Microsoft FSX or X-Plane 10
A Technically Advanced Aircraft Pilot’s Guide
Gentry Shelton, Commercial Pilot, CFI, CFII, MEI
With all of the technological advancement in aviation, it is interesting to see how well flight simulators have kept up with the times. In this article, I will compare two popular flight simulators, Microsoft Flight Simulator X (FSX) and X-Plane 10 (XP 10), focusing on how each simulator handles recent advancements in aviation. If you’re a pilot of a technically advanced aircraft (TAA), a pilot who uses ForeFlight, or if you want to see what flying is like with today’s tech, this FSX vs. XP 10 comparison is tailored for you.
Before we jump in, let’s discuss how FSX and XP 10 will be compared. I won’t specify the hardware I’m using. Just know that it is not a super computer, but it is adequate to run both sims smoothly.
I will begin by comparing the base simulators. There are a vast number of modifications that you can add to each; and while these might give one of the simulators an edge over the other, I want to begin with an out-of-the-box comparison. If you just want to shoot approaches, run through the menus of the G1000, utilize ForeFlight, and practice operating the aircraft systems, this article will illustrate what you will get without having to install several mods.
This comparison will consider the following aspects:
- User Interface
- Flight Dynamics Modeling
- G1000 Functionality
- ForeFlight Use
While the main focus will be G1000 functionality and ForeFlight use, the other areas may be of interest if you are still on the fence.
I will also review some modifications that can be installed to enhance the simulator. There are a few modifications in the area of aircraft and avionics that might influence your final decision on which sim best suits your needs.
Let’s start with how each simulator looks while flying. Looking outside the cockpit, the scenery of both simulators is fairly decent. I flew around New York, Las Vegas, San Francisco and the Grand Canyon on both sims to see how they compare in the scenery detail.
To sum it up quickly, I like the scenery of XP 10 better, but there were no well-known landmarks to be seen. FSX on the other hand had all of the landmarks I expected to see, the Statue of Liberty and the Golden Gate Bridge to name a few. The landmarks in FSX look a little cartoony, but at least they are there.
My primary purpose for using a simulator is to shoot approaches with the G1000 and autopilot, so scenery doesn’t really matter that much since I’ll be putting the cloud layer from 200’ AGL to 10,000’ AGL. I am more concerned with what I can see during the approach – the instrument panel and cockpit.
As far as steam gauges go, I think XP 10 is the better of the two. While the steam gauges in FSX are just fine for shooting an approach, the steam gauges in XP 10 look more polished and the pointers move more smoothly around the gauges. Maybe it’s just me, but I like XP 10 when it comes to the standard six-pack.
For the out-of-the-flight-simulator-box G1000, FSX is the winner. I’ll get more into the functionality below, but the G1000 in FSX looks more like what you see when sitting in the aircraft.
While the graphics are not the determining factor in my recommendation on which simulator to buy, I prefer the X-Plane 10 presentation over FSX; as long as you don’t mind the missing landmarks and less appealing G1000 look.
To set up the parameters for the flight (aircraft, location, weather, time, etc.) there is a noticeable difference between the two simulators. At first glance, XP 10 looks like something only a computer programmer could love. There are a plethora of ways to customize the simulator, especially with joysticks and other add-on hardware. The downside is that it takes a little time to get comfortable with it.
On the other hand, FSX has a cleaner presentation while setting up the flight. There are 4 main fields to change (aircraft, location, weather, and time), and FSX even shows you a nice picture of the aircraft you have chosen. Setting up the joystick is fairly straight forward, but you have to navigate to the joystick calibration screen on the main window.
As far as the user interface goes, think of FSX like an Apple iPhone, while XP 10 is more akin to an Android phone. They both work, but one is more polished.
You may be wondering why this is included in the comparison, but the two sims are very different in this aspect; and it may be the reason that some folks choose one sim over the other.
For FSX, the flight dynamics are determined by using stability derivatives. In other words, the person who designed the airplane programs the aircraft stability and performance into the simulator based on engineering estimates and data gathered from wind tunnel and flight testing.
XP 10 on the other hand uses blade element theory. With this method, the person designing the aircraft programs the computer to break the lifting surfaces (wings, elevator, and vertical stabilizer) into a number of pieces. The computer then calculates the forces that each piece makes – based on several parameters (density, air speed, side slip, etc.) – and sums them up to determine how the aircraft handles and performs. It then repeats these calculations several times per second.
For a more in-depth description of how each simulator is programmed, I would suggest starting at the X-Plane website. They give a very insightful description of the flight dynamics of each simulator.
Again, since I’m mainly interested in how well each simulator handles the G1000 functionality, flight dynamics is not a determining issue. If you’re interested in designing your own airplane and testing its flight characteristics XP 10 is the champ. In fact, XP 10 comes with an aircraft creation application, whereas FSX does not.
Unfortunately, the out-of-the-flight-simulator-box G1000 is nothing to write home about for either simulator. The FSX G1000 is very limited. For instance, I could not get the flight planning function of the G1000 to work, so I had to resort to the ‘direct to’ button – I can hear the groaning of many a flight instructor in the distance. While there may be a way to program a flight plan before launching the flight, I haven’t had a chance to explore that option yet – my aim has been to review both simulators based on what can be done in the cockpit and not in the pre-flight menus. When the ‘proc’ button is pressed the pilot can only select an instrument approach; the use of DPs or STARs is not available as an option. In addition, the approaches in the FSX database are very outdated and incomplete. For instance, there were several missing LPV approaches into Conroe, TX (KCXO). In fact, only LNAV approaches can be selected; there appears to be no GPS vertical guidance in the stock FSX G1000.
