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I started using X-Plane and am surprised at the easiness of flying (using a flight controller). Does this simulation software reflect how it is to fly (in any way) in reality?

From using the simulator, I understand that all I need to do is to switch the engines on, turn the brakes off and fly. Are there any additional things apart from a pre-flight checklist that an actual airline pilot has to do?

In addition, I understand that I haven't dove into the details of navigation in X-Plane as I am just wondering if the basics of the simulator software reflect real life conditions.

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    $\begingroup$ See this related question (pardon the title). $\endgroup$ – fooot Feb 12 '15 at 19:29
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    $\begingroup$ Flying is the easy part. Now, shoot an ILS to minimums in a crosswind while talking on the radio. :) $\endgroup$ – falstro Feb 12 '15 at 19:29
  • $\begingroup$ @falstro Still trying to learn how to navigate with bearings, etc. It's pretty hard, even in a simulator... $\endgroup$ – Hrach Ghapantsyan Feb 12 '15 at 19:30
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    $\begingroup$ Ok, then remove the ILS and IMC part, just take off and land with a crosswind on a narrow runway (without leaving it) :) $\endgroup$ – falstro Feb 12 '15 at 19:31
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    $\begingroup$ Alternatively: VATSIM for an ATC experience and also Pilot Training programs, training material for simulator pilots, etc. $\endgroup$ – SentryRaven Feb 12 '15 at 19:36
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X-Plane is a much truer simulation of flying than that flight game Microsoft used to make. In fact, when coupled with certified hardware and a CFI, X-Plane can power a sim that you can actually log FTD time in.

Since you ask about airline flying for your comparison, there is a lot more to that than just the flying. An airline pilot is, with few exceptions, always operating under instrument flight rules (IFR). This means flying in the clouds with no reference to anything but instruments, weather as bad as a few hundred feet visibility and strong crosswinds for landing and takeoff are all part of normal ops. You are also operating under ATC, so radio ops are normal. The only comparable computer simulation of ATC to reality is VATSIM (as mentioned in comments), though it doesn't approach the level of busyness that you'll find in some airspace and airports (with the exception of some of their organized fly-ins).

A transport category jet is also a bit more complicated than "turn the engines on, release the brakes and go". The only computer sims that capture the level of detail properly are ones like the A-10 simulator by DCS. Before you can start the engines, you need to first power the aircraft and perform your receiving checklists, and if you are the first flight of the day, additional first-flight checks. These cover:

  • Thorough pre-flight walkaround inspection
  • Powering the airplane on batteries
  • Transition to ground power (GPU) or start the APU for power
  • Verifying the state of all systems
  • Fire test
  • Stall warning test
  • Anti-ice system test
  • Checking oxygen levels and masks
  • Autopilot test
  • Backup instrumentation checks

Before pushback:

  • Verifying fuel load
  • Get load information from flight attendant/gate agent/dispatch/ramp supervisor
  • Calculate weight and balance, move passengers and/or bags if needed
  • Get ATC clearance and program FMS
  • Flight crew and cabin crew briefings
  • Weather briefing
  • Start APU and disconnect ground power and ground air conditioning
  • Get clearance for pushback

During pushback:

  • "Before engine start" checklist
  • Set bleeds / packs for engine start
  • Communicate with ground crew for engine start

Now you can start an engine. Unlike a small airplane where you start the engine by turning a key in an ignition switch, in bigger airplanes its a series of knobs and buttons to press, sometimes dependent on certain events during the start. Engine parameters must also be monitored in case an abort becomes necessary.

At this point you can get a taxi clearance and start moving toward the runway. You'll go through a couple more checklists, "after start/taxi" and "before departure", to prepare the plane for taxi and takeoff. Once you are on the runway, with all checks completed, with more fuel than your minimum dispatch release, and an ATC clearance you may then release the brakes and go flying. One pilot will fly and the other will monitor instruments.

Much of the above is beyond the typical scope of X-Plane, though some can be addressed with specific aircraft add-ons, manuals and software like VATSIM.

