Create a Real Flight Simulator Environment with Multiple Monitors?

Pilots and flight enthusiasts know all about Microsoft flight simulator.  In fact, they’ve been using it for the better part of a decade (if not longer.) And there are many reasons why, not limited to the fact that it has some of the most accurate features of common aircraft.  Real enough that before I took my first flying lesson, the instructor had me learn the basics with Microsoft Flight Simulator (or FSX for short.)  And it’s not just me.  Flight schools and programs around the country have started integrating Microsoft Flight Simulator into their programs as well, in combination with some pretty awesome multi-monitor setups that create an almost real environment to learn to fly.  We’re going to go over some of the best features of FSX and discuss the best setups as well so that you too can create a realistic multiple monitor flight simulator environments.

When Microsoft released Flight Simulator X, they touted it as the as “an important technological milestone.”  Among the advantages was the ability to play the game without first inserting the disc.  Since it was the first of the Flight Simulator series to be released on DVD-ROM, you can imagine that it also included a pretty sharp graphics update from previous versions.  Technically speaking it was the 10th version of the game to be released, hitting stores on October 17, 2006.  Some of the key new features were navids, GPS and airways.  This version featured over 24,000 airports and 28 detailed cities.  Also included were 18 types of aircraft, which we’ll discuss in more detail in a moment.  It’s also worth nothing that if you bought the deluxe version, you would get an additional 10 cities and 6 additional types of planes.  Three of those planes include the Garmin G1000 flightdeck, a feature that aspiring pilots need to learn.  Another cool feature of the deluxe version is the ability for a player to act as air traffic control for other online users, including an authentic radar screen.  A gold edition was later released as well, which did a couple of things.  It combined the Deluxe Edition and the Acceleration expansion pack into one.

According to Wikipedia, the available aircraft for FSX include:

Beechcraft Baron 58
Beechcraft Baron 58 G1000
Beechcraft King Air 350
Bell 206B JetRanger
Boeing 737-800
Boeing 747-400
Boeing F/A-18 Hornet
Bombardier CRJ-700
Bombardier Learjet LJ-45
Cessna 208-B Grand Caravan
Cessna 172S SkyhawkSP
Cessna 172S Skyhawk SP G1000
de Havilland DHC-2 Beaver floatplane
De Havilland Canada DHC-8
DG-808-S Competition Sailplane
Douglas DC-3
Extra EA-300-S
Grumman G-21-A Goose
McDonnell Douglas MD-83
Maule Orion M-7-260-C Super Rocket on skis
Maule Orion M-7-260-C Super Rocket
Mooney M-20-M Bravo
Mooney M-20-M Bravo G1000
North American P-51D Racer
Piper PA-28 Cherokee 180
Piper J-3C-65 Cub
Robinson R-22 Beta II

Additionally, players can use a few other aircraft for specific missions, although they aren’t available for free flight.  The significance of these aircraft is that they are relatively authentic to the actual controls, handling and features, making it possible to train a new pilot on an aircraft without ever setting foot in the aircraft.

Flight Simulator X: Acceleration was an expansion pack that was released in the US roughly a year after the original release date.  Some of the key features of Acceleration were new aircraft (3 in total), including a helicopter and the ability to “air race” with other players.  Additionally, non-US cities such as Berlin and Istanbul are available for fly over and include stunning and realistic images.

Setting up FSX on a multiple monitor system requires a few things.  Number one is the proper computer components.  In fact, one of the most common criticisms of the game comes from those that attempt to run it on poorly optimized systems.  Although most new computers can now handle FSX, it’s important to note that the proper CPU speeds and multiple cores are generally necessary.  This should go without saying.

Next we’re going to describe how to setup Flight Simulator with multiple monitors.  Of course, before you can setup multiple monitors with FSX, you need to make sure that you computer can handle multiple monitors.  We’ve done extensive writing on this, so we’re not going to cover it again in this article.  That said, if you are using Windows XP or above and you have an extra video output, then the resounding answer is, YES, you do have a multiple monitor capable machine.  The next question is will your hardware allow you to run multiple monitors smoothly.  Especially when you run programs, such FSX, your system might need an extra kick like a high quality graphics card, or even a faster processor.  If you know your computer allows multiple monitors, then proceed to the next steps to setting up multiple monitors for FSX.

One of the coolest features of Flight Simulator X is the its ability to offer multiple views of the space surrounding your aircraft with multiple monitors.  It creates an almost real cockpit environment, perfect for learning a new aircraft.  As a general rule, the center monitor will represent the instrument panel and the view straight ahead, and additional monitors can be used to show the radio stack, GPS, the throttle, or any of the other various windows that are easily accessible in the “Views” menu.

If your video card only allows one monitor connection you have a couple of options.  You can 1) install a second video card or 2) install a card with 2 or more monitor outputs.  Depending on your budget and your overall goal, there are plenty of options available regarding video cards.  Because this has been covered before we won’t really go into detail, but know that both video cards and adapters can expand your existing monitors.  It’s worth noting that most laptops have either a VGA or a DVI output connector on them, making it relatively easy to expand your monitors on most laptops.  Adapters like the DualHead2Go and TripleHead2Go work well for laptops with no additional outputs.  You will, obviously, need additional monitors as well.  If you need additional help setting up your multiple monitors within FSX you can find it in the “Learning Center” within the simulator itself.  The easiest way to access this is to

A)   Start Flight Simulator X

B)   Click Learning Center

C)   Open the index tab and click the letter D

D)   Go to “Display”

E)   Click Using Multiple Monitors

You may also find the topic “Using Views” (also found in the learning center) relevant to your interests.

It’s quite simple to move between monitors when you have additional windows open, but it typically works best if you give the throttle and the radio their own windows.  It goes without saying that this can be done with other cockpit elements as well.  If you’d like to move the windows between monitors just right-click on the window > click “Undock” > the grab and drag the window into another monitor.  Simple!  One tip that Microsoft recommends is not letting a single window stretch to multiple screens, as this will adversely affect the performance of your machine.

If you’d like more information on setting up multiple monitors inside of Microsoft Flight Simulator X if you go to youtube.com.   Many users have demoed how to do this within the software itself making it easy for you to follow along and set these up yourself.

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