Aircraft Installation Tutorial (FS2004)

This tutorial is designed to help a novice user install any aircraft into Microsoft Flight Simulator 2004. The reader is expected to have a basic understanding of files and folders within the Windows operating system and a basic understanding of file compression programs that are commonly used to package aircraft files. This tutorial will cover the basics of installing aircraft, the structure of the aircraft file, and what is needed to have a fully functioning add-on aircraft. provides several aircraft that can be downloaded from each virtual airline's Fleet page. These aircraft are then used to complete the flights from each virtual airline's schedule. This makes it possible to use the correct aircraft and the correct livery for the flight.

Installing Aircraft into Flight Simulator
For the purposes of this tutorial, it is assumed that you have already downloaded the correct aircraft and are ready to install it. I will use the Northwest 757-300 (current livery) by Project Open Sky for this tutorial. Please download this aircraft and follow along. Before installing this aircraft though, please take a look at the basic directory structure of Microsoft Flight Simulator.

The flight simulator directory is normally C:\Program Files\Microsoft Games\Flight Simulator 9. This will be referred to as the "root" directory of Flight Simulator from this point on and all references to folders will be in relation to this root directory. When opening this directory in Windows Explorer, you can see that it has several subfolders. The one wanted is named Aircraft, as that is where all aircraft files are located, regardless of being an AI aircraft or a flyable aircraft. Each aircraft is installed in its own folder. Open the folder for the default 737-400 that comes with Flight Simulator, which is installed under the Aircraft\b737_400 folder.

Every aircraft in the simulator must have a model, air file, texture, sounds, and an aircraft.cfg file before it will be usable in the simulator. Some aircraft have additional files that are associated with them, which will be looked at later after you install the aircraft.

The aircraft.cfg and .air Files
If you look in the default 737-400 folder, you can see that aircraft.cfg goes into the root of the aircraft folder. This file is the main file used to define the aircraft and what files are required for it to be functional (more on this later). Also within the root aircraft folder is the .air file, which is tied to the aircraft model.

The Model Folder
The first folder is the model folder. This is where the aircraft model files are stored. A model is typically a file with an .mdl extension and a model.cfg file. The aircraft model defines the flight characteristics of a particular aircraft and is a required file.

The Panel Folder
Every aircraft must have some sort of panel or you would have no instruments or flight controls with which to fly it. The panel folder must contain a panel.cfg, which is the panel configuration file. If the aircraft has its own panel then those additional files should also be included in this folder. The 737-400 has its own panel, so the files are already included. It is important to note that some aircraft will use a panel from another aircraft, in which case the panel.cfg will have what is called an "alias" to the panel that will be used for the aircraft. More information on panels can be found in the Panel Installation Tutorial.

The Sound Folder
This folder is where the aircraft sounds are stored. It will contain a file named sound.cfg, which is the configuration file for the aircraft sounds, as well as the associated sound files. You can also use an alias to another folder that contains sounds, in the same way you can with an aircraft panel. This file must be present for the aircraft to appear in the simulator. More information on sounds can be found in the Sounds Installation Tutorial.

The Texture Folder
Finally, there will be at least one folder that contains the aircraft’s textures. Normally they will have a standard name, with at least one folder named Texture. This is where the livery files that define how the aircraft looks within the simulator reside. Each texture or livery should have its own folder, so if you have multiple liveries for a particular aircraft you should have several folders that start with "texture" and have an extension for each livery to distinguish one from the other. The default 737-400 has five different liveries so there are five different folders.

The aircraft.cfg File
The aircraft.cfg file defines where all of the files for an aircraft are located, how it displays in the Flight Simulator user interface, as well as certain characteristics of the aircraft. There is a lot of information in this file, so you should not modify this file unless you really know what you’re doing and you’ve back up your original aircraft.cfg. Below are the parts you should be concerned with.