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    $\begingroup$ ...than that flight game Microsoft use to make I like this analogy. $\endgroup$ – Farhan Feb 12 '15 at 20:03
  • $\begingroup$ RIP MS FS :( I've been playing FS2004 for over a decade: ever since when my dad got it for me when I was 7. $\endgroup$ – shortstheory Feb 14 '15 at 12:56
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    $\begingroup$ "when coupled with certified hardware and a CFI, X-Plane can power a sim that you can actually log FTD time in" Actually, so can MSFS - Redbird sims are (were?) using FSX as their engine. $\endgroup$ – egid Feb 18 '15 at 17:07
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    $\begingroup$ @egid I think Redbird might now be using Prepar3d prepar3d.com, which is actually the successor to FSX. From what I understand they took over the actual codebase initially and now have made it into a real flight sim. edit I just checked and the Redbird Jay uses it for sure (simulators.redbirdflight.com/products/jay) $\endgroup$ – Canuk Feb 28 '16 at 5:15
  • $\begingroup$ Pacific Simulators of New Zealand builds full-up two-place professional-grade fixed-base 737-800 and A320 simulators, using Prepar3D as the core software. $\endgroup$ – John R. Strohm Sep 27 '18 at 23:18
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X-Plane and other simulators can be set up to reflect the complexity of real-life aircraft systems, down to a certain level of detail, e.g. most serious flight-sim enthusiasts usually start their complex aircraft1 from what is called "cold and dark" configuration manually, rather than using a pre-defined shortcut to start up the engines. Some configuration options that would have no benefit in flight simulation are obviously omitted, such as temperature control of the cabin or pressure control of the cabin.

The flight dynamics are in most cases very close to the real aircraft, but the simulator will of course lack the actual feeling of movement, which can only be simulated in full-motion simulators to a certain degree. Since the systems are a calculation of the real thing, some phenomena such as ILS (Instrument Landing System) errors due to deflection are not simulated, but can be encountered in real life. The simulator can also be set to ignore weather, which is not an option in reality. Weather phenomena such as windshears and gusting winds may not be properly simulated throughout all simulators alike or require additional software to come close to realistic simulation.

Unless you are part of an flight-sim network such as VATSIM, you will also lack the experience of ATC, which is an essential part of real aviation.


Related question:
Can Microsoft Flight Simulator help me learn to fly (or make me a better pilot)?

1: The default aircraft in x-plane and MS Flight Simulator are not very complex and do not have the level of detail you would expect. This is why there are developpers publishing realistic aircraft addons for simulators.

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    $\begingroup$ You mean you don't have an 'Ignore Weather' switch in your airplane? ;) In mine, it's right beside the 'Physics Override' switch. It sure makes those crosswind landings a lot easier. $\endgroup$ – reirab Feb 12 '15 at 22:02
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    $\begingroup$ @reirab I have to enter a code in my plane to override weather and do what I want: 7700! $\endgroup$ – SentryRaven Feb 12 '15 at 22:03
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    $\begingroup$ @SentryRaven: beware that in most models that's just an ATC override, and won't actually turn off weather effects. $\endgroup$ – Henning Makholm Feb 12 '15 at 22:44
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    $\begingroup$ @HenningMakholm eh, it's close enough. What's the worst that could happen? ;) $\endgroup$ – raptortech97 Feb 12 '15 at 23:19
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I'm a private pilot. I used X-Plane before getting my license, and a little bit while I was working on it.

I would say X-Plane is a good simulator. There are some things though that are just not at all realistic. Landings are WAY too easy on X-Plane. You just get the plane above the runway, cut the engines, and you'll land. You could be like 100 feet above the runway and it'd probably land okay by just cutting the engines. A real plane is not like this at all. In fact, X-Plane is so easy to land that it interferes with practicing different types of landings (short, soft, slips, etc.) You can't even really practice landings with it -- at least not with any fidelity to reality.

I would also say that in general the planes don't "feel" that real. Everything is too perfect. For example, in a real plane, if you jam the throttle forward too quickly, you can kill the engine or make it backfire. This may sound like a trivial detail, but people have died on takeoff because they never learned proper throttle technique. The fact that you can't simulate this in X-Plane is one small example of the "over perfection" of the simulation. There are countless others.

The fact that you can't pivot your head (or even simulate it with a joystick or something) is majorly annoying. You basically have little fixed views that you can switch to with a high-hat button on your yoke.

The X-Plane design team seems to have focused heavily on realism of airflow and weather, and not so much on realism of the world. When you're learning cross country flight, it would be wonderful to fly a trip in X-Plane and have familiar landmarks, but alas it doesn't work that way unless you're in a major metropolitan area.

So it's a good simulator, but it's not super close to reality. It's great for learning (most) procedures, and it certainly gives you a rough idea of what piloting is like, but sometimes I found it more of a hindrance than a help when I was learning to fly.

