Microsoft Flight Simulator

Microsoft Flight Simulator (often abbreviated as MSFS or FS) is a series of flight simulator programs, marketed as video games, for Microsoft Windows operating systems, and earlier for MS-DOS and Classic Mac OS. It is one of the longest-running, best-known and most comprehensive home flight simulator programs on the market. It was an early product in the Microsoft application portfolio and differed significantly from Microsoft's other software, which was largely business-oriented. At 37 years old,[2] it is the longest-running software product line for Microsoft, predating Windows by three years. Microsoft Flight Simulator may be the longest-running PC game series of all time,[3][4] and has been credited with instigating the emergence of aviation-oriented joysticks as the predominant control method for PCs.[5]

Microsoft Flight Simulator
New logo introduced at E3 2019
Genre(s)Flight simulation
Developer(s)subLOGIC Corporation
Bruce Artwick Organization
Aces Game Studio
The Coalition
Dovetail Games
Asobo Studio[1]
Xbox Game Studios
Dovetail Games
Creator(s)Bruce Artwick
Platform(s)DOS, Windows, Classic Mac OS, Xbox One
First releaseMicrosoft Flight Simulator
November 1982 (1982-11)
Latest releaseMicrosoft Flight Simulator X: Steam Edition
December 18, 2014 (2014-12-18)

Bruce Artwick began the development of Flight Simulator in 1977. His company, subLOGIC Corporation, initially distributed it for various personal computers.[4] 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, such as the IBM PC, still in development. In 1982, Artwick's company licensed a version of Flight Simulator for the IBM PC to Microsoft, which marketed it as Microsoft Flight Simulator 1.00.

In 2009, Microsoft closed down Aces Game Studio, which was the department responsible for creating and maintaining the Flight Simulator series. In 2014, Dovetail Games were granted the rights by Microsoft to port the Gold Edition of Microsoft's Flight Simulator X to Steam and publish Flight Simulator X: Steam Edition.

Microsoft announced a new installment at E3 in 2019, simply titled Microsoft Flight Simulator, to be released initially on PC and ported over to the Xbox at a later date.[6]


Release timeline
1982Flight Simulator 1.0
1984Flight Simulator 2.0
1988Flight Simulator 3.0
1989Flight Simulator 4.0
1993Flight Simulator 5.0
1995Flight Simulator 5.1
1996Flight Simulator 95
1997Flight Simulator 98
1999Flight Simulator 2000
2001Flight Simulator 2002
2003Flight Simulator 2004
2006Flight Simulator X
2014Flight Simulator X: Steam Edition
2020Flight Simulator

Microsoft Flight Simulator began as a set of articles 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 set to work to create it and incorporated a company called subLOGIC Corporation in 1977. The company began selling flight simulators for several computer platforms, including the 8080, 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. It was unusual in that it was not an application program requiring an operating system, but contained its own operating system, which displaced the installed one as long as the program was running. In the early days of less-than-100% IBM PC compatible systems, Flight Simulator and Lotus 1-2-3 were used as unofficial compatibility test software for new PC clone models.[7]

subLOGIC continued to develop for other platforms and ported Flight Simulator II to the Apple II in 1983, the Commodore 64, MSX and Atari 800 in 1984, and to the Amiga and Atari ST in 1986. Meanwhile, Bruce Artwick left subLOGIC and founded The Bruce Artwick Organization to continue his 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 went on to encompass the use of 3D graphics and graphic hardware acceleration.

Microsoft continued to produce newer versions of the flight simulation software, adding features, such as new aircraft types and augmented scenery. The 2000 and 2002 versions were available in "Standard" and "Professional" editions, where the latter included more aircraft, tools and scenery options. The 2004 release (version 9) marked the celebration of one hundred years of powered flight and had only one edition. Flight Simulator X, released in 2006, returned to dual versions with a "Standard" and a "Deluxe" edition.

The flying area encompasses planet Earth with varying degrees of detail and includes over 24,000 airports. There is an ever-growing list of scenery representing major landmarks and popular cities. Landscape details become sparse as gameplay moves away from population centers within the flight simulator, particularly outside the United States, although a variety of Web sites offer scenery add-ons to remedy this.

The three latest versions incorporate sophisticated weather simulation, along with the ability to download real-world weather data (first available with Flight Simulator 2000). Additional features in these newer versions include air traffic environments with interactive air traffic control functions, new aircraft models from the historical Douglas DC-3 to the modern Boeing 777, interactive lessons, challenges and aircraft checklists. The two latest versions of Microsoft Flight Simulator have a "kiosk mode", which allows the application to be run in electronic kiosks located in public places like shopping malls. Microsoft Flight Simulator has a wide selection of upgrades and add-ons, both free and commercial, official and fan-made.

Microsoft Flight Simulator X

Microsoft Flight Simulator X is the most recent major release of Microsoft Flight Simulator. It includes a graphics engine upgrade and compatibility with preview DirectX 10 and Windows Vista. It was released on October 17, 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, and missions, Tower Control capability in multiplayer mode, higher detail scenery for cities and airports and a Software Development Kit (SDK) for development. The main improvements are graphical.

