I'm sure we all remember the classic versions of Flight Simulator; FS3 back in the 80's, FS5 in '93; well, the dedicated 'simmers among us do anyway. Flight Simulator turned with the release of FS98. As FS98 was released, developers started to produce add-ons faster than ever before, FS portal sites opened their doors and the dawn of the Flight Simulator world as we know it began.
Before Flight Sim became the much popular pastime and 'craze' as we know it today, there was a very selective, and somewhat niche groups of enthusiasts that took control of their own aircraft in their own bedroom. As the years progressed, and computer hardware technology dramatically improved in such a short space of time, so did the software that utilized it - and Flight Simulator become a very popular title making its way into the family CD-ROM rack. With the increased level of hardware technology, the demands of 'simmers became greater, and add-ons were developed to compliment the Flight Sim packages. With the release of FS98 around the corner, people were getting excited and looking forward to the new features it yielded. Companies such as Just Flight developed add-ons to replace the standard scenery included with Flight Sim. I can remember purchasing the 'Great Britain Part One' scenery pack for FSFS95/FS98 - eager to install the package, ripping off the covering with excitement.
The Internet has greatly changed the way people can access add-ons; and the majority of add-ons today are freeware; developed by continence Flight Sim developers who enjoy what they do, and create add-ons for shear enjoyment. The Internet has also enabled for virtual jet design companies such as Project Open Sky, Lebor and MoTIS to open their doors and distribute their completed works. The main thing that the Internet has enabled is the huge amount of portal and news sites there are, for example Avsim.com, simFlight.com, FlightSim.Com, FlyAwaySimulation.com and many more of the other portal sites out there. With the Internet revolution, Flight Simulators became ever more popular - and add-ons for them were being designed in their thousands.
The release of FS2000 shed a new light on flight simulation. FS2000 introduced great new features such as: two new aircraft, worldwide 3D scenery graphics, over 20,000 airports, over 70,000 navigation waypoints, new cities with better details, new custom 3D objects, existing aircraft updated, GPS, improved weather system. As the release of FS2002 dawned, portal sites started to include screen shots of FS2002, FS2K related domains were all bought up, and the race for the Google listings for the keyword 'fs2002' had started. FS2002 opened up a whole new set of features for Flight Simulator, including: air traffic control, air traffic, autogenerated scenery (AutoGen), floatplane flying, virtual cockpits, enhanced visual effects.
Now, FS2004 has arrived and the flight simulator world has yet again changed, with many more features easily available to any aviation enthusiast. FS2004 includes the following new features:
- Dynamic weather system based on realistic atmospheric physics, with true three-dimensional clouds that form and dissipate, and automatic real-world weather updates when you're connected to the Internet.
- Weather "themes" that generate a wide variety of stunning-and challenging-flying conditions with just a few clicks of a mouse
- Enhanced interactive air traffic control (ATC), including traffic at all airports around the world (including non-towered airports), altitude changes en route, pop-up IFR clearances, and precision and non-precision approaches to multiple runways
- Interactive 3D "virtual" cockpits--tune radios and operate key aircraft controls and avionics by pointing and clicking in the virtual cockpit view.
- Scenery improvements, including taxiway and runway signs, enhanced auto-gen 3D objects, more high-detail airports, and improved lighting and sky effects
- Garmin 500 and 295 series GPS with color moving maps and airport/facility information
- Improved full-color map view with terrain display
- Improved support for 3D graphics hardware acceleration in multiple windows and across multiple monitors
- Learning Center--a "Web site on the disc" available while the simulation is running that includes a Key Topics visual guide to the features in Microsoft Flight Simulator, direct links to flights and lessons, flight briefings, how-to procedures, aircraft handbooks, and more.
- New and expanded lessons and ground school topics
- Kiosk mode for unattended demonstrations
Looking at how far Flight Simulator has come in the past 10 years, is quite amazing. Just imagine, if we can come to this in 10 years - imagine what is possible another 10 years in the future; only time will tell, but the future looks very exciting for the world of Flight Simulator!