Flight Simulator Training Guide for MSFS & X-Plane (2024)

Explore all your options for virtual pilot training - both for real-world pilots and simmers.

If you’re ready to take flight lessons on your simulator, you’re in the right place.

This is your comprehensive guide to the world of flight sim training, including virtual flight school add-ons and online flight instruction.

We will cover both free and paid resources to help you learn to fly with confidence and realism.

We will also discuss using a simulator to prepare for real-life flight school.

YouTube [Free]

Example YouTube videos on flight sim education

YouTube is one of the most popular ways to learn to fly your simulator. It’s full of channels with free tutorials on nearly any imaginable topic.

Here are a few popular channels that focus on educational content.

Flight sim tutorials and full flights

Here are some channels where you can find real airline pilots providing tutorials on flying their aircraft:

  • AviationPro: Educational videos made by a real-world Boeing 777 & 787 pilot (with an emphasis on airliner operations and VATSIM)
  • flightdeck2sim: Detailed videos by a Captain/Type Rating Instructor flying the Boeing 737
  • 320 Sim Pilot: Tutorials by a real-world Airbus A320 pilot

More interested in general aviation (GA) aircraft?

PilotEdge, a provider of professional online Air Traffic Control, also offers extensive video content tailored towards GA ops. For example, you can watch playlists of their Workshops and Communication & Airspace Training Ratings – chock-full of quality ATC/airspace content.

Real-world flight students

These channels are intended for real pilots and don’t often feature flight simulators. But they’re still full of great information for those trying to fly realistically.

We also recommend visiting our very own Flight Sim Coach channel. We cover a mix of flight sim tips plus recordings of our live flight lessons with real-world instructors (more about that below).


What are some downsides of YouTube?

While the videos are free, sometimes they focus on getting as many views as possible (instead of educational value).

And of course, a YouTube video isn’t going to critique your flying.

That’s where the below resources can help.

Flight Lessons with a Real Instructor [$60-80/hr]

Imagine having a live, human instructor with you as you fly your simulator.

This is where we can help. Our company can connect you with remote Certified Flight Instructors (CFIs). We make it very easy for you to schedule one on demand.

We are flight sim experts and real pilots. We have thousands of hours of experience working with flight sim users around the globe.

How does it work?

Just share your screen via Zoom, and they can see your cockpit.

They can draw diagrams and notes on your screen for the ultimate visual learning experience. They will help you set up the best exercises tailored to your learning style — guiding you step-by-step and providing instant feedback.

We give our students software called FSC Link. This lets our instructors see things ordinarily not on the screen (like rudder and trim inputs). They can also set failures and change weather conditions from behind the scenes.

We know one-on-one lessons with professional instructors are not cheap.

In this post, we also cover affordable software-based training from other companies.

However, a trained instructor will provide immersive value you can’t get elsewhere. Here are some examples.

Real student pilots

When you’re starting flight training, it’s critical to avoid bad habits.

An experienced instructor will help you avoid common pitfalls of sim users – like focusing too much on the instruments.

Software-based instruction doesn’t do this well. It usually can’t pick up on the tiny details and give expert tips on how to improve your technique.

Real instructors stay up-to-date on the latest rules and test standards. The lessons are safety-focused, and you can discuss situational awareness and risk management. They will also help you use real-world EFB tools like Foreflight.

It’s difficult for any training software to cover all the details about your unique situation.

This is where our instructors shine.

You can pick an instructor with real expertise in your specific aircraft and location — and start learning from a pro.

Flight sim hobbyists

Example lesson with real-world Citation pilot: RNAV (RNP) Approaches (Working Title Cessna Citation CJ4)

There’s simply no more realistic way to learn than with an experienced instructor’s guidance.

They will help you get the details right and motivate you to progress in your virtual pilot career.

They can adapt lessons on the fly to your specific interests and experience level.

Want to practice your ATC calls so you can fly on VATSIM with confidence? We can do it.

Interested in flying alongside a real-life 737 pilot who can answer your burning questions about how things really work at the airlines? We have you covered.

