4 Ways to Display Flight Simulator Instrument Panel

4 Ways to Display Flight Instruments | Flight Simulator Instrument Panel

Developers struggle to create software that displays a legible flight simulator instrument panel, and also present a realistic outside world with scenery that stretches to the horizon. Today I’ll focus on viewing the flight instruments. You have a few options to choose from and each has its own benefit trade offs. It’s up to you to decide which flight simulator instrument panel works best with your particular needs.

 

TrackIR with DTG Flight School
TrackIR with DTG Flight School and the DIY Deluxe Desktop Flight Sim

 

TrackIR $140.00

I’ve used TrackIR from Naturalpoint for a long time. It is a view tracking device that allows you to look around the virtual cockpit by moving your head. TrackIR “sees” your head move in 6 axes, also called 6 degrees of freedom. Instead of explaining all 6, I’ll just say your real life head also moves in 6 degrees of freedom, and leave it at that. As a result, you can lean into the flight simulator instrument panel if you want to see something closer. You can also look out the windows, look over your shoulder, look around struts and other parts of the airplane. The picture above shows TrackIR with the DIY Deluxe Desktop Flight Sim.

TrackIR works with a single screen, or multiple screens. It works with a very wide variety of titles: Prepar3D, X-Plane, FSX, Flight Sim World, DTG Flight School, DCS World, even Elite Dangerous, War Thunder, IL2, and many others. In conclusion, TrackIR is very useful but it’s still difficult to use with a GPS or other instruments that require fine tuning.

 

Native FSX instruments in the DIY Flight Sim Pod
Native FSX instruments in the DIY Flight Sim Pod

 

Moving/resizing windows (free)

You can move and resize the 2D windows in old FSX and FSX Steam. When you type Shift+1, or Shift +2, Shift+3, etc. then FSX will display different windows that you can move around your screen. You see how this appears in the picture above with the DIY Flight Sim Pod. This trick also works with multiple screens. For example, you could show the outside view on all three monitors, and then in the bottom of your middle screen, show smaller windows with the flight instruments. You can also re-size the windows. That’s all great, except FSX does not save these settings on exit, and you have to set up all your views again the next time you turn on your computer.

However, there is a way to make FSX save the flight simulator instrument panel settings by using a handy freeware utility. More about that here.

 

Air Manager with the DIY Deluxe Desktop Flight Sim
Air Manager with the DIY Deluxe Desktop Flight Sim

 

Air Manager $36.00 + separate monitor or computer

Air Manger works with Prepar3D, X-Plane 9, 10, and 11, FSX and FSX Steam. I’ve personally used Air Manager for displaying the flight simulator instrument panel on a separate screen. What I mean is, a totally separate monitor that is set aside for just the flight instruments. Flat panel computer monitors are so cheap that I literally have 3 in my house just waiting for a project. Air Manager can also work on an iPad or other tablet computer.

Air Manager is very versatile, see it above with the DIY Deluxe Desktop Flight Sim. I run the software on an old, obsolete computer (running Windows Vista) which is connected via network to my flight sim computer. A separate computer means there is zero impact on my frame rates. Download full flight simulator instrument panels, mix and match gauges (free), even create your own (also free).

 

Saitek Pro-Flight gauge
Saitek Pro-Flight gauge

 

Saitek Pro Flight Instruments $169.99 each

The most expensive option is the Saitek Pro Flight Instrument gauges. I listed the price, but that is only for one single, physical USB gauge. Consequently, if you want a panel consisting of 6 flight instruments and an RPM gauge, that is 6 x $169.99 = $1019.94. I haven’t personally tried these gauges because they are so incredibly expensive. In addition, you are limited primarily to round-gauge type displays.

 

Flight Simulator Instrument Panel

In conclusion, there are several ways to display a flight simulator instrument panel and the method you choose will depend on your needs and your budget. Have you tried anything I haven’t listed here? If so, let me know in the comments (you don’t have to log in to comment).

