New to FlightGear

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Getting started

Hardware requirements

For FlightGear to run smoothly, it requires a video card with OpenGL drivers. OpenGL 2.0 or higher is required for FlightGear 2.0 and later. Most modern PCs support OpenGL, but if you are having trouble with slow frame-rates, see Hardware Recommendations for more information.

Many laptops with insufficient 3D hardware acceleration capabilities are known to have issues with running FlightGear. Since laptops are smaller, 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. Or, depending on level technical expertise you may choose the Git version if you wish to work with a development version of FlightGear. The Git version typically has more features and can be required by some of the latest developmental aircraft, but can be unstable and is more complicated to acquire and install. In general, the development version is not advised to the average user. You may also order Flightgear on a set of DVDs, availible on [1]

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 smoothly, see Configuring OpenGL for more information.

Getting scenery

1rightarrow.png See Howto: Install scenery for the main article about this subject.

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

In FlightGear, scenery 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.

All object data goes in an Objects/ directory and all terrain data goes in a Terrain/ directory. The location of the scenery and its sub-directories depends on your particular installation.

To download objects and terrain for FlightGear, go to the scenery section of the FlightGear website. Follow the link to download scenery from the map. Choose a block from the map where you will by flying. Once the package has downloaded, extract into your FlightGear scenery directory.

The scenery packages available from the FlightGear website contain all needed data for the locations. You may obtain additional and more up to date scenery objects as they become available through the FlightGear Scenery Database.

Information beyond this brief overview is available in Howto: Install scenery and Downloading New Flightgear Scenery for Windows XP.

Getting aircraft

1rightarrow.png See Howto: Install aircraft for the main article about this subject.

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.

Once the aircraft package has downloaded, decompress and extract the archived files onto your computer. You may extract to a temporary directory and move them, or extract directly into the Aircraft/ directory in FlightGear. This is typically $FG ROOT/Aircraft.

Starting FlightGear

Many users choose to start FlightGear from the command line ("console" or "shell" as it is known to Unix users). Alternatively some use graphical interfaces such as Fgrun (FlightGear Launch Control).

To start FlightGear type on the command line:

fgfs

and hit enter. This will start FlightGear.

If FlightGear fails to start, it is likely the compiled FlightGear binary software is not in your path. If you know Unix, you may add the location of the binary to your path and try starting again. Otherwise, you may find the location of the 'fgfs' binary and enter an absolute path to it like

/usr/games/fgfs

The location depends on your particular system and choices you made during compile and installation.

It is important to understand when not using a graphical interface to start FlightGear, your interaction will be entirely from the command line. To see available aircraft, you specify an option on the command line. To specify an aircraft, an airport, multiplayer server, etc. you add an option to the command line when starting FlightGear. Please consult the list of Command Line Parameters. The parameters are also useful to those starting FlightGear from FlightGear Launch Control graphical interface, as it allows you to specify parameters.

Displaying available aircraft

From the command line:

fgfs --show-aircraft

displays a list of available (installed) aircraft.

Choosing an aircraft

From the command line:

fgfs --aircraft=foo

where foo is the name of the aircraft's *-set.xml file (eg. for the c172p this is c172p-set.xml, so the command is --aircraft=c172p). See also Command Line Parameters. The following commands gives a list of available aircraft:

fgfs --show-aircraft

Online multiplayer flying

1rightarrow.png See Howto: Multiplayer for the main article about this subject.

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. Adjustments (like throttle, instruments etc.) may be made with the keyboard.

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. A list displaying what each key does will display.

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.

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, including a virtual cockpit. (Due to FlightGear being used by various research projects, some aircraft may not even come with an exterior model. Remember, FlightGear is very flexible.) 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.

You may find it difficult to read some of the displays, dials and gauges on the instrument panel. Use the Zoom keys to zoom in on an instrument. The 'x' and Shift-X keys control eyepoint zoom in the Cockpit View. Use the joystick hat (or other controller assigned to this function) to pan the eyepoint to the instrument you wish to read. Then zoom in.

Alternate Method: Click the right mouse button until you get a cursor with two arrows (like this <=>). You can now move your view around the cockpit. Press 'x' and Shift-X to zoom in and out.

Note: Some functions, such as starter or magneto, may be difficult to use or lack "hotspots" to control with your mouse. Especially when flying an aircraft model that is still undergoing development. In this case, look for equivalent controls on a 2D panel or resort to the keyboard. The keyboard controls always work according to the assignments listed on the Help Menu (unless reassigned by an aircraft or configuration). Go to the main window menu, click Help, then click Basic Keys or Common Aircraft Keys.

