Laminar Research Unveils Full-Featured Smartphone Version of X-Plane

Flight simulator app released just in time for the holidays.

X-Plane mobile 747 airliner
The new mobile X-Plane brings nearly 80 percent of the desktop flight simulator to a smartphone or tablet.Laminar Research

The smartest of smartphones these days can handle plenty of meaty chores like text, audio, photo and even video editing. When it comes to gaming though, most fall pretty short. Nowhere is this more apparent than when we airplane geeks try to recreate our flying with any of the flight simulator apps. Even Laminar Research’s first attempt at bringing their well-known X-Plane flight simulator to a phone or a tablet left users wanting more of the features available from the desktop version.

On December 9, Laminar Research released a new mobile version of the X-Plane 10 flight simulator designed for Apple iOS and Android users whether they run it from their phone or on a tablet. No external controls are needed to run X-Plane 10, only the courage to tilt the phone and your head around in public while staring at a tiny screen that offers some of the most realistic scenery around.

This newest version of X-Plane mobile offers gamers an opportunity to choose from some 30,000 different airports, 11,000 of which include custom scenery the company says looks just like the area surrounding these airports. Laminar Research said the new mobile edition, “opens up new possibilities for training/currency, because it lets the pilot use X-Plane to simulate locations and aircraft that are relevant to their real-world applications.”

When Flying spoke to Thomson Meeks, Laminar Research’s director of customer experience, we asked how much memory an iPhone—for instance—might need in order to keep up with the software’s demands. He said, “about 700 mb should be enough.” At first that sounded minimal considering that Meeks said the mobile app’s goal was to bring much of the fidelity of the flight simulator on a desktop machine to a handheld device. Meeks said the new app includes “70 and 80 percent of the desktop simulator capabilities.” The best way to play the new X-Plane on an iPhone is to first chose the intended route and then download the necessary scenery while in range of a good wifi connection. That leaves the phone free to run the simulator later on its own.

The 3D scenery available on the new X-Plane looks simply unbelievable on a phone. The cockpit views even include a heads-up display device that will quickly prove to simmers why this technology has really taken hold as a way to improve aircraft control while reducing pilot workload. The Cessna 172, for example, also comes with fully functional Garmin 430 or 530 units that a pilot can program any way they choose. Using a finger to scroll, the user can view any portion of the cockpit or outside view of any of the 17 aircraft models available through Laminar Research for the app. Additionally, the new mobile X-Plane allows users to set the time of day, local weather conditions and even potential system failures.

Meeks says the company hopes a major side benefit to the near desktop-like X-Plane will be getting more young people excited about aviation. Running X-Plane on a desktop machine can be expensive, “But everyone has a phone or an iPad,” Meeks said. “If we can engage kids with the tools they have in their pockets that’s a win for us and the industry.”

X-Plane software can be downloaded for free and includes the Cessna 172 and Cirrus Vison Jet. What makes the app really pop though is the rich scenery and extra aircraft. A monthly subscription to the scenery runs $5.99 and includes these additional aircraft: Piper Cub, Douglas DC-3, Beechcraft Baron, Piaggio Avanti, Beechcraft King Air 90, Bombardier CRJ, Airbus A320, Boeing 777, Boeing 737, McDonnell-Douglas MD-80, Boeing 747, A10 Thunderbolt, McDonnell-Douglas F4 Phantom and F22 Raptor.

For those who want a look before they commit, Apple users will find the iOS version here, while Android users can find what they need here. X-Plane also offers a complete user guide.