Flight sims in 2011

Added on 18 February 2011 by Tim Robinson

After a barren few years, PC flight simulation in 2011 is set to be a bumper year with two major franchises returning and other exciting releases.

PC Flight simmers, virtual pilots (and off-duty real pilots) have regularly moaned ever since the golden age of flight simulation, the late 1990s, with hard-core study sims from Janes, DiD and Microprose (with thick manuals and impressive keycharts) that the genre has been in decline.

Janes ATF - cutting edge graphics in 1996.

However, this is not entirely true. True, while you might struggle to find a specialised flight sim (as opposed to an aerial action game) in a bricks and mortar PC or games shop, many are now available as downloads from the publishers’ own websites or third party gaming services like Steam.

Secondly, while we marvelled at 1990′s flight sims, the latest PC computer power, with dual or quad core processors, 1GB (or bigger) graphic cards means that not only do these latest sims look amazing, but their flight dynamics and fidelity are sometimes on par with high-end professional simulations - as some of the examples below will show.

Real world applications

Finally, for those who dismiss all consumer flight simulations as ‘kids’ video games’ should be aware that there is a significant and growing overlap between ‘professional’ and ‘consumer’ flight simulation.  On the one hand this involves the aerospace industry piggybacking on video gaming technology for better and cheaper graphics processors, lighter displays etc. But it also represents a shift change in attitudes to flight simulators and computers driven by a younger generation and modern aircraft glass cockpits.

Pilots can use flightsims on laptops to learn airport layouts.

For example, pilots on stopover have been known to fire up FS9/FSX on a laptop to familiarise themselves with new airports they will be flying to. Elsewhere the overlap is at a higher level. Lockheed Martin, for example, in 2009 purchased the IP for Microsoft’s ESP (the commercially licensed version of FSX) for use in its own training, simulation and mission rehearsal products and tools. It is now called Prepar3D. Microsoft’s chief rival, the flightsim X-Plane, is not only used by NASA, Boeing, Cessna, Northrop GrummanVan’s Aircraft, and Carter Aviation, but is also (with the right cockpit hardware and visual system) certificated by the FAA for real flight training. Meanwhile Digital Combat Simulator’s A-10C flightsim is actually a declassified version of a US Air National Guard desktop trainer the company developed for military customers. These latest sims then, as well as being fun, can be serious training tools.

Serious playtime - US ANG students use a low-cost A-10 dektop trainer that has also been turned into a consumer sim.

Furthermore, with declining military budgets and reduced fleets, simulation is going to become more important for real air forces to maintain standards and key skills. Air forces are already extremely interested in multiplayer (distributed mission simulation) ‘flightsims’ which can allow realistic coalition tactical training without worrying about noise or the cost of jet fuel.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the exciting releases coming our way in 2011.

Microsoft ‘Flight’

Microsoft's reboot of its Flight Simulator called 'Flight' promises new 'social' experience. (Microsoft)

The big flightsim franchise to return (potentially) this year is Microsoft’s Flight - an update to its long running and extremely popular Flight Simulator series. Fans were worried that the series had come to an end, when Microsoft closed down its ACES Studio which develops FS in 2009. However a new sim was announced in August 2010 and is now said to be in testing with a teaser trailer of a Stearman biplane appearing. Some screenshots have also appeared. The new features though are extremely sketchy - apart from the hint that it will enable virtual flyers to share and be more social than ever before. What could this mean? Well with everyone from the RAF, to Boeing, to airlines embracing ‘social media’, it is a fair guess that this latest evolution of Microsoft’s classic sim will incorporate this somehow. Challenging your Facebook friends to catch a three wire on an aircraft carrier? It may just happen.

Graphics in Microsofts Flight will take advantage of the latest PC video graphics cards. (Microsoft)

Laminar Research X-Plane 10

Aircraft models have been improved in X-Plane 10. (Laminar Research)

Meanwhile Laminar Research’s X-Plane is also getting ready to release an update. The next version of the sim, version 10, will feature updated aircraft, terrain and cloud graphics as well as other enhancements. While highly regarded by the aerospace engineering community, this hi-fidelity flightsim will gain new followers after getting a graphical makeover too.  X-Plane is now even available in mobile versions for the iPhone, iPad and Android allowing aviation geeks to get their sim fix anywhere.

King Air cockpit in X-Plane 10. (Laminar Research)

Ubisoft/1C Il-2 Sturmovik: Cliffs of Dover

IL-2: Cliffs of Dover will allow for 128-player online battles. (Ubisoft/1C).

For the WW2 aviation flightsimmer - there is one title to look out for this year - Il-2 Cliffs of Dover - the new high-fidelity combat sim from Oleg Maddox, creator of the brillant Il-2 Sturmovik series. Built brand-new from the ground-up this will bring the Battle of Britain to life inside your PC. Maddox, a former aeronautical engineer, is known to be a stickler for accuracy - and Cliffs of Dover even features a modern Su-26 to confirm the flight modelling. Tally Ho on this sim on 25 March.

Cliffs of Dover will feature next-gen flight modelling of WW2 aircraft. (Ubisoft/1C).


