X-Plane Flight Simulator


X-Plane helicopter cockpit view

X-Plane helicopter cockpit view

Simulators are an integral part of today’s flight training for both radio control models as well as full scale pilots.  There are a range of exciting, affordable and high fidelity computer flight simulators for RC pilots.  These remarkable programs can greatly add to anyone’s flight capabilities with no worries about crashes or accidents.  I have found the RealFlight computer simulator for RC flight easy to install and use, and recommend this product to anyone.

I pay close attention to aviation subjects, for both modeling and real world areas.  Imagine my surprise the other day when I read a report in Aviation Week and Space Technology magazine about Austin Meyer, the inventor of the X-Plane simulator program.  I did not know this product even existed.

I did a bit of research and all reports on the program were favorable.  I then purchased the X-Plane simulator app for my iPad. The cost was $10.

The X-Plane simulator program truly is amazing and should be a part of any modeler’s collection of computer downloads.  X-Plane is not a game, per se, but more of a real world trainer for flight operations.

X-Plane can be run on a wide range of computers, from multi-screen desktops to iPads to smartphones.  Operating systems include just about all of them, to include Android, iOS, Linux and Windows.  The larger the screen and more powerful the processor, the better the simulated flight experience will be.

I have not used X-Plane on a desktop, but from my research it is a valuable flight development, teaching and training aid at a modest cost.  I can comment on the iPad experience, which is most favorable as well.


X-Plane flight simulator showing Lancair in flight

X-Plane flight simulator showing Lancair in flight

The iPad has an exceptionally sharp screen resolution which fits ideally with the flight training mission.  Various functions are accessed via the touchscreen.  Airports can be selected in addition to a range of aircraft.  Convenient instructions are displayed on the screen as desired.

To learn the program, I started with a familiar aircraft from my flight instructor days, the Cessna 172.  X-Plane can display either the cockpit view, with fully operating flight instruments, or an outside view of the aircraft where you “fly” by tilting the iPad, just as if you were at the flight controls. 

The use of holding the iPad in this manner is a very effective way to mimic what a pilot would do with the control yoke in the full scale bird.  This approach of using the inherent movement capture features of the iPad is a surprisingly useful way to pick up fundamental stick and rudder skills for radio control model flights.

X-Plane comes with a wide range of installed aircraft, to include gliders, airliners, various military airplanes and high performance twins.  The included scenery and airport representations are impressive.  The time spent flying these various types of aircraft are both fun and instructive of what to expect with model variants.


X-Plane simulator showing airport scenery detail

X-Plane simulator showing airport scenery detail

One of the neat features of X-Plane program is the open invitation to users to add to the user experience, whether with a new airplane or additions of scenery.   The program embraces a plugin architecture that allows pilots to create their own modules to fully tailor the flight set up.

X-Plane differs from just about every other computer flight simulator by using an aerodynamic computational model called blade element theory. 

Traditional computer flight simulators do their work by understanding the inputted parameters of an aircraft.  Items such as wingspan, airfoil and fuselage moments tell the computer what to display with simulated flight.  The program then emulates flight by using mathematically defined lookup tables to determine lift, drag, thrust, etc. which all differ with various flight conditions.

This customary approach is sufficient to produce a viable simulated flying experience.  But you must know the aircraft parameters.  This approach does not work well in design work or with predicting an aircraft’s behavior when actual performance information is not available.

Blade element theory allows for a more adaptive replication result by modeling the forces and moments on an aircraft, then evaluating the various parts that make up the complete airplane.  Blade element theory can be used to compute these aerodynamic forces in real time without the need for lookup tables.  The blade element approach is refined enough that it can reproduce aircraft quirks and design flaws.

In addition to creating various modules, X-Plane allows users to edit maps and scenery.   There is no tool to modify the 3D mesh objects.  Tutorials are available to use third party 3D modeler AC3D, SketchUp and Blender.  As a matter of fact, much of the detail you see on airport ramps, buildings and taxiways is provided by various users.

In summary, computer flight simulators are an integral part of today’s flying world.  Just as pilots gain experience flying different types of aircraft, your piloting skills grow with the use of various types of flight simulators.  Cost is an issue with any aviation activity.  But for under $10 you really cannot go wrong acquiring the app for X-Plane on the iPad.

X-Plane flight simulator view of a Cessna 172 cockpit

X-Plane flight simulator view of a Cessna 172 cockpit

Author:  Gordon McKay