It’s the mother of all flight simulators, with a flight model accurate enough that it’s used for general handling testing by… well, Boeing, NASA, etc etc. Oh, and you can order it with a set of Mars scenery discs, if you fancy flying on Mars. It’s really rather good. While it’s not visually up to MS Flight levels, the clouds are gorgeous, and overall it’s more than ‘good enough’; various tweaky geeky things help it piss all over MS Flight when one gets technical. I’m particularly fond of running the number-crunching simulation engine on my Mac, but with only the instrument panel displaying on that machine; out-of-the-cockpit visuals are left to my graphics-mashing WinXP box.
Anyway, X-Plane is also being used in ground training for Burt Rutan’s outrageously futuristic X-Prize entry. Indeed, models of White Knight (the launch vehicle) and SpaceShipOne (the suborbital/re-entry craft) are included in v7 – flying White Knight is a blast. Rutan isn’t saying when the first suborbital flight is planned, but the smart money is on December 17th this year. And if anyone’s going to celebrate the Wrights’ centenary in style, Burt’s the man to pull it off.
Almost makes me wish I’d done that aero engineering degree and gone to work for Scaled Composites.