Microsoft Flight Simulator For Dummies
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If you're new to Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020, you have much to learn. Having an entire simulated world available for flying may be overwhelming for budding pilots, but checking out this Cheat Sheet can help you find a path forward.

These tips will help you get started, choose the right airplane, understand autopilot controls, and earn your wings in no time.

How to start flying with confidence

All airplanes work on the same principles, but some are easier to pilot than others. The key to becoming a proficient pilot in Microsoft Flight Simulator is to start small, learn the basic principles, and let the game itself help you out.

Here are some tips for beginning the journey:

  • Start with the Cessna 152 (either the base model or its GPS navigation-equipped sub-model). The Cessna can operate from almost any airfield and has a low takeoff and stall speed, making it easy to get off the runway and into the air — and stay there.

If you want to learn how to fly, it’s best not to start with an airliner or fighter jet. Those airplanes are amazing, but they’re meant for advanced pilots that are comfortable with an aircraft’s various systems and controls.

  • Practice by using the in-game tutorials. Flight Simulator has a fairly extensive series of tutorials that teach you the basics of taking off, flying, landing, and all the steps in between. Running through the tutorials won’t instantly turn you into an expert pilot, but doing so can teach you the basic concepts of flight.
  • Put the in-game assists to good use. Flight Simulator includes a variety of artificial intelligence (AI) assists that can help you on your virtual journeys. Automating activities such as trim settings or letting the AI automatically prevent stalling can be a huge help when you’re just starting to fly or if you just want a more relaxing experience in general.

How to use the autopilot

Even when you fly without using the Flight Simulator in-game assists, you can use your autopilot (if your aircraft is so equipped) for longer journeys.

You can interact with your autopilot by using the cockpit controls, but you may find that using the keyboard shortcuts in this table is quicker, safer, and more convenient.

Autopilot keyboard shortcuts

Autopilot Control Shortcut Autopilot Control Shortcut
Autopilot On Alt+Z Autopilot Airspeed Hold Alt+R
Autopilot Off Shift+ALT+Z Autopilot N1 Hold CTRL+S
Autopilot NAV1 Hold Ctrl+N
Increase Autopilot N1 Reference Ctrl+Home Decrease Autopilot N1 Reference Ctrl+END
Increase Autopilot Reference Airspeed Shift+Ctrl+Insert Decrease Autopilot Reference Airspeed Shift+Ctrl+Del
Increase Autopilot Reference Altitude Ctrl+PgUp Decrease Autopilot Reference Altitude Ctrl+PgDn
Increase Autopilot Reference Vs Ctrl+Home Decrease Autopilot Reference Vs Ctrl+End
Toggle Autopilot Approach Hold Ctrl+A Toggle Autopilot Mach Hold Ctrl+M
Toggle Autopilot Attitude Hold Ctrl+T Toggle Autopilot Localizer Hold Ctrl+O
Toggle Autopilot Master Z Toggle Autopilot Wind Leveller Ctrl+V

How to plan for realistic flights

When flying in Flight Simulator, your path travels above a one-to-one representation of Earth, so plan your journeys accordingly. For example, taking the pilot’s seat on a cross-country flight from Los Angeles to New York City might seem like a cool idea at first, but realize that it’s a five-hour non-stop flight.

Fortunately, you can skip to any part of a journey using the in-game menu, but if you’re flying in real (not accelerated) time, skipping is not an option. Try starting with a 20- to 30-minute flight and slowly increase your time in the air as you gain more skill.

How to make a flight, from takeoff to landing

Regardless of where you decide to take off and land in the world of Flight Simulator, the flight follows procedures similar to those outlined in this article. The specific instructions assume that you use the Cessna 152 for the example flight.


A cold and dark start requires you to run through the entire checklist for the aircraft. Starting from a parked position is one of the best ways to familiarize yourself with an aircraft’s cockpit. The Cessna’s cockpit is relatively simple, but the basics of the startup sequence are similar on every aircraft.

When you spawn (load into the program) into the airport of your choice, you can either pull up Flight Simulator’s built-in checklist or track down an authentic one online to get started.

The in-game checklist for the Cessna is decent, but not every aircraft checklist is up to the same standards. Some give you detailed startup instructions and steps for each part of the flight, but others give you the bare minimum to get the engines started.