Microsoft has also released a Flight Simulator X demo, which contains three aircraft, two airports, and two missions. It is compatible with Windows XP SP2 and Windows Vista.

Closure of the Aces Game Studio

On January 22, 2009, it was reported that the development team was heavily affected by Microsoft's ongoing job cuts, with indications that the entire Microsoft Flight Simulator team had been laid off.[8][9] Microsoft confirmed the closure of the Aces Game Studio on January 26, 2009, in a post on the official FSInsider Web site.[10] stating "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 sales performance of FSX, but due to management issues and delays in project delivery, combined with increased demand for staff.[11] Speculation in the mainstream and gaming media was that future versions could be released as an Internet-based version, or on Microsoft's Xbox platform.[12]

In October 2009, two (out of over fifty) former members of the Aces Game Studio formed a new game studio called the Cascade Game Foundry[13] for the development of simulation games.[14][15]

Third-party developer agreements

Lockheed Martin Prepar3D

In late 2007, Aces Game Studio announced Microsoft ESP (Enterprise Simulation Platform), a development platform for companies that want to create products that use the technology in Flight Simulator. Following the closure of the Aces Game Studio in January 2009, Lockheed Martin announced in late 2009 that they had negotiated with Microsoft a licensing agreement to purchase the intellectual property (including source code) for the Microsoft ESP product. It is the commercial-use version of Flight Simulator X SP2. On May 17, 2010,[16] Lockheed announced that the new product based upon the ESP source code would be called Prepar3D (P3D). Lockheed hired members of the original Aces Game Studio team to continue development of the product.

In November 2010, Lockheed Martin debuted Prepar3D version 1.[17] Version 1.1 was released in April 2011, with a retail license cost of US$499.[18] A developer license is also available for a monthly fee of US$9.95. In March 2012, along with the release of version 1.3, the pricing strategy was revised. The Professional edition is now available for US$199, with an Academic License available for US$59.95.

After releasing version 2 in 2013 and version 3 in 2015, the team released 64-bit version 4 in May 2017.

Dovetail Games

Microsoft Flight Simulator X: Steam Edition

On July 9, 2014, Dovetail Games announced that Microsoft had granted them rights to develop the next Flight Simulator in the series. Dovetail Games also announced the release of Flight Simulator X: Gold Edition on Steam for late 2014, titled Microsoft Flight Simulator X: Steam Edition. It was released on December 18, 2014. It is a re-release and includes content that was provided with the original FSX: Gold Edition which includes FSX: Deluxe Edition, the Acceleration expansion pack and both official Service Packs and repackages them in one bundle and a single installation. The Steam Edition includes "all standard Steam functionality", including an overhaul of the multiplayer support to go through Steam rather than the now-defunct GameSpy,[19] improved stability on Windows 7 and 8, and features minor performance tweaks including a complete recompile using VS2013.[20]

Additionally, Dovetail Games has worked with existing developers and publishers to distribute their content on Steam as DLC. Currently, there are over 100 add-ons for FSX: Steam Edition [21] from over 35 developers available on the Steam store including Aerosoft, Captain Sim, Orbx Simulation Systems, Real Environment Xtreme (REX), Carenado, Virtavia, and others.

Flight Sim World

In May 2017, Dovetail Games announced Flight Sim World, based on the codebase of Flight Simulator X, and released later that month.[22] Only a year later, on April 23, 2018, Dovetail announced end of development of Flight Sim World and the end of sales effective May 15, 2018.[23]

Microsoft Flight

Microsoft released a new simulator in February 2012, titled Microsoft Flight, designed to replace the Microsoft Flight Simulator series and aimed at drawing new users into flight gaming. While claiming to be simpler to use for inexperienced users, it is incompatible with Flight Simulator, and does not allow the use of existing Flight Simulator add-ons (including aircraft, objects, and photographic scenery). On July 26, 2012, Microsoft cancelled further development of Flight.[24]

Microsoft Flight Simulator (2020 reboot)

On June 9, 2019, Microsoft revealed that they will be bringing back the Flight Simulator series with an updated release, simply titled Microsoft Flight Simulator, as part of their E3 conference and with a teaser video on their Xbox YouTube channel.[25] On the same day, Microsoft launched a new website for the title and opened registration for a public alpha and early forum access for members of the Xbox Insider Program.[26] The new version features tight integration of 4K ground satellite data and Microsoft's own Azure AI into the simulator's engine to generate near photorealistic graphics.

This is Microsoft's first simulator since Flight Simulator X in 2006 and Microsoft Flight in 2012.[27] This will also be the first of the Microsoft Flight Simulator series to not be PC exclusive, as this installment is also launching on the Xbox One. Asobo Studio assumed the lead developer role.[28] Release date, pricing, and other features are yet to be announced. The simulator is due to be released first in 2020 on PC.[29]

Add-ons, customisation and community involvement

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. As for number of add-ons, tweaks, and modifications Flight Simulator can accommodate solely depends on the user's hardware setup. The number is not limited by the simulator, and when multiple computers are linked together with multiple monitors and third party software and controls, Flight Simulator enthusiasts can build their own realistic home cockpits.


