Chapter 4
In-flight: All about instruments, keystrokes and menus

The following is a description of the main systems for controlling the program and piloting the plane. It is assumed that the reader is already familiar with flying, possibly from experience on other simulators. If you are completely new to flying, the tutorials in section 6 are a better resource for learning to fly using FlightGear.

A short leaflet showing the standard keys and designed to be printed can be found at

A reference to most of the keyboard controls can be found under the Help menu in the simulator.

4.1 Starting the engine

Depending on the type of aircraft, you may have to start the engine(s) before you can go flying. The instructions below are generic. Check the aircraft help or aircraft tutorials for more specific instructions.

Once you’ve started the engine, you should check whether the parking brakes are engaged. If so, press the ‘B’ to release them.

4.1.1 Piston Aircraft

For piston-engined aircraft, the magnetos are controlled by the ‘{’ and ‘}’ keys. On most aircraft, the starter is engaged using the ‘s’ key. On multi-engined aircraft you can select which engines to control. Use ‘˜
’  to select all the engines at once. Most magnetos have 4 positions - OFF, LEFT, RIGHT and BOTH. So, to start the selected engine, press the ‘}’ key three times, then hold down ‘s’.

Note that the starting procedure for powerful WWII-era fighter aircraft is often more complex. See the aircraft help for details.

4.1.2 Turboprop Aircraft

Starting a turbo-prop engine generally requires simply moving the condition lever from Off to Idle, using ’m’.

4.1.3 Jet Aircraft

Starting a jet aircraft is significantly more complex, and the controls vary between different aircraft.

  1. Set cutoff ON
  2. Engage the starter
  3. Once the engines spools up to approximately 5% N1, set cutoff OFF
  4. Disengage the starter once the engine has reached operational speed.

4.2 Keyboard controls

While joysticks, yokes and rudder pedals are supported, you can fly FlightGear using the keyboard alone or in conjunction with a mouse, described below.

However you control the aircraft, you will need to use the keyboard for at least some controls.

These key bindings are not hard-coded, but user-adjustable. You can check and change these setting via the file keyboard.xml which can be found in the main FlightGear directory. This is a human-readable plain ASCII file. Although it’s perhaps not the best idea for beginners to modify this file, more advanced users will find it useful to change key bindings according to their wished, e.g. to match other simulators.

4.2.1 Aircraft controls

In order to have full control of the plane during flight via the keyboard you should ensure that NumLock is on, and the FlightGear window is in focus.

Key Action

9/3 Throttle
4/6 Aileron
8/2 Elevator
5 Center aileron/elevator/rudder
7/1 Elevator trim

Tab. 1: Main aircraft controls.

The following keys control the engines :


! Select 1st engine
@ Select 2nd engine
# Select 3rd engine
$ Select 4th engine
{ Decrease magneto on selected engine
} Increase magneto on selected engine
~ Select all engines

s Fire starter on selected engine(s)
M/mLean/Enrich selected engine mixture
N/n Decrease/Increase selected propeller RPM

Tab. 2: Engine control keys

4.2.2 Simulator controls

To change the view direction, you must de-activate NumLock. The available controls are as follows:

Numeric KeyView direction

Shift-8 Forward
Shift-7 Left/forward
Shift-4 Left
Shift-1 Left/back
Shift-2 Back
Shift-3 Right/back
Shift-6 Right
Shift-9 Right/forward

Tab. 3: View directions

Additionally, the following keys allow you to change the view:

Key Action

P Toggle instrument panel on/off
c Toggle3D/2D cockpit (if both are available)
S Cycle panel style full/mini
Shift-F5/F6Shift the panel in y direction
Shift-F7/F8Shift the panel in x direction
Shift-F3 Read a panel from a property list
Ctrl-c Toggle panel/cockpit hotspot visibility
i/I Minimize/maximize HUD
h/H Change color of HUD/toggle HUD off

x/X Zoom in/out
v/V Cycle view modes forth and back
Ctrl-v Reset view modes to pilot view
z/Z Increase/Decrease visibility (fog)
F10 Toggle menu on/off

Tab. 4: Display options

Besides these basic keys there are miscellaneous keys for special actions; some of these you’ll probably not want to try during your first flight:

Key Action

B Toggle parking brake
b Apply all brakes
g/G Raise/lower landing gear
, Apply left brake (useful for differential braking)
. Apply right brake (useful for differential braking)
l Toggle tail-wheel lock)
]/[ Extend/Retract flaps

p Pause Sim
a/A Simulation speed up/slow down
t/T Clock speed up/slow down
Shift-F2Save current flight to fgfs.sav
Shift-F1Restore flight from fgfs.sav
F3 Save screen shot
ESC Exit program

Tab. 5: Miscellaneous keyboard controls.

4.2.3 Autopilot controls

FlightGear supports two types of autopilot - a generic autopilot that works with all aircraft (even those that would not normally have an autopilot), and aircraft-specific autopilots that are controlled from within the cockpit.

The generic autopilot is controlled via the following keys:

Key Action

Ctrl + AToggle altitude lock
Ctrl + GToggle glide slope lock (NAV 1)
Ctrl + HToggle heading hold
Ctrl + NToggle NAV 1 lock
Ctrl + S Toggle autothrottle
Ctrl + TToggle terrain follow (AGL) lock
Ctrl + UAdd 1000 ft. to your altitude (emergency)
F6 Toggle autopilot heading mode
F11 Autopilot altitude dialog

Tab. 6: Autopilot controls.