The XP 10 G1000 is even more limited with regard to the MFD and flight planning. When I loaded up the Columbia 400, I could not even get the ‘direct to’ function to work. Also, the ‘proc’ button does nothing, so unlike FSX, you can’t even load an outdated GPS approach. It just seemed like the MFD was a moving map with no routing options. I won’t waste any more time on the G1000 in XP 10, as it does not even seem to be a viable option when practicing instrument approaches.
If you just want to fire up the sim and shoot approaches, both simulators fall short of being able to fully utilize the G1000. If you are only looking to practice VOR and ILS approaches, then both simulators will probably work sufficiently. I would have to say that FSX has an advantage since you can load and activate the GPS overlay for these approaches. At this point, I have been able to shoot an ILS approach with the autopilot flying it all the way to minimums using the G1000 equipped aircraft in FSX. The navigation is just not there for either simulator out-of-the-box to fully experience the power and functionality of the G1000.
Using ForeFlight with the Simulator
One way to make up for the out-of-the-box limitations of the G1000 is to use ForeFlight with the simulator. Unfortunately it won’t drive the autopilot, but if you want to practice hand flying all of the current DPs, STARs, and approaches, ForeFlight is your answer.
For XP 10 it was very simple to enable ForeFlight. With the latest versions of XP 10 and ForeFlight, just click on the correct button in the X-Plane options menu, then enable the X-plane device in the ForeFlight options menu. Very simple and it worked!
FSX is a little more involved, but not bad. First I had to download two different applications. One of them cost around twenty dollars, while the other was free. After installing both of the apps and enabling FSX in the ForeFlight options, it worked just as well as the XP 10.
So, if this is the deciding factor in the choice of simulator, XP 10 would get the nod since it is already integrated in the software and is free. In terms of functionality, both sims are equal.
I won’t go into all the mods you can use – that will make for a future article – but since both simulators are deficient with respect to G1000 functionality, here are a few mods that create a more authentic experience.
First up is Carenado, a third party developer that creates airplanes for both FSX and XP 10. I downloaded the SR22 Turbo for FSX assuming that it was available for both FSX and XP 10, but when I went to download the XP 10 version, it was sadly not available. Since I wanted to compare the Carenado G1000 between FSX and XP 10, I downloaded the Carenado Cessna 182 for XP 10. Below are the reviews for both.
First off, the SR22 for FSX looks amazing, and it feels like driving a sports car. The aircraft systems are correctly represented in the cockpit and the primary flight display (PFD) works flawlessly. The multi-function display (MFD) has more functionality than the stock G1000, however it is still left wanting. The nice thing is that the flight plan functionality does work to some degree, but it is tricky. The FMS knob on the center console that controls the functions of the MFD is a little difficult to use with the mouse, but it does work. That being said, the flight plan page on the MFD is finicky with respect to the inputs from the FMS knob, which results in a burdensome routine to enter a flight plan. There also appear to be some bugs in the software, as some of the MFD inputs do not always give the expected results. For example, I loaded an approach that seemed normal until I activated vectors to final. Instead of drawing a long line extending from the centerline of the runway, it drew a direct line to the first initial fix along the inbound course. As with the stock G1000 in FSX, DPs and STARs are not available, and the approaches in the database are obsolete or missing.
I am in no way bashing the Carenado SR22, as there were some things that worked very well. For example, I was able to utilize the autopilot for an ILS approach into KCXO. I used the autopilot and heading bug to give a nice intercept for the localizer, and then I engaged the approach mode on the autopilot. The autopilot intercepted the localizer and glideslope with no problem and flew me all the way down to minimums. Overall I am pleased and satisfied with spending a few extra dollars for the Carenado SR22, but I look forward to a fully functional G1000 in a standard flight simulator.
The same care went into the design of the Carenado XP 10 Cessna 182. It looks great inside and out. The G1000 looks much more authentic than the stock version in XP 10. The problem is that the pilot can’t load or activate any DPs, STARs, or instrument approaches – just like the stock version. Again, it is a beautiful airplane; but it underperforms when it comes to utilizing the G1000 for instrument approaches.
The last mod I’ll talk about is the GTN 750 by Flight 1, and wow is it nice! The installation process is a little involved, but once you get through all of the set-up it is definitely worth it. For one thing, it references the AIRAC data in the GTN 750, not the AIRAC data in FSX. This means you get a more recent navigation database and the availability of LPV approaches. DPs and STARs are also available. It is basically a fully functional GTN 750. In the limited time I’ve had to tinker with it, I was able to shoot a full LPV approach into KXOO with the autopilot, flying all the way to minimums. The aircraft I was using was the FSX standard Cessna 172 with steam gauges and autopilot. The only drawback to this add-on is that it is only available for FSX.
To summarize, this is the best add-on I’ve downloaded and definitely worth the fifty dollar price tag. I’ll spend the next few weeks setting it up with the Carenado SR22 and shooting approaches.
If your main interest in flight simulation is being able to shoot approaches with a technically advanced aircraft my recommendation would be to purchase FSX along with the Carenado SR22 and the Flight 1 GTN 750. I believe this is the best combination of available programs. I have nothing against X-Plane 10, I actually prefer it to FSX. But for practicing approaches, I prefer the GTN750 set-up in FSX.
Overall, simulators have kept pace with recent advancements in aviation. With the appropriate add-ons, you can have a realistic simulator. I welcome your feedback on my review of flight simulators. What system do you use? Have you encountered issues? If so, what work-arounds have you used? Leave your comments below. Thanks for reading – have fun in the sim!