Microsoft Flight Simulator

Microsoft Flight Simulator
Microsoft Flight Simulator
FS logo.png
The logo used for the series since version 5.0
Developer(s) ACES Game Studio
(Microsoft Game Studios)
Publisher(s) Microsoft Game Studios
Version Flight Simulator X (10.0)
Platform(s) Microsoft Windows
Release date(s) October 10, 2006 (Mexico)
October 13, 2006 (Europe)
October 17, 2006 (US)
October 26, 2006 (Australia)
Genre(s) Simulation
Mode(s) Single player, multiplayer
Media/distribution Optical disc
System requirements

1.0 GHz CPU, 256 MB RAM (for Windows XP SP2) or 512 MB RAM (for Windows Vista), 14GB drive space(15GB for Deluxe version), 56.6 kbit/s modem or LAN for multiplayer, DVD Drive.

Microsoft Flight Simulator (sometimes abbreviated as MSFS or FS) is a series of flight simulator programs for the Microsoft Windows operating system, although it was marketed as a video game. It is one of the longest-running, best-known and most comprehensive home flight simulator series. It was an early product in the Microsoft portfolio – different from its other software which was largely business-oriented – and at 25 years[1] is the longest-running franchise, predating Windows by three years. Microsoft Flight Simulator may be the longest-running PC game series of all time.[2][3] In January 2009, it was reported that Microsoft closed down the ACES Game Studio, which was responsible for the series.

Bruce Artwick began the development of the Flight Simulator in 1977. His company, subLOGIC, initially distributed it for various personal computers.[3] In 1981, Artwick was approached by Microsoft's Alan M. Boyd who was interested in creating a 'definitive game' that would graphically demonstrate the difference between older 8-bit computers such as the Apple II and the new 16-bit computers like the IBM PC still in development. In 1982, Artwick's company licensed a version of Flight Simulator for the IBM PC to Microsoft, which was marketed as Microsoft Flight Simulator 1.00.



Microsoft Flight Simulator began life as a set of articles on computer graphics written by Bruce Artwick in 1976 about a 3D computer graphics program. When the magazine editor said that subscribers wanted to buy the program, Bruce Artwick incorporated a company called subLOGIC Corporation in 1977 and began selling flight simulators for 8080 computers such as the Altair 8800 and IMSAI 8080. In 1979 subLOGIC released FS1 Flight Simulator for the Apple II. In 1980, subLOGIC released a version for the TRS-80, and in 1982 they licensed an IBM PC version with CGA graphics to Microsoft, which was released as Microsoft Flight Simulator 1.00. In the early days of less-than-100% IBM PC compatibles, Flight Simulator was used as an unofficial test of the degree of compatibility of a new PC clone model,[4] along with Lotus 1-2-3. subLOGIC continued to develop the product for other platforms, and their improved Flight Simulator II was ported to Apple II in 1983, to the Commodore 64, MSX and Atari 800 in 1984, and to the Amiga and Atari ST in 1986. Meanwhile, Bruce Artwick left subLOGIC to found Bruce Artwick Organization to work on subsequent Microsoft releases, beginning with Microsoft Flight Simulator 3.0 in 1988. Microsoft Flight Simulator reached commercial maturity with version 3.1, and then went on to encompass the use of 3D graphics and graphic hardware acceleration.

Microsoft consistently produced newer versions of the simulation, adding features such as new aircraft types and augmented scenery. The 2000 and 2002 versions, were available in a standard edition and a Professional Edition which included more aircraft, tools and more extensive scenery than the regular version. The 2004 (version 9) release marked one hundred years of powered flight, and had only one edition. Flight Simulator X, released in 2006, has returned to dual editions with a "Standard Edition" and a "Deluxe Edition".

The most recent versions of this simulation, Microsoft Flight Simulator 2004 and Microsoft Flight Simulator X, cater to pilots, would-be pilots and people who once dreamed of being pilots alike. Microsoft Flight Simulator is less a game than an immersive virtual environment; it is usually frustrating, complex, and difficult to new users due to its realism, but it can be rewarding for the skilled flightsimmer at the same time. The flying area encompasses the whole world, to varying levels of detail, including over 24,000 airports. Individually-detailed scenery can be found representing major landmarks and an ever-growing number of towns and cities. Landscape details are often patchy away from population centres and particularly outside the U.S., although a variety of websites offer scenery add-ons (both free and commercial) to remedy this.

