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Review by: Jonathan Houghton
Published: February 8, 2001
The long history of computer flight has its roots in the earliest days of the PC, when machines like the Commodore 64 were running extremely primitive Cessna simulations. Military simulators have been around for almost as long, using data far more precise than that available to civilian producers. In the last ten years, however, civilian developers have been making costly flight sims based on realistic physics. These high-end products usually come with expensive hardware and never break into the entertainment sector, instead remaining solely in the domain of hardcore desktop pilots who subscribe to magazines like “Aviation” or “Pilot.” While some mainstream products such as Microsoft Flight Sim 2000 and Flight Unlimited III do possess a degree of realism, there is certainly a marked difference between titles designed for an entertainment audience and those tailored to professionals, who use simulations as actual test flights to improve piloting skills. Recently, publisher Xicat Interactive struck a deal with Laminar Research, a creator of expensive desktop titles, to bring the professional simulator called X-Plane to the entertainment community. Programmed by a single person, X-Plane is one of the most realistic flight sims ever to hit the PC.
In X-Plane, you have no tasks to complete, no missions to run, no times to beat and no scores to break. There is only the thrill of flight. You can choose from 40 unique aircraft and fly to many destinations around the world. The selection of different planes is an expansive and diverse grouping. There are a large number of light craft and cargo jets for players who want to fly more common transports. While flying single engine Cessnas or Pipers is always a blast, some pilots may want to try out their wings with airliners that are more “high-tech.” To this end, Laminar has included a nice selection of military planes, including VTOL jets like the Harrier. X-Plane pushes even farther, offering helicopters like the Cobra and one of the more famous Huey models–something rarely seen in general flight sims. As though driven to include every type of known flight, space travel is also possible with a variety of worthy craft, including the U.S. Space Shuttle and several fictional ships.
After deciding on the type of aircraft you wish to pilot, you will need to make a trip through the options menu to set the flight conditions. Items such as weather conditions and air traffic are definite concerns when gearing up for a long trip. You can also choose to take off and land at any of more than 30,000 airports worldwide. Though the terrain mapping in X-Plane will eventually encompass the entire globe, the primary areas available in the retail release are North America, Europe, Japan and Australia. Chances are, if your city has a community airport, it will be listed somewhere in X-Plane‘s lineup. All of the runways are also modeled after their real-world counterparts. If you feel like taking off from London Heathrow, you will find yourself at the end of the runway, ready to fly. Were you to try and take off from a smaller community airstrip using a large 747 or other jumbo jet, you would quickly discover why certain planes have a strict minimum on runway length. Once you eventually figure out the type of aircraft you want to fly and where you would like to go, it’s time to soar the friendly skies.
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