This page is designed for users of Flight Simulator X and Prepar3D. X-Plane users, see our forums for information and add-ons for that simulation platform.
In our opinion, there are two critical payware add-ons that every at-home flight simmer should have: ActiveSky and Real Environment Xtreme (REX). Beyond that, your individual preferences will determine the best add-ons to purchase. To help determine what makes the most sense, we have put together a list of five "must have" add-ons that we think you should consider before any others, as well as a list of other top developers to consider.
To expand each of the sections below, click on the blue arrows on the right side of the page.
This page was last updated on July 1, 2019.
ActiveSky and REX work best together. Both products are functionally similar. However, ActiveSky’s weather engine is superior to that of REX, while REX’s add-on textures are richer and broader than those offered in ActiveSky. The ideal configuration is to use REX’s textures (run REX once to select and install those you wish to use but disable its weather engine), then run ActiveSky every time you start FSX to benefit from more realistic weather.
ActiveSky (the current version is ASP4) is an exceptionally realistic and accurate weather engine that offers a substantial improvement to the default weather in FSX/P3D. 180-degree wind shifts at altitude, “popping” clouds, and generally inaccurate weather become a thing of the past.
In addition, ActiveSky also includes over 16 GB of high-definition graphics textures that can be custom-configured or weather-influenced.
Realistic weather—whether your FSX/P3D flights take you on long-haul airliner flights or in the traffic pattern with a C172—is as essential to flying online as it is in an airplane. ActiveSky’s weather engine not only improves the accuracy of weather but also contributes to a more engaging and immersive visual experience by placing more accurate cloud types in better places.
While Real Environment Xtreme does include a weather engine (and it is a substantial improvement over the default), REX’s real value is in the incredibly rich and diverse set of texture enhancements it allows you to configure and install into FSX. The over 20GB of high-definition textures include almost every texture in the game, including the sky, clouds, runways, taxiways, water, and waves. If you’ve ever seen an FSX/P3D screenshot and wondered why it looked so good—REX is probably the answer. The "Overdrive" texture packs add additional texture options that further enhance the REX experience.
Look at the screenshots and you’ll understand why REX contributes more than any other add-on program to an immersive and engaging simulator experience. When the color of the sky at sunset changes a little bit every day, the clouds on the screen look exactly like they do out the window, and you can see the cracks in the HD runway and taxiway textures, FSX is a more enjoyable place to spend time and practice.
Once you have purchased the first two recommended add-ons above, the next set of add-ons we recommend depend on your preferences and reasons for using an at-home simulator. For most users, we suggest you continue with:
FTX Global and Vector work very well together. Most users purchase both (FTX Global Base is required for FTX Vector).
The quality of default aircraft is variable. Some aircraft, like the default Cessna 172, Beechcraft Baron 58, or even CRJ700 are considered to be “not bad”. However, no default aircraft can compare to the physical realism, accuracy of simulation, and visual appeal of high-quality payware aircraft.
Pick an aircraft that fits best with the type of flying you like to do. If you regularly fly piston aircraft, we’ve recommended a few manufacturers you might want to look at. You’ll find most payware aircraft improve the flight dynamics, instrumentation, and visual realism associated with General Aviation aircraft.
If you prefer jet aircraft, payware add-ons offer a major improvement in functionality over default aircraft. All include Flight Management Systems (FMS), the computers that control the autopilots of most modern airliners.
The value you can get from the simulator—either as an aviation enthusiast interested in simulating real-world airliner flights accurately or as a private pilot looking to train in an aircraft that flies as closely as possible to the one you operate in real life—increases exponentially with add-on aircraft. Any of the add-on aircraft listed below offer excellent value, so pick the developer that has an aircraft type you like and get learning!
FTX Global (FTX) upgrades the default non-airport ground textures for FSX. Cities, roads, farms, forests—anything that is considered ground-based “autogen” in FSX gets a major visual improvement with FTX. Vibrant, rich, and appealing Orbx textures are a substantial visual improvement over the default. Compatible with 3rd party landclass and mesh products, the software also includes 3D night lighting for the entire planet. Best of all, there is almost no impact on frames.
FTX Global provides a much more realistic and visually-appealing set of off-airport ground textures that make flying in the simulator more enjoyable. Unlike add-on scenery products which only improve the scenery at an airport, FTX improves everything—from cities to countryside, day and night.
