery Database.

Getting aircraft

To download additional aircraft for FlightGear individually, go to the FlightGear website and navigate to the download page, then choose the aircraft download link that fits your FlightGear version. For the installation, see Howto: Install aircraft.

Running FlightGear

Starting FlightGear

The easiest way to start FlightGear is a graphical interface like FlightGear Launch Control (aka FGRun). This is a frontend to the command line version.

Many users choose however to start FlightGear directly from the command line. The executable name is fgfs and can be run without options. If it's "not found", it is likely not in your path. The location depends on your particular system and choices you made during compile and installation. There is a list of Command Line Parameters which must be used to change many options, like the aircraft you want. The most important:

fgfs --show-aircraft        # displays a list of installed aircraft
fgfs --aircraft=c172p       # start FG with the aircraft "c172p" (from the list)

Using the keyboard and/or mouse

Users with limited access to a joystick or other controllers sometimes use the keyboard or mouse to control their aircraft. Using the keyboard to fly can be difficult and the mouse is recommended over the keyboard for flying, yet even a cheap joystick would improve so much the experience.

To get help with keyboard commands, with FlightGear running, go to the Help menu, look under Basic Keys (for simulator related commands) and Common Aircraft Keys (for commands universal to all aircraft) and Aircraft Help (for key commands specific to your aircraft).

Coming from an other simulator? Check key commands compared to other simulators for an overview of the difference between the key commands of that sim and FlightGear.

To use the mouse to fly the aircraft, right click (the cursor should change to a cross) and move the mouse to direct the aircraft. Right click again to look around (cursor should show a two sided arrow), click again to return to normal mode, used to click stuff in the cockpit.

First time in the cockpit

Finding your way around the cockpit can be daunting the first time.

Where is the "virtual cockpit?" Not all FlightGear aircraft come with an interior actually, some research projects may not even come with an exterior model. A 2D panel may display over the 3D cockpit if one exists. You may turn this off using the View menu. Otherwise, you should be sitting in the virtual cockpit when FlightGear starts, as long as the Cockpit View is selected (Ctrl+V).

You may find it difficult to read some of the displays, dials and gauges on the instrument panel. You can use the view mode of the mouse (right click until you get a cursor shaped like a double arrow) to pan and the mousewheel to zoom, or pan with the joystick hat and zoom with X and Shift+X.

One of the first steps that many take on entering an unfamiliar cockpit is to press Ctrl+C to highlight all the "hotspots", that is instrument's controls, buttons, knobs, etc. Many aircraft also offer a specific help menu.

Some functions, such as starter or magneto, may be difficult to use or simply lack clickable "hotspots", especially in aircraft models in development. In most cases you can go for the equivalent controls on a 2D panel or resort to the keyboard. The keyboard always work according to the assignments listed on the Help menu, but sometimes these are reassigned by an aircraft or configuration. Again, remember to check all the help dialogs.

Starting the engine

You're eager to fly, but the engine's off. Well, turning on the engines is not always easy. Some aircraft have an autostart entry in their custom menu, but here's a general procedure that should work in many cases.

In general to start the engine on a piston-engine type aircraft, you need:

  1. Fuel: some aircraft start the simulation with no fuel. You can add it in Equipment > Fuel and Payload.
  2. Correct mixture: this is generally rich, so push the red knob all the way in, or use the key m to enrich ( Shift+m leans.)
  3. Magnetos set on both: turn the key or press } three times to move through R, L, both.
  4. Throttle: some engines start better with a little gas.
  5. Run the starter: click the "start" position of the key on the panel, or press s. Hold the starter for sufficient time, even 10 seconds.

Starting all engines in a multi-engine aircraft is similar to the single engine--except you must follow the same start sequence for each and every engine. Flightgear provides a convenient way to do this for all engines at once: press ~ and all the procedure above will work for all the engines. Note though that the default 2-D panel is connected to only one engine and the ~ trick might not work. Also, give some gas to be sure that all the engines are on.

These instructions may not work for jet aircraft, helicopters, or other types of aircraft with complex start procedures. Check the instructions in the aircraft help menu (Press ?) and/or at the aircraft's wiki. In general to start the engine on a jet engine type aircraft, you need to:

  1. Set cutoff ON
  2. Engage the starter
  3. Once the engines spools up to approximately 5% N1, set cutoff OFF
  4. Disengage the starter once the engine has reached operational speed

Online multiplayer flying

FlightGear has some multiplayer servers that will let you fly in more lively skies, see Howto: Multiplayer. There is also OpenRadar, a standalone feature that will let you be an air traffic controller.