Sim setup and tech support

Our instructors are also sim experts. So in addition to traditional flight training, they can help you use your simulator.

If you need help troubleshooting a problem, advice on your next sim purchase, or someone to set everything up for you, they’re happy to help.


Plus, working with an actual person is much more fun, immersive, and motivating than a computer!

The service is available for both real-world pilots and sim enthusiasts worldwide.

Built-In Flight Lessons and Tutorials [Free]

Microsoft Flight Simulator

MSFS flight lesson on traffic patterns

Microsoft Flight Simulator offers built-in tutorials on basic flight topics, including the following:

  1. Basic controls & cameras: Familiarize yourself with the flight environment
  2. Attitudes & instruments: The fundamentals of flight management
  3. Takeoff & level flight: Getting airborne then staying true
  4. Landing: Techniques for a successful touchdown
  5. Traffic pattern: Maneuver safely around busy airfields
  6. First solo flight: Tackle a traffic pattern on your own
  7. Navigation: Follow a flight plan from point A to point B
  8. First solo navigation: Fly from A to B entirely on your own

The training aircraft is a Cessna 152. This is an excellent choice — it’s easy to fly and has a simple panel.

The training airport of Sedona (KSEZ) has stunning scenery. However, the tabletop configuration of the airport makes it harder to judge your height.

The built-in flight instructor is friendly and encouraging. However, there are some limitations (which apply to any of the software instructor options covered in this article).

  • The instructions are simplistic and “open loop”. The instructor doesn’t react much (or at all) to your control inputs. For example, you can stall on final approach and the instructor might not even mention it.
  • Basic graphics are used to point out things like landmarks and instruments. But generally, the use of graphics is minimal, making it harder for visual learners.
  • You can learn “what” to — but not the “how” or “why” to do it.
MSFS Flight Lesson on Navigation

Despite these limitations, the first couple of lessons are a good way to learn the basic controls and keyboard commands in MSFS, as well as some basic flying techniques.

However, they may fall short for new users who want to understand what they’re doing, refine their techniques, and progress onto more advanced aircraft.

X-Plane

Video by DeuceMS: Example of a student taking X-Plane 12 flight lessons

X-Plane includes a basic flight school functionality. Instruction is provided by text (no voice is available) and some basic graphics.

It takes a step-by-step approach. One advantage is that it controls aspects of the simulator to reduce overwhelm. For example, it disables control of the elevator while you’re learning to turn the airplane, letting you focus on one thing at a time.

It also introduces relevant keyboard shortcuts throughout.

There are three categories of lessons:

  • General aviation: Using X-Plane; takeoffs, landings, and traffic patterns; and taildragger takeoffs. Several different aircraft are used including the SR-22, C172, and Stinson L5.
  • Navigation: Lessons on VOR navigation and ILS approaches
  • Helicopter: Basics in the Sikorsky S-76C

It utilizes some visualization tools for difficult concepts like VOR radials. But if you are a highly visual learner, the text-only instructions with limited explanation may prove difficult.

X-Plane Flight Lesson on VOR Navigation

Report cards are provided after some lessons to give you numerical scores.

By the way, even the mobile version of X-Plane has flight school functionality built in. This is a highly affordable way to learn the basics with a very capable simulator on your phone/tablet.

Flying lesson on the mobile version of X-Plane (Video by swisscheese912)

Prepar3D

Prepar3D does not include built-in flight lessons. However, you can still use other resources like remote instruction or the FSFlyingSchool add-on.

FSX (Microsoft Flight Simulator X)

Did you know you can take lessons from one of the most famous flight instructors (Rod Machado) in FSX?

Rod is an experienced aviation educator known for his engaging sense of humor. Many pilots took their first lesson ever with him in FSX.

If you have FSX, try a flight with the legendary Rod!

Flight Sim Training Add-Ons

The below training add-ons for X-Plane and Microsoft Flight Simulator (MSFS) are enhanced versions of the built-in ones we discussed.

