I recently came across the opportunity to make my first decision toward my sport aviation journey. I had about $100 to spend, so I had a choice: I could book a discovery flight at my local airport, or I could get a flight simulator and a joystick. One experience would be real and over in an hour, the other would simulate reality, but I could play forever!

Why Not FSX?

If I were making this choice in late 2006, I’d probably go with Microsoft Flight Simulator X, just because they have dominated the flight simulator market for so long. Microsoft hasn’t updated their flight sim in several years, and I chose between FSX (released in 2006) and X-Plane 11 (released in 2017).

First Impressions

“Woah, that’s a massive download.” was my earliest impression. The core game and the included free DLC is pushing 60GB! Once I downloaded and launched, X-Plane 11 greeted with a basic, no-nonsense menu with a handful of options. I started my first flight, and promptly crashed. My joystick wasn’t working properly.

X-Plane Flight Configuration Screen

Joystick Configuration

It was unfortunate that my joystick didn’t load into a default configuration for X-plane, considering its popularity. Overall, not a huge deal. I would have been configuring my joystick anyway, but it’s more likely I would have done it later if I wasn’t satisfied with the default. As a total non-pilot civilian, I was (and still am) struggling with what specifically all the hundreds of commands are, and which ones I should map where. Despite being unclear on the commands, mapping the buttons is very straightforward.

Graphics

Woah. These are some of the cleanest graphics I’ve seen in a game. Runs well enough on my old GTX 970. It hangs up every now and again, but it’s barely worth mentioning. Only a 1 second hang every 30 minutes or so. X-Plane 11 is extremely stable running on Windows 10. I’ve not had a single crash (knock on wood).

This screengrab doesn’t even do it justice.

Simulation (Gameplay?)

Like I mentioned earlier, I’m not yet a pilot, so I can’t yet speak to the realism of the flight dynamics. However, the fact that X-Plane 11 comes with an airfoil maker leads me to believe the dynamics are pretty darn accurate. The airfoil maker allows users to design and test their own custom wing shapes, which is perfect for those interested in designing and building their own planes from scratch, plans, or kits!

X-Plane 11 also comes with a plane maker application that allows users to create and test their own full aircraft from scratch. You can create your design in plane maker, or even import your own .obj 3D files.

My only minor complaint is the radio communication within the sim. The speech isn’t the most realistic and comes off feeling very robotic, but it is great to help me get a better idea of how aviation radio communication is supposed to work.

Weather System

Okay, this thing is awesome. You can program every possible weather scenario at virtually any airport in the world. There are options to set custom cloud cover and wind conditions ever 10,000 feet. Perfect for practicing the most difficult crosswind landings.

Custom Weather Options Page

My personal favorite option is downloading live weather conditions at the location where you’ll be taking off. That way it keeps things interesting while also providing the most realistic flying conditions.

Time of day and live weather conditions matched to the real world

Community

Despite this game being nearly 2 years old, it doesn’t feel old at all. I think the biggest reason being the community behind this software. I feel bad calling it a game! And after buying the simulator, X-Plane even offers users the opportunity to upgrade their license for professional use.

The base game comes with 11 default aircraft, which is plenty in my opinion, to learn the basic mechanics of flight. However, there is a massive community on xplane.org who generously provide a vast library of new content. There you can download new planes, airports, and even plugins. (Hopefully there will soon be a plugin that will improve radio communication!) All-in-all, X-Plane 11 has proven to be an excellent simulator and doesn’t seem to be going anywhere anytime soon.

Full disclosure: at the time of this writing, I’ve logged 19 hours on X-Plane 11. I have every intention to keep flying and customizing for the many years that it will take me to make a fortune, get my pilot’s license, and rent a plane on a regular basis. But until then… X-Plane 11 is awesome.