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FlightGear : Flight Simulator with Virtual Cockpits & Multiple Aircraft

Flight Gear isn't a game. It's a way of life. It's a hobby, an education, a job. Want to take off in a Cessna jet? Set your throttle - rendered in the full 3D cockpit- to idle. Then flick the switch on the batteries. Generators, avionics, and both left and right ignitions. Hit the starter on each engine and watch them spool up to speed, then switch on anti-collision, your navigation lights, and your taxi light. If you want, you can switch the seatbelt light on, or radio the tower. And you probably should have checked the weather, too: if it's foggy or raining you could be in trouble. Only once you've done all these things can you set your flaps, release the parking brake, and trundle along the runway bouncing fruitlessly until you Inadvertently bash into a building and have to do it all again.

Chocks away!

This latest update, 2.4.0, includes some rather cool additions if you can get your head around them. The weather model, in particular, is much improved. It still puts in current weather data, or supports detailed custom conditions, but now processes the data according to real world physics, meaning you'll experience all the transitionary effects between weather boundaries. This means cold fronts, thermals, and even the unusual cloud formations often found around mountains and other terrain. Essentially, even more excuses as to why you've sent your virtual passengers screaming to their doom.

Buildings and cities have been somewhat improved, but you shouldn't expect much in the way of scenery. Elevation and formation are pretty accurate if Terrain sync is working properly; we found ourselves in some particularly flat, featureless locations when attempting to start somewhere more out of the way. Even in properly rendered locations the land is sparsely embellished and your interaction with it still rudimentary at best. Go nose first into the ground next to one of the newly metallic objects and you'll still end up jabbed into the blurry grass like a well-aimed lawn dart. But the ground is where you'll spend the least of your time if you're lucky or skilled. Water texturing and reflection is now much more realistic, and the 3D cloud model is as brilliant as ever, so it's clear that Flight Gear is detailed where it matters. Plenty more has been done besides. The community has contributed new planes, including Second World War fighters and popular light aircraft, adding to the 200 or so available at www.flight gear.org/download/ aircraft-v2-4. The AI pilots are now much cleverer, following more realistic flight paths and communicating with each other and air traffic control.

Support has even been added for external devices such as real Garmin GPS modules and separate screens, which ties in with the new 2D panel rendering options to make it easier to use Flight Gear in a more complex flight sim configuration. And that's where it really belongs: Flight Gear is a complicated, exhaustively detailed sim which is about as good as you 'II ever get from a free community generated project. Yes, there are graphical bugs. Yes, it's quirky. But somehow it feels just right. By which we mean impossibly difficult. Pull up! Pull up!


FlightGear 2.4.0

Developer: FlightGear Team
Web: www.flightgear.org
Price: Free under GPL

Features - 7/10
Performance - 6/10
Ease of use - 9/10
Documentation - 9/10

Not a massive leap forward, but the intricate little details make this update worth checking out.

Final Rating - 8/10