Ground Environment X (GEX) is a similar program that updates "autogen" items. GEX is limited to specific regions (e.g., North America) but is much less expensive than FTX Global. In our experience, FTX Global tends to produce a better visual environment than GEX. However, both are solid programs that will offer a major improvement on the default "autogen" items, and will perform better (i.e., no reduction in frames) than default FTX "autogen".
If you’ve ever been trying to follow a road you can see on your sectional in the simulator and had it disappear—you need FTX Global Vector (Vector)! Vector adds the little textures and details that make flying VFR in FSX actually possible. Bridges, roads, rivers, streams, railroads and railyards, beaches, cemeteries, small islands, and the embankments on the side of highways are just a few of the details you’ll see installing Vector.
If you fly VFR regularly and like to use pilotage (e.g., looking at the sectional and cross-referencing landmarks), you can only do that properly with Vector.
If you regularly fly airliners, UTX may not be as beneficial. However, you’ll still appreciate excellent improvements to coastlines and major roadways, landclass and waterclass files, night lighting, and other ground textures.
Once you have ActiveSky, REX, and Orbx's Global Base and Vector, you are operating in one of the most realistic simulation environments available. However, these programs all improve the general look and feel of FSX/P3D. The remaining add-on products available for FSX/P3D tend to improve only a specific aspect of the simulator, such as a new aircraft to fly or a scenery product specific to a particular region. At this point, the value of a scenery add-on compared with a new aircraft will vary depending on the individual simmer's preferences.
Below, we have categorized what we consider to be some of the top-quality add-on products available for FSX/P3D.
The aircraft developers listed below produce some of the best quality payware add-on aircraft available for FSX. Of course, there are other good quality products out there and, particularly for General Aviation pilots, many of them are available for free. AVSIM.com and FlightSim.com" are websites which both have large libraries of freeware add-ons.
Some add-on aircraft, especially airliners, involve a steep learning curve. While they all come with extensive manuals, expect to spend a fair bit of time learning the new aircraft’s systems before being able to fly it in our session.
Cessna 172, Piper Cherokee
A2A also makes many other very popular add-on products, including Accu-Feel, a third-party lights add-on, and other aircraft.
Airbus X Extended Edition and A319/318 Expansion
NOTE: High Performance PC Required.
PMDG's Boeing 737 and Boeing 777 are considered to be two of the best payware jetliners available for FSX. However, all PMDG aircraft are generally exceptional.
NOTE: High Performance PC Required
The scenery developers listed below produce some of the best quality payware airport and scenery updates for FSX/P3D. While there are many freeware scenery updates that parallel the quality of payware products, this list focuses on payware add-ons.
Scenery from these developers is compatible with updates produced by Boston Virtual ARTCC, though slight differences in airport elevation or taxiway layouts may be noticeable.
Each of the developers produces multiple airports. All are high quality. Click on a developer’s respective link to be redirected to its website.
FlyTampa has long been producing some of the highest quality airport enhancements for FSX/P3D. It recently released an updated version of KBOS for P3D v4.
ORBX is known for its incredibly detailed and accurate terrain regions that are the ideal add-on for General Aviation flyers. The manufacturer also produces airport enhancements; however, it focuses on small rural airports rather than large airline hubs.
FSDreamTeam specializes in large scale airports that airline flyers are sure to visit often. In addition to the mere scenery enhancements, most FSDreamTeam airports also come with moveable jetways and hanger doors, a feature not found in products by other scenery manufacturers.
The utilities below can provide increased realism, particularly for simmers interested in airliner-style flights.
Ground Services X (GSX) provides ground handling vehicles and services at any FSX/P3D airport. Baggage handlers, catering vehicles, and marshallers are included in this very versatile add-on. The product is compatible with virtually any default, freeware, or payware scenery add-on.
Airport Enhancement Services (AES) is similar to GSX but provides a few additional services and is more customized to specific airports. AES is only available at a select set of airports and is generally not compatible with default FSX/P3D scenery. AES is a “pay-per-airport” service.
We are a free, immersive, and realistic air traffic control community for pilots and aviation enthusiasts. We provide air traffic control within the Boston ARTCC on VATSIM. We are not affiliated with the FAA, or the real-world Boston Center facility.