Frustrations of a Pilot When it Comes to Flight Sim (Part 2)

...Or in my case, currently-not-anymore-but-hopefully-again-soon glider pilot. Following up on Cody's post here, I want to add my own complaints and frustrations. We share most opinions regarding this, so in order to not repeat what he already said, I'll focus more on the glider related issues.


A little while back I was a student glider pilot, but didn't finish my license as I had to leave the club due to money and time restraints. The former problem has been solved since, but sadly the latter still applies.

Maybe you're like I was. Then you're thinking along the lines of "gliders don't even have engines, they're not REAL planes!", and if you do, let me tell you that you're very wrong. I will actually go a step further and tell you gliding is the truest form of aviation there is, and few people understand wind, weather and aerodynamics as well as glider pilots, as that is all they have to keep them up in the air. Their tools include the sun, warm air from cities, cumulus clouds and windward slopes - things general aviation pilots usually don't have to care too much about. But in a glider you can and need to use everything you can: fly along a hillside in the luv to gain some lift, use the gained altitude to reach a forming cloud, climbing in the thermals beneath it. Then follow the city streets as the asphalt emits heat, which in turn makes the air above flow upwards, extending your glide range by several kilometers towards your destination.

A glider pilot may have planned a route from A to B, but always needs to adjust the flight plan according to the current circumstances. Using the mentioned techniques you can travel several hundred kilometers - if you do it right. In flight sims that might not be the case; you may be glad to even get off the ground properly.

Complaint 1 - Thermals, windward slopes and other weather effects, or rather lack thereof

There's some simulations that get this right; FSX however would not be one of them, even with addons. Those others in turn lack some other features, more on that topic later. Either way, when I hop in a glider in FSX I spend more time complaining about it than I actually spend flying. Even with programs like CumulusX and ActiveSky Next I find it very unsatisfying. The wind doesn't seem to effect the plane enough for me to care and lift underneath a perfect cumulus coverage still seems pretty much nonexistent. This applies to all airplanes: When I fly through or underneath a cloud I expect at least some turbulence, but don't experience it quite as often or hard as I feel I should, especially in small planes like the C172 or aforementioned gliders. What you may not know: you can even "ride" the winds at the lee side (turned away from the wind) of large hills. This called a wave, and you can get carried above the clouds. I'm not aware of any modern flight sims that do this properly.

Complaint 2 - Glider add-ons for big simulators

If you find one, they just never feel quite right. An example: regarding the flight model I'd say Aerosoft's Discus for FSX is almost spot on, but the sounds just seem off to me. I can't judge my speed or slip angle from the wind noises at all. And when I slip the sound of air rushing by seems to happen too loudly too suddenly. This cumulates to an experience I don't really enjoy, as these sounds are one of the things I learned to pay attention to at all times and therefore they're really important to me. To be fair, I didn't test their ASK 21 yet, a two seated glider I logged my first hours in. It could be a whole different story with this one. And maybe my settings just weren't right or something... The more I think about it, the more I want to try it out again.

The available freeware gliders tend to suffer from different issues: outdated visuals, bugged 2D gauges, unrealistic handling, even missing or broken variometers. The vario measures how much the plane sinks or rises, most of the time indicated by a beeping noise - easily the most important instrument in a glider. Without it there's little reason for me to even try one at all.

Complaint 3 - Simulators that do have proper gliders but lack elsewhere

There's a few that come to mind.

The first would be Condor,  a very serious and accurate simulator with proper aerodynamics and built for gliding competition multiplayer. The sounds are spot on, too, but it's the outdated looks that break it for me. What good is a simulator if you're barely immersed? The resolution only goes up to 1080p, when I tried it in 4k I was greeted with crashes. I mean, it is DirectX 7. No amount of forced anti-aliasing and anisotropic filtering can fix the old technology, the lack of any blur or bloom, or the low res textures. It is enjoyable, no doubt, as graphics aren't everything, but this and the lack of (good looking) scenery just don't quite cut it for me and I get tired of the dull looks quickly. Almost 11 years after it's release the developers have been talking about a Version 2, which I'm very interested in, but I'm not going to hold my breath for now. It might still take a while.

Aerofly FS (now called Aerofly FS 1) on the other hand offers pretty graphics and beautiful scenery in Switzerland's Alps. The physics and sounds are pretty good and I enjoy gliding in it a lot. However, the lack of any life in the simulation is almost a little disturbing. No AI - that's okay. Not even aerotow AI, okay, that's forgivable as winch launches work very well. But not having multiplayer bores me after a while. I want to experience it all with my friends! There's nothing like going on a cross country flight together. Especially in glider clubs it's all about the community, which AeroflyFS sadly doesn't provide at all. Combined with the limited scenery, despite it being a good sim, I only fly it once every other month.

It's successor, Aerofly FS 2, doesn't feature multiplayer either - at least yet, as the devs have hinted. Somehow many people on Steam seem to oppose the idea of flying with others, which I can't understand at all. Nobody forces you to fly with others if you don't want to, but the possibility adds a whole new level to the simulation, ranging from formation flying and competitions to simply having some air traffic around. And I'm not talking about FSX: Steam Edition's multiplayer full of kids, but sessions with friends and people that are also interested in aviation. I'm definitely following it with high hopes! Add the already implemented VR support to the equation and it's looking like the next simulator I might want to get.

Complaint 4 - No aerotow in multiplayer

Winch launches are fine for gliders - but I have aviation friends that aren't into gliders as much. This is where aerotowing would be amazing: they get to fly around in their motorized planes while I still get to enjoy my gliding. We could do whole cross country flights together, each enjoying their plane, but no sim seems to allow it. The only game that has ever featured it as far as I know was - you think you can guess it? Yep, that's right: X-Plane Glider for iOS, a "simulation" running on a 2nd generation iPod Touch. It even did a pretty good job, but somehow nobody else cares about gliders. Well, I do care and coded a tool, but it's a very simple hack and simply not reliable enough for daily use.

I've briefly read about X-Plane 10 featuring multiplayer tow,  but I don't own it, so I'll keep my eye on X-Plane 11 and it's features.

My final thoughts

Simulators really need to step up their game! All of them offer great features for X or Y, but you never seem to get both in one sim. Aerofly FS 2 and X-Plane 11 are my big hopes, as they both seem able to get it right overall, but we'll have to see how it pans out in the end. With new technology on the horizon we might be able to finally move beyond the limitations of FSX/P3D, but I have a feeling it's going to be around for almost another decade.

This post was updated on December 20th, 2017: I fixed a few typos and weird sentences.

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