The three latest versions incorporate sophisticated weather simulation, along with the ability to download real-world weather data (beginning with Flight Simulator 2000). Also included is a varied air traffic environment with interactive air traffic control, player-flyable aircraft ranging from the historical Douglas DC-3 to the modern Boeing 777, interactive lessons and challenges, and finally aircraft checklists. In addition, the two latest versions of Microsoft Flight Simulator have a "kiosk mode", which allows the application to be run in kiosks. It is the wide availability of upgrades and add-ons, both free and commercial, official and fan-made, which give the simulator its flexibility and scope.

Closure of the ACES Game Studio

On January 22, 2009, it was reported that the development team behind the franchise was being heavily affected by Microsoft's ongoing job cuts, with indications that the entire Microsoft Flight Simulator team was laid off.[5][6] Microsoft confirmed the closure of the ACES studio on January 26, 2009, in a post on the official FSInsider Web site.[7] The article, "About the Aces Team," states in part:

This difficult decision was made to align Microsoft's resources with our strategic priorities. Microsoft Flight Simulator X will remain available at retail stores and web retailers, the Flight Sim community will continue to learn from and encourage one another, and we remain committed to the Flight Simulator franchise for the long term.

According to former ACES employee Phil Taylor, the shutdown was not due to unfavorable financial results of FSX, but due to management issues and delays in project delivery combined with increased demands in headcount, at a time that Microsoft was attempting to lower costs.[8] It has been speculated in the mainstream and gaming media that future releases on the franchise would come as part of an Internet game or on the Xbox 360.[9]

In response to Microsoft's decision, members of the user community published an open letter in support for both the ACES studio members and the Microsoft Flight Simulator franchise as a whole. An on-line petition accompanying the letter collected about 8,500 signatures.[10]

On October 12, 2009 (2009-10-12), several members of the former ACES Studio team announced the launch of a new simulations-based development studio named Cascade Game Foundry.[11] Further details relating to their first project are to be announced.[11]

Lockheed Martin Prepar3D

In 2009, Lockheed Martin announced that they had negotiated with Microsoft to purchase the intellectual property (including source code) for the Microsoft ESP product. Microsoft ESP was the commercial-use version of Flight Simulator X SP2. On May 17, 2010,[12] Lockheed announced that the new product based upon the ESP source code would be called "Prepar3D" (pronounced "Prepared"). Lockheed has hired some members of the original ACES studio to continue development of the product. Version 1.1 was released in April 2011, with a retail licence of $499.[13]

Microsoft Flight

In August 2010 Microsoft announced the development of Microsoft Flight which will be a continuation of the Flight Simulator franchise. The new game is said to focus more on novice players and will require less of a learning curve, but that it will still keep the realism that many FS fans are familiar with. Microsoft Flight is being developed internally by Microsoft with some of the ex-ACES Studio's development team members rejoining the team.[14]

In January 2011, Microsoft announced Microsoft Flight would only be compatible with Windows Vista, Windows Server 2008 and Windows 7 due to Windows XP's space constraints.

Version history

  • 1982 – Flight Simulator 1.0
  • 1983 – Flight Simulator 2.0
  • 1988 – Flight Simulator 3.0
  • 1989 – Flight Simulator 4.0
  • 1993 – Flight Simulator 5.0
  • 1995 – Flight Simulator 5.1
  • 1996 – Flight Simulator 95
  • 1997 – Flight Simulator 98
  • 1999 – Flight Simulator 2000
  • 2001 – Flight Simulator 2002
  • 2003 – Flight Simulator 2004: A Century of Flight
  • 2006 – Flight Simulator X
  • 2012 – Microsoft Flight

Flight Simulator X

Flight Simulator X is the most recent version of Microsoft Flight Simulator. It includes a graphics engine upgrade as well as compatibility with preview DirectX 10 and Windows Vista technologies. It was released on 17 October 2006 in North America. There are two versions of the game, both on two DVDs. The Deluxe edition contains the new Garmin G1000 integrated flight instrument system in three cockpits, additional aircraft in the fleet, Tower Control capability (multiplayer only), more missions, more high-detail cities and airports, and a Software Development Kit (SDK) for development. Main improvements are graphical, for instance it is the first simulator with light bloom.

