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What Are the Best Flight Simulators? Microsoft Flight Simulator vs. X-Plane

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Flight simulators can be great aids to help you with flight training. No matter what type of computer you have at home, you can download one of these programs and get flying in moments.

Among the most sought-after comparisons in this virtual aviation world is X Plane 12 vs Microsoft Flight Simulator, highlighting the rivalry between two titans of realistic flight simulators, x plane and MSFS.

Here’s a detailed look at the two and how they compare, but remember that they are both great options. Our next article will feature how to set them up for effective training and look at some of the hardware you might want to add.

Microsoft made the first Flight Simulator in 1982, meaning it even predates Microsoft Windows. Of course, the original versions weren’t wowing anyone with their graphics, but each later edition improved on the last.

Today’s version (dubbed the 40th Anniversary version, for those who are counting) is loaded with cool airplanes, amazing scenery, and many features, making it great for training.

To be sure, you can play Flight Simulator like a game. You can get it loaded and be rolling down a runway in no time. But you can also fine-tune your flight plan, airport, runway, wind conditions, ceilings, and even the weight and balance of your plane.  

Preflight Briefing and Setup

The preflight briefing and setup features are one neat feature that separates Microsoft from X-Plane. These features let you set pretty much anything flight plan you like, all while analyzing charts and airspace just as you would in the real world.

You can fine-tune your nav log with each leg, look at the altitudes you’ll use, and visually see how airspace may affect your route.

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Navigational Tools and Scenarios

There are also dozens of scenarios to play with built into the simulator. Some are fun historical reenactments, like reliving Charles Lindberg’s first transatlantic flight.

But others are designed to help you learn more about how the professionals do it, which should be especially noteworthy to anyone interested in taking flight lessons. 

These scenarios include practice maneuvers, like stalls and recoveries, short field takeoffs, and aborted takeoffs. You can also pique your interest in all things IFR by working on VOR radial intercepts, holds, missed approaches, and instrument landings to minimums.

And, of course, there are also a ton of emergency scenarios you can check out. 

The MSFS Marketplace

Once you’ve explored all that comes native in MSFS, you can upgrade the program from the Marketplace. Here, you can purchase new aircraft, upgraded airports, or scenarios and add them directly to the program with the click of your mouse.

Computer flight simulator

Pros of Microsoft Flight Simulator

  • Huge selection of aircraft built-in
  • Hyper-accurate landscapes, scenery, and weather
  • Flight planning tools are very realistic
  • Scenarios with scenic tours, historical recreations, or fun challenges
  • Landing challenges with instruction 
  • Flight instruction pages with talk-throughs during flight
  • Easy upgrades with Marketplace 
  • Most hardware controls are pre-programmed

Cons of Microsoft Flight Simulator

  • Only for Windows and X-Box
  • Requires a large amount of free hard disk space and RAM (ideal setup 150 GB SSD and 32 GB RAM)

If you own a Mac, the choice is made for you. The current version of MSFS doesn’t support MacOS, so you’ll want to look at X-Plane. X-Plane works on a broad base of systems, from Windows and Mac to even Linux and mobile platforms.

Of course, the mobile versions are much more limited in scope and features. The software is published by Laminar Research and has been out since 1995.

X-Plane 12 vs MSFS

At first glance, X-Plane is incredibly similar in features to MSFS.

However, the biggest difference is fundamental and can be summed up this way: X-Plane focuses more on the aircraft, whereas Microsoft focuses more on the outside world. 

Aircraft Realism in X-Plane

The aircraft models–not just how they look but how they fly–are extremely realistic in X-Plane.

Microsoft has more tools for controlling the weather, more 3D landmarks and graphics, and all those neat scenarios to practice maneuvers and trips.

X-Plane is still visually beautiful, but it lacks some of the polish that the latest Microsoft version has in the outside world.

This focus on aircraft details particularly shows when you look at instrument flying. The avionics all work accurately, as do all of the fixes on approaches. They also have a flight school inside the program, with VFR basics and instrument skills to help get you started.

Expanding X-Plane with Add-ons

Like Microsoft, you can expand everything with add-ons. Add-ons in X-Plane are more complicated, however, and may require manual installation of files. Similarly, new hardware components may require manual setup for the buttons and switches. 

One perk of X-Plane worth mentioning is that you can download a fully-functioning demo version to ensure it functions well on your PC before committing.

Plane Maker and Airfoil Maker

X-Plane works in a fundamentally different way from MSFS.

In MSFS, the models of the planes (not just how they look, but how they perform in flight) are based on the numbers from the real planes. In X-Plane, the designers input the specifics of the airfoils involved and the particulars of the aircraft design, and the system then creates a model for how it would fly. 

Home flight simulator

Pros of X-Plane

  • Works with any operating system–MacOS, Windows, Linux
  • Free demo version available
  • Flight school option
  • Very accurate instrument recreation
  • Very accurate flight characteristics
  • Requires less computing power than MSFS (25 GB HDD and 24 GB RAM)

Cons of X-Plane

  • Hardware will need manual configurations
  • Upgrades may require moving files around and manual installation
  • Intel graphics processors (GPUs) not supported

Which Flight Simulator Program Is Best?

So if you’re looking at setting up a sim at home, you’re probably picking between Microsoft and X-Plane.

There are other options, but none have the features and accuracy offered by these two programs. Both programs are available for download directly from their websites or through the online gaming platform Steam. 

Check out this article if you want to learn more about using a flight simulator during flight training.

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