DCS A-10C replicates the glass cockpit of the latest version of the Warthog. (DCS).

If your tastes are more modern (and ugly) then DCS A-10C is probably the flightsim for you. From the developers of Ka-50 Black Shark this again lets simmers get down and dirty in modern air combat. The sim is already available as a payable (beta) download with a final version to be released imminently. Boxed versions should appear 2-3 months later. The sim is an ultra high-fidelity consumer version of an ANG A-10C desktop training system with virtual JTACS, inflight air-to-air refuelling and targeting pods to master. Interestingly DCS/The Fighter Collection say their next aircraft is currently being developed - a fixed wing US type… What could that be? F-16/ F/A-18 or F-15?

DCS A-10C features a virtual JTAC for authentic and realistic close air support procedures. (DCS).

In fact for those Warthog super fans - there is even a tie-in HOTAS throttle and stick system from Thrustmaster - an exact replica of the real aircraft’s controls.

The Thrustmaster Warthog - just the controls to go with DCS A-10C. (Thrustmaster).

Neoqb/777 Studios Rise of Flight

Latest aircraft added to Rise of Flight include heavies like this Gotha.

Though WW1 sim Rise of Flight was first released in 2009 its regular updates and new aircraft means it is a far different beast than two years ago. With crisp graphics, sublime flight dynamics and amazing damage modelling, this is a treat for virtual Red Barons.  It has pioneered a new era in online micro-transactions with new aircraft being added regularly to the sim that can either be bought (and made flyable) or left as AI. The latest aircraft to be added include the HP O/400 and Gotha GV heavy bombers and a two seater DFW C.V is about to join them. While its online component has always been strong, in 2011 a reworked single-player campaign will be added.

The office of the Spad XIII - one of the default flyables in Rise of Flight. (Neoqb).

Aerosoft/Thunder Works Jet Thunder

Harrier GR3 in the Falklands War sim Jet Thunder. (ThunderWorks/Aerosoft)

Any flightsimmers mourning the recent retirement of the UK’s Harriers will be excited to know that the SHAR’s (and GR3s) finest hour will be recreated soon in Falklands War flightsim Jet Thunder - which will also feature Pucaras, Daggers and Skyhawks. Featuring highly realistic flight dynamics, this will bring the challenge of V/STOL carrier ops to your PC.  The sim will be released by Aerosoft in a number of modules or stages with the first module Harrier GR3/Pucara available soon and the complete set scheduled for release in September.

Fly the Sea Harrier in the South Atlantic in Jet Thunder. (ThunderWorks/Aerosoft).

Rising Sun

Rising Sun gives the opportunity to recreate famous and less famous moments from the Pacific Air War. (Rising Sun)

While Il-2 fans can look to the western front for their action with Cliffs of Dover, new WW2 sim Rising Sun aims to cater for those wanting to experience the Pacific War. Coming from the team that developed the excellent Vietnam sim Yankee Air Pirate, the aim of this sim is to tell stories of the WW2 air war in the Far East, using the base game, Third Wire’s Strike Fighters 2. The sim is released online in parts with the first set of missions covering Wake Island, Pearl Harbor and Burma. Interestingly the producer of Rising Sun and Yankee Air Pirate is not your typical video game producer, but a 238-mission Vietnam F-4 pilot, who saw the potential of flightsims to tell interactive aviation history.

Rising Sun aims to tell the story of WW2 air war in the Pacific from 1941 to 1945. (Rising Sun).

ThirdWire unnamed F-14 sim?

ThirdWire's StrikeFighters series of sims are highly moddable. (ThirdWire).

Jet sim makers ThirdWire, (who provides the base engine for Rising Sun) too, have an unnamed F-14 Tomcat sim under development with a few tasty screenshots released. No videos have been released or further details, but for those with fond memories of Microprose’s F-14 Fleet Defender will want to keep an eye on this.

F-14 in the as yet unnamed ThirdWire sim - the latest evolution of the Strike Fighters engine. (ThirdWire).

VRS TacPack + Captain Sim Weapon

Finally if, like Calvin of Calvin & Hobbes cartoon fame, you have dreamed of making strafing runs on your school with an F-15 or would like to try carpet bombing in a 747 - two new add-ons for FSX will now add weapons to this civil sim.

VRS’ TacPack adds guided munitions including missiles, JDAMS and the like into its already impressive F/A-18 Super Hornet add-on - with other aircraft planned in the future.

Meanwhile Captain Sim’s Weapon adds AI targets, radar and a set of weapons to any aircraft.

In short, then, far from being a declining niche - flight simulation is healthier than ever and set to enjoy a thrilling year!

To see some previous flight sims reviewed by real pilots in the Royal Aeronautical Society’s Aerospace Professional magazine - go here:

from the Royal Aeronautical Society

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One Response to “Flight sims in 2011”

  1. Hobbit says:

    You forgot the MS Combat Flight Simulator series of Combat sims..
    Great advances have been made to this Game engine by private developers, ETO/PTO and MAW expansions and new effects are being added daily..

    And it all is Freeware..
    Links for these are:
    (ETO/PTO expansion for CFS3)
    http://sim-outhouse.com (MAW expansion)

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