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  • $\begingroup$ All valid points. Modeling and plugins can make airplane behavior better, and you can use something like TrackerXP to look around the 3D view (hopefully Oculus Rift someday), but it will always fall short of the real thing. $\endgroup$ – fooot Feb 25 '15 at 1:15
  • $\begingroup$ I should mention that I messed around with X-Plane last night and found out that you can switch the high-hat so that it becomes a "rotate" command. This helps with visualization a bit. It's still a little unnatural though. $\endgroup$ – Calphool Feb 25 '15 at 16:16
  • $\begingroup$ Also, in XP as in any sim you don't get a real feel for the control forces involved. You can slam the rudder hard left and the aircraft instantly reacts, same with the other controls and engine power. In the real thing, there's both a delay before your actions take effect and you need to apply force to counter the air flowing around the controls of a light aircraft (no power steering in a C172...). $\endgroup$ – jwenting Sep 26 '18 at 5:17
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I use x-plane and its great if you realize what you are using it for. I will offer some notes on various aspects of the software

Hardware:

Before I get into the software I assume you are using some kind of a yoke and rudder pedals. If you are not it is well worth getting a yoke (or stick), throttle, and pedal setup this will mimic what you find in a plane and will help you gain some muscle memory.

Flight mechanics:

You can get some very real planes on here and X-Plane gives you a great way to see what happens with certain control inputs. The only thing you cant really get is control force. A real plane (I fly small GA stuff) will apply force on the yoke that you will have to trim off. Although X has trim and it works nicely you cant trim based on control force so I find that I over trim in the sim often.

The plane its self will behave very closely to what it does in real life. I use X to practice landings and approaches as it gives a nice feel of what will show on what instruments.

Navigation:

This is perhaps one of the best powers of X, you can get really good practice tracking VOR's in the sim and just get accustomed to what you need to do and when you need to do it. This will help you in the navigation stage of training. When I am running something in the sim I use my current paper charts and X has everything just as it is on the chart.

Landmarks:

I fly in the PA area and the landmarks, even when flying at a very low resolution setting, are very accurate.

Checklists:

The only things you cant check is the exterior of the plane. But all of your interior check lists you can do. I have a sim saved that starts at my FBO with the engines off, check everything, start them up, taxi out, run up check, and take off all in the sim. You can also use it for things like engine out practice and various emergency procedures.

The idea is that the sim is not perfect, you wont feel what you feel in a real plane but its a great training tool and has really helped me to understand flight mechanics and the overall operation of the plane.

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Before flying the pilot needs to check the plane to make sure it doesn't have any damage and everything is in working order. Like control surfaces move the way you expect them to, all tires are inflated, the fuel isn't contaminated and so on.

The the pilot needs to taxi from the parking spot to the runway. While making sure to not to bump into any other while talking to the tower. Then line up set flaps increase power and go.

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  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for clarifying although I did know about the taxiing part. $\endgroup$ – Hrach Ghapantsyan Feb 12 '15 at 19:27
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I just got my PPL and started working on my IFR. I would add that the risk of being up 3000 ft or as close as 100ft off the ground cannot be simulated. Knowing that poor risk management can take your life, your passenger's lives, others on the ground or cause property damage is not possible - but that's the reason to use the sim.... I think.

I am considering building my sim in the hopes that I can practice and retain some muscle memory during non-flying days. For personal piloting, I find that my real world plane skills get rusty too quickly and I need to continue practicing in order to stay sharp to handle various flying conditions and events.

Hope this helps.

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  • $\begingroup$ Welcome to the site, RDR! Thank you for telling us why using a flight sim is sensible. Could you please expand the answer a little and let us know how close X-Plane comes to real flying? After all, on this site answers should try to address the actual question at the start of the page. $\endgroup$ – Peter Kämpf Dec 25 '17 at 1:11
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" In the real world, keeping the aircraft level, lined up and flaring in the presence of any kind of cross wind is very tricky. Go to a small airport and watch a student landing sometime. ."

Students pilots are having that problem because they haven't yet fully developed the spatial coordination of flying a plane. People landing on the simulator as a beginner are no different, if anything, worse. Of all the people who've never handled any type of plane (real or otherwise) who I've tried to see land my plane on Xplane, not ONE even got it on the runway - in the first place!

"They balloon, land on one wheel and go screeching across runway, drop the nose hard".

To be honest I still do things like that on Xplane on rare occasions - it's just that in the simulator you aren't feeling it, and you are watching it on a small screen, so it doesn't seem as obvious. What people often pass as a "good" landing on Xplane would be a dreadful landing in a real plane. I think that's an important point to make. I watch people streaming Xplane (on twitch or youtube) and the number of landings on the side of the runway, swerving off the side and on again, serious bounces, even overshooting the runway on a few flights I've watched - this is seen as "normal" to many sim pilots - shockingly enough. In real life, these landings would have you under investigation.

"In a simulator you just get the aircraft near the ground going the right speed and, boom, you land, easy. In the real world this does not happen at all."

LOL, no. Not in the ones I use (I use XPlane 10 FWIW). Not even close.