One of the first steps I take on entering an unfamiliar cockpit is to press Ctrl-C to highlight all the "hotspots" on the 3d cockpit instrument panel. This enables you to easily see where to place the mouse to operate an instrument's controls, buttons, knobs, etc.

Many aircraft offer a help menu specific to that aircraft on the Aircraft Help menu (go to Help, then Aircraft Help.

Making your first flight

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 increased realism FlightGear provides. In a certain other flight simulator, some settings are turned down to make the aircraft easier to fly. This reduces effects such as propeller torque and p-factor, which may be the cause of the tendency to turn to the left (to figure out which effect, you may read more in Understanding Propeller Torque and P-Factor).

Despite marketing slogans to the contrary, some flight simulators are aimed at a casual game player market, and ship with their "realism" turned down. The realism is always turned up in FlightGear.

FlightGear offers a great deal of realism, 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.
  • The Vertical Speed Indicator is also subject to error.
  • The Horizontal Situation Indicator is driven by a gyroscope (that is why it's sometimes called a Directional Gyroscope), which is subject to a phenomenon called gyro drift. For a number of reasons, the gyro will drift from its current heading and must be periodically (about every 15 minutes) calibrated to agree with the magnetic compass heading.

Many forces act on an aircraft in flight as well as on the instruments and systems 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.

Flying using navigational aids and the autopilot

To make this very clear for new users: 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 in the cockpit, 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).

FlightGear, as of version 0.9.9, comes with a "built-in" autopilot. The Autopilot dialog accessible from the FlightGear toolbar in the main FlightGear window does not work with all aircraft. It only works with aircraft that either

  • do not specify an autopilot
  • use the default autopilot. When an aircraft does not specify an autopilot, the default is used.

For aircraft that supply their own autopilot, you must use the autopilot controls in the 2D or virtual cockpit. The Cessna comes with a KAP140 autopilot in its virtual cockpit. You cannot use the Autopilot dialog with this aircraft. It has no effect. You must use the autopilot device in the panel.

For help with navigation see Understanding Navigation.

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. Short of finding an actual sectional map for the area you wish to fly, what can you do?

Google Maps and the FlightGear Online Map for multiplayers are both good resources as well as the FlightGear Community Flight Planner.

Getting help

Besides this wiki, there are more places that can be visited to obtain information or request help:

Getting more detailed information

This page is designed to give the user the essential things they need to know about using FG for the first time.

You now know enough to get started with FlightGear. To learn more, you may wish to start at the main page of this wiki and read the more detailed Getting Started section, or Using FlightGear section or study the Flying Resources to learn more about flight instruments and how to navigate and fly your aircraft.

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

The following are some issues raised by new users of FlightGear. More detailed troubleshooting and answers can be found in Troubleshooting Problems and the FAQ.

I do not want to compile FlightGear, what can I do?

Our website offers precompiled binaries for download and install on a variety of systems. Current platforms are Windows, Linux, Solaris, SGI, Mac OSX and FreeBSD. These are offered as a convienence and availablility may vary at times.

Note: FlightGear is highly configurable through editable XML files. You are free, and encouraged to, make changes to aircraft flight models and any other feature you wish to change for your personal satisfaction or to share with other FlightGear users. The flight model is not defined in a binary file. It is easy to modify (given enough knowledge). Although the install is binary, most of FlightGear's system is open to configuration through XML files and NASAL scripting.

Does FlightGear come with a printed manual?

You are invited to read "The Manual" online as HTML or download a PDF for viewing with Acrobar Reader or printing.

"The Manual" is not always up to date with recent developments but provides a good start for beginners.

How you can help

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

Testing

Debugging & Profiling

  • Running FlightGear via valgrind to track down memory leaks

Support

Development

  • Writing documentation! Everyone is welcome to contribute to "The Manual"; having at least a little experience with LaTeX makes the task easier. Please contact the authors of The Manual if you would like to add corrections or whole chapters, you may also simply use this wiki to contribute fixes, modifications and new contents.
  • 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
    • provide enhanced features Feature Requests / Proposals / Ideas
    • provide new features
    • get involved in any of the other FlightGear-affiliated projects
  • Aircraft development (3D modelling, textures, FDMs, scripting)
  • Scenery development