X-Plane flight simulator comes to iPad

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Like most of the software world, flight simulators have been moving towards the iPad, although perhaps a little slower than other segments. One of the leading flight simulator programs for desktop computers, X-Plane, has produced a variety of iPad apps over the past few years, but none of them were the full-featured program that many pilots are used to. With the recent release of X-Plane 10 for the iPad and iPhone, though, that full-featured flight simulator is finally here.

X Plane 10 screenshot
The new X Plane 10 app includes realistic cockpits and impressive graphics.

The new X-Plane 10 app includes five scenery regions, a series of challenges and tutorials, plus the ability to play online with other pilots. When the app starts up, you are presented with five options:

  1. Flight School is a good way to get familiar with the app and learn its controls. This is mostly intended for non-pilots, so the basics of traffic patterns and takeoffs will seem pretty obvious.
  2. Challenges allow you to fly specific airplanes in specific scenarios, from weather to emergencies. This is more game-like, but some of the challenges are pretty interesting.
  3. Freeflight is what most pilots will use. This allows you to create your own flight, including choosing an airplane and a location. There’s lots of flexibility here.
  4. Join Match enables the app’s multiplayer function, so you can challenge other pilots to a flying competition.
  5. Create Match is another multiplayer option, but instead of joining an existing challenge, you can create your own.

Two advanced options are of particular use to pilots. First, the weather conditions are adjustable. Pilots can change the cloud bases, cloud thickness, visibility, wind, turbulence and even thermals. This allows for somewhat realistic instrument practice. Secondly, there are some pretty powerful failure settings that we found valuable for practicing emergency procedures. Different components (airspeed indicator, altimeter, flaps, rudder, etc.) can be set to working, could fail or failed. This flexibility offers a more realistic way to fail instruments.

The main drawback to the app is not really an issue with the app, but the platform itself. There simply aren’t any good flight controls available for the iPad. So while you can fly realistic scenarios with life-like cockpit instruments, it’s hard to get any real stick and rudder benefit from it. Practicing aileron/rudder coordination or flipping panel switches isn’t really possible. But it’s still valuable for practicing cockpit flows and instrument procedures.

The only other complaint we have is that there are limited options for where to fly. We suspect this was done to keep the app’s size down (at 276 MB it’s not bad), since truly global coverage would take massive storage space. It’s possible this will expand in the future, but for now don’t expect to fly approaches into your home airport.

On the positive side, we were quite impressed with the speed of the app. We ran X-Plane on a number of different iPads, including an older iPad Mini 2, and it was fast and smooth. Although it’s a very powerful simulator, it does not appear to require the latest and greatest iPad to run properly.

The other impressive feature of X-Plane is the price. The desktop simulator sells for $79.95 (and is worth it), but the app is free to download on the App Store. Additional airplanes beyond the Cessna 172 (nine total) require in-app purchases, which range from $0.99 to $4.99. It’s a good value and, let’s be honest, a lot of fun.