Microsoft Flight Simulator For Dummies
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To successfully fly in Microsoft Flight Simulator, you need to know how to use the various instruments included in your cockpit. At first, getting to know and understand each instrument may seem confusing. But, with a little time and guidance, you can discover what every instrument does, as well as how to read it during flight.

The instruments in Flight Simulator can tell you how fast you’re going (airspeed), how high up you are (altitude), and other vital information you need to know, such as the direction you’re flying (your current heading).

Flight Simulator has two primary types of cockpits that you can become acquainted with:

  • An analog cockpit relies on analog instruments that appear as dials and gauges and rely on mechanical measurements to display information. You need to know how to read the various needles and indicators that relay these measurements.
  • A glass cockpit relies on multiple electronic panels to sift through and display important information to you digitally during flight. This means you’ll get a direct readout rather than you having to interpret analog dials and gauges.

Reading analog instruments

Many of the planes in Flight Simulator have analog cockpits, especially the older planes. In fact, many of the planes that you fly during the game’s tutorial lessons rely on analog instruments for vital information such as heading, altitude, and so on. For that reason alone, you need to know how to read analog instruments early on in your career with Flight Simulator.

However, some planes are hybrids with a combination of analog and digital systems. For example, the Cessna 172 includes a digital radio and navigation system but uses analog gauges for nearly everything else.

Coming to terms with the instruments in your aircraft is about identifying each panel — where it is and what it does. Although a cockpit may look daunting at first, knowing the basics of each instrument (position and function) can make your flights easier in the long run.

Overall, the exact layout, functionality, and appearance of instruments may vary depending on your aircraft. However, several fundamental instrument types are in each cockpit, so get acquainted with them. For this example, I present the cockpit of a Cessna 152, as shown below.

Screenshot showing an analog cockpit ©Microsoft
View of a Cessna 152 analog cockpit

The callouts in the figure above correspond with some of the instruments in this list:

  • Airspeed indicator: Displays your airspeed (how fast you’re traveling), measured in knots (which is one nautical mile per hour). Pay special attention to this instrument during flight because aircraft are very sensitive to speed.

    For example, unlike cars, which will just stop in one place if you run out of speed, an airplane will drop like a rock. This situation is obviously bad for the pilot. The white lines on the airspeed indicator signal that you can extend the flaps at those speeds.

    Remember that the higher the speed, the lower the tilt (using the rudders to pivot the plane up or down). The green line marks the speed range in which you can safely tilt the rudders at their full range of movement. The yellow range means you’re quickly approaching the limit of the plane’s structural strength.

  • Attitude indicator: Shows the current orientation of the plane in space. You make use of this instrument when you have to fly based on your instruments to ensure your angle of approach does not exceed recommendations. The brown portion in this indicator signifies the ground, and the blue part indicates the sky.
  • Altimeter: Shows you the current ceiling (meaning the maximum density altitude an aircraft can reach) in feet or meters. Keep in mind that the altimeter measures the elevation of your craft Above Sea Level (ASL).

    Just because you’re on the ground doesn’t mean that you have an altimeter value of zero. When your craft is on the ground, the altimeter shows a value of anywhere from a few hundred feet to several thousand feet, depending on the elevation above sea level of the airport you’re currently visiting.

    Before takeoff, tune the altimeter to the barometric pressure at the airport’s location.

  • Throttle RPM meter: Shows you the current revolutions per minute (RPMs) of the plane’s engine.
  • Flaps control: Controls the flaps on the rear of the wings. Essentially, you can adjust these mechanisms to provide more load-bearing force — allowing the plane to take off from a shorter distance — or keep the plane airborne at a low speed. Additionally, flaps may be used to slow down the plane.
  • Fuel Mixture control: Regulates how much fuel is injected into the engine. You need to reduce or increase the ratio of fuel to air being injected, depending on the altitude and density of the air that you’re flying through.
  • Throttle: The throttle is pretty self-explanatory; it’s essentially your gas pedal. It controls the amount of fuel and air that is being injected into the engine. The more open the throttle, the more power the engine produces. Unlike cars, which have a gearbox to transfer power to the wheels, airplanes are direct drive, which means an increase in throttle always manifests as a higher RPM.
  • Pitch Trim: By far one of the most important mechanisms in the cockpit. When set correctly, it allows the plane to fly without the pilot having to continuously hold the steering bar (also called the yoke). You may need to make adjustments to the pitch trim (which maneuvers the aircraft elevators) constantly throughout the flight in order to maintain altitude or a steady climb or decent.
  • Vertical Speed indicator: Showcases the current speed of ascent or descent. It measures your plane’s speed in feet per minute. This instrument never sticks rigidly in one place; expect it to fluctuate. When landing or ascending, the standard rate of speed on this instrument varies from plane to plane.
  • Current Heading: Shows the aircraft’s current heading course throughout the flight. The heading is essentially the direction that the aircraft is traveling relative to the magnetic north. The cardinal headings include:
    • North at 360 or 0 degrees
    • East at 90 degrees
    • South at 180 degrees
    • West at 270 degrees
The Current Heading indicator itself gets input from a gyroscope, so you can expect it to show the wrong direction when not calibrated properly. Unfortunately, it becomes misaligned by itself often, and you need to calibrate it throughout your flight by resetting it every 10 to 15 minutes and ensuring it lines up with your compass.

Parking brake: The parking brake is exactly what it sounds like. Use it at every takeoff and taxi situation to avoid any issues with air traffic control. Remember, when your aircraft’s engine is on, it generates thrust, even at idle. If you don’t make sure your parking brake is on, you may look down to hit a switch and find you’re rolling along.

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