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.

  • http://pricechild.co.uk PriceChild

    Did you spell the name of this blog incorrectly? If not I can’t figure out the joke…

  • jono

    PriceChild – oops – fixed. :)

  • http://riot777.wordpress.com Riot777

    Yes I agree with you in 100% this is one stunning project, pople have sometimes days when they want just fly away :)

  • http://pricechild.co.uk PriceChild

    btw completely agree with you, Flightgear is amazing.

  • http://www.jroller.com/page/jsight/ Jess Sightler

    I completely agree, this is a fantastic project. The installation and setup are still a bit rough, but the product really is quite nice.

    BTW, are you planning to start your flight training soon? :)

  • jono

    Jess – I am hoping to. I am getting my machine setup with Flightgear to get used to things there, and then I will probably book some flying lessons.

  • BoredOutOfMyMind

    Oh joy, now I can crash Cessnas like I did back in FlightSim98, before games out grew my system. With GeForce6200LE, this should be good!

    Found in the Kubuntu Edgy Universe by Synaptic.

    Thanks for the write up.

  • http://www.kerneljack.com kerneljack

    Wow, I didn’t know you liked to fly! I would love to learn too someday, but real flying scares me a bit :-) I’ve been playing flight sims since forever though and they are the reason I bought a PC in 1990. It was from there that I got interested in general PC programming, sysadmining, etc. I used to stay up nights flying all over the place, although at that time the graphics weren’t that great, the graphics in FSX now are quite spectacular.

    I’ve tried flightgear many times but I always gave up on it because of that 5 minute joystick limitation or am I thinking of X-Plane here? In any case I’m very used to Microsoft’s FS and I found flightgear very different and very lacking in stuff like scenery and good planes and good cockpit views, etc. Maybe it is better now, I will have to see. Unfortunately from looking at the screenshots it doesn’t look like they’ve improved the graphics much. They may have the flight model down pat, but there is a lot more scenery and addons for MS FS.

    Go to http://www.fs2004.com, there are lots of great screenshots and videos there:

    FSX screenshots: http://www.fs2004.com/forums/index.php?showforum=118

    FS videos: http://www.fs2004.com/forums/index.php?s=7802a06c87e9fcfe75bfcdb3a8a73a9c&showforum=17

    some awesome shots: http://www.fs2004.com/forums/index.php?showtopic=98081

    FSX HD video: http://www.fs2004.com/forums/index.php?showtopic=94564

    FSX Australia scenery: http://www.fs2004.com/forums/index.php?showtopic=97072

    I know this is mostly in WMV, but it plays fine in linux and is well worth a look.

    I’m going to build a new system soon especially to play some FSX on it and I will try Flightgear on it too. Good luck on your flight lessons! Definitely get the CH Flightsim Yoke, it’s much better than a joystick.

    “NOTE: sorry, this is a very pro MS FSX post on a pro-linux blog :-) It’s only because I love FS as well and MS FS is what I know best.”

  • jono

    Thanks for the comments kerneljack, and no, I don’t think I will be using FSX. 😛

  • http://www.sheepeatingtaz.co.uk/blog sheepeatingtaz

    Jono, I hate you! 😈

    I haven’t played on a flight sim since leaving windows, and now I have no spare time left!

    What makes it worse is that they have the tiny little airport up in scotland that I learnt to fly at in it’s full glory, so I can re-live the old times (Jeez, I sound old!).

    If you are serious about flying, I may have a couple of manuals somewhere that will help you out, they may be a couple of revisions out of date (if I still even own them) that I can post you if you like?

  • drt

    Nice, hadn’t heard of flightgear. I’ve been flight simming for quite a while. I personally prefer WW2 era prop driven fighter combat sims. IL2/IL2 Forgotten Battles/Pacific fighters is the combat sim to beat atm. Insane amount of planes, great physics, and graphics that will make you believe you were there. It is winderz based though, and the only reason I’ve even got a XP partition. If you ever want to learn some ACM (air combat manuvering), feel free to shoot me an email. We can take a couple of old warbirds out and I’ll teach you how to stay alive.

  • http://www.jonobacon.org/?p=846 jonobacon@home » Exaile

    […] Another post outlining something that seems rather cool, but unnoticed. Last time it was Flightgear. […]

  • bmonty

    Jono, from someone with a pilot certificate, if you want to learn to fly, flightgear (or any sim for that matter) will not help you. There really isn’t much benefit to using a simulator for primary flight training. You need to learn how to fly REAL airplanes first. The benefit of simulators doesn’t really come in to play until you have completed primary flight training and you are ready to move on to more advanced skills (such as instrument flying).

  • ammo

    I have a commercial (multi-engine and single) with instruments. I would have to agree with bmonty in principle. You need to have basic understanding (at least) about flying before you can make good use of these programs. If you are serious about flying, look at elite software (www.flyelite.com/flightsim/ ) Their software doesnt give much in terms of outside scenery, but concentrates on the cockpit panels etc.

    I tried flightsim in the early days, and found it to be inaccurate in alot of things. Make sure you take a few lessons before using any software, so that you dont learn the wrong things from a ‘game’

    Also, learn to use the instruments from the simulators, proper scanning techniques etc. That experience will be invaluable.

  • $$Razor360$$

    Omg flightgear is awesome i can’t believe i only just found out about it :shock::shock::shock::shock::shock::shock::shock::shock::shock::shock::shock::shock:

  • http://www.egameclub.net/337/its-graveyard-out-there.html It’s A Graveyard Out There | Game Reviews, Game Download, Computer Games

    […] Bacon, a Gnome developer, gives an insight into just why Flightgear is so damn […]