We’ve all heard the “As Real as it Gets” phrase used in relation to FSX, but how well does that actually stand up?  First we need to define “real”, but “real” means different things to different people. If you ask twenty different simmers to define “real”, you’ll get twenty different definitions. For my own purposes, I see “real” as meaning that the kind of things that real-world pilots think about when planning and flying are the kind of things I want to be thinking about as a simmer. Within reason of course; this is a hobby, not a second job. What I’d like to look at here is where FSX falls short of the realism ideal, and what solutions are available to the virtual pilot who would like to push out the edges of FSX’s realism envelope.

Some caveats

  1. I’m not a real-world pilot, so I’m not claiming any expertise. I base my opinions on the knowledge of those who are far more expert than I am.
  2. Any references to specific add-ons are for information only. They should not be seen as recommendations.
  3. Any lists of add-ons are in alphabetical order. Please do not infer any suggestion of quality or popularity from product’s place in a list.

In out-of-the-box FSX, there are some things you don’t have to think about, which a real–world pilot does:


Runway surface conditions

Perhaps it’s a sad reflection on modern gaming priorities that FSX only models the visual aspect of wet or snowy/icy runway conditions.  It might look good, but that’s all. The effect on tyre grip isn’t modeled. The FSX pilot can land in any weather and know that he can stop his aircraft in the normal distance. Real-world pilots aren’t so lucky. They have to take the condition of the runway into account when planning landings. I’ve been unable to find any freeware mod that improves this, but FSCaptain and Sim Physics X both model runway contamination caused by weather conditions.


Engine and Airframe Icing

FSX icing conditions ahead

Once upon a time, I used to own Terminal Reality’s “Fly!”. I remember cheerfully taking off in my C172 in wintertime IMC, then wondering after a short time why I was having so much trouble keeping the Skyhawk in the air. This is not something that happens in FSX. It appears that the icing modelling is actually there, but has been toned down to such an extent that you don’t need to worry about it. Some payware aircraft include ice modelling, such as the Aerosoft Diamond Katana and the Majestic Q400. For an aircraft-agnostic approach, there are FSCaptain and Sim Physics X. There is also a freeware mod called “Ice Gauge for FS9 and FSX”, which is worth investigating.


Thunderstorms in FSX

Thunderstorms are a weather phenomenon which pilots tend to treat with a great deal of respect. In FSX however, apart from increased turbulence, thunderstorms aren’t such a worry.   FSCaptain makes thunderstorms much more dangerous with the possibility of engine or systems failures and turbulence damage to control surfaces.

Thermals and Ridge Lift

It’s said, particularly by virtual glider pilots, that the FSX depiction of thermals falls some way short of reality.  In addition, there seems to be little or no ridge lift and sink, as occurs in the real world when wind passes over mountains. Two products that seek to address this shortcoming are CumulusX and Ideal Flight, by adding ridge lift and portraying thermals more realistically.


Engine Management

FSX Antonov An-2 engine fire

This area concerns not just engine failures, but engine problems arising from abuse by the pilot, or poor maintenance. FSX seems to allow you to flog your engines all day or idle at very low revs with no ill-effects (the Acceleration P-51 excepted).  It’s also generally held that the FSX modelling of turboprop engines is inadequate. Real-world pilots, on the other hand, need to look after their engines so that their engines will look after them.  Payware aircraft whose engines need to be handled properly include all A2A Accusim aircraft, the Aerosoft Katana, Catalina and Twin Otter Extended, the Sibwings An-2,  the Flight1 King Air B200 and the RealAir Turbine Duke. For a freeware approach, there is RealEngine, which can be used to make the management of any piston engine more realistic.



FSX Catalina oil leak

I’ve always thought that there’s not much point in having all those gauges in front of you if you don’t have a reason to look at them. Combined with engine management, flying with failures enabled gives the virtual pilot a reason to keep an eye on those gauges even if that isn’t always where problems show themselves. Failures can be random or pilot-induced. Apart from poor engine management, pilot-induced failures might include lowering gear or flaps at above the stated safe speed, or result from improper use of carburettor heat, etc. While real-world pilots seem to say that failures happen a lot less frequently than we might imagine, the mere prospect does add a little spice to the virtual flight experience and keeps you scanning those gauges. Among the add-ons that provide this functionality are Ideal Flight, FSCaptain and FSPassengersX.



I hope this information will help those seeking to close the “realism gap” some more.  I haven’t covered areas like weather, air traffic control and flight planning. Each of these is a fairly weighty subject in itself beyond the scope of this article.  I would also like to point out that the above list of products is not intended to be exhaustive, but to make the virtual pilot more aware of the options that are available and to encourage further investigation and research. New products arrive periodically and certainly the tendency with add-on aircraft seems to be swinging towards more realistic treatments, which can only help the ongoing realism quest.



This article was posted in Blog, Flight Safety, Flight Simulator, Flightsim Tips


Paul Synnott

Paul lives in Ireland and works in the IT sector. He started flight simming with military sims such as Falcon 4 and European Air War, but moved on to civilian flight simulation when he found that the combat was spoiling the enjoyment of the flying. Paul currently prefers general aviation flying, and bush flying in particular.

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