Flight Simulators: An Introduction | Games, hardware & history

Think back to your youth, did you want to be a farmer, train driver or even a pilot? If you always wanted to see what it would be like, there is a simulator for almost everything these days. Whether you want to recapture a bit of that childhood dream or even use it as a tool to advance your career, simulators are an appealing genre.

Flight simulators are some of the oldest and most advanced simulators you can get your hands on. Several iterations go back almost 40 years. There are simulators for different users, flight styles and even budgets.

With the much anticipated Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020 this year, we thought that now was a good time to learn a little bit about the history of flight simulators, game development, and even the best hardware to play with.

Microsoft Flight Simulator

One of the oldest flight simulators available is Microsoft Flight Simulator, which came with the release of Flight Simulator 1.0 in the early 80s. As you can see below, this simulator is fairly dated by today’s standards, but at the time it was functioning as a gateway to the world of aviation.

Microsoft Flight Sim

Microsoft has further improved this success with the release of Flight Simulator 2.0, 3.0, 4.0, 5.0 and 5.1. Each of these versions has further refined the graphics and added additional aircraft, airports and textures. Flight Simulator 5.1 also added the ability to have landscape libraries that included the use of satellite imagery when flying.

When Windows 95 was released, Microsoft also developed a version of its flight simulator for the platform. This included a lot more 3D modeling, improved frame rates and an expanded scenery outside of Europe and the USA.

In the 2000s, Microsoft developed Flight Simulator 2000, 2002, and Flight Simulator X in particular. These titles massively increased the number of airports in the game and added other instruments that can be found in real aircraft, including a GPS function. Flight Simulator X even included a multiplayer mode that allowed two players to control the same aircraft and occupy control towers.

Flight Simulator X was also released on Steam in 2014 and re-released as Microsoft Flight Simulator X: Steam Edition. This edition has been updated to take advantage of Steam’s functionality and also allows for easy purchase and installation of an incredible amount of content alongside the 24 planes.

Finally, the latest edition of Microsoft’s flight simulators will be released on August 18, 2020. This title is intended to simulate the entire earth and recreate 3D models of buildings and geographical features.

Microsoft has announced that Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020 will also include more than 40,000 airports and over two million cities.

X plane

One of the main competitors of the Microsoft flight simulator series is X-Plane. X-Plane was originally released in 1995 and is now in its 11th version. It is known for its realism and attention to detail.

With an improved simulation model for its aircraft, X-Plane quickly won over flight enthusiasts who strive for realism. X-Plane also allows pilots to connect in multiplayer, and has helped create many close-knit flight communities.

A disadvantage of X-Plane (and many other flight simulators) is that although this is a great looking game, many of the scenes and files required to make it look optimal are only available as payware.


Prepar3D was developed by Lockheed Martin and is a flight simulator that is aimed more at the professional crowd. The official website states: “Ideal for commercial, academic, professional or military teaching. With Prepar3D, learning scenarios can be quickly created anywhere in the virtual world. “

This simulator is widely used by those who train for their real pilot license, which speaks volumes for its realism. While it’s not cheap, a professional license will bring you back $ 199.00, but you can get an academic license for $ 59.95.


If you want to get a taste of flying before jumping into a paid simulator, FlightGear is a free, open source option that does an excellent job. FlightGear is intended to become a simulator used in academic environments, pilot training and of course in a gaming environment. It offers three different flight dynamic models that you can play with.

There are over 20,000 accurate real-world airports, a detailed sky model, and even multi-screen support. While not the best looking simulator on the market, it doesn’t look terrible and even has some fairly moderate hardware requirements.

Combat flight simulators

Similar to conventional flight simulators, many people first fell in love with flight simulators using a combat simulator. Combat flight simulators offer a faster experience than a conventional flight simulator and put you in the hot seat of some of the fastest and most dangerous aircraft in the world.

If you are familiar with the Microsoft Flight Simulator series, they also offer the Microsoft Combat Flight Simulator series to try out – although it is now showing its age.

One of the currently most popular games is the IL-2 Sturmovik series. This is a WWII combat flight simulator focusing on air battles from the Eastern Front. Although this is a fairly old title, numerous updates and content packs have been released that make gaming a pleasure today.

If you’re looking for a more modern feel, Digital Combat Simulator is a realistic simulation of military aircraft with impressive graphics. You can currently purchase a free trial version with a limited number of vehicles and limited airspace. This is a continuously evolving game that features some of the most detailed military aircraft that can be found in every Sim.

You will usually find an air combat simulator for almost all major military conflicts of the past 100 years. If you’re not looking for simulation, some games like Tom Clancys H.A.W.X offer a casual approach without sacrificing action.

Take your simulation to the next level

If you’re pretty interested in simulators, you’ve undoubtedly bought some kind of peripheral in the past. There are steering wheels for racing games, rail controls for train simulators and of course a whole range of options for frequent flyers.

It’s possible to experience a flight simulator with just a mouse and keyboard, or even a controller, but this can quickly become frustrating and fun. Fortunately, there are some pretty cheap options when it comes to joysticks.

At the simplest level, you can buy a joystick or HOTAS (hands-on gas and stick) for around $ 30 to steer your plane more precisely. Some even have a separate throttle control, and most offer some buttons that you can assign to functions such as folding or trimming.

As with most things, the sky is the limit. You can easily spend up to $ 500 on a decent joystick, and the price goes up if you choose to buy a yoke and some rudder pedals. If you’re just starting your trip, you don’t have to splash around. You may want to save some of this money on DLC or other simulators.

Companies like Thrustmaster, Logitech and CH Products offer great products for different budget levels.

In most flight simulators, you can also pick up additional aircraft from third-party developers. However, this is not cheap. Many models easily match the price of the game, and some can cost over $ 100. However, they pay attention to quality and attention to detail in these models and they are definitely aimed at a hardcore user.

Can your system handle a simulator?

If we take another quick look at the upcoming Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020 trailer, we can see that it’s a pretty impressive looking game. If so much is rendered and calculated at the same time, it can put a strain on your system.

You can disable some of these features, reduce graphics and objects, or even reduce the realism settings if necessary. However, with a few simple upgrades, you should be able to get the most out of your simulator.

You want to focus on your processor and graphics card as a priority for flight simulators. Although Microsoft has indicated that the flight simulator 2020 will not be as resource-intensive as in the past, you still want a decent PC if you want to play other intensive simulators.

Unfortunately, many simulators do not currently use multithreading to the best of their ability, but a decent AMD Ryzen processor with a large number of cores would be a good starting point for any flight simulator build.

Combine this with a graphics card with a decent amount of VRAM and a system with at least 16 GB of RAM, and you should be prepared for a comfortable flight. If you want ideas on where to start upgrading, read some of our build guides.

Last word

Flight simulators are a perfect way to fly through the clouds for a few hours. We hope that this introduction to flight simulators helped you choose one to try next, or even gave you some tips on upgrading your PC to the latest flight simulations.

With the launch of Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020 in just a few weeks, we can’t wait to see what it will look like. At first glance, the graphics look extraordinary, so you should definitely look at the system requirements before buying to get the most out of the game.

Are you a flight simulator veteran or relatively new to the genre? Will you pick up the new Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020 next month? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

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