If you just want to pick up Microsoft Flight Simulator, it’s incredibly easy to do so. But there’s a ton of useful things worth knowing to efficiently soar through the air, so here’s some helpful tips to get you started.
Out on PC through Steam and the Microsoft Store from tomorrow, Microsoft Flight Simulator‘s greatest asset is its accessibility and scalability. You could spend hundreds of dollars on a flight yoke, separate throttle and all-aluminium rudder pedals. Alternatively, you could just grab a gamepad and go on a nice bush flight.
But however you choose to play, there’s a few things you should know about that will make the experience a little bit better. Having had access to the game for about a month, with some experience across both control methods, here’s some tips to help you get the most out of the game.
This story has been updated since its original publication with more advice and tips.
Having issues installing or downloading?
A fair few are having issues downloading or with crashes, and being across the Microsoft Store and Steam has meant plenty of users have run into unforeseen hills at launch. We’ve got a handy guide on some troubleshooting tips you can use to get back into the air below.
Microsoft Flight Simulator is out today, but as people are discovering, getting off the ground can be a bit tricky. So if you’re having trouble getting the game started, here’s some tips to help you out.Read more
If you’re playing with an Xbox controller/gamepad, turn the default sensitivity down.
The game doesn’t tell you this during the tutorials, but the default stick sensitivity for gamepads is really high. High enough that it’s useful when you’re starting out, but not great for landing challenges or flying through windy or stormy scenarios.
To tune it down, we’ve got a quick guide in the story below.
A ton of people will finally be playing Microsoft Flight Simulator from today, since most Australian internet connections take an age to download 90-100GB. And if you’re jumping into a flight sim for the first time, you’re probably doing so with a controller. So if that’s you, I have one massive piece of advice worth following.Read more
Don’t like your pilot avatar? Change it in the settings.
Microsoft Flight Simulator doesn’t tell you this, but you can actually customise the pilot and co-pilot that you see when flying around in third-person. If you want a different combo for your pilot, co-pilot and the instructor who flies around with you in the tutorial, head to the Options -> General -> Misc tab.
There, you’ll see a set of Pilot Avatar Settings where you can pick from 24 different models. I don’t know why this is buried so deep, but it’s handy to know about.
Disable your firewall if you’re getting an ‘Insert Disc’ error.
This is a tip from Kotaku Australia reader camm, who ran into the frustrating annoyance above when trying to install Flight Simulator. In general, you should disable any AV or firewall software if you run into installation or crashing issues.
Don’t be afraid to start with Microsoft Flight Simulator’s assists.
When you finally boot up the game — after the mammoth 100GB download — you’ll be asked to customise your Flight Simulator experience. Whatever you choose, it won’t affect the in-game tutorial’s level of assists, and you can always hit ESC (or Start on a gamepad) to change the assists at any time.
Flying a mammoth Airbus A320 with a gamepad is definitely going to require a bit of AI help, but you can jump into the smaller propeller aircraft with your Xbox controller and a bit of keyboard/mouse help. Whatever level you start at, I recommend turning Assisted Yoke OFF. It’s the Microsoft Flight Simulator‘s equivalent of Mario Kart‘s auto-steering, and while it’s nice if you’re ultra paranoid about flying, you’ll have a much better time nudging the plane up and down yourself.
Assisted landing and takeoff both help control your pitch (that’s aiming up or down), landing gear and flaps. Flaps are basically designed to help a plane take off and land in a shorter distance, and if you want you can have that auto-adjusted. You’ll have more fun if these are turned off, but if you help understanding what they do, then make sure Flying Tips is enabled in the notification section. This is turned off by default on the Medium or True to Life assist presets, but it’s super handy if you want to learn more about the principles of flight — and navigation — as you play.
To make life easy, you can select presets for each individual setting. For everyone starting out, I recommend setting Piloting to Medium and then disabling everything except Take-off Auto Rudder and Delegate ATC to AI. Going through the flight checklist is simple and a great bit of immersion, and once you’ve done it once in the tutorial, you won’t have any problems doing it in future flights.
CTRL + ALT + 1 saves a custom camera — and ALT + 1 will recall to that position.
