Find and fly your airplane in X-Plane

Hi! It’s Randy Witt again, from X-Plane.com. This is the third email in the course on using a flight simulator to become a better pilot. A couple days ago, I showed you how to use the autopilot, and before that, we talked about practicing approaches in the simulator.

Today I’d like to share with you how you can find a virtual version of your favorite aircraft and then fly it in X-Plane.

About the add-on aircraft available

X-Plane comes with about 40 airplanes, but in the 20 years we’ve been doing this, no one has ever said “40 airplanes, huh? That’s probably all I’ll ever want to fly.” Of course you want more aircraft! More to the point, you want to fly the same aircraft in X-Plane that you fly in the real world. Luckily, X-Plane makes it easy to add an unlimited number of custom aircraft.

There are two varieties of aircraft available for the simulator: freeware planes (which are free) and payware planes (which—you guessed it—cost money). As with most things, you generally get what you pay for when it comes to these planes. Certainly there are many, many freeware planes that are fun to fly, with reasonably accurate flight models, but if you want the most realistic instrument panels and models, you’ll probably have to pay for it.

Where do you find free aircraft?

There are a few great places to find new aircraft. One is the X-Plane 10 Aircraft page on our fan site, X-Plane.org. (Note: Before downloading from X-Plane.org, you’ll need to create a free account there.) Another is the X-Plane France site.

Most of the airplanes on those sites are free (known as “freeware” in the flight sim world), but a small number require purchasing (these are “payware”). Hint: You can sort the aircraft on X-Plane.org by “highest rated” to get the best aircraft models first.

To get you started, here are a few more of my favorite freeware airplanes:

Where do you get the best aircraft for training?

When it comes to paying for the highest-quality aircraft, there are a few places that I would recommend looking first.

If you’re especially interested in practicing IFR approaches, check out the products from Fly This Sim. They sell a number of aircraft models with some of the most realistic avionics simulations available. Here are a few of my favorites:

Note that all of the above models require that you first buy and install the $40 SimAVIO 2 panel. The models are all pretty pricey (ranging from an additional $30 up to $100), but the avionics are second only to having a dedicated $1000+ piece of real-world flight hardware connected to the simulator. (Note also that the SimAVIO aircraft above will only work in Windows.)

If you instead fly airliners, you’ll be interested in the following add-ons:

You downloaded an aircraft… Now what do you do with it?

When you download a custom aircraft from the web sites above, it will typically be in a compressed folder (usually a ZIP file) that contains the airplane and all its various paint jobs, airfoils, etc. Once that compressed folder is downloaded, you should be able to double-click on it to open or expand it.

You should move the contents of that compressed folder into the folder called “Aircraft” within the X-Plane 10 directory, which should be on the Desktop. So, to install your custom aircraft, just:

  1. Double-click on the X-Plane 10 folder on the Desktop.
  2. In that folder, double-click on the “Aircraft” folder.
  3. Open the compressed folder that you previously downloaded and drag-and-drop its contents into the window that you opened the “Aircraft” folder in.

Be sure to place the new aircraft files in a folder with the name of the aircraft—for instance, for a newly downloaded Piper J-3 Cub, the folder path in Windows might look like this:

C:\Documents and Settings\User\Desktop\X-Plane 10\Aircraft\Piper Cub 

With the new aircraft in the proper directory, open up X-Plane. In the aircraft selection portion of the Quick Flight Setup window, you can now click on the aircraft you just added.

At this point, all that’s left is to go flying!

Wrapping up

If you’ve found the aircraft above useful, you’re probably ready to get rid of the time restriction on the demo (and get scenery for the rest of the world!). By ordering X-Plane 10 Global from our web site, you’ll be able to fly as long as you like, without the annoying time limit. Plus, you’ll be able to take your airplane over the best scenery the world has to offer—like the Grand Canyon (try starting at airport identifier KGCN) or the Alps (try starting at airport identifier LOWI).

As usual, if you had trouble with this guide, send me an email at info@x-plane.com and tell me where I can improve it.

Until next time,

– Randy