When someone who's never flown the Simulator or real plane before tries to land the simulator, they can't even get to the runway! I invite people to try and land my plane on my simulator and the last time I did it (I gave it to them lined up with the runway, configured for landing, good weather, on the glide slope with me controlling the throttles), they ended up over controlling so badly we nearly went in the sea at a 40° bank angle going 30 degrees off course to the left of the runway (I took over before the inevitable crash). You could consider that person a "student pilot") of the simulator. I found it funny anyway, because I am evil.

In contrast, my first landing attempt in the real plane was much more simple than this - and I actually got to the runway in the first place!!!! That said, I still bounce my Xplane landings quite often! That's after using it for years!

So yeah the sim feels different than the real plane, but no easier to someone whose done neither before.

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Flight simulators are great for learning systems and procedures.

If you have good quality controls (professional-quality yoke, pedals, and throttle), then you can even learn complex procedures, such as instrument flying using a simulator like X-Plane.

However, that said, flight simulators are not realistic depictions of actual flight. For example, in real flight in a small aircraft you frequently get bumped by gusts and have to constantly be doing small corrections. A simulator flies very smooth and completely lacks this reality.

Likewise, in real flight the air is constantly challenging you on a windy day. You will be on short final and get sink or gusts that will knock you off your line and you have to INSTANTANEOUSLY react and adjust correctly or you will end up having to do a go around. It can be very chaotic, especially anywhere there are hills or mountains and air is bouncing around. Once again a simulator just does not capture this at all.

I find landing in simulators to be completely unrealistic. Since this is by far the hardest part of flying, simulators cannot really teach you at the real level. In a simulator you just get the aircraft near the ground going the right speed and, boom, you land, easy. In the real world this does not happen at all. In the real world, keeping the aircraft level, lined up and flaring in the presence of any kind of cross wind is very tricky. Go to a small airport and watch a student landing sometime. They balloon, land on one wheel and go screeching across runway, drop the nose hard, etc. It's a mess. A beginner without an instructor will be a large risk of ground looping. The simulator completely eliminates all these problems.

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    $\begingroup$ If you turn on wind shear and gusts, the simulator flight becomes significantly less smooth. $\endgroup$ – fooot Feb 18 '15 at 16:24
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    $\begingroup$ @fooot True, I have not really experimented with tweaking a sim for "realistic" flight, so you may be able to approximate somewhat conditions better than what I have experienced. $\endgroup$ – Tyler Durden Feb 18 '15 at 16:36
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    $\begingroup$ So you haven't tried to make it realistic, but you're commenting on how realistic you think it is? $\endgroup$ – fooot Feb 18 '15 at 16:39
  • $\begingroup$ @fooot I am an ebil little man. $\endgroup$ – Tyler Durden Feb 18 '15 at 17:46
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    $\begingroup$ @fooot: Somehow I doubt that any home simulator has the equipment needed to bounce your chair around according to gusts, change G-force when you turn or dive, or even provide feedback on the controls. For one instance, how do you know when you're flying close to a stall in a light plane? From instruments, or looking out the window? No, you FEEL how the controls act. $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Feb 18 '15 at 18:57
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hey guys I just read through a whole set of comments posted there, I must say as a student pilot most of the things been said about xplane is not quite true, or further more I should say I don't know what version of xplane they are using or whether they are using a joy stick or the actual yoke and throttle controls be it multi or single and last but not least rudder pedals. if you are using a joystick to fly just forget it no experience or sorta feel for real flight there.
After spending some time in a real aircraft flying it you gotta have some idea of what to look for when building your sim so you can translate what you see to a feel on your controls and try and get something from there. Also to get around, you gotta take the sim serious as you were or are in the real thing, what I am say is if you mess up there in a flight session, treat it as if you did it in the real thing.
I find xplane 11 very realistic just a few things are missing though, but where flight dynamics are concerned, with some of the default aircraft e.g the Beech Baron, the Cessna 172 and the piper turbo arrow (well that one is payware) they are not the most easy aircraft to fly and land if you don't have some sorta experience.
I think xplane can get you pretty close as to what to sorta expect in the real aircraft. Have you ever notice how the nose gets heavy as you just about setting up your flare and power adjustments as you are over the ground about to touch down? xplane simulates that pretty dam well, I must say I was surprised, it caught me a few times and the landing was really hard all 3 wheels bang on the ground etc in real flight that's problems.
So to the sim pilots or budding future pilots that out there I must say xplanes 11 is a really good way to go with a good set of controls to take you closer to reality

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    $\begingroup$ Welcome to aviation.SE! You might find the tour is helpful if you're new to the site. $\endgroup$ – Pondlife Sep 26 '18 at 0:29
  • $\begingroup$ Please read the relevant section in thehelp center to understand why your answer is downvoted and to edit it accordingly. $\endgroup$ – Manu H Sep 26 '18 at 12:02

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