They feature more aircraft, more detailed lessons, and better quality.

While you can’t ask questions or get insightful feedback like you can from a seasoned remote instructor, these are still great, affordable training methods for sim pilots.

FSFlyingSchool [$39.95]

Samples of FSFlyingSchool lessons in the Cessna 152, 172, and Boeing 787

FSFlyingSchool is a flight instructor add-on compatible with all major simulators (MSFS, X-Plane, FSX, and P3D).

It is packed to the brim with features – including talking instructors, a scoring/evaluation system, various challenges, and sharable flight maps.

It supports an impressive number of aircraft (including GA and airliners) so you will have a wide range of learning experiences.

A free demo is available.

TakeFlight Interactive [$89]

Video by Sporty’s demoing the TakeFlight Interactive add-on

The TakeFlight Academy: Private Pilot License is another resource for student pilots to practice maneuvers with a computerized flight instructor.

It includes scoring to visualize your course progress relative to FAA ACS standards, and a leaderboard to satisfy your competitive side.

Their private pilot course includes a Fundamentals section focusing on basic aircraft control. This is followed by a Solo section covering landings, traffic patterns, steep turns, and other maneuvers.

The digital instructor provides instruction by voice and text.

The software works with several simulators, including MSFS, X-Plane 11/12, Prepar3D v4/5 with the A2A Simulations C172, or FSX.

They offer a free trial lesson.

MSFS-Specific

FS Academy [$20-30 per pack]

Video by SimHanger Flight Simulation reviewing FS Academy, which is available in the in-game marketplace.

FS Academy offers a set of training mission packs for Microsoft Flight Simulator (both PC and Xbox).

You can choose to do VFR or IFR training, navigation exercises, or airliner training in the A320. There is even a set of challenging emergency scenarios, including the “Miracle on the Hudson”!

It also includes ground school PDF content so you can learn some of the theory outside of the simulator.

The software uses UK-based procedures. Pilots who plan to fly in the US or other parts of the world should remember that ATC and airspace procedures may be quite different elsewhere.

X-Plane Specific

Gleim X-Plane Flight Training Course (XFTC)

Video by Gleim demonstrating their XFTC course for private pilot training

Gleim Aviation is a leading company best known for helping pilots pass their written exams. They also offer software that can provide flying lessons in X-Plane.

Their X-Plane Flight Training Course (XFTC) is designed for private pilot training. It includes both video content and various tasks/checkpoints. Software-based guidance is provided to give you feedback and evaluation.

It is designed for real-world pilots and uses an FAA-Approved Private Pilot Syllabus.

However, it is more expensive than some of the other options discussed. It also does not support Microsoft Flight Simulator or cover IFR training topics.

Gleim offers a free demo of their first two lessons.

Sporty’s X-Plane 12 VFR Scenarios [Free or $9.95]

Video by Sporty’s showing their training scenarios add-on

Sporty’s offers several ways to take flight lessons in X-Plane.

The free version offers a set of three training scenarios covering steep turns, S-turns, and an ILS approach.

The paid version includes a comprehensive set of VFR private pilot maneuvers like steep turns, go around, and clearing turns.

Each maneuver has a briefing slide and a button that sets up the flight scenario for you, which can be a big time saver.

It also helps you properly set your control positions at the start of each maneuver. This helps prevent the airplane from suddenly zooming or gyrating after you un-pause (a common situation when loading saved scenarios). The software also links each maneuver to the corresponding part of their Learn to Fly Course. However, only a few sample videos are available if you haven’t purchased that course separately.

Volunteer Organizations [Free]

Virtual Airline (VA) Training

A virtual airline (VA) is an online simulation of real-world airline operations, created to mimic the operations and management of an actual airline.

They’re mainly used by aviation enthusiasts to closely simulate the experience of being an airline pilot.

They provide a structured environment and often include training programs.

For example, you can join Southwest Virtual Airlines and use their Department of Training to learn how to fly on VATSIM or operate the Boeing 737.

