The most widely used flight simulation program by far is Microsoft Flight Simulator. You can buy it for less than $100 just about anyplace that sells game software. Just make sure your computer at least meets the minimum system requirements listed on the package. The leading manufacturer of flight simulation hardware is CH Products.
Stall Warning! Always read the fine print before buying flight software for your computer. Though some programs are cross platform and run on two or more operating systems (Windows, Macintosh, Linux, for example), some require newer computer chips, especially for graphics. Read the box or contact the manufacturer to make sure that the system you buy is fully compatible with your computer. Once you break the box seal many retailers won’t give you credit for returned software.
Another popular flight simulation program is called X-Plane. It is growing in popularity due to advanced flying features and realistic representation of flight.
Another popular online source for multimedia flyers is PC Aviator. Besides publishing Computer Pilot magazine, PC Aviator offers a wide variety of software and hardware toys for flight simulation. A truly international company, PC Aviator is based in Australia with offices in the United States as well.
You really don’t need a flight simulation yoke or rudder pedals. You can fly using your PC’s keyboard. For example, with MSFS you’ll start the aircraft engine by pressing the Ctrl and E keys at the same time, increase the throttle with the F2 key, decrease throttle with the F3 key, and so on. You’ll also be able to use your computer’s mouse to select options and perform flight actions.
However, if you’re serious about flying at home, I recommend you invest in at least a joystick (under $100) or control yoke (about $150). Rudder/brake pedals are about $100, but the software can be set up for “automatic rudder control” so you don’t need them. Of course, that means you can’t practice rudder control unless you use the keyboard. The cost will be quickly covered by your savings in expensive flight time. Frankly, you will “go flying” as recreation as well as training, spending hours planning and flying a virtual trip from your favorite local airport to, say, Orlando or some other fun destination. As you get into this growing hobby you might even find yourself competing with other pilots over the Internet!
Wing TipsWant to have more fun flying at home? Take a look at a monthly publication titled Computer Pilot. It includes articles, product reviews, and tips on flying all types of aircraft using flight simulation software.
"Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore."
-- Andre Gide