This Spin Recovery Clip From Microsoft's Upcoming Flight Simulator Is Absolutely Insane
The game should be revolutionary and has the much-needed potential to pull a whole new generation of young people into the world of aviation.
Do you know what aviation needs really badly right now? A new version of the long-defunct and much beloved Microsoft Flight Simulator. Not just to get young people interested in the hugely inaccessible world of flying, but to leverage new technology that can nearly mirror putting them in the cockpit of an actual aircraft. Thankfully, Microsoft feels the same way and sees a great opportunity to relaunch what was a lucrative sub-brand in an entirely different gaming and simulation environment. So far, they have released a teaser video of Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020 at the E3 Expo back in June. While it was gorgeous, it was cinematic in nature and didn't show much of what the actual flying would be like. But today, they quietly distributed a clip that shows what appears to be an uncannily real flight model and the graphics to match.
Here is the video from Microsoft showing early flight model development for spin entry and recovery in a Cessna 172 with a G1000 glass cockpit and below that is the teaser video shown at E3:
For anyone who as spun a Cessna, that video looks eerily lifelike. Every undulation, and especially the recovery, seems exact and this is an early example of the flight model. It will only get better.
Paired with the fantastic graphics that are already evident in the trailer and this clip, as well as a virtual reality user interface, Microsoft's FS reboot could mark a revelation in the accessibility of flight. Sure, the G forces aren't there, but compared to playing Flight Simulator on a 17 inch CRT monitor of yesteryear, this is a different beast entirely.
At one time, flight simulator games were hot items, with multiple private/commercial and military iterations filling the shelves of mall software stores like Babbages and Software Etc. Not long after Flight Simulator X came out in 2006, the genre began to fade. It has since turned into somewhat of a boutique affair, with highly specialized game makers like Eagle Dynamics producing incredibly detailed flight simulators—so detailed in fact that many seem to have just passed them over due to perceived time commitments and knowledge base needed to even get started. That's really too bad because Digital Combat Simulator is absolutely amazing for what it is and it has embraced virtual reality as the future of the genre overall.
In fact, I would posit that a good portion of DCS users play the military aircraft simulation more for flight than fight. Using it as a stand-in for something like Flight Simulator, spending more time doing aerobatics, exploring, and mastering landings and takeoffs, than playing highly complex campaigns and cooperative missions that are so real, one mistake equals a quick and somewhat final death (have you ever manually started an F/A-18C switch by authentic switch just to respawn?).
The truth is that you can play DCS and have a ton of fun doing it without learning what every knob does or how to use the aircraft's complex navigational and mission avionics. You can even auto-start the planes with one key. Eagle Dynamics has really missed the boat not getting this reality across to prospective players—that there is scalability in terms of realism for the user—and that's why they could be wounded by a product like Microsoft Flight Simulator that will cater to a huge swathe of perspective virtual pilots. In fact, potential users know this already as many have grown up with various iterations of the product or at least understand what it is and why it was such a big deal. This is especially true if Microsoft gets independent studios to provide highly advanced modules for their base software, just like DCS today. As such, you could execute high-fidelity carrier operations in a Super Hornet, or go on leisurely sightseeing tour a Cessna all within the same software suite.
Also, what's so exciting is that hardware capabilities have finally caught up with flight simulator software makers' ambitions. Few systems were able to smoothly run FSX well over a decade ago. Today, powerful graphics cards and processors can offer smooth framerates even in the VR environment. This is a huge deal when it comes to user experience and the potential future growth of the Microsoft Flight Simulator brand.
Regardless of how the relatively small consumer flight simulation industry will react to FS2020 after enjoying nearly a 14-year vacuum since the franchise's last release, the biggest impact it could have is on a whole new generation of potential pilots, engineers, and aerospace industry workers who haven't benefitted from a modern and highly accessible flight simulation experience in their lifetime. And boy does the aviation world need it.