This one’s covered in the first tutorial, but it’s very easy to quickly forget. If you have a particular view that you want to save — whether that’s within the cockpit, or externally — you can do so by hitting CTRL + ALT + 1 on the keyboard. Pressing ALT+1 will then instantly switch to that camera view, and you can push in the right stick to go back to the standard view.
Flying in Microsoft Flight Simulator, if you want it to be, is really simple.
There’s 8 steps to the in-game tutorial, but you’ll finish most of them within half an hour. You’re introduced to the basics of turning left, right, pitching up and down, and controlling the basic camera. This is as simple as moving the left and right sticks, and if you’ve played any racing game before, you’ll get the hang of this immediately.
The game then introduces you to the basic controls — your flight speed, cruise attitude (not altitude, that’s different), vertical speed, and more. You’ll get a much faster and quicker readout of all those things in third-person mode, which you can switch to by hitting the Select key on a gamepad, or END on the keyboard. Third-person mode’s the best for taking off as well, and it’s the best way to enjoy a lot of what the game has to offer.
If you’re not going to play with a full flight yolk/rudder setup, then make sure you have a full-size keyboard.
While you can rebind whatever you want, there are a lot of controls in Microsoft Flight Simulator. The tutorial will do a great job of explaining just the ones you need to know — or at least the ones you need to know for the aircraft you’re flying. Jumping into a Dreamliner is a totally different kettle of fish to a basic Cessna, for instance.
But what Flight Simulator isn’t great about is recognising when you … don’t have the keys on the keyboard. The basic throttle controls are all set to the numpad — like classic flight sims and MicroProse games — but if you have a tenkeyless or 60% keyboard, you’re not going to have any shortcuts for your throttle control.
For most people, you’re better off playing with a combination of gamepad / keyboard. The pair gives you access to all the various controls you need, and if you want finer control of the camera for certain shots or views, right-clicking and dragging with the mouse works really well.
Hit PAUSE if you want to take the best screenshots.
The game mentions Active Pause in the tooltips, but it never actually mentions what active pause is. Hitting the PAUSE button on the keyboard will basically lock your plane in place, allowing you to take beautiful screenshots like the one above.
When landing, target for the middle of the runway. Point the nose of the aircraft down, and just as you get near the runway, pull the nose of the aircraft up slightly, and eventually the plane will calmly drop onto the runway.
Landing is probably the most challenging thing you can do in Microsoft Flight Simulator, and there’s a lot of different ways it could go wrong. You could be coming in at the wrong angle. Maybe you came in too fast. Or maybe you don’t have enough speed coming in.
The tutorial does a good job of taking you through a basic landing, where you have a direct line of approach to the runway. Generally, the easiest approach is to maintain about 65 knots and target the number at the front of the runway (the bit closest to you) in your dashboard.
You want to descend on a path where that number stays fairly level in your sights. If it’s rising up in your dashboard, then you’re falling too quickly, so you’ll need to get a bit more throttle. If it’s falling below your dashboard, you’re flying too quickly, so you’ll want to reduce your speed, maybe add some flaps (LB / RB to extend/retract on the gamepad).
I’d recommend running through the fourth tutorial level a couple of times, just to get comfortable with landing. If you want more advice on touching down, there’s a great video below from YouTuber Squirrel, outlining the basics of a safe landing.
Give the landing challenges a go — they’re a great way to get used to different planes, too.
There’s 24 different “challenges” in the game, broken into three sections: Famous, Epic and Strong Wind. Strong Wind will be the most difficult on a gamepad — largely due to the lack of fine precision you get by controlling a yoke with a thumbstick.
However, all the challenges are worth running through for fun. The goal is basically to land the plane as smoothly and accurately as possible. You’re graded on how close to the centre of the runway you land, how long it takes your plane to come to a full stop, and how smooth the actual touchdown is. (Don’t bounce the plane, basically.)
Each landing challenge will have a set plane, flight time and a particular craft you’re tasked with controlling. In the Courchevel featured challenge, you’re flying this:
The Robin DR400/100 Cadet isn’t a bad plane to try out on a gamepad, and the landing challenge will give you plenty of experience in getting accustomed to how it handles. Every plane in Microsoft Flight Simulator has its own quirks and challenges, so if you’re completely new to flying, this is a great way to sample what else is on offer.
Microsoft Flight Simulator will let you put all the pop-up windows — navigation, air traffic control, weather status — on a second monitor.