Microsoft has also released a Flight Simulator X Demo, which contains 3 aircraft, two airports, and two missions. It is compatible with Windows XP SP2 and Windows Vista, with unofficial compatibility with Windows 7.

Add-ons and customization

The long history and consistent popularity of Flight Simulator has encouraged a very large body of add-on packages to be developed as both commercial and volunteer ventures. A formal software development kit and other tools for the simulator exist to further facilitate third-party efforts, and some third parties have also learned to "tweak" the simulator in various ways by trial and error.


A PMDG Beech 1900D of "American Flight Airways"; in AFA Express colors

Individual aspects of Flight Simulator aircraft that can be edited include cockpit layout, cockpit image, aircraft model, aircraft model textures, aircraft flight characteristics, scenery models, scenery layouts, and scenery textures, often with simple-to-use programs or only a text editor such as Notepad. Dedicated flightsimmers have taken advantage of Flight Simulator's vast add-on capabilities, having successfully linked Flight Simulator to homebuilt hardware, some of which approaches the complexity of commercial full-motion flight simulators.

The game's aircraft are made up of five parts:

  • The model, which is a 3D CAD-style model of the aircraft's exterior and virtual cockpit, if applicable.
  • The textures, bitmap images which the game layers onto the model. These can be easily edited (known as repainting), so that a model can adopt any paint scheme imaginable, fictional or real.
  • The sounds, literally, what the aircraft sounds like. This is determined by defining which WAV files the aircraft uses as its sound set.
  • The panel, a representation of the aircraft's cockpit. This includes one or more bitmap images of the panel, instrument gauge files, and sometimes its own sounds.
  • The FDE, or Flight Dynamics Engine. This consists of the airfile, a *.air file, which contains hundreds of parameters which define the aircraft's flight characteristics, and the aircraft.cfg, which contains more, easier-to-edit parameters.

AI Traffic

A growing add-on category for the series is AI (Artificial Intelligence) Traffic. AI Traffic is the simulation of other vehicles in the FS landscape. This traffic plays a real role in the simulator as it is possible to crash into traffic (this can be disabled), thus ending your session, and to interact with the traffic via the radio and ATC. This feature is possible even with 3rd party traffic. Microsoft introduced AI traffic in MSFS 2002 with several airliners and private aircraft. This has since been supplemented with many files created by third party developers. Typically 3rd party aircraft models have multiple levels of detail which allow the AI traffic to be better on frame rates while still being detailed during close looks. There are several prominent freeware developers, Project AI is a respected Civilian Airliner and air cargo traffic creator along with the very popular World of AI. The most prominent developer of military traffic is Military AI Works (MAIW) which has released many packages and new AI models covering many countries of the world. There is a small niche market in the form of AI boat traffic as well.


Scenery add-ons usually involve replacements for existing airports with enhanced and more accurate detail, or large expanses of highly detailed ground scenery for specific regions of the world. Some types of scenery add-ons replace or add structures to the simulator. Both payware and freeware scenery add-ons are very widely available. Airport enhancements, for example, range from simple add-ons that update runways or taxiways to very elaborate packages that reproduce every lamp, pavement marking, and structure at an airport with near-total accuracy, including animated effects such as baggage cars or marshalling agents. Geographic scenery enhancements may use detailed satellite photos and 3-D structures to closely reproduce real-world regions, particularly those including large cities, landmarks, or spectacular natural wonders.


MSFS is primarily a civilian aviation simulator, but in February 2011 Captain Sim released Weapon for FSX, the first combat expansion ever made for any version of MS Flight Simulator.[citation needed]

Flight networks

Virtual flight networks such as IVAO and VATSIM as well as Virtual Skies use special, small add-on modules for Flight Simulator to enable connection to their proprietary networks in multiplayer mode, and to allow for voice and text communication with other virtual pilots and controllers over the network. These networks allow players to enjoy and enhance realism in their game. These networks are for ATC (air traffic control).


Some utilities, such as FSUIPC, merely provide useful tweaks for the simulator to overcome design limitations or bugs, or to allow more extensive interfacing with other third-party add-ons. Sometimes certain add-ons require other utility add-ons in order to work correctly with the simulator.

Other add-ons provide navigation tools, simulation of passengers, and cameras that can view aircraft or scenery from any angle, more realistic instrument panels and gauges, and so on.

