2023 was certainly a great year for us flight simmers. I will often showcase favorite aircraft and add-ons as they arise, and some products that were introduced in 2021-22 still remain strong and the best in their class. Just like Oprah Winfrey, I too have my list of favorite things to share. They won’t make me famous, nor do the authors of all these become an overnight sensation and instant millionaires like Oprah’s following dictates, but nonetheless my list is solid in my own mind.
1. Learjet 35A by FlySimWare
The FlySimWare Lear 35A offers truly amazing visuals. [Courtesy: Peter James]
I think my favorite thing of 2023 was the sudden release of the FlySimWare Lear 35A. This is a humdinger of a masterpiece even if it’s still at the “early access” stage. I can’t recall another aircraft that has been so great right out of the box, with so little wait time or hoopla. I mean, we have the greats such as PMDG and Fenix, but they don’t get dropped suddenly without any long waits.
The Lear 35A is a fabulous addition to the bizjet genre and one that will be continually upgraded. I have not flown an actual Learjet in real life, but since this product was designed with the input of real Lear 35 pilots, I can safely assume it’s been done well. From what I can see having flown bizjets for 20 years now, it’s spot on. The handling quality is sweet, balanced, and well tuned. Trimming, momentum, and effects of gear and flaps all seem accurate, as well as the feeling of liftoff and touchdown. The amount of float, touchdown quality, and steering on the runway seem good to me as well as the powerful reversers that will do most of the work after landing.
The only thing is since it’s early access, some of the sounds are still lacking or missing. I would love more of the environmental system sounds, as well as a more robust thrust reverser roar, which would be quite loud. However, the engine spool-up and high rpm harmonic “humming” you’d hear from up front is spot on. Brilliant in that audio regard.
This aircraft is so beautiful to look at, and all parts externally are replicated to perfect scale. My trained eyes usually find things not designed to scale or size, but in this case, I can’t find anything. It’s a perfect visual blueprint of the real thing. With a product this great, the problem is we wish for the release of many more bizjets immediately. Gimme more now!
Grab your Learjet 35A from the FlySimWare store.
2. Kuro 787-8 Dreamliner (freeware)
The flying quality of the Kuro 787-8 Dreamliner add-on really stands out. [Courtesy: Peter James]
This little gem is a remake of the default 787-10 that brings forth the smallest 787 variant, the 787-8. This somewhat stubby-looking (perfect in my mind) version makes for an amazing private jet conversion with beautiful liveries available (any airline you want is an option too). This freebie comes updated with Asobo’s default 787-10 stretch (only in the premium deluxe Microsoft Flight Simulator installation), where service upgrades to panels and systems are already complete. The flying quality is great, and I have been able to perform perfect autolands with this model, a sign of a great build. It comes with its own sound set as well. It’s truly a great add-on and one of my favorites of the entire year.
It’s continually updated and available at the flightsim.to website (the greatest place to get all your MSFS 2020 free items and mods).
3. A2A Piper Comanche
The A2A Piper Comanche needs to be maintained and treated well. [Courtesy: Peter James]
This A2A gem is probably most GA flyers’ No. 1 product of the year for sure. I am not an expert on the smaller things, and haven’t used this enough to give my expert opinion, but sometimes you need to rely on others. This is a living, breathing airplane that has to be maintained and treated well.
This is a new function that a lot of designers are bringing into their products and MSFS supports constant-state aircraft that save flight times, wear and tear, health and maintenance practices as you fly. It remembers this so even after flying other aircraft, when you go back to this one, as long as you have a constant state toggled, you’ll be using this feature. Real Comanche pilots are heralding this is the best airplane ever for the MSFS series. Some folks have given up flying anything else.
In my limited experience, I did enjoy the fact that I damaged the engine by not following procedures, proper warm-up, and fouled plugs. You can use a built-in tablet to view engine health as it runs live. The sounds are great and will accompany any problems with accuracy. A2A is known for top-quality sim aircraft and add-ons, and this one has certainly kept its reputation on the top of the pile.
4. Carenado Turbo Stationair 207
Recently released via the MSFS Marketplace is the Carenado Cessna (stretched) 207 Turbo Stationair— a spectacular looking replication of the real-life workhorse. For a mere $14, you can grab this beauty. I loved the appearance, sounds, and feel of hand flying this fabulous, fast-and-furious, do-it-all airplane. From short mountain strips to long-haul journeys, this works. And it kinda has that feeling that “maybe someday I could buy one of these things.”
The aircraft comes with many fabulous variants, like passenger, cargo, pants or no pants, etc. A good variety of paint jobs, or liveries, are also included. I wasn’t expecting this either, and it’s a great addition to my sim that I really enjoy flying again and again.