There's also a multiplayer map that lets you see who's online right now.

Making your first flight

Realism

One of the most frequent questions novice pilots ask about any flight sim, but more so to FlightGear, is "why is my aircraft turning left all the time?" Although it could be due to wind gusts crossing the runway, it is more likely due to the propeller torque and p-factor.

In certain other flight simulators, despite marketing slogans to the contrary, some settings are turned down to make the aircraft easier to fly. This reduces effects such as the above. The realism is always turned up in FlightGear.

Here are some of the FlightGear realism points, which may be confusing to first time pilots:

  • "Left turning syndrome" for the previously mentioned reasons.
  • Compass turning error: A compass, when subjected to the forces of flight, tends to turn in the opposite direction for a brief period before settling on the correct heading. This is not a malfunction (more on this.)
  • The Vertical Speed Indicator (VSI) is also subject to error.
  • The Horizontal Situation Indicator (HSI) is driven by a gyroscope (that is why it's sometimes called a Directional Gyroscope), which is subject to gyro drift: the indicator will drift from its current heading and must be periodically (every ~15 minutes) calibrated to agree with the magnetic compass heading.

Many forces act on an aircraft in flight as well as on the avionics and instruments used for control and navigation, and may be counter-intuitive. Pilots must learn to recognize these phenomena and compensate for their effects. FlightGear models instrument errors that exist in the real world.

Airports and navigation aids

When you first start FlightGear, whether from the command line or the graphical interface, you may wonder how to determine what airports are available. FGRun displays a list of airports, but you will not see details such as tower or ILS frequencies. You will not find a map showing VORs and their frequencies. What can you do? See Getting aeronautical charts.

In-sim, there is a map you can use in Equipment > Map, which will allow you to see navigation data and the position of airports and aids. For more help with navigation see Understanding Navigation.

Flying using the autopilot

Some aircraft require you to use the autopilot available from the Autopilot menu, which is the original FlightGear autopilot. This is a generic autopilot and as such, many aircraft come with their own specific autopilot, frequently a model of the real life one.

For aircraft that provide their own autopilot, you must use the autopilot controls available in the virtual cockpit. This means clicking on the instrument panel in the virtual cockpit. The Autopilot menu will be grayed out and unavailable when the aircraft supplies its own autopilot (generally).

The Cessna 172 comes with a Bendix/King KAP140 Autopilot in its virtual cockpit. You cannot use the Autopilot dialog from the menu with this aircraft. You must use the autopilot device in the panel.

The FlightGear community

Getting help

This page is designed to give the user the essential things they need to know about using FlightGear for the first time. Besides the User portal of this wiki, there are other pages you may want to read:

...and communication channels that can be used to obtain information or request help:

Customizing FlightGear without compiling it

Our website offers precompiled binaries for download and install on Windows and Mac OSX, while most Linux distros provide a packaged version in their repositories.

Although the install is binary, most of FlightGear's systems are open to configuration through XML files and NASAL scripting. You are free and encouraged to make changes to aircraft flight models, scenery, textures, OpenGL shaders and any other feature you wish to change for your personal satisfaction or to share with other FlightGear users. If this is what you intend to do, take a look at the Developer portal.

How you can help

1rightarrow.png See Volunteer for the main article about this subject.

FlightGear is an opensource, volunteer based project. That means that whatever you find here comes from passion, spare time and nothing else. This includes the simulator, the scenery, the aircraft, the wiki, the forum and everything else. Volunteers, i.e. people that do things, are fundamental to this project: without them, it wouldn't make a single step forward. So it is essential that contributors have fun in what they do.

If you really plan to contribute to this project, you should take a look at some articles that will give you some hints:

There are never enough people contributing, and the fields where their help would be appreciated are many:

Testing 
Support 
Development 
  • C/C++ Coding:
    • provide source code cleanups (i.e. help in the process of migrating over to a primarily smart pointer-based memory management approach using SGSharedPtr)
    • provide bug fixes Bugs or new features
    • get involved in any of the other FlightGear-affiliated projects
  • Aircraft development (3D modelling, textures, FDMs, scripting)
  • Scenery development (terrain, model, weather)