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Microsoft Flight Simulator guide: How to enable autopilot

Sit back and let AI control do the work

an Airbus A320 flies over France in Microsoft Flight Simulator Image: Asobo Studio/Xbox Game Studios

Flying around the world takes plenty of time and effort. Keeping your plane on the right path, at the proper elevation, and correct speed requires constantly fiddling with your controller or flight stick. Thankfully, with Microsoft Flight Simulator’s autopilot control, you can see all there is to see without much effort.

Enabling autopilot allows a virtual companion to take the yoke and control your aircraft for you. All you need to do is set up a flight plan and enable some options, and you can sit back and enjoy the view.

In this Microsoft Flight Simulator guide, we’ll show you how to first set up a flight plan, and then the options to enable that allow your computer-controlled pilot to take the stick.

Autopilot versus AI control

For the beginner playing Microsoft Flight Simulator, there may not seem to be a difference between the terms “autopilot” and “AI control.” However, in this simulator, there is a distinction worth pointing out.

Actual autopilot controls on aircraft may differ between vehicles, but in general, autopilot refers to the ability to automate certain functions, such as climbing to certain altitudes or maintaining a particular heading. In Microsoft Flight Simulator, some aircraft will allow you to dial in and automate these commands manually. The depth of explanation required to detail how to navigate these operations on a per vehicle basis is beyond the scope of this guide, but this video from YouTuber Squirrel is a fantastic primer on the autopilot features of the Cessna 172.

AI control in Microsoft Flight Simulator refers to what a layperson might consider autopilot. Enabling this feature allows the plane to fly itself without any input from the player. This guide will cover how to do just that. As such, we’ll be referring to this technique as both “AI control” and “autopilot” interchangeably.

How to set up a flight plan

Setting up a flight plan is as easy a picking a point of departure and arrival.

However, if you’re letting the autopilot feature do all the flying for you, you might want to add a few destinations to your trip. First, set your take off and landing point. Once that’s done, you can add destinations.

A map screen in Microsoft Flight Simulator
An example of a New York City flight plan
Image: Asobo Studio/Xbox Game Studios via Polygon

In the example above, we set up a flight between New York’s LaGuardia Airport and New Jersey’s Newark Airport.

Once that portion of the flight was set, we were free to add stops along the way based on some of the landmarks or points of interest on the map. To add a stop on your flight plan, click on a destination and choose the Add option.

As you can see above, we added a few stops between New York and New Jersey. Clicking the Navlog option below Flight Conditions on the right will reveal a list of all stops.

How to use autopilot

Once you’ve loaded into the simulator, you can start autopilot right from the runway.

To turn autopilot on, highlight your toolbar and choose the AI control icon, which looks like a pilot’s head. Several options will appear that give the computer varying levels of control.

  • Checklist assist will help you deal with the various actions you need to take while flying, like turning off your parking brake, pulling in your landing gear, and other essential tasks.
  • Manage radio comms lets your AI co-pilot speak with the air traffic control tower to make sure you’re communicating all the proper details about your flight.
  • Control aircraft naturally lets your co-pilot handle flying for you. With your flight plan set, they can take off and land for the entirety of your travel plans. Regardless of the complexity of your flight plan, the AI will control the entire trip as smoothly as possible. You can turn this option off at any time to resume control.
The AI control options in Microsoft Flight Simulator
The AI control can do more than just fly your plane
Image: Asobo Studio/Xbox Game Studios via Polygon

Autopilot is a great way to relax. Just remember that once these settings are enabled, they remain on. Be sure to turn them off before your next flight if you don’t plan on using them, or else your next flight will start with your co-pilot automatically assuming control.

Correction: A previous version of this guide didn’t make a clear distinction between Microsoft Flight Simulator’s autopilot functions and AI control. We’ve edited this guide to clarify the differences.