Young people have largely been disenfranchised from the world of aviation. Getting access to light aircraft is prohibitively expensive. Actually keeping up your qualifications or even one day owning a plane is also seen as the domain of the rich. Engineering-wise, young people have been shown that if they are talented in STEM they can make huge salaries while being pampered in a creative corporate tech environment, so why would they go work for Boeing or Lockheed or Textron, let alone smaller and far higher-risk firms? I truly believe this shift in STEM talent is part of what's to blame for developmental debacles like the 737 MAX, KC-46, and F-35, and so many other major programs. A lot of young engineering cream is rising to Silicon Valley, not Everett or Fort Worth. That's not to say that there aren't super talented young people working on these programs, but if you talk to enough people on the inside, recruitment in the engineering and computer sciences fields has become an existential issue.
The same thing can be said for those who actually fly the planes. With a huge demand for cockpit crews, wages are rising and competition has become more fierce for pilots internationally. The Pentagon is surely feeling the sting of this reality. The pilot seat was once seen as a lucrative and vaunted job within our society—right up there with architects and medical doctors. But in recent decades, that perception has dramatically lost its luster.
Endless stories about pilots living at or below the poverty line with hundreds of thousands of dollars in flight school debt, sleeping on friends couches and working grueling schedules for little pay, far eclipsed the old perceptions of the career aviator. For a new generation that is focused on work-life balance, these perceptions are akin to kryptonite when it comes to bringing new pilots into the fray.
One thing that can help overcome this roadblock is seeding the passion for aviation early via flight simulation—letting young people feel as if the joy of flight is right at their fingertips and that they can even be good at it without ever spending hundreds of dollars on an introductory flight. The addition of VR makes the computer flight experience all that much more exciting and real. Even still in its infancy, VR puts you in the cockpit. You are there. It is nothing like using a monitor or a head tracking device. I can only describe it as absolutely revolutionary.
This technological leap equates to a powerful opportunity for the aviation community and industry. With a computer that costs a couple thousand dollars and software that takes zero fuel to run, requires no insurance, no ramp fees, and no maintenance, we can now put young people in the cockpit and give them an experience that is remarkably real.
Flight Simulator 2020 is the key here. It can consolidate all of this into a sleek, reliable, scalable package that could even be able to reach across the computer gaming divide from the expensive personal computer to the relatively inexpensive gaming console. The fidelity may be inferior to its PC counterpart, but the penetration into a far larger user base is undeniable.
With all that in mind, I don't think FS2020 looks to be a cool product that has been long in waiting. I think its existence is directly tied to the future of aviation. If the aerospace industry were smart, they would capitalize on Microsoft's endeavor and see that as many kids as possible get access to this game in a virtual reality setting alongside an instructor, which doesn't even have to be physically present. In fact, they can sit right next to them in the cockpit in VR while being thousands of miles away. It's a small investment to see that the future of aerospace engineering and our aviation industry remains strong and replete with plenty of aviators to fill cockpit seats and to buy airplanes, as well as a solid pool of talented engineers to design the next breakthrough in aerospace technology and skilled workers who will keep those technologies functioning.
In fact, the Pentagon is already missing the boat on this. Think about what they spend on air show demonstrations a year? An F-16 costs $20,000 per hour to fly. Each air show appearance equates to hundreds of thousands of dollars. Sure, seeing a Viper blast through the sky and talking to people that actually fly and maintain it is a hell of a recruiting tool, one that remains totally relevant. But for that same amount of money, how many young people could the USAF give an hour of free virtual flight instruction to at their school? It's something to really think about.
Finally, I want to expand on that instruction part. Nothing is like the real thing. No matter how good the sim is, it isn't actually flying. But the fact that this level of technology is now available to the consumer means that a lot of the basics can be learned at home, in VR. From mastering core procedures, to working an aircraft's avionics, to basic flying skills, they can be learned in your living room or in a nearby office building. Instructors can be right there to help guide a pilot's skillset without even being in the same country.
In other words, MS2020 could be the perfect platform for migrating a portion of the private pilot's or light sport aircraft license curriculum into the distributed desktop/virtual environment. Then, after solidifying virtual skills, a student can more efficiently spend the money required to port them over in the actual cockpit. This concept could drastically help increase the private pilot pool and make the general aviation industry healthier as a whole. It also tears down the barriers to entry, which don't just include cost, they also include convenience.
With all that said, If FS2020 ends up being the scalable, high-quality product that is built from the ground-up for VR that I think it will be, it could be and should be transformational for the aviation industry.
And that's no spin.
Contact the author: Tyler@thedrive.com