Golden Age of flight simulators

The Golden Age of Flight Simulators: 4 Reasons Why

“The Golden Age of Flight Simulators” I started using that phrase in 2016 as I noticed fresh inspiration from software developers, and a renewed optimism in the flight simulator community. See in the picture, that’s what my old website looked like in Spring of 2016. Now, over a year later, the evidence is undeniable. We are entering a new renaissance of home flight simulation. Watch the Frooglesim News each week and it’s obvious. The future we’ve waited for is here now, and it’s time to go flying!

 

1. Flight Sim Software

One of the most significant signals that things have changed is this: we have real choices now. Not just choices, but difficult choices. How are you going to decide between X-plane 11 and Prepar3D v4? Both are outstanding flight sim platforms and you have many things to consider when you choose. What will Dovetail’s new Flight Sim World bring to the table? Time will tell.

This leads to another sign of the times: 3rd party developers with products for multiple flight sim platforms. You can get the same outstanding add-on aircraft and scenery for whatever software you’re using. Well almost. Several developers issued a joint press release on July 4, 2017 to say they are no longer building products for old Flight Simulator X. They declared their independence from FSX!

 

2. Hardware and More!

One subject you won’t see much of on Frooglesim News is hardware. Today’s flight sim pilot has many choices in flight controls, switch panels, displays, touch screens, graphics cards, and more. Take displays, for example. You can buy an excellent 32” HDTV for less than $200. Most quality graphics cards can now power three displays, so why not buy three 32” TVs and stretch out the view to over 6 feet wide! Add some PVC pipes, lumber, and elbow-grease and you have an impressive, affordable, home cockpit.

Let’s not forget the advances made by non-ESP based flight sim platforms like DSC World and Aerofly FS2. These are considered by some to be “FS lite” because they don’t have native global scenery and all the weather and ATC options we’re used to. Nonetheless, these sims sport smooth frame rates (much higher than even P3D and X-Plane) and excellent detail for the limited geography they offer. DCS World and Aerofly FS2 also have beautifully rendered aircraft. You’ll find the higher fidelity aircraft in DCS World as compared to FS2.

 

P3Dv4 flight simulator with multiple screens
P3Dv4 flight simulator with multiple screens

 

3. Virtual Reality?

What will Virtual Reality bring to the table? As of yet, no one knows. VR headsets demand performance that is difficult to achieve with flight simulator programs. For successful VR, you must have high frame rates, over 90 frames per second. Furthermore, flight sim software has exponentially more scenery rendering than any game software. Plus, once you put on a VR headset, you can no longer see your controls, checklists, switch panels, or anything that is not in the virtual world. For now, nobody knows how much VR will impact the flight sim genre.

 

4. Watch Frooglesim News

In conclusion, why is it the Golden Age of Flight Sims? Well, Froogle says so too! Take a look at this episode of Frooglesim News at 27:11.

 

Virtual Reality for Flight Simulators, is it time?

Virtual Reality for Flight Simulators, Is it Time? – Part 1

Is a Virtual Reality headset worth the money if you are a flight simulator enthusiast? It depends on the type of simulating you do. In this article I’ll tell you about my first month with the Oculus Rift headset and Virtual Reality for Flight Simulators. I’ll discuss the four different flight sim platforms I tried with VR and also the physical and financial impacts of these experiments.

The first thing you should know is this: Virtual Reality is a game changer. Accent on the word “game.”  I’ll go into more detail in a moment.

The second thing you should know: Virtual Reality costs real money, plenty of it.

Upgrade the Gear

I started my maiden voyage into the world of Virtual Reality for flight simulators a few months ago when I ordered an Oculus Rift. They were on backorder at the time, but even so, I received mine a full month before I expected to. VR headsets need substantial processing power to work effectively, so I bought a new computer at Best Buy and the specs are at the end of this article. I also bought a Leap Motion sensor while it was on sale so I could experiment with FlyInside FSX. If none of that means anything to you, don’t worry, I’ll come back to that in a minute.

