I play Microsoft Flight Simulator quite a bit. It is mainly the reason I became interested in aviation and finally decided to start my training. In my early days (i.e. FS2002 and earlier) I played with a mouse and keyboard.
The first major transition for me was buying a joystick and using it in place of the arrow keys. Last summer I finally "cracked" and purchased a yoke and rudder pedals to add more realism to my simulated flying. Plus I already had experience in an airplane and the joystick just didn’t feel right anymore. There’s something special about flying with one hand on the yoke and the other on the throttle quadrant.
I still use the joystick when I fly military aircraft, but it has been replaced by my CH Yoke and rudder pedals for civil ones. In this post I discuss my flight simulation setup and provide some suggestions for setting up your own. Let me know what you think, what you would do differently and what your flight sim setup looks like in the comments!
Here is what my desk looks like when I’m running flight sim for training exercises (click the image for the bigger picture):
Since I train in general aviation aircraft this is be oriented towards general aviation flight simulation. Fighter jets are a totally different story and I use a joystick for those. When I’m just playing around I don’t take out the maps but rather use SkyVector.com for quick reference charts.
Dual monitors are essential (the third one on the right I found but I don’t use for flight simming). The larger your field of view, the better. I am working on getting a third monitor hooked up to get an ever wider field of view. Thanks to my Nvidia Geforce 9800 GTX+ I can extend the screen across both monitors now for a resolution of 3360×1050. The monitors themselves are 22" Acer AL2216W’s but you could really hook any monitor and/or projector to the computer. A note though, you will want to use the 3D Cockpit view when running flight sim. This will not only give a more "in-plane" feel, it will maximize the amount of screen space devoted to the view outside of the plane.
If you don’t feel like shelling out the cash for another monitor (or if you’re running Windows Vista or 7 and the horizontal span is not available anymore) you can opt for a TrackIR system. The TrackIR is composed of two parts: a webcamera and infrared emitters. The IR emitters are connected to your head (according to the site any headset will do). When you move your head, the webcamera detects the movement and relays it to the game. There’s a few demonstration videos here to give you a better idea of what TrackIR does.
If you also don’t want to shell out any money for the TrackIR system, you can build your own using the FreeTrack instructions. FreeTrack is basically the same as TrackIR except it is open source. You can build your own IR emitter and after running their software you achieve the same results. I am looking to build my own and will post in the future about my success (and/or failure).
One of the items I acquired last summer, this yoke has really come in handy. It has 12 programmable buttons which can be assigned any function as needed by the game. I’ll discuss my button setup in a later post but rest assured you can set them up any way you would like.
The yoke also has a throttle quadrant built in with three levers for throttle, propeller and mixture. The POV hat switch on the right handle allows you to "turn your head" while in the airplane. The feedback is through a series of springs which try to impede some motion in an attempt to mimic the forces encountered in the air. This may be a bit disappointing for those of you expecting force feedback but for me it works just fine. Plus think of all the calculations and CPU power which would be dedicated to the force feedback. INSANE! Not to mention you’d have to get the "feel" of each plane just right.
CH Rudder Pedals
The rudder pedals were bundled with the yoke, but even if they weren’t I would have picked them up.
The pedals come in handy (or is that footy?) when taxiing on the ground, maintaining a coordinated turn (depending what plane you’re flying) and to keep lined up with the runway on your approach to landing. You can also use them to brake when needed (asymmetric braking ftw!) The pedals are nice and large so even someone with a size 13 foot like myself can use them comfortably. The same spring-based feedback system is used in the pedals too so the feel is quite different from an actual plane though the movement is the same: heels for rudder, toes for brakes.
Joystick (military, optional)
I have given up using a joystick for general aviation simming. There’s something weird about using a joystick to control a Cessna 172. When I play military aviation games which are comprised mostly of dogfights I still use my trusty Logitech Attack 3.
It has a throttle control on it and 11 programmable buttons. To tell the truth, I usually use only 1 or 2 and the rest I forget what I programmed them as.
A headset is not a necessity however it does add to the feeling of being in an actual airplane. I used my Microsoft Lifechat LX-3000 until I decided to change it from USB to 3.5mm. That didn’t go so well so now I’m stuck using my speakers or a pair of headphones, depending on my mood.
The LX-3000 is one of the most comfortable headsets I have worn even with my glasses on. It covered my ears fully and drowned out most of the outside noise leaving just the game’s sounds. It is a USB headset so you will have to give up a port but the quality of sound is excellent (by my untrained ear at least). A headset, or at least a microphone, is a necessity if you plan on being part of a virtual airline (upcoming post) and with prices being so low you pick a decent one up for a few dollars.
Other Items (optional)
Maps and charts are not a necessity since most aircraft are equipped with GPS in Flight Simulator (even some that shouldn’t be). If you do have a hankering for holding a piece of paper in your hand and finding your way around, you can go to your local flight school and ask if they have some outdated maps you can use. Tell them it is for flight sim and NEVER, EVER use them for actual flight! It is against the law to fly with outdated materials. If you happen to have a laptop or second computer handy, point your browser to Skyvector.com. While the charts there are only for the US and Canada, they’re free and easy to follow.
You will not have to do all of the planning that usually needs to be done before long flights so there is no need for a knee board or any type of other planning materials. A notebook to log your travels and planning will do just fine. Also remember to turn on the logging function to log your flights.
Well that’s it for my set up, now it’s your turn. What do you use?