Free And Paid Flight Simulators For Mac OS X

A Boeing 747 in KLM livery with JFK in the background.
A KLM Boeing 747, just after taking off from KJFK in FlightGear.

I’m an avid, if mediocre, user of flight simulation programs, being a bit of an aviation fanatic. So when I got Jamby, one of the first things I did was scout for a good flight simulator for Mac OS X. The problem is, one can say that flight simulators fall at least partly under the “Gaming” category of software, and if there’s one thing Macs do badly, it’s run games.

Windows users are much luckier, as they have a lot of options. Microsoft makes a commercial flight simulator program for Windows called Flight Simulator X, which, from what I’ve read, renders an immersive flight simulation experience. For cheapskates and open source junkies, there’s FlightGear, a free flight simulator, which is developed and maintained by a vibrant open-source community. There’s even a lightweight flight simulator for Windows called YSFlight, for those who don’t care about fancy graphics and just want the unadulterated feeling of flying a plane.

Mac OS X users have a few choices. Flight Simulator X is a Windows-only program, but there’s a rough OS X equivalent developed by Laminar Research called X-Plane. X-Plane is a commercial flight simulator for Mac OS X, as well as for Linux and Windows. X-Plane is so kickass, there’s even an FAA-certified version of it for sale! A license costs $29 plus shipping, which may sound steep, until you find out that it ships with six dual-layer DVDs with installers for Windows, Mac and Linux, and scenery for the entire world. It doesn’t make the price sound more bearable, but it sure does make it more reasonable. (No purchase-and-download option is available, which is too bad since it would be more environmentally friendly.) For those who, like me, do not have $29 to fund their aviation fantasies, there is FlightGear for Mac, a free flight simulator for Mac OS X. This is the one I use, and it works just as well as its Windows counterpart, although I have to say it’s already crashed on me a couple of times.

If you want, though, you can use Flight Simulator X on Mac OS X…well, sort of. Mac OS X has a feature called Boot Camp, which allows you to dual-boot Windows alongside Mac OS X. If you’re really itching to use Flight Simulator X on your Mac, just install Windows via Boot Camp (official Apple instructions here—WARNING, opens a PDF file), then install FSX on your Windows partition. If you’re a real aviation junkie, you can even devote your entire Windows partition to your flight simulators.

You can raise any questions about free and paid flight simulators by leaving a comment on this post. You can also contact me.

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