by Mark Avey
Being a constant traveler due to my work, I love the idea of having a flight simulator available on my mobile devices. Flying Development Studio fulfills that wish with the iOS version of Infinite Flight (herein known as IF). IF is also available for Windows Phone 7 (in fact, it was written for the mobile Windows Operating System first).
This review focuses on the iPad version, as that seems the more natural device to run it on, due to its larger screen size and Retina graphics (more on that later) of the new iPad. I’d like to add at this point that I purchased this app prior to being asked to review it. Yep, I put my own hard earned cash down on this one.
So, what do you get? We have 11 aircraft over two scenery areas. There’s flight planning, interactive flight lessons, autopilot, 4 time presets, ILS, multiple camera modes, a log book, achievements, and quite a lot more. In other words, pretty much what you’d expect to get in a full blown desktop sim, but cut down due to the limited resources of a mobile device.
Taking a flight
When the app loads, you’re presented with a Welcome screen.
From here, you can select one of the included flight lessons. This is worth trying out, even if you’re a dedicated simmer, as it will also explain the unique elements of this sim. If you’d rather just dive in, you can select the second of the two options.
From here, you can select your aircraft:
Starting scenery area (and from there you can select from a multitude of different airports, either in Takeoff or Landing scenarios) :
And time of day (split into Sunrise, Noon, Sunset and Night, rather than specific times of day).
Once you’ve set the initial criteria, it’s time to hit that Fly button. Depending on what options you set above, you’ll find yourself either sitting on the runway waiting for takeoff, or in final approach to landing.
If you’re running Infinite Flight on the new iPad, the first thing that hits you is how gorgeous this looks. The first release of ‘IF’ for iOS didn’t support the Retina display and the difference is simply stunning. This currently gives it the visual edge over the obvious comparison – X-Plane – as the latter doesn’t yet support Retina, but I’m sure it’ll only be a matter of time before it does.
The second thing that hits you if you opted for a landing scenario is that it puts you on a VERY short final, with zero throttle! You’ve literally a second or two to work out where you are and to respond before you plummet into the ground. I feel it would be a better option to start you off a little further out from the runway and with at least a little throttle. It’s okay once you’ve got used to it, though, as you learn to remember you have to react quickly.
I’d suggest taking the more leisurely option of a take off scenario for your first few flights, so you’ve plenty of time to get settled and find your way around.
One thing you might want to do before taking off is call up the neat on-board map (which still shows the sim viewpoint through it, making it easier to avoid accidentally putting the aircraft into a bad situation whilst you’re looking at the map – very handy for map checking mid-flight). From the map, you can simply tap an airport or Nav Aid, then tap the Add To FPL or Direct To buttons. This will immediately draw a route to that airport, which you can see on the main map and the mini map that’s drawn in the “cockpit” view. This makes it extremely easy to find your way around and is one of my favorite features of the app. I know it’s an “expected feature”, but I just love how easy it is to use.
It’s worth mentioning that there is no actual cockpit visible in the main cockpit view – you get a view outside plus a HUD, as can be seen below, but this works well:
Flying Infinite Flight
Once you’re airborne and you’ve admired the fluidity of the sim and the impressive handling of the aircraft, you’re going to want to check out some of the other available views.
I’d recommend setting the auto-pilot before playing with the views! To do so, simply tap the Autopilot button, then select whichever options you desire, e.g. Heading, Altitude, Throttle. The settings for these can be fine tuned from the same menu.
Once you’re settled in level flight, you can explore those views. You can choose between:
- Locked Follow
- Airport (Tower) and
- Some aircraft have a virtual cockpit but, if I’m honest, they don’t look terrific (yet)
In Locked Follow and Follow, you can slide your finger across the display to alter the viewpoint and in three of the views, you can use two fingers to pinch in and out to zoom the view. Again, all stuff you’d expect to see in a desktop sim, but very impressive to see on a mobile device.
In all of the views, you’re shown a virtual yoke as a ghosted image, which makes it a lot easier to maintain flight when the autopilot is disengaged. This can be turned off if you’d prefer to fly without it.
In Flight Settings
Another nice feature is the ability to change the flight settings without having to reset your entire flight. Just tap the Menu button (incidentally, all these buttons disappear after a few seconds of non-interaction with them, so your view doesn’t get cluttered, and a single tap on the screen brings them back) and you can then change the Weather and Time.
Time to land
Eventually, you’re going to have to come back down to earth. Once you’ve found your runway, either via the Map or just from flying around, you can opt for a fully manual or, at some airports, an ILS approach. The ILS system appears to just select the nearest airport with ILS, unless I’m missing something, but it seems to work well enough. By default, on approach, you’re presented with a sequence of rectangles to fly through to bring you in for a (hopefully) perfect landing. These can, however, be switched off. If you make a hash of the landing, you’ll be grateful for the handy “20 Second Rewind”, which will roll the simulator back to give you the chance to try again.
IF has some fun extra stuff built in, such as achievements. As the name suggests, these will be unlocked when you achieve certain stages of flight for the first time, e.g. aerobatics, flying at various flight levels etc. Not strictly necessary, but it adds a fun element to the flying. You can view the achievements you’ve unlocked via the built in Log Book.
- The sim looks absolutely gorgeous with the Retina display on the new iPad
- A good range of aircraft provided, from light GA’s to jet fighters and Heavies
- The handling of the aircraft
- The overall fluidity of the simulation
- A lot of thought has gone into the available options
- The app is getting regular updates and the developer listens – and responds – to user feedback
- It’s just plain good old fun!
- Excellent value for money. At £2.99 for an app that will run on your iPad and iPhone, you can’t really go wrong.
As with any software package, there are bound to be a few issues. Given the youth of this product, they are commendably few in number, but it’s only right to mention them.
- There’s a slight hiccup with the engine sound loop on some aircraft. This may be related to the speed at which it can load scenery, as it seems to coincide with a very slight stutter now and then when flying very fast at very low altitudes. (I’ve discussed this with the developers and it’s something they’re investigating).
- As mentioned above, it’d be good to have the landing scenarios start a little further out from the runway. (This will be addressed in a future release).
- There are no animations for the gear and flying surfaces – they’re either up, or down, or at a set angle
There are bound to be comparisons between Infinite Flight and X-Plane. IF has less aircraft and less places to fly in. However, it’s cheaper, and – with the Retina graphics – it looks a whole lot better, especially at sunset. Also, IF appears to be getting updated often and quickly, so this will hopefully close the gap in terms of number of aircraft and airports. Matthieu Laban and Philippe Rollin – the developers of IF – have already listed a number of enhancements coming up in the next release, including new aircraft, formation flying in the Spitfire, new missions, better runway markings and more.
I have both X-Plane and IF. I like both, but I’m using IF more. It’s not just the graphics – I really like the map overlay and the ease of use of the auto-pilot and the package as a whole just seems a lot more fun.
Infinite Flight is an impressive achievement and has enough unique features to make it stand out on its own merits. I can happily recommend it to everyone who has an iPad 3 and/or an iPhone 4S.
IF will run on earlier iOS models, but not the iPhone 3G, 3GS and iPod Touch 3rd Gen. I have only tested it on the iPhone 4S and new iPad.