In the world of flight simulation software add-ons, there are “freeware” (no charge) and “payware” (for a price) modifications you can apply to your simulator. One of the best things about the flight simulation community is that it’s always been heavily and passionately supported by creative people who have made their work and contributions available to the community for free.
Many popular flight simulators, including Microsoft Flight Simulator, Prepar3D, and X-Plane, encourage and support community-contributed content. As a result, there are thousands of free downloads available to enhance the simulation experience. They range from well-established organizations with professional websites, to individual posts on forums, submissions to file libraries, and even GitHub repositories.
At times, you might find it’s a little more work to find, configure, and install some freeware add-ons. However, you’re not paying anything for them, and the results you can achieve with free simulator modifications are pretty incredible.
Is freeware really as good as paid content?
In many cases—yes! There are many talented individuals who have donated creations to the community. The nice thing about freeware is that you don’t have to worry about trying before you buy. It’s easy to add in a new scenery or aircraft and decide for yourself whether you like it.
Don’t forget about the default aircraft in the simulators.
Historically, the “stock” aircraft included with a flight simulator were considered to be of limited functionality. However, that has changed in recent years. Today, major flight simulators include high-fidelity, fully-functional aircraft right “out of the box”. In Prepar3D, several of the aircraft available include products that were formerly payware add-ons. In X-Plane, the default Beechcraft Baron, Beechcraft King Air, and Cessna 172 are well-respected in the community, and the Boeing 737 is excellent (made even better by a free add-on we’ll discuss later on this page).
Managing Your Freeware
For all your add-ons, but especially for freeware, it’s a good idea to take an organized approach. Each time you download a product, save the source files (installer, .zip file, etc.) along with a link to the website you downloaded them from. That way, it will be easy to relocate it if you ever need to re-install your simulator or switch computers.
There are thousands of freeware flight simulator add-ons available across the internet, and the process for installing each one is a little different. However, you’ll almost always find clearly-written installation instructions included with each download, and that should be your starting point. The instructions may be right on the download page or included in a ‘.txt’ file titled “ReadMe” with the file download. Like with any add-on, really read those instructions, and follow the steps carefully!
Depending on your simulator, it may also be a good idea to back up files before installing a new product, especially if it requires making significant changes. Modern simulators are making this process easier by allowing add-ons to be installed through a centralized “Add-On Scenery” or “Community” area. When you want to install multiple new freeware add-ons, try them one at a time, so you’ll know what to remove if you encounter something you don’t like.
To help you navigate the sheer magnitude of freeware available, we’ve shared some of the most popular add-on websites below. In most cases, you can search for what you’re looking for, or just browse by the most popular add-on by your simulator, on any of these sites.
FSA Member RecommendationsSuggest an Addition
In April 2021, we polled our community to ask for the top freeware add-on suggestions by simulator. Below are the results. Keep in mind these lists are a small sample of what the freeware community has to offer, and they are provided simply as a means to get you started. If you have recommendations for an add-on to include, please suggest an addition.
We started by reaching out to our members and asking for their top five freeware add-ons across different simulators. We cross-referenced those responses with the most popular freeware add-on sites, looking at the most popular downloads. Then, we polled 100 experienced simmers, including popular content creators and FSA members. Based on our polling, we’re displaying the add-ons that were the most popular in the survey, or those that were mentioned by multiple people.
We know there are amazing freeware products out there and that everyone has some incredible hidden gems. This list is just a small starting point to get you going.
If you have something you feel needs to be added to this list, please suggest an addition. If enough people recommend the same add-on, we’ll consider it for inclusion.
We plan to update this list at least annually, via a survey of FSA Members.
Microsoft Flight Simulator
If you’re interested in a little more “do-it-yourself”, X-Plane supports orthophoto scenery. Members of the community have created free tools that allow you to import satellite imagery directly into the simulator. Check out the US Orthophotos Project and oscarpilote’s Ortho4XP scenery generator (step-by-step instructions).
For MSFS, you’ll find plenty of discussion about free and payware add-ons on the Third Party Addon Discussion category of the Microsoft Flight Simulator Forums.
MSFS has a very active freeware scenery development community. You can find airport scenery updates by searching flightsim.to and the MSFS forums. Some payware developers have also provided free scenery updates to celebrate the release of MSFS, like Aerosoft’s Paderborn/Lippstadt (EDLP).
One of our members provided the following suggestions for freeware add-ons in DCS World. Although we didn’t specifically survey people about these add-ons, we wanted to share the links to these suggestions to get people started in DCS World freeware:
Additional Freeware Options
The following freeware providers have reached out to FSA to make its members aware of their offerings:
In some cases, the best “freeware” is a great YouTube tutorial, a reddit or Discord community, or a forum. Check out our Flight Simulation Resources Guide for a list of popular websites and social media channels that have been recommended by your fellow flight simmers.