To startup the aircraft and get it ready to taxi, use the controls you find in-game and in the cockpit, and follow these steps:

  1. Open the Fuel Shutoff Valve on the floor near the pilot’s seat.
  2. Check that the parking brake is set.
  3. Set the fuel mixture to rich (100 percent).
  4. Set the carburetor heat to Cold (0 percent).
  5. Prime the engine twice.
  6. Open the throttle one-half inch (about 20 percent).
  7. Turn on the Battery Master Switch and Alternator Master Switch.
  8. Turn the ignition to the start position.
  9. Adjust the throttle until the engine is at 1,000 RPM.
  10. Ensure the oil pressure stays in the green as the engine warms up.
  11. Turn on the beacon and navigation lights.

At this point the aircraft is prepared to taxi.


Now that the plane is powered and ready to take off, you need to listen to your local automatic terminal information service (ATIS) for valuable flight information. Tune into the information channel on your radio (the game gives you the frequency) and check the local altimeter pressure and adjust this setting accordingly.

Adjusting the altimeter pressure is an essential step for aircraft like the Cessna that don’t have a Radar Altimeter, especially if you’re planning to fly an instrument flight rules (IFR) plan.

Before you can taxi, you need to get permission to do so. Assuming visual flight rules (VFR) for this flight, you need to tune the radio to ground clearance frequency and request taxi directions to the runway.

You need to tell the air traffic controllers (ATC) your direction of departure, so check your map if you don’t already know it. When you contact ATC for taxi clearance, they give you the route you must take to the runway. The transmitted instructions read something like this:

“Cessna N177AB, taxi to and hold short of runway 35L via taxiway L M cross runway 29 B F A C. Contact tower on 124.2 when ready.”

These instructions translate to the following route:

  1. From where you’re parked, take taxiway L.
  2. Turn onto taxiway M when you see it.
  3. Stay on taxiway M and cross runway 29 when you reach it.
  4. Turn onto taxiway B, then F, then A, then C.
  5. Hold at the line just before you’d move onto runway 35L.

After you reach the hold line, contact the tower (frequency given is 124.2) and request permission for takeoff. When you receive approval, move onto the runway, and stop at the takeoff line.

Taking off and flying

Taking off is one of the easier parts of flying in Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020. While stopping at the takeoff line, run a quick check to ensure everything is configured correctly. When you’re satisfied with your aircraft’s readiness and position on the runway, throttle up to 100 percent and head down the runway.

The Cessna is a pretty slow aircraft, but you don’t need much speed to take off. With 10 percent of flaps, the Cessna takes off at an indicated airspeed in knots (KIAS) of 54 and has a ridiculously low stall speed of 40 KIAS.

After you pitch up the aircraft’s nose and take off, you need to raise your flaps. Make sure to keep your angle of attack in the high green or low yellow and trim out the plane to get it in a steady climb without losing speed.

ATC lets you know the altitude you need to reach, and you just need to follow their instructions as you head to your destination. The usual straight-line flying for VFR makes for a reasonably stress-free trip.


When you get within radio distance of your destination, you can request a landing. You may have a choice of runways, which can be confusing if you’re unfamiliar with the airport.

In this case, you can turn on the landing path display in the Microsoft Flight Simulator AI assist. You can still control the landing, but the assist gives you a clear indicator of how to make the approach.

Landing can be tricky, but the Cessna is very forgiving. Follow these guidelines:

  1. When you’re inbound on the chosen a runway, continue notifying ATC of which leg of the landing approach that you’re currently flying.
  2. Bleed off speed as you make your descent by lowering your engine RPMs.

    With flaps up, you can land at around 60-70 KIAS. However, if you find you’re coming in too fast, you can deploy flaps to use as a pseudo-airbrake. Just make sure you don’t accidentally get underneath your stall speed.

  3. After you touch down, apply your brakes, cut your throttle, and begin your taxi.

    You can pull off on the nearest taxiway and head toward general parking if ATC hasn’t given you a particular route.

  4. After you reach general parking, find an empty space with a pushback tug.

A flagger may guide you into the parking spot. You can then set the parking brake, cut the fuel, and turn off your electronics to end the flight.

About This Article

This article is from the book:

About the book author:

Brittany Vincent is a journalist specializing in the video game industry with nearly a decade and a half of experience reviewing games, reporting on the industry, and aiding manufacturers in research. Her work has appeared on CNET,, and numerous other publications. She is also a frequent guest at gaming conven­tions and events.

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