We’ve come a long way since the late ’70s. In those days computer flight simulators consisted of vivid lime- and violet-hued wireframe graphics depicting simple aircraft and vaguely topographical terrain; digital “cockpits” consisted of angular altimeters made of bloated pixels. Sure, Luke Skywalker could make do with those conditions, but he had a little green alien and a crabby old hermit as coaches.
Graphics have improved, detail has blossomed and the simulated flight scenarios themselves have become drastically more complex over the subsequent few decades. But it wasn’t until very recently that flight simulation programs evolved to hyper-realistic, immersive experiences. These are two of the most impressive examples on the market today — their advancements go far, far beyond simple graphics upgrades. (Fair warning: you’ll have to upgrade that old vintage Apple II to take to the new wave of simulated skies.)
Design, Test and Fly New Aircraft Like the Pros Do
Far more than a simulator, X-Plane serves as a digital testing ground for newly designed aircraft, thanks to something called blade element theory. It’s an aerodynamic model that predicts, measures and analyzes how theoretical lift and drag would affect small, individual parts and areas of a simulated aircraft, then extrapolates the results over its entirety. Users (not players — this is hardly a game), including many real-life aircraft designers, design their own aircraft and test them out in ones and zeroes. And since the X-Plane world covers most of the globe (74° north to 60° south latitude) and can link users over networks, it’s possible to do test runs in almost every scenario imaginable. There are mobile and desktop versions of the program, which, in varying packages, are available in consumer guise for free, and professional-grade packages (starting at $750).
Flight School by Dovetail Games
Study Up for Your License, Digitally
Based off of Microsoft’s famous Flight Simulator technology, this game promises to have users “flying like veterans in no time.” Select between two aircraft — a Piper PA-18 Super Cub or a Piper PA-28 Cherokee — and spend your time absorbing 15 lessons that teach the basic skills necessary for a Light Aircraft Pilot’s License, Private Pilot’s License and night flying. In addition, players can conquer nine extensive missions and spread their wings in a free-flight mode to gain more experience all around the globe. This simulator game is only available for Windows computers and is recommended only for desktops. This is about as close to the real world as gaming gets, and will put you one step closer to getting that license. (Or, if you plan to be in an ’80s flight disaster B-movie scenario and save the day because you’re the only one with “experience,” look no further.)