So I am not a frequent virutal civilian flight pilot, but when I do dabble, I want to do it as realistic as I can. For commercial flights, that means planning flights in instrument flight rules and using SIDs, STARs, enroute charts, etc. In the past, I haven’t been doing this often enough to warrant paying for a service (like SimPlates), but as I get more and more involved, I’m finding it harder to locate “free” charts for the airfields I want to fly to.
Although I can restrict my travel to the airports covered by the free documentation I can find, the journey is more important than the charts, but I’m wondering if I’m missing some resources.
What tools do you folks use to get charts? Any hidden freebie gems?
Similarly, what do you use for flight planning tools? I fly Flight Sim Labs’ Concorde, and there’s a great free planning tool that comes with it, but what tools do you all use?
For flight planning…it’s hard to beat Skyvector for their enroute charts of all types and the ability to see the route on the map…you can do that without registering…you can also use Skyvector for approach plates as well…
For approach plates…I tend to use Airnav:
To find the best routes or to file routes that you are likely to get (including SIDS and STARS)…a quick look of the FlightAware IFR database will reveal a lot:
Those are my main tools that I use when I fly professionally…which is pretty much the same stuff I do when simming…
That Flight Aware trick (“IFR Route Analyzer”) is amazing. Not only is it helpful to find what route to use to be “realistic”, it’s very interesting to see how little variation there is in the routes. Hundreds of nav points to chose from but it seems like most traffic goes through just a couple airways. Fascinating.
Anyways, I digest…
The FlightAware trick has also created a specific challenge for me - sometimes I can’t find charts that describe the route that is used by real aircraft. As a specific example, I’m trying to get the STARs for Edmonton International (CYEG) that include the OILRS approaches that are used by aircraft that fly into Edmonton, per Flight Aware.
AirNav doesn’t have Edmonton for some reason (the only Albertian airfield they have is Pincher Creek), and the places where I can find Edmonton Int’l charts are missing the OILRS plates. I can just use another approach, but it makes me wonder if there’s a better place to find them.
But, to be honest, Airnav and Skyvector are easier to navigate these days for all the plates and procedures you need.
I do use Foreflight as well but only because I already have it for real world flying. I wouldn’t recommend it for sim-only flying just because of the cost.
As far as non-US flying, that’s where it gets more complicated. I know some use Navigraph charts for that purpose, but that is a subscription service as well. I haven’t used it so I can’t speak as to the quality or cost but I believe it does have worldwide coverage for enroute charts and approaches.
Skyvector is the bomb for flight planning, far better than the abomination of a flight planning system that JMPS or CFPS is.
So much power but an interface so un user friendly that it causes more problems than anything else…
For approach plates ya airnav or following the links in skyvector after you click an airport. But for work we get issued em, so I dont use em that often (or I bring out of date ones home).
In a sim if I am doing combat stuff and I feel like getting super planny, then penciled line diagrams on paper are still the best way to depict a plan for a pop attack or some kind of attack plan(also in real life), allows the most customization in the least time. Usually will run a sample run through JMPS once IRL just to make sure some stupid error hasnt been made like fragging yourself or something.
Otherwise for fighter jets if we want to get in the weeds with planning we can use the software which will calculate fuel flows and cruise airspeeds for us, or what is more common (unless doing a low level) using rules of thumb that are conservative but also are what we use while flying, just depends on what you are doing that day. If I am doing a low level for 45 minutes you had better bet I will plan the gas down to the last pound to make sure it works. If we are going out to CAP for 40 minutes, I probly wont even turn the computer on.
Using real-time weather engines in both X-Plane and P3D for Air Hauler missions in Alaska and Washington respectively (XP base: PAKT / P3D base: KBVS) has gotten me much more weather aware. Two resources that I use a lot other than the aforementioned SkyVector are:
Secondly, I just found out you can get the excellent (and free) FltPlan Go app for Windows 10 from the Microsoft Store …
Tons of information, maps, charts, tools, calculators etc. and I find you don’t even have to log in to get most of this info. You can also link it to a host of external devices AND SIMULATORS including X-Plane, FSX & Prepar3D! (just select the External icon).