One of the perks with free software is that every so often you find a free software nugget that just captivates you with surprise and completeness. All of us have stumbled across applications and projects that we never knew existed, and been pleasantly surprised at devilishly cool they are. Well, here is another one.

A few years back I stumbled across Flightgear. It is a free flight simulator, and seems to offer a pretty compelling experience. Although it intrigued me, I had no interest in learning to fly, so it washed right over me. Well, recently, I have been considering learning to fly, so I started looking into Flightgear.

You know, its a stunning project. Firstly, it has an amazing feature-set. Although much of the feature-set is only understood by hardcore-flight-sim-lunatics, the level of detail in their feature-set would impress anyone. Not only have the team created a physically realistic flight simulator, but the atmosphere and environment has been realistically modelled too – weather, time, moon patterns have been modelled accurately. The community has also created a bunch of additions such as multi-player servers, so you can see who is in the airspace. There is also some ridiculously cool hardware support, as shown off by this dude who was at SCALE in Los Angeles last year, but I did not have much of an interest in it. He has made use of the OpenGC project to make real-world instrumentation hardware. For those of you who don’t want to fill your garage up with the nose of a 747, Flightgear also supports devices such as the CH Flight sim yoke.

One thing that really struck me as exceptional is that the community have clubbed together to create scenery for the entire world. This page allows you to download snippets of scenery from anywhere in the world, and thousands of airports have been modelled and mapped too. You can actually buy the scenery on three DVDs – there is over 15 gigs of it. Doesn’t this just show another fantastic example of how the free software community can work together to create a solid and complete solution for a problem. Stunning.

This is another great example of the power of free software and collaboration. Here we have a niche interest that has attracted contributors to create a hugely compelling piece of software with a huge database of scenery, planes, add-ons, support and documentation. Unless you have a burning desire to fly, it could be easy to miss that Flightgear ever existed and be impressed by the work inside that community, but it does demand recognition.

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