Take to the virtual skies with FlightGear

Dreaming of piloting a plane? Try open source flight simulator FlightGear.
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Screenshot of the cockpit of the virtual game Flightgear

If you've ever dreamed of piloting a plane, you'll love FlightGear. It's a full-featured, open source flight simulator that runs on Linux, MacOS, and Windows.

The FlightGear project began in 1996 due to dissatisfaction with commercial flight simulation programs, which were not scalable. Its goal was to create a sophisticated, robust, extensible, and open flight simulator framework for use in academia and pilot training or by anyone who wants to play with a flight simulation scenario.

Getting started

FlightGear's hardware requirements are fairly modest, including an accelerated 3D video card that supports OpenGL for smooth framerates. It runs well on my Linux laptop with an i5 processor and only 4GB of RAM. Its documentation includes an online manual; a wiki with portals for users and developers; and extensive tutorials (such as one for its default aircraft, the Cessna 172p) to teach you how to operate it.

It's easy to install on both Fedora and Ubuntu Linux. Fedora users can consult the Fedora installation page to get FlightGear running.

On Ubuntu 18.04, I had to install a repository:

$ sudo add-apt-repository ppa:saiarcot895/flightgear
$ sudo apt-get update
$ sudo apt-get install flightgear

Once the installation finished, I launched it from the GUI, but you can also launch the application from a terminal by entering:

$ fgfs

Configuring FlightGear

The menu on the left side of the application window provides configuration options.

Flightgear home screen

Summary returns you to the application's home screen.

Aircraft shows the aircraft you have installed and offers the option to install up to 539 other aircraft available in FlightGear's default "hangar." I installed a Cessna 150L, a Piper J-3 Cub, and a Bombardier CRJ-700. Some of the aircraft (including the CRJ-700) have tutorials to teach you how to fly a commercial jet; I found the tutorials informative and accurate.

Aircraft selection options

To select an aircraft to pilot, highlight it and click on Fly! at the bottom of the menu. I chose the default Cessna 172p and found the cockpit depiction extremely accurate.

FlightGear cockpit view

The default airport is Honolulu, but you can change it in the Location menu by providing your favorite airport's ICAO airport code identifier. I found some small, local, non-towered airports like Olean and Dunkirk, New York, as well as larger airports including Buffalo, O'Hare, and Raleigh—and could even choose a specific runway.

Under Environment, you can adjust the time of day, the season, and the weather. The simulation includes advance weather modeling and the ability to download current weather from NOAA.

Settings provides an option to start the simulation in Paused mode by default. Also in Settings, you can select multi-player mode, which allows you to "fly" with other players on FlightGear supporters' global network of servers that allow for multiple users. You must have a moderately fast internet connection to support this functionality.

The Add-ons menu allows you to download aircraft and additional scenery.

Take flight

To "fly" my Cessna, I used a Logitech joystick that worked well. You can calibrate your joystick using an option in the File menu at the top.

Overall, I found the simulation very accurate and think the graphics are great. Try FlightGear yourself — I think you will find it a very fun and complete simulation package.

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Educator, entrepreneur, open source advocate, life long learner, Python teacher. M.A. in Educational Psychology, M.S. Ed. in Educational Leadership, Linux system administrator.


Flightgear is fun, but it continues to frustrate. Added the ppa, ran the update (apt update, not apt updates), installed Flightgear. When I start fgfs, it goes straight into the C172. I don't get the pretty menu. When I start it from the mouse menu (Xubuntu 18.04.1 LTS), I get a blank white window.

When I crash-land and restart, the tab key no longer switches between pointer, flight controls, and view control until I restart FG. Frustrating.

Other than that, graphics look great, Terrasync works, and it's fun to fly around. I wish I knew how to turn off the psychedelic fake fill-in buildings. I also wish startup was way faster. Looks like it's single-threaded, taking a good minute to get started.

Not a linux or mac user, sadly. Try asking on the forums.

I have used Flightgear on windows and it's pretty sophisticated. The weather and physics are really good. It can really take advantage of recent GPUs. Use ALS renderer, turn shaders up, select detailed weather engine, turn up things like tree density and it looks awesome.

"When I start fgfs, it goes straight into the C172. I don't get the pretty menu" <-- To display the launcher, on windows you need to click a shortcut that adds "--launcher" to the command-line. That should work on linux or Mac.

"I wish I knew how to turn off the psychedelic fake fill-in buildings" I think there are a bunch of options for buildings. You might have urban shader buildings on. Menu - view - rendering - shader options - lower urban buildings setting. There's also random buildings you can choose. This page has a list of OSM scenery downloads http://wiki.flightgear.org/Areas_populated_with_osm2city_scenery

"When I crash-land and restart..." You might want to write a bug report (Try using ctrl+u to add altitude)

In reply to by Digitalis

The command line has proven to be more effective for me over time. I based the article on my experience using it with the PPA install but then my Ubuntu 18.04 did an update for FlightGear and that messed my GUI up. I have enjoyed using it and experimenting with the Cessna 150 and 172. I think those simulations are quite realistic.

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