Some software add-ons provide compatibility with specific hardware, such as game controllers and optical motion sensors.


A number of websites are dedicated to providing users with add-on files (such as airplanes from real airlines, airport utility cars, real buildings located in specific cities, textures, and city files). The wide availability over the Internet of freeware add-on files for the simulation has encouraged the development of a large and diverse virtual community linked up by design group/enthusiast message boards, online multiplayer flying, and 'virtual airlines'. The presence of the Internet has also facilitated the distribution of payware add-ons for the simulator, with the option of downloading the files reducing distribution costs.

Community involvement

FS2004 in the UK Lake District with VFR (Visual Flight Rules) photo scenery and terrain additional components

A large community exists for the Microsoft Flight Simulator franchise, partly stemming from the open nature of the simulator structure which allows for numerous modifications to be made. One such group of freeware modifications are known as the "Sludge Hornet" modifications. Initially released in summer 2010 by forum member Christian "Sludge" Snow, the "Sludge Hornet" modifications are aimed towards a more realistic US Navy NATOPS-based F/A-18A in FSX, rectifying shortcomings of the default RTM version of the FSX Acceleration F/A-18A. Can be used in conjunction with the Jivko Rusev's "Combat Hornet" to provide an even more emersive FSX Naval Aviation experience.

There are also many virtual airlines, where pilots fly their assignments as pilots do in real airlines, as well as worldwide networks for the simulation of air traffic and air traffic control, such as IVAO and VATSIM.


Microsoft Flight Simulator, Version 2.0 was reviewed in 1989 in Dragon #142 by Hartley, Patricia, and Kirk Lesser in "The Role of Computers" column. The reviewers gave the game 5 out of 5 stars.[15]


The success of the Microsoft Flight Simulator series has resulted in Guinness World Records awarding the series seven world records in the Guinness World Records: Gamer's Edition 2008. These records include "Longest Running Flight Sim Series", "Most Successful Flight Simulator Series", and "Most Expensive Home Flight Simulator Cockpit", which was built by Australian trucking tycoon Matthew Sheil, and cost over US$242,000 to build.

See also


  1. ^ "About the Aces Team" (Press release). Microsoft. 2009-01-26. Retrieved 2009-02-15. 
  2. ^ Stokker, Serban (2006-09-18). "Flight Simulator X Lands On Gold". Retrieved 2009-02-15. 
  3. ^ a b Lai, Eric (2009-01-25). "Flight Simulator will Soar Despite Microsoft Layoffs". PCWorld. Retrieved 2009-02-15. ""Bill Gates licensed Flight Simulator from its original developer, subLogic"" 
  4. ^ Gulick, Charles (1987). Runway U.S.A.. Microsoft Press. ISBN 978-1556150029. Retrieved 2009-02-05. 
  5. ^ Remo, Chris (2009-01-22). "Report: Microsoft Makes Big Cuts At Flight Sim Studio". Gamasutra. Retrieved 2009-01-22. 
  6. ^ Plunkett, Luke (2009-01-22). "Flight Simulator Devs Grounded By Microsoft Job Cuts". Kotaku. Retrieved 2009-01-22. 
  7. ^ "About the Aces Team". FS Insider. 2009-01-26. Retrieved 2009-01-09. 
  8. ^ Taylor, Phil (2009-01-26). "End of an Era Part II: Links and Speculation". Future GPU Thoughts and Musings. Retrieved 2009-01-09. 
  9. ^ Li, Eric (2009-01-23). "Despite laying off Flight Simulator team, Microsoft still 'committed to flying games'". Computerworld. Retrieved 2009-01-23. 
  10. ^ "Flight Simulator Petition Site Created". FlightSimDaily. Retrieved 2009-12-03. 
  11. ^ a b "Cascade Game Foundry".  Press Release: Cascade Game Foundry Forges Ahead, Opens New Simulation Game Development Studio, October 12, 2009 (2009-10-12)
  12. ^ "Lockheed Martin Announces Prepar3D". 
  13. ^ Prepar3D website
  14. ^ "Microsoft Flight Frequently Asked Questions". 
  15. ^ Lesser, Hartley, Patricia, and Kirk (February 1989). "The Role of Computers". Dragon (142): 42–51. 

External links

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