Microsoft Flight Simulator For Dummies
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Like real-world flying, Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020 has a seemingly never-ending bag of tricks. Despite being an incredibly realistic sim, don’t forget that Flight Simulator is also a game — and there are always secrets and hints in games.

These tips can make hopping into the cockpit and exploring the virtual world a little easier for beginners — and maybe even a bit more fun, too! Even a seasoned Flight Simulator veteran might find these tricks worth retaining, especially if you plan to play the game for many moons to come.

For more information related to these tips, check out my book Microsoft Flight Simulator For Dummies.

Start in midair

Did you know you can completely skip the takeoff sequence? It's true, and you may prefer starting in midair if you want to (initially) avoid what can be a lengthy learning experience.

To start your flights already in midair, follow these steps:

  1. Go to the World Map.
  2. Left-click or press A anywhere on the World Map that isn't an airport.
  3. Choose the Set As Departure option from the pop-up menu shown in the figure below.
  4. Press the Fly button in the lower right of the screen to start your flight.
Flight simulator screenshot showing how to choose a departure point for a start in midair ©Microsoft
Choosing a departure point for starting a flight in midair

When you complete these steps, you can begin your journey at around 1,500 feet in the air.

Find animals quickly

How do you find animals so that you can get up close and personal? You can actually seek them out in a very simple way, and it only takes a few seconds. Follow these steps to get all the animal experiences you crave:
  1. Go to the World Map.
  2. Type the word "fauna" in the search bar (found on the left side of the screen) and click the Search icon.
  3. Click to choose your next destination from the list of locations that feature animals.
  4. After you start your flight and you’re on your way to the chosen destination, access the Pause menu by pressing Escape or the Menu button.
  5. Click the Assistance tab.
  6. Click the Navigation menu and find the Fauna Markers option.
  7. Click to toggle on the option.
Markers appear on the map to show where you can find animals along your route. You need to decide which animals you want to find, but with Fauna Markers turned on, this decision becomes less of a headache.

Refuel your aircraft anywhere

In Flight Simulator, you can refuel while flying without missing a beat. You just need to change your keybindings (options that are tied to a specific input device key or key combination), but that change doesn't take very long. Just follow these steps:
  1. Access the Pause Menu and click the Controls tab.
  2. In the Controls Options window that appears (see below), choose the input type that you’re using. You can choose from Keyboard, Mouse, or Controller.
  3. Scroll down the resulting list of options and select the Repair and Refuel keybinding option. If you don’t want to scroll, you can type Repair and Refuel in the search bar in the left column of the Controls Options window, as shown in the figure below.
  4. Choose a key on your input device to which you want to bind the Repair and Refuel option.
  5. Press escape or the Menu button to exit the Pause menu screen.
Flight Simulator screenshot showing how to searching for the Repair and Refuel option for keybinding ©Microsoft
Searching for the Repair and Refuel option for keybinding

After you follow the preceding steps, you should still be in midair. You can press the key you just selected to instantly repair any issues with your aircraft that might be plaguing you at present, as well as receive an automatic refueling. You don't need to do anything special after that. Your gas gauge should be full once more!

Turn off satellite overlay

You can toggle on an instrument flight rules (IFR) view that may mitigate potential issues with locating landmarks. When you use IFR view, you get a plain gray map that makes it a lot easier to see things like distance between points at a glance.

To turn on IFR view in the World Map, follow these steps:

  1. From the main screen open the World Map.
  2. Choose the Open Filters option that appears in the shortcut bar in the lower part of your screen. A window appears, as shown below, where you can scroll through filter options.
  3. Click the arrows to the left and right of the Background Map option to toggle the IFR option to replace Satellite.
Screenshot showing how to set IFR view ©Microsoft
Setting the World Map to IFR view

After following the preceding steps, you should have a better, more granular view of the Earth below.

Explore outside the plane

Did you know you can leave the plane in midair to look at the world around you? No, you aren't physically exiting the plane. But using a feature called Active Pause, you can take a look at your surroundings without having to land.

Active Pause stops your plane right where it is, and you can explore your aircraft's cockpit, immediate surroundings in the air, or the entire world around you. Here's how to turn on Active Pause:

  1. Press Escape or the Menu button to go to the Pause menu, click on options, and click on the Assistance menu, which is shown in the figure below.
  2. Look for the Play/Pause icon on the toolbar that appears when you hover the mouse near the top of your screen. This icon represents a toggle for Active Pause.
  3. Click the Play/Pause icon to activate the Active Pause play mode.
Screenshot showing the Active Pause mode ©Microsoft
Using the Active Pause mode

Toggling on the Active Pause mode activates a drone that you can maneuver using the standard aircraft controls on the keyboard or controller. You can explore to your heart's content without ruining your flight. And you don't even have to stop playing to do it!

