One of the things that I enjoy doing in my reality, is flying in my flight simulator. As an aspiring pilot that is still saving up some cash to pay for my license, this gives me an opportunity to fly on a much lower budget. Over the past seven years, I have spent about 2000 hours in various planes in different parts of the world.
There are many different companies that make a flight simulator. The one that I primarily use is Microsoft’s Flight Simulator. I’ve used it since 2000 when I first purchased Flight Simulator 2000, upgrading with every new release. The latest version Flight Simulator X, which is very system resource intensive, so it doesn’t run well on my current system. The best is Flight Simulator 2004, A Century of Flight (sometimes referred to as FS9).
If you don’t want to use a Microsoft product, X-Plane might be for you. Developed by Austin Meyer, X-Plane is available for Windows, Mac, and Linux. In addition, the latest version is certified by the FAA (see website for more details). I have used X-Plane and can say that it is pretty good and the aircraft seem quite real. I personally prefer FS9 due to the larger add-on selection and graphics. However, I would encourage each user to try both and make your own judgement.
As for FS9 add-ons, there are countless sites out there that provide both freeware and payware downloads. The biggest and the one that I visit everyday is Avsim. They have forums, a pilot store, and a huge library that is updated every few hours. I also maintain a list of freeware developers that design all types of aircraft, called the FS2004 Aircraft Directory. Here is a list of a few others:
Simviation, FlightSim, Hovercontrol, and Sim-Outhouse.
This is an example screenshot that I took earlier today when I was making low passes at SEA-TAC (KSEA) in a newly released model of the A-26 Intruder. This model is designed by Milton Shupe and available from Sim-Outhouse.