Training Through Online ATC Networks

Some volunteer-based online ATC networks offer training focused primarily on communications procedures.

The VATSIM Pilot Training Department (PTD) offers extensive training documentation and rating progressions. IVAO offers similar training through its divisions.

There are other organizations such as The Pilot Club Flight School, and ARTCC-specific training such as WINGS Over New England run by the Boston ARTCC.


While virtual airlines and online ATC networks provide a free way to learn, be aware that the training is typically not conducted by real-world certified pilots or instructors. Most virtual airlines are run by enthusiasts and volunteers whose expertise may vary significantly.

FAQ

Can you learn to fly with Microsoft Flight Simulator or X-Plane?

Flight simulators are excellent supplements for real-world flight lessons.

However, they excel at certain areas more than others. For more detailed information, we wrote an in-depth article on this topic.

You can’t put any of the simulator flight time in your logbook or use it towards the minimum training hours — unless it’s a certified simulator and other conditions are met.

Let’s cover the main considerations about using a flight simulator based on your goals.

Using a flight simulator for private pilot (PPL) training

Many instructors from past generations insist that flight simulators have little value for private pilot students.

But that’s changing — especially as the fidelity of home sims and available hardware continues to improve.

Flight simulators will be most helpful during your training for learning procedures, radio communications, navigation, systems, scan patterns, etc.

However, they are not as useful for anything strongly involving the “feel” of the aircraft, such as practicing landing flares and stalls.

Adding a VR headset can create an intense level of immersion for VFR flying. You can effectively practice visual traffic-clearing procedures and use more peripheral vision.

Using a flight simulator for instrument training (IR)

IFR training is very suitable for covering in-depth on a home flight simulator.

Since IFR training is largely about procedures and mentally staying ahead of the airplane, it’s not that important if the simulator doesn’t “feel” like the real airplane.

However, there are some important limitations to consider.

  • Muscle memory: Unless you have extensive hardware controls for your GPS and radios, you can’t fully develop the muscle memory for controlling your avionics.
  • Disorientation: Flying in actual IMC (in the clouds) can be disorienting, even for experienced pilots. Abrupt head movements, sudden accelerations, or turbulence can make this worse and lead to a dangerous condition called spatial disorientation. These are things you won’t be able to experience in a non-motion simulator. So it’s critical to get plenty of real-world IMC experience during instrument training.
  • Circling approaches: Unless you have VR or head tracking, it is hard to fully practice circling approaches. These approaches require you to maneuver to a different runway after flying an instrument approach. The low-altitude maneuvering below a cloud layer requires very high levels of attention and scanning between the airport (possibly to your side) and the instruments. If you only have a single monitor setup, it’s tough to practice this well.

Despite these limitations, even the most basic home flight simulator can be used to extensively practice complex instrument flights. This can save you significant time/money during real-world training.

Do pilots actually use Microsoft Flight Simulator and X-Plane?

Some (but not all) pilots do. Some pilots (including several of our instructors) became interested in their pilot careers by starting with a flight simulation hobby. Others use simulation to keep sharp on their skills in between flights.

Are there any books about flight sim training?

Yes; if you prefer a physical book, consider the following:

Are there any online flight sim training courses (video-based)?

Yes! On online course websites such as Udemy and Skillshare, you can find courses like these:

How do I learn the theory? Should I use an online ground school?

Learning the theory is an essential part of real flight training.

But even if you’re not going for real-world training, studying your plane, airspace rules, and other theory will let you enjoy your sim even more.

We highly recommend using an online ground school or other resources to help you build your foundational knowledge.

Online Ground Schools

There are many options for online ground schools you can complete at your own pace, from the comfort of home. We have outlined them in this article.

YouTube

You can find a handful of free ground school course recordings available on YouTube:

However, the information may not be kept up-to-date, so if you’re a real-world pilot, use them at your own risk.

Several other YouTube channels are great resources for learning various theoretical knowledge topics:

Books

The FAA offers these books for free:

If you are in the UK and want to learn UK-specific procedures, check out The Skyway Code.

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