It’s great to just plug some coordinates into Microsoft Flight Simulator, teleport in, and tool around a landmark or your hometown in an aircraft of your choosing. If you’re just wandering, things like headings and directions don’t matter much. For a more simulator-y experience, though, you’ll need things like airports and runways. And a flight plan.
In this Microsoft Flight Simulator guide, we’ll teach you about flight plans, how to make them, and the various ways you have to navigate from point A to point B (and point C, for that matter).
Creating a flight plan
Creating a flight plan is really as simple as picking departure and arrival points on the World Map, and then clicking the Fly button. To just travel from one place to another, that’s really all you have to do.
On your Nav Log, you’ll get a heading and an estimated time en route (ETE). Assuming you fly straight along that heading from the airport you departed for about that long, you’ll eventually reach whatever you’re pointed at. Click the Nav Log button in the upper right of the World Map screen to see the Nav Log before you take off. While flying, you can pull up the Nav Log from the toolbar at the top of the screen or by hitting N on your keyboard.
You can also pick the Travel To option on the Toolbar to fast-forward to that part of your trip. This is limited to the Take-off, Cruise, and Descent phases of your flight, though, so you can’t skip ahead to any additional waypoints you add (see below).
Picking a runway
Once you take off, your job is to turn to the heading specified in your Nav Log. The sooner you’re on that heading, the better (and the closer you’ll get to your destination).
Depending on the size of the airport you’re leaving from, you might have several options for runways. Since a simple flight means getting on your heading as soon as possible, it’s good to know what way you’ll be heading on takeoff (ignoring wind and weather concerns).
Runways are named based on their heading. Add a zero to the end of a runway name, and you’ll have the heading. JFK’s (KJFK) runway 13, for example, roughly follows heading 130°.
Since runways are two-way, this also means that runways have two names. That runway 13 is also runway 31 if you’re heading the opposite way — making its heading 310° (which is 180° from runway 13’s 130°). The L and R on the end of names just mean they’re on the left or right side if there are parallel runways.
To make it easier to fly directly along your path (again, ignoring wind and weather for takeoff conditions), pick a runway that’s already close to your heading.
A good example to put this into practice is to fly from Newark Liberty International (KEWR) to the Statue of Liberty a couple miles to the east. The heading straight from the airport to the monument is 106°. The default (and longest) runways are 4 and 22 (or 40° and 220°). There’s shorter runway, though, pointed at heading 110° — runway 11. Take off from that runway, and you’re already pointed (nearly) straight at your destination.
Flight plan navigation options
Following straight along a heading is good if you’re not going far or you’re flying a plane with limited instruments. If you’re looking for a more detailed trip, you have other options.
On the World Map screen, just below the aircraft you’ve selected, there’s another menu bar that’ll become available once you’ve picked a departure and arrival. By default, this is set to VFR (Direct - GPS). That’s the straightforward, no instruments involved, straight line, as-the-crow-flies flight plan (like we discussed above). You’ll use visual (that’s the V in VFR — Visual Flight Rules) landmarks, your compass, and your VFR map. And that’s it.
The tricky thing about this type of flight is that it’s easy to get lost. If you wander off course, even by a fraction of a degree, you can end up miles from where you were trying to go.
VFR (VOR to VOR), IFR (low-altitude airways), and IFR (high-altitude airways)
A modified version of GPS flight plan above is the VOR to VOR option. Very High Frequency Omnidirectional Range (VOR) navigation uses ground-based beacons to keep you on your course. Your flight plan will automatically get filled in with the appropriate VORs along your route.
VORs use some combination of radio waves, math, and black magic to give you constant heading information. In a plane with the appropriate equipment (something more advanced than the Savage Cub or CTSL), it’ll even tell you how far off course you are.
As you can see in the screenshot below, when looking at your compass, you’ll see an arrow pointing in the direction you should be heading while your current heading is at the top of the compass. (If you’re looking at a more advanced control panel, you might even get a map.) The main body of the arrow is separate, though. It’ll move left or right depending on how far off course you are.
In the image above, we’re heading in the right direction, but we’re a bit east of our intended flight plan. We have to head left (west) to get the body of the arrow lined up correctly.
Both Instrument Flight Rules flight plans, as the name suggests, rely on instruments more than visuals, but both of these options work a lot like the VOR flight plan above. They just do it with different science-driven (or possibly magic-driven) beacons.
Once you have a departure and arrival set, you can add other waypoints to your flight plan. Click on a marker on the World Map, and you’ll get the option to Add it to your flight plan. These additional destinations get added in a logical(ish) order along your original path.