When you first purchase a simulator, you get the "world" (consisting of landscapes, water, and cities), the weather, airports, and aircraft. Especially in modern simulators like MSFS, Infinite Flight, and X-Plane, this base world generally looks excellent. However, you may find that the airports or airplanes included in the simulator may not be as detailed as you would like.
Software add-ons, sometimes known in gaming circles as “mods” or “DLC”, enhance your simulator by integrating new features or aspects into the base world. These add-ons could be free, or could be something you pay for–either through an in-game marketplace or through third-party websites.
Add-ons can be just about anything! Some are created by large organizations with multiple employees, while others can be smaller groups or just passionate simmers who have found a need they want to help full. To give you a sense as to what’s possible, we’ve listed a few examples below, with links to the discounts each developer is offering our FSA members (where applicable)!
- Modifications of an aircraft to give it more realistic properties (like the free FlyByWire A32NX project for MSFS)
- An entirely new aircraft (Cockspur Mustang or FlightFX’s Vision Jet)
- A repaint or livery for an aircraft (like the custom repaints offered by RDPresets)
- A component of an aircraft, like a GPS or FMS (RealSimGear)
- An update to an airport that fixes small bugs but leaves textures unchanged (like this free KBOS update for MSFS)
- A complete overhaul of a default airport that truly makes it look like the real thing (like FlyTampa’s paid scenery products)
- A modification to a distinct area like a city or landscape (as Orbx offers)
- A large-scale modification to a wide area or set of objects (as Orbx also offers)
- A pushback feature, like these for MSFS or X-Plane
- Software that creates additional 'purpose' for your flying, like X-CPL-Pilot for X-Plane
- Better camera angles and recording options, as offered by FlightControlReplay
- Flight tracking utilities such as Simlink/Moving Maps by Navigraph, Little Navmap, Volanta, and SimToolkitPro
- Flight planning software/services such as SimBrief by Navigraph, SkyVector, and FlightAware
Many times, developers who charge for their "payware" software have put in the extra time and effort to make the product worth the money. But that’s not always the case, and there is some incredible "freeware" available too.
So, where do you find all these add-ons?
Many payware developers have websites where you can find and purchase their products. There are also marketplaces like Aerosoft and SimMarket that have add-ons from several publishers. For freeware, consider FlightSim.to for MSFS, the AVSIM library or FlightSim.com for FSX and P3D, and X-Plane.org for X-Plane.
Increasingly, simulators themselves have “in-game” marketplaces that allow you to purchase content and integrate it into the base world immediately. For example, the marketplace in Microsoft Flight Simulator has thousands of aircraft, scenery, and utility add-ons available for direct installation.
A Note on MarketplacesIn exchange for providing you the service of collecting add-ons in one place, marketplaces often charge a commission back to developers. If you want to support developers directly, purchasing the product from their own store–rather than a marketplace–will in some cases allow for your money to more directly fund the creator. However, developers always reply the same when we ask them the question of where customers should buy from: “buy from the place that works best for you!”.
Choosing the Right Add-ons
To help select what products might be right or will get you the best value, we’ve listed some considerations below to help guide you in evaluating potential products or add-on developers.
Think about what simulators you use.
Generally, it’s difficult to find high-quality add-on products that are compatible with more than one simulator (though it’s not unheard-of). If you fly multiple simulators, you'll likely find that different simulators are best suited for different types of flying. For example, you might choose to find a general aviation aircraft for X-Plane but a jetliner aircraft for MSFS.
Evaluate freeware options first.
FSA ResourceWe’ve done the research for you! Our Freeware Guide includes popular freeware add-ons as voted on by our members. Use it to explore some of the top freeware options and download sites.
In general, you’ll find higher quality add-on aircraft and scenery when you pay for it. However, that’s not always the case. One of the most popular aircraft in X-Plane (the Zibo Mod 737-800X) is entirely freeware! The nice thing about freeware is you can download and install it for no cost. So, if you find a freeware option, consider installing it and trying it before you buy the payware option.
You can find freeware on sites like FlightSim.to and X-Plane.org. For payware products, marketplaces like the ones we’ve listed in our Flight Simulation Resources Guide, or just Google, are good options. For example, let’s say you’re looking for an add-on Boeing 757 for X-Plane. Searching “Boeing 757 addon xplane” on Google leads you to the FlightFactor Boeing 757, a highly-regarded Boeing 757 add-on.
Leverage the community for help
If you’ve found a few payware options and are looking to compare them, look for reviews on a reputable flight simulation news website or search YouTube for reviews. You can also look at the developer’s website or see how active they are in the community. Developers who participate in events like FlightSimExpo, Flight Sim Cosford, and the FSweekend tend to be more active in the community.
In general, the best flight simulation developers will be:
- Well-established, having produced one or more add-ons
- Selling products through multiple stores, likely including their own
- Mentioned regularly on news websites like FSElite
- Sponsors or exhibitors at large community events
Remember, the fact that something is “payware” or listed on a popular downloads website does not necessarily mean it's right for you. Picking aircraft from well-known, popular brands is a good place to start, but always conduct your own research before buying.
Software PartnersSuggest an Addition
To give you a sense of what’s available, we’ve categorized FSA Software Partners by the types of add-ons they produce. Software Partners are added to this list when they offer a discount to FSA Members.
However, this is just a fraction of the payware developers out there—and don't forget about the freeware community too! Part of the fun of flight simulation is looking through what's available to find the right add-on for you.