Ctrl + T is especially interesting as it makes your aircraft behave like a cruise missile, and follow the terrain. Ctrl + U might be handy in case you feel you’re just about to crash.

When the autopilot is enabled, some of the numeric keypad keys function differently and adjust the autopilot rather than the controls themselves:


8 / 2Altitude adjust
4 / 6Heading adjust
9 / 3Autothrottle adjust

Tab. 7: Additional Autopilot controls.

Note that some keyboards use“.” instead of “,”.

4.3 Mouse-controlled actions

As well as selecting menu items and clicking on controls in the cockpit, your mouse can be used for a variety of other valuable functions in FlightGear.

There are three mouse modes: Normal (the default), Control and View. You can change between them by using the right mouse button.

4.3.1 Normal mode

In normal mode, you can control the menus and the panel controls. This mode is indicated by a normal arrow cursor.

To change a switch or toggle, simply click on it with the left or middle mouse button.

To change a knob on a radio or linear control such as the throttle, click on the left hand side to decrease the value, and the right hand side to increase the value. Click with the left mouse button to make a small adjustment, or the right button to make a large one. Some controls, such as radios, also support using the mouse wheel.

Pressing Ctrl-C highlights the clickable hotspots and objects.

4.3.2 Control mode

In control mode you can control the aircraft flight controls by moving the mouse. This mode is indicated by a cross-hair mouse cursor.

In this mode, moving the mouse left or right controls the ailerons and rolls the aircraft. Moving the mouse forwards and or backwards controls the elevator and changes the pitch of the aircraft.

Holding the left mouse button down changes the behaviour so that moving the mouse left/right controls the rudder. Holding the middle mouse button down and moving the mouse forwards/backwards controls the throttle.

Finally, the scroll-wheel may be used to set the elevator trim.

This mode is particularly useful if you do not have a joystick, as it provides much better control of the aircraft than using the keyboard. If you intend to use the mouse to control the aircraft regularly, it is recommended that you enabled auto-coordination, so the ailerons are linked to the rudder. This can be done using --enable-auto-coordination or selecting auto-coordination from the launcher.

4.3.3 View mode

In view mode you can look around using the mouse. This mode is indicated by a double-headed arrow cursor.

Simply moving the mouse pans and tilts your view in the current position. This is particularly useful for looking around the cockpit, or out a side window. The scroll-wheel can be used to zoom in or out. Clicking the left mouse button resets the view back to its initial position, usually straight ahead.

Holding down the middle mouse button and moving the mouse allows you to move the viewpoint itself left/right and up/down. Moving the mouse while both the middle button and Ctrl are held down allows you to move the viewpoint forwards and backwards.

4.4 Menu entries

The menu bar provides access to a variety of options for the simulator and the aircraft. Many aircraft have their own menu items, for changing their registration to automatically starting their engines. These can be found at the end of the menu bar.

To display or hide the menu bar, press F10. You can also display the menu automatically by moving your mouse to the top of the screen.

The menu bar provides the following menus and options.

4.5 The Instrument Panel


Fig. 6: The 3D cockpit of the Cessna 172.

Aircraft within FlightGear can have both a 2-dimensional instrument panel and a 3-dimensional cockpit. The 3-dimensional cockpit provides a much more realistic pilot-eye view, but can be difficult to read with small monitors.

The default Cessna 172P (c172p) has both a 3-dimensional and 2-dimensional cockpit. The 3-dimensional cockpit is activated by default when you start FlightGear, but you can overlay the 2-dimensional instrument panel by selecting View->Toggle 2D Panel from the menu, or pressing the “P” key.

All panel levers and knobs can be operated with the mouse. To change a control, just click with the left/middle mouse button on the corresponding knob/lever. For controls that have a range of positions, using the middle mouse button for larger adjustments. In general, clicking on the right side of a control will increase the value, while clicking the left side of the control will decrease the value.

Some instruments (particularly radios) also support use of a mouse scroll-wheel to change values.

4.6 The Head Up Display

FlightGear also provides a HUD (Head Up Display) . HUDs are generally found in military aircraft and some very advanced jets. However, FlightGear also allows you to use a HUD on many GA aircraft. To activat the HUD, press ‘h’.

The HUD shown in Fig. 7 displays all main flight parameters of the plane. In the center you find the pitch indicator (in degrees) with the aileron indicator above and the rudder indicator below. A corresponding scale for the elevator can be found to the left of the pitch scale along with a pitch trim indicator. On the bottom there is a simple turn indicator.

There are two scales at the extreme left: The inner one displays the speed (in kts) while the outer one indicates position of the throttle. The two scales on the extreme right display your height - the left one shows the height above ground while the right of it displays hieght above sea-level, both being displayed in feet.

Besides this, the HUD delivers some additions information. On the upper left you will find date and time, along with your current position, in latitude and longitude.

You can change color of the HUD using the “H” or “’h” key. Pressing the toggle “i/I” minimizes/maximizes the HUD.


Fig. 7: The HUD, or Head Up Display.