5. Black Square (Anything it does is amazing)
The TBM 850 is a stand-alone, first-time Black Square product that shines. [Courtesy: Peter James]
Fairly new to the flightsim genre is Black Square. It has been making fabulous enhancements to default aircraft like the Bonanza, King Air 350i, and Baron 58 for a while now, complete with more realistic systems, panels, displays, analogue options (six-pack) with aircraft health and vulnerability built in.
The Black Square Daher TBM 850 represents a mix of new and somewhat older. [Courtesy: Peter James]
Just a few months ago, Black Square released its first entire airplane, the powerful Daher TBM 850, to compete with the default Asobo version. Some of us really enjoy the slightly older mix of steam gauges and modern stuff, and Black Square has certainly fulfilled many of our wishes. Everything it does is fabulous, and these products really stand out. The Just Flight store has them all here and here on the website.
6. Felis 747-200 for X-Plane 11/12
The Felis 747-200 for X-Plane 11/12 is one of the most realistic airliner add-ons around. [Courtesy: Peter James]
In my recent article, I went crazy over this X-Plane marvel. The classic 747-200 is simulated from head to tail in “study level” fashion. This is, by far, the most realistic airliner I’ve ever used for any sim, period. It may have to do with the built-in flying properties of XP itself, combined with brilliant programming and realism put into this production. You can actually feel the momentum, weight, and physics all at work as you hand fly this beast, unlike any other heavy jets I have tackled prior. It’s so good that I would recommend getting XP11/12 just for this.
However, because of the unrefined status of XP12 currently (graphical and performance issues are still a problem when compared to MSFS), I’d recommend it on XP11 for the smoothest experience. Sometime by March, XP12 will be receiving a graphical and performance fix as noted by developer Laminar Research. This may be the actual piece XP fans have been waiting for to challenge MSFS performance and refined photorealistic visuals.
7. FSRealistic or XPRealistic for both sims
These programs add some great features that were left out of the native simulator versions. [Courtesy: Peter James]
Anyone who has followed me knows I am a huge fan of XPRealistic and FSRealistic. Both are an absolute must have during sim sessions. It adds everything that was left out of the native simulator versions—both by X-Plane and MSFS default programs—including wind, gear thumps, gear drag, flap noises, speed brakes, prop wash, touchdown sounds, thrust reverser roar, water landing sounds, screaming frightened passengers, turbulence-shaking rattles, and added motion and vibrational effects. All these things and more are now available and customizable by the user. It’s easy to use and I could not imagine sim flights without it. Not sure why base sims don’t include more of this style of immersion, but they don’t. These great add-ons are available from many outlets such as mine.
8. FSLTL live traffic injector for MSFS
Seeing actual traffic in sim definitely makes the experience more realistic. [Courtesy: Peter James]
Since getting a new, more powerful laptop to run MSFS, I am now tinkering with live traffic. I had always avoided using any traffic due to the hit on performance and increased likelihood of stutters with such a draw on the CPU. But now it’s no longer really an issue. So after trying the built-in default traffic and getting screen freezes, I kept default traffic off and went to freeware third-party vendor FSLTL.
FSLTL grabs live ADS-B data worldwide and puts the real traffic in sim with actual visual models of the traffic and their airlines if it is an airliner you’re supposed to see. The visual realism is great, and the immersion of seeing lumbering airliners in cue out to the active runway is jaw-dropping. Then they takeoff with a roar over your head or a trail of water vapor in tow if the runway is wet… wow! Seeing contrails in motion or distant aircraft lighting is very realistic.
If you’re a fan of traffic watching, you can find out who you’re seeing either from the web, apps like FlightRadar24, or a built-in screen that you can open which shows exactly what traffic is being created, aircraft type, airline, and where they are going.
All of this creates a performance hit. At large airports, it will take maybe 10 to 20 percent off the frame rate compared to what it would have with no traffic selected. That is far less than the hit from default live traffic by Asobo, because you can really allow a lot more traffic to display at any one time (adjustable). On a fast machine, you won’t care.
For more information, check out the website.
9. FS-ATC Chatter for both sims
This little program available from Stick and Rudder Studios is available for both X-Plane and MSFS platforms. It will automatically play realistic ATC chatter from around the world, depending on where you are and what your current flight regime is. So you’ll hear accurate accents and dialects in each phase of flight. If you’re in Canada, you’ll hear its controllers. You’ll get accurate ground, tower, departure/arrival, center chatter, etc. The program features regular updates, and voice files are added often so you’ll never be bored hearing the same thing over and over. This is another little gem of a program that adds so much realism for both XP and MSFS.
I could keep going, but these are the 2023 add-ons that stand out to me as being exceptional products. There are many more items in my library that I use daily that could be honorable mentions. And it’s possible I have forgotten something. I am sure that 2024 is going to be another super year for this industry.