Upon opening the default 737-400 aircraft.cfg file in Notepad, the [flightsim.x] sections will appear, which are for each livery of the aircraft:

title=Boeing 737-400
ui_variation="American Pacific Airways"
description="One should hardly be surprised that the world's most prolific manufacturer of commercial aircraft is also the producer of the world's most popular jetliner. The 737 became the best-selling commercial jetliner worldwide when orders for it hit 1,831 in June 1987 (surpassing Boeing's own 727 as the previous champ). However, it wasn't always that way. In the first few years of production, there were so few orders that Boeing considered canceling the program. They didn't, and the airplane has more than proven itself in over three decades of service."

title= The title of this livery.
sim= Defines the air file. It should match up with the .air filename but will be entered with no extension. Notice you have a Boeing737-400.air file in the root aircraft directory.
model= This will not have anything here if you are using the default model directory.
panel= Same as above with model.
sound= Same as above with model.
texture= This is the path to the folder with the aircraft livery textures. If blank, it is assumed that liveries are in the “Texture” folder. You must specify a path to the livery relative to the aircraft root folder. For example, texture=1 means a folder named texture.1 contains this aircraft’s textures.
ui_manufacturer, type, variation= These define how the aircraft shows up in the user interface. ui_variation is the livery name. 
description= This is what is displayed in the description information of the aircraft when selected in the user interface. 

Just below the [fltsim.x] sections is the [General] section.


atc_type is what ATC will refer to the aircraft as: “BOEING 737 at FL260, report them in sight…”
atc_model is the specific model of the aircraft, in this case, a 734 or 737-400.

Installing the Aircraft
Now that you know the file structure for an aircraft and where everything should go, you can begin installing the aircraft.

If you open the Northwest 757-300 (current livery), you can see that it contains a folder named POSKY 757-300 NC. If you open that folder, you should see the folders that you are now familiar with. This aircraft has a model, panel, sound, and texture folder, as well as an aircraft.cfg file. All you need to do is put the files in the right places.

Note: Before you start, it is always a good idea to look for a readme.txt file or other text file that is included by the author. This will contain important information on how to install the aircraft into the simulator.

Using what you have learned above, move the download into the Aircraft folder and you should have a new subfolder named "POSKY 757-300 Northwest NC". You should also have all of the required subfolders.

To make sure your aircraft works, start your Flight Simulator and select the aircraft that you just installed. If all went well, you should see the aircraft model displayed as well as the associated livery. If you don't see the Northwest livery on your new 757-300, then you've done something wrong and you should exit Flight Simulator and make sure you've done everything correctly. You’ve either put something in the wrong place or there is no texture folder and you’re seeing the aircraft with a “bare skin” instead of the textures. Another possibility is that your computer cannot display the textures for some reason. Contact the appropriate VA Manager if this is the case. 

If you do see the aircraft, the final test is to make sure that you can load the plane into the simulator and that a panel displays. Once the aircraft is loaded, you should see a panel and should also hear the engines (if you start your aircraft with the engines running). This confirms that all of the required pieces for this aircraft are in place; the model, panel, sounds, and textures. If something isn’t working at this point, you should have a good idea of where the problem might be.

Additional Files
The Project Open Sky 757-300 also contains some additional files that were not covered in this tutorial. These files are not required for a standard aircraft, however Project Open Sky has included some special effect files that are used for the aircraft model, as well as a virtual cockpit. You will see these files in the Effects folder and the folder. These are explained in the readme.txt, which is why it is important that you read the documentation that comes with the aircraft. Each author will typically add these files to their aircraft, and they may or may not work with other aircraft.

You should now be able to install add-on aircraft with relative ease. If you’re having problems with a particular aircraft, you can usually narrow the problem down to a specific area by simply knowing what all of the required pieces are. If you follow this tutorial and are still having problems with a particular aircraft, contact the appropriate VA Manager. If you have done the testing that is in this tutorial, then they should be able to assist you much more easily if you let them know the results of your tests.

Thanks for reading! If you have any questions about this tutorial, please ask on our Message Boards.

This tutorial was originally written by Don Geddes.

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