Time flies. Literally and figuratively. More than 38 years ago, in 1982, Bill Gates introduced the now iconic Microsoft Flight Simulator. The personal computer just made its entry. Mobile phones, laptops, the cloud and apps like Facebook and Spotify were still to be born. The flight simulator was then, how simple in our eyes now, groundbreaking, but is absolutely not in the very latest version of the company‘s longest running franchise that will be released on Tuesday 18 August.
By applying the latest technologies, including the most modern graphics techniques, cloud computing and artificial intelligence, the French software developer Asobo Studio has taken the flight simulator to an exceptionally high level. The only difference from real flying is that you stay on the ground and feel no movement. Just a round of the Statue of Liberty in New York? Or about your favorite Greek holiday island, or just about the beautiful Dutch mudflats? No problem at all. The whole world is available. Every road, every river, everything’s right. And the view is breathtaking.
With more than 400 hours in my logbook as a VFR pilot (flying on sight) since 1994 I installed a flight simulator several times. From Microsoft, to P3D, to the widely acclaimed X-Plane 11, flying went great, but soon my interest was gone. The artificial landscapes are boring and not comparable to real. Through all kinds of plugins (paid or free) it is possible to get a fairly realistic picture, but that costs you either a lot of money or a lot of time and technical actions that are a step too far for many. In MSFS 2020, the whole world is instantly available, provided you have a good Internet connection.
From the first installation of the alpha version of Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020 (MSFS 2020) for testers I was immediately up. Every time I had flown in the test version I was still impressed with the new flight simulator after shutting down my computer. I will therefore use it to prepare for a visit to a field unknown to me, because it feels a lot safer if you have already seen the area.
Sometime in May of this year, when it was very quiet at Schiphol, I was allowed to make a touch-and-go at RWY 06 in a Piper of our flight club. For comparison, I made the same flight in MSFS 2020. In the video below the two flights side by side.
Live weather and traffic
And there‘s more available. The weather in the simulator is live or can also be set yourself. Just like the time and the season. Do you want raindrops on your cockpit window? No problem. Snowy Alps, or fly at night? All set up in a snap. In addition to live weather, there is also live traffic. If you fly around Schiphol, you will see one box after another landing or taking off.
The person responsible for Flight Simulator at Microsoft is Jorg Neumann. , some years ago I showed the management in Seattle a flight over headquarters in a first version of the software made by Asobo. Then they asked me why I was showing a video of a real flight. They didn’t initially see the difference between a simulation and a real flight! After that, we really got to work.”
The development of MSFS 2020, has lasted more than four years. Neumann found the most interesting last year:,, We have given thousands of testers access to alpha and beta versions for feedback, because the real simmers, including many real pilots, are very critical. That helped us a lot.”
Head of software development Martial Bossard from Asobo Studio is proud of everyone who has participated in it:,, By COVID-19 we have had to switch to home work. That took us a week, but after that it went well, although you do miss the visual communication with one look often enough.”
asked whether the work is done now, answer Bossard laughing. ,, This is only the beginning. Phase 1. We have gone very wide in many areas rather than deep. That‘s going to come, but I’m already super happy with the result. We‘ve received a lot of feedback and requests, and we’re going to work hard on that, but this is what we‘re starting to do right now. The real hard-core simmers that sometimes have spent thousands of euros on cockpit expansion will not be satisfied, but I think it’s a good start. They will have to be patient for a while.”
The simulator as the creators explicitly call MSFS 2020 and avoid the word game, originates in 1997 in the head and computer of Bruce Atwick. Five years later, he sold the rights to Bill Gates‘s then small Microsoft, who launched Microsoft Flight Simulator 1.00. Bonky instruments and lines that had to run a runwayproposals. Very basic, but with a little imagination you came a long way.
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In the years after the program developed further and shortly after the turn of the century, the greatest improvements were made and hobby pilots and people who dream of the pilot spent their hours in Fligh Simulator 2004 and Flight Simulator X. In 2009, Microsoft announced that it will stop the further development of the program. Ten years later, however, the software giant announced to release a new version of the iconic program.
Updated graphics techniques, recent satellite images from around the world (Bing Maps), supported by Microsoft’s cloud computing Azure platform, and artificial intelligence give developers virtually unlimited possibilities. Azure enables thousands of powerful computers in data centers to scrupulously map the world in 72 hours.
The Swiss company Blackshark.ai has developed a technology that, with or without 3D data, tries to imitate even buildings as well as possible. The result is a flying world that practically corresponds to reality.
In addition, Microsoft has launched a partner program. In the meantime, more than 700 companies have already signed up to build additions to the flight simulator, such as exactly reconstructed airfields, new aircraft, communication between pilots and traffic management, or connections to instruments for cockpit builders, such as the Amersfoortse Siminnovations. They deliver the Air Manager program that allows you to recreate a truthful cockpit with instruments to be touched on, among other things, on a touch screen and to approach the cockpit feeling very closely.
For the average user, however, the beautiful cockpits that are included are sufficient. All instruments can be operated with mouse and keyboard. You can even fly with your arrow keys, but it is not really recommended.
A good purchase is the yoke (steering bat) from Honeycomb (€250). For years I have flown with Saitek‘s control bat, but it feels pretty unrealistic in contrast to the Honeycomb. A good headphones such as the special gaming headset JBL Quantum One (€250) with noise-canceling is also a welcome addition for clear communication with your fellow pilots in multiplayer mode, where enthusiastic flight simmers join bush trips to inhospitable areas or organize flights with airliners. Once you have headphones on, you feel like you’re in a cockpit.
By the way, the installation is just a thing. Through the Microsoft Store, no less than 100 GiB is placed on your hard drive (Deluxe edition). Enough time in my case to clean three clicks (which is not a punishment with temperatures above 30 degrees…) and do shopping. My four-year-old PC was perfectly capable of running the new MSFS 2020, but it became really fun on a specially equipped SIM PC with an i9 processor and a heavy graphics card. All settings jumped to Ultra and the details were razor-sharp.
But that is also not so difficult with a 55 inch Philips 558M1RY (€1299). This monitor is not only a good console gaming monitor, but also brings a new level of sound through audio from the legendary audio company Bowers & Wilkins. So if you want to fly without a headset, it all sounds impressive.
After the announcement a year ago, it was definitely worth the wait. Starting tomorrow, the journey of MSFS 2020 begins, which will undoubtedly bring a lot of beauty.
Microsoft releases three versions. The most expensive (Premium Deluxe) costs 120 euros. The standard version 70 euro. More information on flightsimulator.com.