Macintosh flight simulators usually fall into one of two categories: military-campaign shoot-’em-ups and ultratame general-aviation trainers. Laminar Research’s X-Plane 5.11 transcends those categories, delivering a general-purpose aircraft simulator capable of modeling virtually anything that flies, from a tiny, remote-controlled model airplane to a space shuttle. The program is loaded with features, and it takes advantage of Mac graphics accelerators to deliver stunningly good performance even on low-end G3 Macs.
After installation, the program runs from your hard disk, but you have to load the CD as a copy-protection key. In the 200MB of disk space the program requires, X-Plane stores a database containing topological, navigation-aid (navaid), and airport information for the entire world; detailed scenery for several large cities; and a fleet of more than 40 aircraft, including prop-driven general-aviation planes, business jets, airliners, helicopters, military craft, and experimental jobs. You can download dozens of other aircraft, as well as additional scenery, from a huge number of X-Plane-groupie Web sites. X-Plane has a large and vocal online constituency that constantly bombards the developer with feature requests. Many of these solicited improvements are delivered in frequent updates downloadable from Laminar’s Web site.
X-Plane’s terrain and surface textures produce realistic close-up views.
X-Plane supports resolution settings as high as 800 by 600 pixels in millions of colors. On a Mac with graphics acceleration, out-the-window graphics are gorgeous; cockpit-instrument depictions are generic but good-looking.
The program sports many bells and whistles, including real-world weather extracted from the Internet, ships and aircraft carriers that roll in realistic seas, authentic precipitation, and realistic runway markings and textures. Air-traffic-controller speech, generated by synthesis rather than a recording, gives you realistic interaction with air-traffic controllers. You can also construct your own aircraft, scenery, and airport layouts.
On a fast G3 or G4 Power Mac, X-Plane is blazingly fast. The simulator’s flight dynamics, based on accurate modeling of aerodynamic surfaces, are very realistic.
Macworld’s Buying Advice
At $199, X-Plane 5.11 costs more than game-style simulators but considerably less than professional FAA-approved training simulators that let you log your flying time, such as FlyElite’s Elite 5.3. Despite X-Plane’s lack of FAA approval, it approaches the quality of approved simulator programs. However, X-Plane isn’t for everyone: you can’t engage enemy aircraft in battle, so if you relish a good dogfight, buy something else. But if you’re a licensed pilot or pilot wannabe looking to experience realistic flight, schedule a ride in X-Plane.