Explore the streets

You may be playing a flight sim, but you still have plenty of ways to interact with the world around you. The same drone that allows you to exit the cockpit and travel around the world (during an Active Pause; see the preceding section) enables you to travel down to the streets and have a look around.

It may take a bit of doing because your plane is fairly high up in the sky, but you absolutely can take your drone down to the streets (see below).

Screenshot showing street view in Flight Simulator ©Microsoft
The street view in Flight Simulator

Speed up your flight

You can speed up the game's sim rate (the rate at which your flight proceeds along its route) in order to reach your destination more quickly. You can also fly to your endpoint more slowly if you want. You can adjust the sim rate up and down at your leisure.

Follow these steps to adjust your game's sim rate if you’re playing on a PC:

  1. Press the R key on your keyboard.
  2. Hold the CTRL key and press either the plus (+) key or the minus (–) key on the number pad. As I’m sure you can guess, pressing + speeds up the sim rate and pressing – slows it down.
Follow these steps to set your sim rate if you’re playing on a console:
  1. Press Escape or the Menu button to go to the Pause menu, select Options, and select Controls Options. From the Controls Options screen, as shown below, you need to assign a button for the sim rate.
  2. Type the search term sim rate in the search box on the left side of the Controls Options window, and then click the Search icon.
  3. Click to select the Sim Rate option.
  4. When prompted, choose a key or console button when prompted that you want to bind to your Sim Rate option.
Screenshot showing how to bind a keyboard button to adjust sim rates ©Microsoft
Bind a keyboard button so you can adjust sim rates

After following the preceding steps, you can adjust the sim rate on your console easily:

  • Slow down: Press your chosen button and the left trigger.
  • Speed up: Press your chosen button and the right trigger.
By adjusting your sim rate, you can take those cross-country (or across-the-globe) flights in record time.

Fast travel to flight phases

If you don't care much for the lengthy cruise phase of a flight, you might opt to skip it entirely. You can do that. Instead of actively flying through the entire trip, you can fast travel to a phase that's more appealing to you. To use the Travel To option, just follow these steps:
  1. Press Escape or the Menu button to open your Pause menu.
  2. Click the Travel To button (which looks similar to a fast-forward button, as noted the figure below) to reveal your Travel To options. The Travel To window that appears lists the phases of your flight plan that you can choose from. The figure below shows Cruise, Descent, Approach, Final, and Taxi.
  3. Select the phase to which you want to fast travel.
Screenshot showing fast travel options ©Microsoft
Fast travel options

After you make your selection, your game skips to that phase. Hate taking off or cruising? Use this trick to skip past all of it!

Customize your pilot avatar

You're more than just your plane in Flight Simulator. You have a pilot avatar, too! You might not see your avatar much while playing the game (your view is as the avatar in the cockpit), but you do have a character that represents you. Plus, you can change what your avatar looks like.

To customize your pilot avatar, follow these steps:

  1. Press Escape or the Menu button to open the Pause menu.
  2. Click Options and then General.
  3. In the General Options window that appears, click the Misc tab on the left.
  4. Under Pilot Avatar Settings, repeatedly click the forward or backward arrow beside the Pilot Avatar to scroll through your options. You can choose from 24 different pilot models. Find the one that suits you. The models appear on the right side of the General Options window, as shown below.
  5. When you find the avatar that matches your mood today, select it by making your choices and leaving the Misc menu.
Screenshot showing pilot avatar options ©Microsoft
Pilot avatar options

Now you can have a pilot that (hopefully) better represents you in the virtual world!

Change your ATC call sign

You can actually change your call sign, or title, that the air traffic control team uses to identify and address you over the radio. Follow these steps to customize your call sign:
  1. Press Escape or the Menu button to go to the Pause menu.
  2. Select the correct option to go to the World Map.
  3. Choose ATC Options by clicking on your airplane in the upper left part of the screen, then select Customization from the menu on the left column.
  4. In the text box next to Call Sign (see below), type in your desired call sign. For example, perhaps you’d like to be known as 8675309. Choose a fun call sign, but don't be naughty. The game doesn’t recognize profanity, so keep it G-rated (or you may be banned from online play).
  5. Save your choice by leaving the menu and return to your game.
Screenshot showing how to customize your call sign ©Microsoft
Call sign customization window

After you complete the preceding steps, ATC calls you by your desired call sign.

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