A home flight simulator is a great way to maintain instrument currency, learn new cockpit layouts, and just have fun when you can’t get to the airport. X-Plane has been the leader in this market for years now, and a recent update to their mobile app makes for a valuable companion to your desktop system.
X-Plane version 11 includes a new global scenery library that adds incredible realism to the app. There are over 37,000 airports, and about a third of them have advanced scenery options like 3D terminals, hangars, and detailed taxiway signage. From Oshkosh to Innsbruck, the graphics look almost like photos. The airplanes are likewise very realistic, from paint schemes to avionics to cockpit switches. Sit in the cockpit of the virtual Cirrus Jet and you will immediately feel at home.
The latest version also adds a new lighting model and an improved flight model, so the shadows look just like real life and the airplane responds more like the real thing. The overall result is the best simulation environment we’ve seen outside a desktop simulator system. There are also copious options for simulating system failures, which adds value as a training tool. Want to fail the airspeed indicator? Just tap a button.
Because X-Plane Mobile uses your mobile device’s on-board sensors for flying the airplane (tilt back to pull the yoke back), the actual muscle movements are not nearly as realistic as an actual flight training device. This will not teach you how to land in a crosswind or do a perfect steep turn. For a more authentic feel, you’ll want the desktop version of X-Plane and some good flight simulator controls (yoke, throttle, and rudder pedals at least). However, the app is good enough for keeping your instrument scan somewhat sharp or for exploring new airports. We would consider it a solid companion to a more expensive home simulator, and since the app is free it’s definitely worth trying out.
The app is available for both iOS devices and Android devices. It’s free to download and use most of the features, including sample scenery areas and two airplanes (Cessna 172 and Cirrus Jet). You can also use the flight school feature for free, which offers guided lessons and practice missions. Existing pilots can probably skip this, but there are still some helpful reminders about how the app works. For complete global scenery, a subscription is required. Additional airplanes can be purchased for $1-5 per airplane. X-Plane does require almost 900 MB of storage space, so make sure your iPad has plenty of space and you have a good WiFi connection before you start downloading.