“What add-ons should I buy to make my FSX look like yours?” If you are new to Flight Simulator or Prepar3d – take a look at my “must have” list.
- Most important add-ons (basic improvements)
- Weather add-on set
- Terrain improvements
- Area sceneries
- Airport suggestions
- Quick glance on aircraft market
People ask me how to make their FSX look like mine. The answer is easy – it’s all about add-ons and configuration. Today I will focus on add-ons.
I need to warn you (yes – this is a disclaimer) – I have strong personal preferences that affect my judgement. I will not try to be objective here. I do not feel that I have to. I am presenting my set-up. “My” is the operative word here. That means that you may find some other suggestions – some of them equally good (or even better). But if you like my screenshots – this is why they look as they look.
(Obligatory) starter set
- SimConnect (FSX:SE users only) – free
- FSUIPC (all users) – free or payware
- DX10 Fixer (all users) – payware
- UIAutomationCore (legace FSX users only) – free
- FSUIPC (all users) – free
Read more about the first steps in upgrading your FSX. The part concerning FSUIPC is also applicable to all P3D users.
People using the legacy FSX (non steam versions) should also read the beginning of my tweak guide to know how to install UIAutomationCore.dll.
I strongly recommend freeware FreeMeshX. Read my review of this add-on.
Weather add-ons can be divided into two groups:
The weather engine (Active Sky Next) is responsible for weather data and cloud drawing. ASN injects winds, clouds and precipitation into the Flight Simulator and manages weather changes while you fly. A good weather engine (I consider ASN to be very good) uses real time, real world data to keep your weather as realistic as possible. This includes real-world winds at all altitudes.
Cloud and sky textures
Texture software (like REX 4 Texture Direct HD with Soft Clouds) that I use replaces default low-resolution clouds with images that are much sharper and much more detailed. In REX 4 you can choose clouds that are 512 square pixels in size, or 1024 sq px, 2048 or even 4096 sq px (the higher, the better but higher resolution comes at a price of performance). Together with new cloud textures REX 4 gives you new sky colors (daytime, dusk and dawn) and new water textures. It also improves runway/taxiway textures at default airports (and some payware too).
There is some confusion between REX 4 TD and Soft Clouds. REX TD uses sharp textures that look great form a distance. Soft Clouds add-on ads clouds that appear to be volumetric (although they are not). You can spot both types on the image below. I suggest you buy REX TD with Soft Clouds (both add-ons can be purchased separately).
FSX / P3D
All add-ons I mentioned here work with FSX (including Steam Edition) and Prepar3d.
Basically you have two options. You can go with a freeware ground textures or you can buy them. In my opinion – freeware and payware add-ons have nothing in common – there is such a difference in how they change users experience. That is why I strongly recommend the payware solution. If you do not have money for FTX Global – consider using freeware add-ons.
Freeware ground textures
I wrote three articles about replacement textures for FSX:
- Moon, roads, rocks and trees – freeware for FSX & P3D
- Better ground textures for FSX and P3D (freeware)
- Grass HD for FSX and P3D (freeware)
Payware ground textures – ORBX FTX Global Base
If you can afford it (normal price – AUD$99.95, Christmas Sale price – AUD$64.95) you should buy FTX Global Base from ORBX.
For details – read my review. In short – this add-on will completely change your experience in FSX (P3D) – almost all ground textures will be replaced.
Realistic terrain – area sceneries
Global and large area sceneries
ORBX published FTX Global Vector. This scenery replaces default FSX vector objects (roads, rivers, coastlines…) with an updated set.
- FTX Global Vector – ORBX – review (5*)
- Buy FTX Global Vector
- you need to have FTX Global Base to install Vector
ORBX also offers their FTX Global openLC (Europe and Canada/Alaska). This add-on replaces the default landclass (terrain type definition) and ads new textures (improving FTX Global Base).
