While there is a vast number of civil and combat aircraft computer flight simulators for personal computers, balloons are not that well represented in this area. There are a number of aerostats, both balloons and airships available as computer simulated flight models and I am gathering the links to the various download sites where they may be acquired - frequently at no cost - together with a brief review of each. 

BALLOON FLIGHT SIMULATORS

University of Michigan Virtual Reality Lab. A full virtual balloon in the making check out the V LAB!

Free On-line Balloon Flight Simulators

Royal Australian Air Force Balloon Team - Flight Simulator
This is without doubt the best little free on-line balloon flight simulator I have seen and the graphics are excellent. The flight and wind models are by far the most realistic I have encountered. They were 'tested' on the actual Air Force balloon for accuracy. The display is a pseudo 3D isometric (oblique) view of the Australian countryside with three towns and and air force base. The balloon is easy to control while performing very like the real thing and gives the novice helpful 'pop up' hints.  There is a menu about how to operate the balloon using either a keyboard or a mouse.

The game consists of flying the balloon from a launch field, flying to three landings in scoring areas in town sports ovals and flying back to the launch point for a maximum of 400 points. Wind directions at various altitudes, shown on a vertical side bar wind chart allow the pilot to fly a full "Albuquerque Box" manoeuvre.

The only two very minor criticisms of the game are that (as with all other such games so far reviewed) the field of view is limited and the goal is often out of site. A map, which must be frequently referred to, is available to overcome this minor defect.  Secondly, for a balloon pilot, landings are a little too easy with no ground wind. Nonetheless this is a great little game, both informative and educational - and a whole lot of fun. 

The website has excellent factual information on how balloons operate and the schedule of the Air Force balloon.

My Rating: 9/10 

Balloon Team Zug - Balloon Flight Simulator - Switzerland


This is perhaps the best of the 'pure' 2D balloon simulators available on line. The graphics in the main display are more simplistic than those for the Slovenian Balloon Simulator, however the Swiss have compensated somewhat for the lack of forward vision to the target with a 'pop up' map, shown in the inset above.

In addition this simulator provides a demonstration and explanation of standard ballooning competition tasks and tries to overcome the limitations of its primary 'flat' 2D display by providing a secondary map view and vertical wind diagram side bar display. Effectively the Team Zug balloon can be 'flown' 3 dimensionally but only viewed in plan (map) of side (elevation) view on screen.

My Rating: 7/10 

Balloon Simulator- Slovenia


Balloon Simulator from Slovenia is perhaps the best known and used of the online balloon simulators and is the centre of an online ballooning competition. Its beautiful graphics are limited by its simple 2D view which does not allow a view of the target and even the ground can be lost from sight if you fly too high. The balloon flight model is also a little unrealistic with a cooling rate made in heaven.

My Rating: 6/10

The Balloon Federation of America - "Bullseye" Game


This simulator combines a "cockpit" view (a Balloon Works basket and Burner) with a distant view of the "Cyonic.com" balloon. The aim of the game is to fly about 50m to land at a target without actually running out of fuel or crashing. You have to land at under 100 feet/minute, which is a very gentle landing. You point at a pull the burner throttle and vent line to burn and vent. 

The graphics are simple 'flat' shaded images in pseudo 3D. The balloon must be extremely porous as it runs through all its fuel in a few minutes, sinks like a rock and climbs like it was made of lead. None the less it gives an impression of flying a balloon, all be it not a very good balloon.

My Rating: 4/10 - Back to old Slovenia where the balloons fly light!

The Balloon Federation of America - "Splash" Game
The game involves one of ballooning's other flying challenges the "Splash and Dash" - touching down on the surface of a river or lake without actually going in up to your neck!

From the same author/s as the BFA "Bullseye". Same comments about the fuel hunger nature of the balloon but the humour is fun. Try becoming a submariner!

My Rating: 4/10.  Fun, but won't win a beauty prize.

Microsoft Flight Simulator

Many of these aircraft are models produced free of charge by enthusiasts for use in existing retail flight simulators, such as Microsoft Flight Simulator, the most popular and ubiquitous program.

This is the most extensively supported retail flight simulator covering the whole world and supported by third party plane and scenery makers around the world. There is even a static hot air balloon in flight over Seattle in one of the standard 'adventures' that comes with the packaged game, just as there is a blimp over Soldiers Field in Chicago in the 'dense scenery' version of the normal default Meigs Field flight.

In addition there are a number of flyable balloons and airships available as down loads.

Balloons

BALLOON - All hail Capt. Slug! This is a pretty balloon with a pretty awful and unrealistic control system. The 'Captain' says it was built in a rush for a friend. Its flight model is, I think, that of a rocket. You are supposed to tilt it with the joystick for directional control, vent with the throttle and turn the burner on and off by pushing two buttons. Looks good though.

"WIND RIDER" BY BILL LYONS

Click for full size imageOut there, somewhere, is a legend. No longer readily available for free, it's an add-on for Microsoft Flight Simulator 2002 - Bill Lyons "Wind Rider" file. No longer available on his own website this is reputedly the balloon flight simulator which comes closest to the ideal of virtual reality in operation.

"In a pair of very unique aircraft for FS2002, Bill designed these two outstanding examples of the Goodyear Blimp "Defender" and a truly authentically operating Hot Air Balloon with his WindRider file."

I have seen the reviews and screen shots, but the program itself is very difficult to find available for download. I was about to give up, when after many fruitless searches through dead links, I found it at: - Avsim. You can join for free as a member or make a small donation and download it from the Avsim library.

While you're there, download Micro Flight as well!

Micro Flight is an independently developed flight simulator, now a Microsoft Flight Simular add-on.  

Micro Flight 5



The blurb says - "Micro Flight is a state of the art flight simulator specializing in simulating ultralight flying vehicles and micro meteorological conditions. Unlike other flight simulators, Micro Flight simulates the intricate flow of air over the ground and the effects of thermals created by the sun, making it ideal for simulating gliders of all types. Micro Flight also simulates types of vehicles not simulated by other general aviation programs, such as: Hang gliders, Paragliders, Gyroplanes, Helicopters, Trikes, Balloons and more. 

Flight instrumentation and navigational aids were made to resemble real ones, this includes the hand-held GPS, standard flight instruments, head up display and more. The whole environment which the user interacts with is three dimensional; even operating the instruments in the cockpit is made by manipulating them with the mouse and not just by pressing keys. The program has netplay mode which enables users to fly and communicate with each other".

The full version costs $25 US

Airships

HINDENBURG - The giant airship of the 1930's lives again in virtual reality. I know it's out there but I have not found it yet.

WW1 ZEPPELIN

US NAVY BLIMP - This kind of fun to fly occasionally. Slow cumbersome. Like the real thing

GOODYEAR BLIMP - Same as above but in civilian colours. 

Dawn of Aces

This is a popular on-line WW1 air combat game and spin-off of "Warbirds", the most popular WWII on-line combat flight sim. To promote on-line play IEN give away free on-line, a complete download of the game, which includes a complete off-line practice game. http://www.dawnofaces.com/fs_doa.html 

This game beside having beautiful and highly detailed WWI fighters and bombers, has one of the best looking and realistic models of an airship I have seen, the LZ30. 5 engines, ballast, venting as well as bombs and multiple gun positions and some pretty photo realistic scenery to fly over on your way to bomb the next town, airfield or bridge. Artillery spotting is the primary role and the 'big guns' are your big weapon, but you're a big target and burn beautifully.

Besides the LZ30 there are artillery-spotting kite balloons (automatic drones), 'Archie' to dodge and enemy aircraft which may attack.

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