Understanding The Big Picture

How to use Flight Simulator

Flight Simulator allows you to experience the physics and mechanics of flight in both contemporary and historical aircraft. The computer models that Flight Simulator uses for each aircraft's handling characteristics, speeds, and aerodynamics are taken from real-world specifications. In addition to a fleet of realistic aircraft, Flight Simulator also includes more than 23,000 real-world airports, from large urban internationals to small grass strips. Between these landing places, you'll fly high above realistic renditions of real-world terrain, landmarks, scenic wonders, and full-scale cities.

Although it may seem daunting at first, Flight Simulator also offers a wealth of content and features that can help you get the lay of the land, opening the doors to its realistic world.

The User Interface

In order to understand Flight Simulator, start by getting a basic understanding of the user interface. It may help to think of Flight Simulator in terms of two interfaces: the game shell and the in-game interface.

The Game Shell

The game shell appears when you start Flight Simulator. This part of the interface includes a navigation bar along its left side, which you use to access the simulator's various components. Think of the game shell as your base of operations; it's from here that you'll create flights, select previously created flights, learn about flying, and access all of the following educational and entertaining content.

Getting Started

Hosted by aviation experts John and Martha King, Flight Simulator's Getting Started section includes an overview of Flight Simulator's features, as well as introductory videos and a chance to take your very first flight.

Flight Simulator News

If you have an Internet connection, Flight Simulator News can download the latest news and information about Flight Simulator. Click the News link on the left side of the screen.

Century of Flight

Flying magazine West Coast editor Lane Wallace offers nine evocative and insightful essays on the historic aircraft featured in Flight Simulator 2004: A Century of Flight. After you read each aircraft's history, links at the bottom of the stories take you directly to historic flight scenarios that let you literally fly your way through history.


To design your own adventure, click Create a Flight on the left side of the main screen. Choose your aircraft, your starting location and time, the prevailing weather...and start flying. Select a Flight features pre-selected flight scenarios—both historical and modern—that route you directly to some of Flight Simulator's most spectacular scenery and destinations. To learn more, see All About Flights.

Flying Lessons

With renowned flight instructor Rod Machado, Flying Lessons offers ground school courses, starting with the most basic Student Pilot Rating material and progressing through the skills needed to fly the largest jumbo jets. After each lesson, you'll take to the skies to practice what you've just learned.

The Learning Center

The Learning Center offers a wealth of information about using Flight Simulator's numerous features. Although you navigate through the Learning Center like a Web site, you do not need to be connected to the Internet in order to access its information. Each article includes links connecting you to related topics that help you continue exploring.

The Learning Center includes three tabs with information: Key Topics is your visual guide to Flight Simulator's major themes, the Site Map offers a comprehensive table of contents to the Learning Center's articles, and the Index allows you to find Learning Center articles and themes much as you would using the index of a book.


This section of the game shell lets you adjust Flight Simulator to suit your preferences, and to maximize your computer's performance. To learn more about settings, see Options in the Learning Center Site Map.

Rollover Help

When you move the pointer over the buttons and controls in the game's screens and dialog boxes, descriptive text known as rollover help appears in the lower left corner of the Flight Simulator screen. Rollover help is useful for identifying shell elements and their functions.

Dialog Boxes

The game shell's dialog boxes contain buttons, check boxes, sliders, and other elements that let you define various Flight Simulator options. For example, on the Create a Flight screen shown above, clicking the Aircraft/Change button displays the Select Aircraft dialog box.

The In-Game Interface

After you click Fly Now! in the game shell's Create a Flight, Select a Flight, Multiplayer, and Flying Lessons sections, Flight Simulator's in-game interface takes over; you're now in the Flight Simulator world. By default, you're sitting in the cockpit of your selected aircraft with the instrument panel and windshield in front of you. From this vantage point, you can quickly access important information.

The instrument panel, the world, and the menu bar

The Panel

The aircraft instrument panel fills the foreground in the default view. You can hide the panel or switch between three other views: virtual cockpit, spot plane, or tower view. To learn more about views, see Using Views.

The World

Beyond the panel and your aircraft's windshield lies the Flight Simulator world. Flight Simulator models the entire world, including real-world cities and more than 23,000 real-world airports.

The Kneeboard

Many real-world pilots use a kneeboard to hold charts and notes during flight. Likewise, Flight Simulator includes a kneeboard that contains useful information for you to use while flying. To learn more, see Using the Kneeboard.

The kneeboard for the Cessna 172

The kneeboard contains:


To display or hide the kneeboard

  • Press F10.


The altimeter and its dynamic ToolTip

When flying an unfamiliar aircraft, all those dials and buttons on the aircraft panel may seem intimidating. To increase your familiarity with a new plane, move the pointer over any panel item and wait for its ToolTip to appear.

Dynamic ToolTips in the cockpit also show the current readings for various instruments. For example, when you point to the altimeter, its ToolTip will display not only the altimeter's name, but also the current altimeter reading.

The aircraft with dynamic ToolTips are:

In-Game Menus

Press ALT to display the menu bar.

Flight Simulator's menu bar works like menu bars in other programs. When running the simulator in full-screen mode, the bar is hidden; press the ALT key to display the menu bar. Click a menu name, and then move the pointer over menu items and click to select.

For more information about each menu item, see Using the In-Game Menus.