The Complete Guide to Computer Aviation
by Steve Smith
MICROSOFT'S FLIGHT SIMULATOR
Still Number One…After All These Years
Flight Simulator is unquestionably the best all-around flight simulation…if your primary interest is in the basics of flight and navigation (there is no air-combat mode).
Dogfighting aside, it is certainly the most comprehensive computer-pilot software package, with in-depth flight instruction, four different aircraft to fly, and over one hundred airports to serve as your destinations (and more with add-on disks; see below).
A product of simulation pioneer Bruce Artwick (a pinball wizard, a serious student of the laws of physics, and an enthusiastic private pilot), the flight model—at least for the featured attraction: a rugged, single-engined Cessna light plane—is so astonishingly accurate that you can almost feel the wind whispering over the wingtips.
The Cessna's instrument panel is chockablock with authentic-looking (and useful) gauges, and the scenery outside the cockpit is breathtakingly realistic; "almost like looking out the window of the plane on your last business trip," as Artwick's friend Steve Greene says.
Flight Simulator's world teems with other air and ground traffic. As clouds thicken overhead and sailboats scud across the water, tanker trucks bustle around the airport servicing parked planes, while other aircraft taxi to the end of the ramp, roll down the runway, and leap into the sky without your having to do so much as lift a finger. If you like, you can play follow-the-leader with the departing aircraft (although their ultimate destinations may surprise you).
Flight Simulator has something for everybody, from the unsteady novice to masters of the blue-sky universe. It will take you by the hand and automatically guide you to a safe and sound landing, or it will challenge you to even find the airport in a howling blizzard with zero visibility in the dead of night—it's your choice.
You, the pilot, have complete control over elements like the weather, the season, even the time of day (dawn and dusk are gorgeous; oh-dark-hundred is eerie in the reddish glow of the instrument panel). There are "entertainment" modes like airborne sight-seeing tours, flying in formation, skywriting, a crop-dusting game, and trying to land on the deck of an aircraft carrier.
Flight Simulator is pure simulation. It is not a game—no points are scored (except for crop-dusting; big deal) and no medals are awarded for heroism. There are no scenarios (although there are "situations"; see below), no campaigns, no brass bands, and—most conspicuously—no aerial combat, although what you learn about the basics of flying in Flight Simulator is applicable to any military flight simulation.