PC-Based Flight Simulator: Is It A Game Or A Flight Simulator?

There are lots of computer flight simulators available. Is the one you own or are considering a game or a true training device? Some of the factors that influence the answer are the purpose for which the program was designed, the realism which is built into the program, and the performance aspects which you believe…

There are lots of computer flight simulators available. Is the one you own or are considering a game or a true training device?

Some of the factors that influence the answer are the purpose for which the program was designed, the realism which is built into the program, and the performance aspects which you believe to be important. Let's discuss them one-by-one.

Why was the simulator designed in the first place: was it intended to be a game or a serious tool for use in flight training? If the goal was to make a game, cost had to be a big factor as games are very price sensitive. Relative ease of use and entertainment value are also important considerations. Successful games offer just the right balance between challenge and ease of use. But easy or hard, a game must be fun!

An aircraft game can be “fun” without being very realistic. If you're having fun, who cares about other factors?

If the program was intended to be used as a training or flight demonstration device, a whole different set of design goals comes into play. Although still important, price is not nearly as critical as it is in the gaming world. After all, any PC-based flight simulator will be millions less than a full-motion professional simulator.

Realism is probably the most important factor. But realism applies to several aspects: aircraft appearance, reproduction of scenery on the ground, depiction of the inside of the cockpit, appearance and action of the instruments, and aircraft flying properties.

Among these, aircraft flying properties are probably the most important if the program is to be taken seriously as a simulator pilots use for learning new skills or maintaining existing ones. A simulator which does not “fly” like the real aircraft is close to worthless as a training device. That's why flying qualities are so important.

A close second is the realism built into the instruments. They must look like the real thing and perform as the real thing. Every pilot knows that the magnetic compass has idiosyncrasies which must be understood and compensated for while flying, especially while flying with reference to instruments only. The program should model this action to be considered a viable training device.

Almost every program, including flight simulator programs, are compromises of conflicting requirements. In the end, whether your program is a game or a flight simulator depends largely on your state of mind.