Flight Simulator add-ons. (Software Review) (Evaluation)
by Clayton Walnum
After a long, hard day, there's nothing like leaning back in your captain's chair, climbing to 5000 feet, and cruising with the clouds. I'm willing to bet, in fact, that Microsoft's Flight Simulator has headed off more nervous breakdowns than most $200-an-hour shrinks. After hundreds of hours in the air over the same terrain, though, sometimes you've got to have a change. Luckily, there are plenty of add-on modules for Flight Simulator: not only new scenery but also computer-assisted flight planners, airport databases, pilots' logbooks, and much more.
One of the most prolific of the add-on developers is Mallard Software, which boasts an impressive line of scenery disks and other enhancements. One of Mallard's recent offerings is the Hawaii scenery upgrade. In this tropical tour, you can sightsee from the air as you discover the mountains of Hawaii, the beach resorts of Maui, the shipwrecks of Molokai, the infamous Pearl Harbor, the canyons of Kauai, and more tourist attractions than the land-bound can hope to see from their limited viewpoint. The package includes a small map of all the islands--even the tiny leeward islands--and a manual chock-full of tour suggestions. With this detailed scenery disk, your Hawaiian vacation may be closer than you think.
Besides its many scenery disks, Mallard produces handy utility programs for Microsoft's Flight Simulator. One, called Flight Planner, helps armchair pilots plot their courses, needing only the names of two airports to get the job done. You simply enter your departure and destination points, and the computer applies itself to the task, filling in your flight plan with the information required to complete your trip. (If you like planning your own flights, Flight Planner also features a manual entry mode.) A database of airports and a pilot's calculator that figures wind correction, descent rate, and descent distance round out the package. Both DOS and Windows versions are included.
Mallard also markets a similar product called FS-Pro, which provides much of what is found in the Flight Planner package but with a more hands-on approach. For example, FS-Pro's flight planner isn't as automated as the one in the Flight Planner package. FS-Pro will, however, automatically calculate your initial heading and the distance between airports.
FS-Pro also features a series of ready-to-fly scenarios that you can select from FS-Pro's main menu. When you choose a scenario (or adventure, as Mallard calls them), FS-Pro gives you a description of the challenge at hand and then automatically transfers you to Flight Simulator, with your engine humming and the scenario ready to go. In addition, FS-Pro includes a more powerful pilot's calculator than the one in Flight Planner, an airport and aircraft database, a pilot's logbook, an airport graphics editor, and a pilot's ground school, where you can learn the basics of flying.
Another company that produces add-ons for Microsoft's Flight Simulator (not to mention for its own flight simulator) is subLOGIC. The company's latest offering, the Great Britain Scenery Collection, comes with three disks, each packed with more than 300,000 square miles of new terrain for you to explore. With this package, you can wing your way over England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland, and other areas surrounding Britain. An excellent set of navigational maps is included, as is a plotting and navigational tool. The complete manual features navigation and information charts for more than two dozen major airports. An impressive package.
So, the next time you're ready to strap in for a sky-high jaunt, you might consider adding one of these modules to your basic Flight Simulator. Chances are that you'll become so engrossed in exploring new worlds that you won't even notice your troubles blowing away like leaves in the wind.