Take To The Sky In Mac OS X With FlightGear Flight Sim

The view from 3,000 feet is breathtaking; huge white clouds like islands of Cool Whip are so substantial they look as if I could take a stroll on them. Below, the Earth is a patchwork of greens, browns, and yellows crisscrossed by thin black ribbons. I could stay up here all day.

If only this damned plane would let me! This aircraft seems to have a mind of its own. It is always veering to the left, seeming to want to crash as it edges towards the ground whenever I bank a turn. If anyone else were with me, theyid be depositing the contents of their stomachs into a barf-bag, but itis not my fault. Not all my fault anyway.

I mean, itis tough to pilot a plane using a keyboard instead of a joystick.

I Believe I Can Fly

When many of us were kids, we dreamed of being pilots. One of the attractions of early personal computing was the use of what would now be considered crude flight simulation programs. Macs have always had several flight sims available. In OS X, one of the best flight sims is X-Plane, which has been used to train test pilots on new aircraft. X-Plane is still in beta, with a release pending. It will cost US$99, cheap considering what you get. You should go to the site and check out some of the photos of the experimental aircraft that have been modeled and pre-flown with X-Plane. Impressive.

If you are the adventurous type, are low of funds, and have some time on your hands, there is another flight sim available to you, but youill have to work at it to get it running.

Ready for takeoff.
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FlightGear is an open-source flight sim designed to run on multiple platforms. Thereis a version for Windows, Linux, UNIX, OS 9, and OS X. Like many open-source applications, FlightGear requires that you not be afraid of the command line to get it installed and running. Also, while there is joystick support, you will still have to fiddle with configuration files to get your stick to work properly.

The instructions for installing FlightGear in OS X are generally useful, but those not used to poking around will throw up their hands in frustration because the instruction are not very clear in some areas, and nonexistent in others. Even so, there is lots of documentation, as well as a basic tutorial. For the more experienced, thereis a flying tutorial that, once FlightGear is installed and running, should have you dancing in the clouds in no time.

Since getting FlightGear installed can be a bit daunting, I decided to include installation instructions with this piece. I suggest that you follow these instructions rather than the ones you find with the documentation. I am also assuming that you have some command line experience, but is not entirely necessary; just type in the commands where I tell you, and you should be OK.

As with most flight sims, the hardware you run it on will determine how smooth the sim runs. On a G4 450MHZ Cube with 512MB of RAM FlightGear ran smoothly when there was nothing else running. We suspect that FlightGear will run well on any Mac purchased within the last two years, as long as you have enough RAM.

Wing And A Prayer

The horizon lurched upward as the number on the altimeter was decrementing faster than a shuttle launch countdown. I overcompensated, causing the horizon and sky to swap places several times. Anyone standing on the virtual ground may have believed I was a stunt pilot, up until the instant I buried my Cessna in a corn field.

Rough landing ahead
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I think itis time to figure out how to configure the joysticks.

Installation Instruction for FlightGear

If you follow these instruction exactly, you should be able to get FlightGear up and running in a few minutes.
  1. Download: Go to the Download page at the FlightGear Web site, find the Macintosh OS X (10.2) Binaries, and click on the links for ithe latest version herei and ibase packagei. The base package is a 31 MB download. Note the comment about how to run FlightGear from the command line. It is almost correct. If you type it in as-is, it wonit work. Donit worry, we gotcha covered.
  2. Installation: When Stuffit unpacked the base package, it should have created a FlightGear folder. You will also find a file called fgfs-0.8.0-09.24.02, which is the executable file. Move that file into your FlightGear folder and move the FlightGear folder to someplace convenient. We suggest you put it in the Applications folder. These instruction assume that you have done so.
  3. Tweaks: Open a terminal window. For those of you unfamiliar with the terminal window or command line, the goal here is to get into the FlightGear folder via the command line and change some permissions so FlightGear will run.
    • You should see a prompt in the terminal window that looks like this: vern%. Obviously where iverni is you should see your login name. Now you will icdi (change directory) to your FlightGear folder. If you did place the FlightGear folder under your /Applications folder then you can type in the following:

      cd /Applications/FlightGear
    • Now you will need to change the permissions on the fgfs file so that it will run. Type in the following:

      chmod +x fgfs-0.8.0-09.24.02
  4. Running FlightGear: OK. Now you are ready! We suggest that you make sure other applications are not running, especially if you have a slower Mac. Type in the following command and FlightGear should startup:

    ./fgfs-0.8.0-09.24.02 --fg-root=./

    If that doesnit work then try using the full path:

    ./fgfs-0.8.0-09.24.02 --fg-root=/Applications/FlightGear

There you go! Hopefully, you wonit have any trouble with that. The magic that is open source is also the trouble that can be open source, at least for those not versed in the command line. That said, if you follow my instructions, you should be OK. If any command line jocks have any other advice, please leave a note in the comments below.

Vern Seward keeps a look out for those Unix apps making their way to the Mac, so you donit have to.