Share This Article

MS Flight Simulator Reboot

 A classic sim is about to get a new lease on life For a change this time I’d like to share a story from real life about the intersection between simulation and reality. It’s inspired by the recent announcement that the classic Microsoft Flight Simulator, which many thought had died, will be revived in coming months.

The story starts in 1982, when my father bought the first PC version of Flight Simulator, in the green box, along with our new Columbia IBM PC clone. Though the sim’s graphics were primitive by modern standards, I was enthralled by its simplified interpretation of Chicago and the flight instruments of a single-engine plane. I learned to take off, bank, manage the throttle and make some admittedly ugly landings. It was a phenomenal bit of software considering the program fit on a floppy disk.

Jump forward to 2004. I have my family in tow as we visit my father, who announces he’s been working on building a radio-controlled airplane, a single-engine aircraft just like the one I first flew virtually courtesy of Flight Simulator 1.0 in 1982. We all march off to the local park for the new model’s inaugural flight. When my father asks who will fly the plane first, of course yours truly says, “I can do it—I’ve flown it in a simulator plenty of times!”

We positioned the model on a vacant baseball field. The electric motor powering the engine wasn’t much, but it cranked the two-bladed prop enough to drag the plane down the baseline. Everyone got excited as we watched the plane gain altitude. Then I depressed the stick on the radio control box to send the aircraft into a left turn, and disaster ensued. The model began turning, but then the left wing dipped and the plane careened into the ground. We kept on trying, and each time it did the very same thing. Eventually my kids gave up and ran off to a nearby jungle gym.

I soon realized there was a grave disconnect between my experience with that long-ago simulation and flying an RC aircraft. The model’s wing was a solid construct, with no control surfaces. It lacked ailerons! In the sim I could bank a plane with ailerons and turn with elevator control. The model depended only on its rudder to make flat turns; turning too quickly created an airflow differential be – tween the left and right wings.

There’s a reason the military says, “Train like you fight, fight like you train.” People will typically respond to input based on patterns of the situation that their brains best recognize. Training’s goal is to turn reaction into instinct. Improperly applied, simulation combined with real-world training can lead to undesirable results far worse than my repeated crashes on the baseball field.

My father, who now suffers from a memory disability, can no longer build model planes or use computers. But he still remembers that day in the park. And I’ll never forget the old PC and the copy of Flight Simulator he bought me. In the future Flight Simulator will live on under the guidance of Dovetail Games (dove The plan is to have the latest version released on the Steam digital distribution service (store.steampowered .com) in 2014, with new material to debut next year. Thanks to the developers who are reviving this venerable sim, some of us will indeed be able to go home again.


Originally published in the November 2014 issue of Aviation History. To subscribe, click here.