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Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020 B747 in flight (Photo Courtesy of Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020)

Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020 Takes Off

Microsoft released its long-anticipated Flight Simulator 2020 for download this week to overwhelmingly positive reviews from aviation enthusiasts and gamers alike. A total redesign — not an upgrade to the previous release — the simulation program is advertised as the “next generation of Flight Simulator,” and is receiving rave reviews from professional aviators and seasoned gamers. 

Three key areas — world, weather, and aerodynamics — create the foundation for Microsoft Flight Simulator’s platform.

Four years in the making, Microsoft looked to French software development studio Asobo to create some of the most realistic images and experiences available to flight enthusiasts. The data needed to create the views and provide the next-generation realism is garnered from Bing Maps and is cloud-based on Microsoft’s Azure cloud data repository. Over two petabytes of information is stored in the cloud providing images capable of emulating visual flight rule flights anywhere in the world.

Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020 A320 in flight (Photo: Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020)

And the data is rich. Actual satellite images from Bing Maps are used to create the landscapes. The simulator integrates with flight tracking sites and real-time weather to provide lifelike experiences when flying. Aircraft instrument panels were scanned and digitized to ensure accuracy in their appearance. Extensive research was done to capture aircraft performance from actual pilot operating handbooks as well as from interviews and beta-testing with licensed private and commercial pilots and engineers from airplane manufacturers.

From the start, Microsoft and Asobo focused on the aviation enthusiast in developing the program. The strategy was to create a simulator program for simmers and not just a new game for gamers. The strategy looks to have promising potential.

Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020 nighttime flight simulation. (Photo: Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020)

The platform has a tutorial built in to mimic flight training that one would experience in the real world. First flights begin with a trainer aircraft and basic skills and features are provided. Landing challenges, bush trips and other skill enhancing options will help the flyer to learn the basics of airplane operation and navigation.

For the experienced pilot, users can opt to jump ahead and fly more advanced aircraft at advanced airports utilizing real-time weather, traffic and air traffic control communications.

Enthusiasm in the aviation community is evident. Aviation organizations like Sporty’s Pilot Shop and Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association are providing guidance on how best to maximize the simulator experience.

Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020 Airbus Flight Deck (Photo: Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020)

Microsoft believes their simulator platform will provide “significant steps to help aviation,” according to Jorg Neumann, the head of Microsoft Flight Simulator. In an interview posted on the company’s YouTube page, Neumann believes the simulator has the potential to attract people to aviation, to instill a love of travel and flying in those who have not experienced it and bring aviation back to the world. To that end, Microsoft is expected to announce an upcoming partnership to further enhance a love for travel, perhaps in a marketing-branding venture with a major airline or key aviation company.

Microsoft’s Flight Simulator program is 38 years old, first having been rolled out in 1982. The DOS-based program proved to be popular, even with its rudimentary abilities and functionality. The last version was released in 2006 and had been largely enhanced with upgrades by third party providers with plugins and data upgrades.

Microsoft Flight Simulator aircraft in flight (Photo: Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020)

The new 2020 version is the first to so accurately depict the Earth’s features and even has been referred to as a “digital twin” of the planet. Trees, buildings, hills, vegetation and even cars are shown on highways and in driveways. Only restricted military sites are not shown.

Microsoft isn’t done yet. They plan additional upgrades to include more aircraft types, new aircraft liveries and tweaks to aircraft performance and handling as they are uncovered. The company is working hard to accelerate the virtual reality (VR) capabilities of the platform after hundreds of beta testers and bulletin-board sites commented on its essentiality. Neumann stated VR is a high priority and is expected to be available in 3 months.

Adding to the benefits of cloud hosting for the visual projection of the ground, Microsoft plans to provide continuous updates to its mapping features from Bing Maps as cities expand or change their layouts in the future. These updates are expected to take a matter of days to incorporate.

“We built a sim for simmers, but the invitation is here for anyone who’s ever dreamt of flying, exploring the world, or visiting your favorite destinations. We’ll see you at 30,000 feet,” the company said on its web site. The company’s tagline for the new game is, “The sky is calling. Are you ready to answer?”

Rick Shideler
Rick Shideler
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