So here’s something cool. When you start planning your own flights, there’s a ton of extra stuff you might want to do. You might want to chat to air traffic control yourself — maybe you’ve set off on a joy flight, and didn’t really decide where you wanted to land, so you’ll need to radio in before touching down.
Maybe you want to keep a list of objectives up. Or you’ve got a navlog up for a bush flight so you know where you need to head after each checkpoint. Problem is, this stuff takes up a ton of real estate on the screen, and it all gets in way of the game.
Now while you can minimise or close these windows as needed, you can also leave them up permanently — on a second monitor. In the image above, you’ll see three blue buttons in the top-right of the Navlog window. If you press the second button, it’ll pop-out the Navlog to a separate window process which you can then drag around your desktop.
You can do this for everything else, so for instance. Here’s my second monitor, just before taking off for a joyflight from Queenstown.
It’s not necessary if you’re just doing a short flight — from, say, Hobart to Melbourne’s Tullamarine. But if you want to plan a longer trip, tackle the game’s initial bush flight challenges, or do a longer route from Australia to the United States, Japan or somewhere equally far away, then this can help a ton.
Not everywhere in Microsoft Flight Simulator looks that great — but that can be patched after launch.
A key thing with Microsoft Flight Simulator‘s roadmap is not just future support for what’s called “Enhanced Airports” — basically airports that have been refined manually by Asobo Studio — but support for third-party developers as well. And one area where this can help is with cities that aren’t properly replicated by Bing Maps.
Sydney, for instance, has the Sydney Opera House — but no Harbour Bridge. And there’s a ton of other cities missing footage of their own. But that’s where developers like Orbx can come in, helping flesh out the game in areas that Asobo hasn’t covered.
On the main menu of Microsoft Flight Simulator, you’ll see a tab called the Marketplace. This is where you’ll be able to find third-party content and more add-ons after they’re released, and it’s where companies like Orbx (whose CEO is based in Australia!) will release their own software.
There’s no release date for Orbx’s third-party content for Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020 yet, although you can see a pre-release version of some of their custom content in a video below. It’s also a good chance to see what multiplayer flying looks like, if that’s your thing.
No, you can’t crash into other players flying around.
In case you were wondering — or you were worried about pissing off people trying to fly “properly”. Don’t worry about it! There’s no in-game chat, and the game will let you customise whether you want to fly solo, fly with other live players, or just fly with NPC-powered AI (which itself is based on real-world traffic patterns).
Don’t try to run the game at highest settings on the highest resolution. Your PC can’t do it.
Microsoft Flight Simulator is basically the 2020 version of Crysis. In the video above, you can see what it’s like running the game on a fairly high-end rig: An Intel i7-7700k with an RTX 2080 Ti. At 4K with max settings, the game barely hovers above 30fps, with plenty of drops underneath that.
On my own system — a Ryzen 3900X with 3600MHz RAM and a RTX 2080 Ti — the game runs best at 1440p on the high-end preset, or medium with adjustments to the render scale and foliage scale. Playing at the High preset will give you the best balance of visuals and frame rate.
If you’re on a low-end card — like a RX 500 series or a GTX 1060 series — then you’ll need to play the game at 1080p on medium settings, with some further options turned down or off entirely. Digital Foundry found that the game is pretty rough on low-range PCs, although that might get a bit easier in the future when a DirectX 12 version of the game is released.
Just have fun.
The fun of Microsoft Flight Simulator is similar to Euro Truck Simulator or other “sims”. It’s not a competitive experience per se, even though there are solo flying challenges you can take part in.
Instead, it’s all about just soaring into the sky and enjoying the journey. If you want to do that with friends, you can. If you want to take it “seriously” and invest in better setup to better experience the difficulty of flying an Airbus A320 through a thunderstorm, you can do that as well.
But you don’t have to.
The fun of the game is really just letting go and enjoying the journey. It doesn’t matter how closely that journey replicates the real-life experience; it’s about customising the experience to the point where you find it the most enjoyable. There will be a career mode of sorts patched into the game post-launch, and there are a set of achievements and challenges that you can experience in the meantime.
But all the while, the best part of the game remains the same. It’s the freedom of flight. Nothing does it better than Microsoft Flight Simulator. And in a world where we’re in isolation, forced or out of anxiety or concern for others, that is a truly a gift.