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Microsoft Flight Simulator - Basic Auto Pilot Guide

Written by ApeLikeJay   /   Aug 27, 2020    


Basics to Auto Pilot



A lot of people are confusing auto pilot with co pilot. The game doesn't help with confusion with erroneously labeling the help bar option as "auto pilot". The drop down from the top of the screen is the co pilot. It's buggy and doesn't work. I'm not a pilot and do not have extensive history in flight sims. The following is going off what I've learned that works and has nothing to offer as to why it works this way. It apparently just does.

The auto pilot in each plane's computer does work. At least the ones I've flown. Each model varies in how it's applied and the capabilities of the computer. But essentially and at it's most basic, they all work in the same fashion.

The first thing I'll say is ignore "Alt Hold". I know you assume that you should just be able to type a number here and poof the plane will jump to that height. It doesn't work this way and for the most part you shouldn't even need Alt Hold.

Assuming you've made a flight plan when loading your game (with both arrival and departure), follow these instructions when you first load onto the runway.

Set your altitude with the altitude dial (ALT SEL)

On some models this will automatically enable "Alt Hold". after you have your desired cruise altitude selected, make sure that Alt Hold (ALT) is not turned on.

Select the vertical speed hold (VS)

And set it to the rate you would like to ascend to altitude by increasing the vertical speed dial. Around 1000 feet per minute is a good rate.

You can see both your altitude setting and vert speed setting as you dial them in, on your main panel compass dial and altitude meter.

Select navigation mode to on (NAV)

Now throttle up and take off. raise your gear. aim in the general direction your flight path goes and once you have picked up a little speed engage auto pilot with ALT + Z. Or by clicking auto pilot on the dash (AP).

The plane should do the rest. It will climb to your selected altitude at the vertical speed you selected and follow your flight path.

You have to watch your throttle using this method. At cruising altitude you can overheat your engine by forgetting to cut it. and you can go overspeed because when you are done climbing, the engine will continue to pump out the power it needed to climb and apply this power to forward thrust. And you can stall if you have your vert speed higher than your throttle can handle.

To descend at your destination simply dial down the vertical speed to drop at say 1000 feet per minute, the same as how you climbed.

You can plan your descent by looking at the ETE (estimated time elapse) at the top of your map and doing basic math. If you have 47 minutes left in your flight, cruising at 27k feet. and your destination runway is at 3k feet altitude. then you know that you have to start your descent at a vert speed of -1000 at around 24 minutes remaining in your ETE. To make this match up you are going to want to toggle down your throttle slightly as you start your descent to keep the same speed you had in cruise and not overspeed compared to your cruise speed. If your air speed differs in your descent when compared to your cruising speed, then your ETE will be off for each phase.

You can dial the plane all the way down at a nice even pace like this. Then just SHIFT + ALT + Z to turn off auto pilot as you're coming in for landing. Or click (AP) on the dash.

If you do not have a flight plan filed and want to head in a particular direction, use the heading select (HDG) instead of navigation mode (NAV) in the above process. Using this you can manually change heading and fly via the computer. You can also manually tweak altitude.

Some short cuts for all of this:

  • Control + Insert = increase your heading by 1 degree.
  • Control + Del = decrease your heading by 1 degree.
  • Control + Page Up = increase your altitude by 100 feet.
  • Control + Page Down = decrease altitude by 100 feet.
  • Control + End = decrease vertical speed by 100 feet per minute
  • Control + Home = increase vertical speed by 100 feet per minute

It's worth noting that changing any of the settings by dial can sometimes automatically active them. I mentioned it above. when you change your desired altitude it automatically switches you to altitude hold mode. Shut that off and then switch on vert speed hold and dial in your vert speed to make the change. I wish it wouldn't do this every time.

This is very basic information. You can do a lot more with auto pilot but this should be enough to get you going. More advanced stuff you can do involves changing your flight plan, on the fly so to speak. or adding a destination in flight. Or filing an entirely new plan, or scrapping your current one. A lot can be done with the flight computer. It's not always easy to figure out but if you can learn the above, you'll have lots of time sitting with your plane in cruise mode, to play with the buttons.

Written by ApeLikeJay.