X-Plane Helicopter & Airliner for iPhone

Laminar Research has recently released two new versions of its X-Plane flight simulator for the iPhone and iPod touch; X-Plane Airliner and X-Plane Helicopter. Each can be purchased for $4.99 from the App Store — around half the price of the standard X-Plane game for iPhone.

X-Plane Background

X-Plane is an innovative application when compared to other flight simulators, as it uses a concept known as blade element theory. Rather than using lookup tables for determining the specific way an aircraft behaves, blade theory assigns independent values to every single element of an aircraft. This makes the software suitable for hardware such as the iPhone as it scales easily. Each download clocks in at under 10MB (incredibly small for a flight simulator).

X-Plane is capable of modeling complex aircraft designs easily, including helicopters, rockets, the Harrier Jump Jet, and the NASA Space Shuttle. There are three versions available for iPhone at present; the standard X-Plane release, X-Plane Airliner, and X-Plane Helicopter. This review will be focusing on the latter two versions which joined the line up in the last couple of days.

X-Plane Airliner Features

X-Plane Airliner lets you take control of four different jumbo jets. You can fly a Boeing 777, 747 or 787, or an Airbus A-380. Each of these aircraft have their differences and similarities, but the software does an excellent job of making it feel as though you really are in control of a powerful machine.

The controls for the Airliner edition take the form of a throttle, flaps, speed brakes and trim, and incorporating a full Electronic Flight Instrument System (EFIS). This full glass EFIS system, with airspeed, heading, altitude, vertical speed, Mach number, DME, and HSI is displayed in the same manner as real airliners.

While it is simple to get an aircraft off the ground, maneuvering it correctly and landing safely is somewhat more of a challenge. Tilting the iPhone controls the direction of the plane (banking left and right, or pushing the nose up and down).

You can fly between 98 airports spread over 60 x 180 miles of terrain, giving you plenty of scope for trying new areas and landing strips. The texture detail isn’t amazing, but for a 10MB download I was suitably impressed. It’s difficult to fault such an accurate flight simulator being ported to such a stripped down device.

X-Plane Helicopter Features

X-Plane Helicopter is, as the name suggests, a flight simulator for helicopters. You are able to control a lightweight Robinson R-22, the commercial Bell-206, the military Black Hawk, or the land and sea rescue ‘Sea King’. These encompass the majority of different styles of helicopter out there, providing a great range of machines to fly.

The flight-area centers around the Grand Canyon, giving you amazing views as you fly your across the various canyons and valleys. It’s a really visually appealing simulation and, according to Laminar, the software offers “the most challenging and realistic flight-models they have produced for iPhone so far.”

The controls for the helicopter version differ slightly, with the collective control being the only one to manually change. The throttle adjusts automatically, altering the engine power to maintain the desired rotor RPM as you increase the load on the rotor. As with the airliner version, tilting the iPhone controls the direction and pitch of the helicopter.

There’s no doubt that the helicopter edition offers a more challenging gameplay style, relying more on the iPhone tilt controls than the airliners. This arguably adds more depth and realism to the game and makes it my personal favorite of the two.

Future Possibilities

Laminar seem committed to improving and enhancing these miniature iPhone apps, stating:

As we update the graphics, flight, and interface technology, we will be periodically updating the various little ‘flavors’ of X-Plane for iPhone with that new technology. For example, we optimized the RAM and frame-rate for the airliner version, and those changes have been released in a standard X-Plane free-update as well. We may also import the advanced EFIS instrumentation from the airliner version to the regular version, and 2 more planes are planned for the regular version as well.

This horizontal system of innovation and change seems set to ensure that each of the small iPhone applications stay regularly updated with new features. Whichever you choose to purchase, you can be sure that you’ll benefit from the improvements to the other applications as well.

Comparable Apps

There are a number of other flight simulator applications for the iPhone which compete with X-Plane. Some examples of others to consider are:

Please do let me know your thoughts on the new version of X-Plane. Do you feel that it provides enough entertainment for use on the iPhone, or would you prefer a flight application with more action and adventure?