Upgrade the Controls

I also upgraded an F311 Side-joystick HOTAS by making the control platforms wider to better align the controls with the armrests of my chair. Furthermore, I added a trackball mouse and a drink holder (don’t fly thirsty). I also raised the reinforcement bar so I could use my favorite rudder pedals and attached all fittings with self drilling screws. I used this F311 frame with great success, I can’t VR without it.

For these experiments, I said goodbye to my trusty Saitek switch panels and keyboard mods… you can’t see them while wearing a VR headset. Now, come with me as we explore Virtual Reality for flight simulators…

 

Elite Dangerous virtual cockpit, sidewinder
Elite Dangerous virtual cockpit

Elite Dangerous

My first flight in VR was in space and it was breathtaking but just a bit disappointing. Everything worked correctly, but I found that my graphics card could not power the Oculus Rift at 1080p, so I’m temporarily stuck at 768 until I can afford a more powerful graphics card. Even so… I said the experience is breathtaking and it is. You have stereoscopic vision in VR, just like you have in real life. Your left eye and your right eye see slightly offset views of each object, so this is what makes close objects look close and far objects look far away. In Elite Dangerous, this means I could for the first time, sense the size of the spaceship’s flight deck. I could look down at my arms in the game and see how close they are and then look outside and comprehend the enormity of the space station.

The game isn’t on a screen any more, it’s all around you. You’re inside the game. This is most obvious in combat because you can look up and back and over your shoulder at your enemy. You also should be fully HOTAS so all aircraft functions are assigned to the buttons on your joystick and throttle because it’s too inconvenient to use the keyboard. That means you also have to memorize all your button assignments. One of the great limitations of VR is that you can no longer see real-world buttons and switches. However, you can use Voice Attack to simply speak commands to your spaceship. For example, you can verbally tell it to extend landing gear, and that is perfectly plausible in this futuristic environment.

Conclusion: from now on, I will only play Elite Dangerous in Virtual Reality. That’s how good it is.

 

DCS cockpit

DCS World

I couldn’t wait to try DCS World with the Oculus Rift, but unfortunately it didn’t go as smoothly as Elite Dangerous. First of all, the DCS menus were very difficult to use and in some cases, they just didn’t work at all. It was a time-consuming chore just to set up my Saitek X-52 HOTAS controls and rudder pedals. I flew several tutorial missions, but many of the lesson tasks required the use of keyboard commands, so I had to put my keyboard on my lap. I could kind of see the keyboard in the gap between the bottom of the Rift headset and my cheek, but this is not a reasonable option. Perhaps I could have assigned specific functions to HOTAS buttons, but there are so many of them and, again, navigating the DCS controls menu in VR is a crapshoot at best.

Disclaimer: it’s really difficult to take screen shots in Virtual Reality for flight simulators, so for this article I borrowed representative pics from other sources. This has no impact on the validity of my findings. 

I appreciate the realism of DCS World, but lifting the Rift headset repeatedly to look at a paper checklist or the keyboard is a no-go. I applaud the young man in this video for diligently looking at his checklist, but every time he lifts the headset with one hand, the Rift lenses come in contact with his forehead. Be very cautious with the Rift lenses, they are delicate! Repeated exposure to sweat or hair or grease can damage the Oculus Rift lenses.

DCS World looks astonishingly great, even if it’s not fully usable. One of the aircraft I selected was the TF-51 Mustang and I really felt how cramped the cockpit is. I also tried a few landings and found them to be a more realistic experience in VR than my previous experience. Instrumentation was a little hard to read because of the lower resolution required of my graphics card. I would love to try all of this again at 1080p.

Conclusion: I won’t play DCS World again in VR until there is some work around or fix for the menus.

 

Read Part 2: I give Flight Simulator X a check ride, go into battle in War Thunder, and discuss the physical and financial issues of Virtual Reality for flight simulators