The awesome thing about building a solid machine, such as that described on this site, is that you can take advantage of any one of the best software packages available for flight simulation. To claim that one is on the whole any better than another would be unfair. But, what is true, is that each of the programs listed below is better suited to a certain type of aviation experience. We’ll give you a general overview to help guide your selection. Just pick what is best for you!
Prepar3d is the most expensive of the options. It is, in essence, Lockheed Martin’s take on Microsoft’s flight simulator. It is a solid platform for experiencing flying in a multiplayer environment where single-ship operation is the norm, such as on VATSIM. If you’re interested in participating in a virtual airline or similar on such a network with air traffic control, this is an excellent realistic choice.
Flight Simulator X is a fantastic entry level simulator for those getting into the hobby. It is relatively cheap, has numerous quality addons available, a strong community, and is easy to learn. The drawbacks are the physics engine and netcode. On the whole, it’s not as realistic as the other options on this page, and tasks like precision formation flying are borderline counter-productive over a multiplayer network. For those who are interested in enjoying flying multiple types of aircraft anywhere in the virtual world, FSX is for you. FSX is also still used by many virtual airline groups.
DCS is arguably the highest-fidelity simulator available to the general public. It’s graphics, physics engine, and netcode are unparalleled. DCS is unique in that the simulator is free, requiring users to purchase each aircraft they wish to be able to fly. Geared mainly towards those interested in military aviation, each aircraft’s engineering and weapons systems are fully modeled. The player has the option of learning to operate each aircraft in a 100% realistic manner via checklists and proper procedures or to enter “game mode” and just fly for fun. The netcode allows for seamless formation flying, and the mission editor allows users to create unlimited scenarios to test their skill or the capability of their team. DCS models everything from individual weapon parameters to the behavior of aircraft tankers, air traffic controllers, and ground based JTACs. If you’re looking for the ultimate combat experience, or looking to get into virtual aerobatics and precision flying, there’s no better option than DCS. The only drawback is the restricted terrain map: because of its combat focus, DCS is not a worldwide simulator. Currently, the Baltic regions and Nevada are modeled.
X-Plane is not as well known as other sims. This software has an excellent graphic engine and uses laminar flow theory to generate the flight environment. For those without aerospace engineering degrees, that means this sim is most realistic, and in fact better suited than all the other options above for general aviation simulation. If you’re looking to use your setup to train on how to fly any aircraft in the range between a light experimental to a King Air, X-Plane is for you. It’s multiplayer options are also evolving, but are not quite as sophisticated or easy to use as those of P3d, FSX, and DCS. Like P3d and FSX, X=Plane has the capability of being a global simulator, however it may require the purchase of additional scenery regions. Furthermore, X-Plane uses an auto-generation system to create 3D objects such as buildings and trees. This means that items like major cities or roads, though visible in the simulator, are not necessarily accurate models of their real world counterparts.