- FTX Global openLC Europe – ORBX – review (5*)
- Buy FTX Global openLC Europe
- you need to have FTX Global Base to install openLC
Regional area sceneries
ORBX made several regional area sceneries. They do the same as Global+Vector+openLC set but they do this better – they take changes much further. You can choose:
I reviewed some of those sceneries:
- FTX Northern California – ORBX – review (5*)
- FTX Norway – ORBX – review (5*)
- FTX Pacific Northwest – ORBX – review (5*)
If you are not decided to pay for such scenery – I suggest you try a demo from ORBX. You can use Tasmania (Australia) and Olympic Peninsula (Washington state, USA) under FSX and the latter scenery under P3D. I really enjoyed flying over Tasmania – you can even install ORBX freeware Launceston Airport with this scenery.
Sceneries based on aerial images are a different kind. They show the real world image of the ground but they are usually more expensive and they take a lot of space on hard drive.
I recently reviewed:
Apart from MegaSceneryEarth which offers almost all states of U.S. and several European countries you should get familiar with BlueSkyScenery – this website provides the best freeware photosceneries of the USA. Also Netherlands and Italy have a good freeware photosceneries.
It is difficult to give you a simple suggestion on what you should buy first. I will not suggest a single airport – it’s entirely up to you. I will only suggest that if it is your first payware airport – you should buy something that you really like and you should not go for a cheap product – choose high quality instead. Look for an airport that has good reviews (here or elsewhere). Take a look at the screenshots – if you like them – there is a better chance you will like the product you bought.
If you are looking for something extraordinary – pick one of the airports I rated with 6 stars:
- Monterey Regional Airport – ORBX – review (6*)
- Palm Springs – ORBX – review (6*)
- PAKT – Ketchikan International Airport – ORBX – review (6*)
- Twentynine Palms KNTP – 29Palms – review (6*)
If you wish to try some add-on airports for free – there are several I can recommend.
Zegrze Pomorskie (5* review) is a small ex-military airport in Poland. It’s quality is superb. Heringsdorf by Captain7.de is even better! Give them a try. If you like Heringsdorf – there is a payware Magdeburg from the same developer (read my review of Magdeburg Airport).
Payware airport developers that I can recommend (based on my personal experience – alphabetical order)
- 29Palms (and 29Palms together with Captain7)
- Drzewiecki Design
- Vidan Design
I know that it may be confusing when you look at all those aircraft and wonder which one should you buy. Let me share my favorites with you.
Top quality, immense realism
There are two brands that assure you of the top quality – it’s A2A and PMDG.
A2A offers general aviation and historical aircraft. They have made the best Cessna 172 for FSX. They also made my favorite Piper Comanche. In earlier planes they sold AccuSim (the realism expansion pack) separately – like in this Spitfire + AccuSim for Spitfire. Currently (in recently published general aviation planes) AccuSim is built in the base product.
Both companies use separate licences for FSX and P3D add-ons.
Aerosoft’s planes that I tried varied. They were superb – like the F-14 (read my 4 part review). Their Katana looks great (I have not tried it yet). Some of their add-ons got 4* in my reviews (like Wilga). No Aerosoft plane that I flew would get anything less than 4 stars. This means quality. I like their planes for that – they are reliable and sometimes – great.
I have several aircraft from this developer. I am satisfied but I am not amazed. Good, reliable, correct…
Carenado and Alabeo
Carenado and its sister company makes beautiful planes but has an easy (or lax) attitude to systems and some details. Their planes get 3* and 4* reviews at my blogs. I like them… but… there is always something that could be improved.
More about planes
I need to translate a text that I wrote about the planes that I have. Expect it soon. If you need more suggestions – I also recommend Quality Wings BAe 146 / Avro RJ, Sibwings An-2, RealAir Duke, Cera Sim helicopters (Bell 212 and 222), Vertigo Studios Panther and Lionheart Kodiak.
Lotus L-39 Albatros (honorable mention)
I also need to mention Lotus L-39. It is a great military jet trainer.
You are often asking me about my screenshots – angles and camera positions.
Camera – EZDOK
I use Flight1 EZDOK camera. It gives me freedom of movement and makes looking around a little easier in flight.
When I fly small planes and military jets I often use TrackIR head tracking software. I strongly recommend it for all military and aerobatic pilots!
For flight planning (in IFR flights) I use Professional Flight Planner X.
Ground Services X
An add-on that brings airport service vehicles.
Weapons add-on – a must have for anyone flying military aircraft (check your aircraft compatibility before buying).