Individual attributes of Flight Simulator aircraft that can be customized 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 simulator'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. Models consist of two distinct sections - the main chassis or "core", and accessories or dynamic parts, such as the landing gear or ailerons.
  • 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 that define the aircraft's flight characteristics, and the aircraft.cfg file, which contains more and easier-to-edit parameters.

Most versions of Microsoft Flight Simulator include some of the world's most popular aircraft from different categories, such as the Mooney Bravo and Beechcraft Baron 58, which fall into the general aviation category, the Airbus A321 and Boeing 737, which fall into the civil jets category, the Robinson R22, which falls into the helicopter category, the Air Scheffel 738, which falls into the general aviation category again, and many other planes commonly used around the world.

Not being limited to using the default aircraft, add-on planes can be downloaded from many sources for free or purchased, which can then be installed into Microsoft Flight Simulator. The Beechcraft 1900D pictured above, is an add-on aircraft. Similarly, add-on repaints can be added to default aircraft; these repaints are usually downloaded for free.

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 an important 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 active even with third-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, third-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. Some third-party AI traffic can even be configured for "real time" departures.


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-on replace or add structures to the simulator. Both freeware and payware 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. Wide-area 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.

Flight networks

Virtual flight networks such as IVAO, VATSIM and Pilot Edge 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 operability with specific hardware, such as game controllers and optical motion sensors. is one website that host a forum style knowledge base aimed at the development of add-on items, tools, and software.


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


PC Magazine in January 1983 called Flight Simulator "extraordinarily realistic ... a classic program, unique in the market". It praised the graphics and detailed scenery, and concluded "I think it's going to sell its share of IBM PCs, and will certainly sell some color/graphics adapters".[30] BYTE in December 1983 wrote that "this amazing package does an incredible job of making you think you're actually flying a small plane". While it noted the inability to use a RGB monitor or a joystick, the magazine concluded that "for $49.95 you can't have everything".[31] A pilot wrote in the magazine in March 1984 that he found the simulated Cessna 182 to be "surprisingly realistic". While criticizing the requirement of using the keyboard to fly, he concluded "Microsoft Fight Simulator is a tour de force of the programmer's art ... It can be an excellent introduction to how an aircraft actually operates for a budding or student pilot and can even help instrument pilots or those going for an instrument rating sharpen their skills".[32]

Another pilot similarly praised Flight Simulator 2.0 in PC Magazine that year, giving it 18 out of 18 points. He reported that its realism compared well to two $3 million hardware flight simulators he had recently flown, and that he could use real approach plates to land at and navigate airports Flight Simulator's manual did not document.[33] Compute! warned "if you don't know much about flying, this program may overwhelm you. It's not a simple simulation. It's a challenging program even for experienced pilots". The magazine concluded that Flight Simulator "is interesting, challenging, graphically superb, diverse, rewarding, and just plain fun ... sheer delight".[34] Flight Simulator 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.[35]

Computer Gaming World stated in 1994 that Flight Simulator 5 "is closer to simulating real flight than ever before".[36]

Microsoft Flight Simulator X was reviewed in 2006 by GameSpot. The reviewer gave the game an 8.4 out of 10 and commented on how it was realistic enough to be used for real-life flight training.[37]


The success of the Microsoft Flight Simulator series has led to 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 around $200,000 to build.[38]

See also


  2. "About the Aces Team" (Press release). Microsoft. 2009-01-26. Retrieved 2009-02-15.
  3. Stokker, Serban (2006-09-18). "Flight Simulator X Lands On Gold". Retrieved 2009-02-15.
  4. 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
  5. "Get a Grip!!!: Joysticks Past, Present & Future". Next Generation. No. 17. Imagine Media. May 1996. p. 38.
  7. Gulick, Charles (1987). Runway U.S.A. Microsoft Press. ISBN 978-1-55615-002-9. Retrieved 2009-02-05.
  8. Remo, Chris (2009-01-22). "Report: Microsoft Makes Big Cuts At Flight Sim Studio". Gamasutra. Retrieved 2009-01-22.
  9. Plunkett, Luke (2009-01-22). "Flight Simulator Devs Grounded By Microsoft Job Cuts". Kotaku. Retrieved 2009-01-22.
  10. "About the Aces Team". FS Insider. 2009-01-26. Retrieved 2009-01-09.
  11. Taylor, Phil (2009-01-26). "End of an Era Part II: Links and Speculation". Future GPU Thoughts and Musings. Archived from the original on 2009-01-29. Retrieved 2009-01-09.
  12. Li, Eric (2009-01-23). "Despite laying off Flight Simulator team, Microsoft still 'committed to flying games'". Computerworld. Retrieved 2009-01-23.
  13. "Cascade Game Foundry". Press Release: Cascade Game Foundry Forges Ahead, Opens New Simulation Game Development Studio, October 12, 2009 (2009-10-12)
  14. "BREAKING NEWS - ACES Studio Crew forms new company - The Flight Simulator Network". Retrieved 2019-06-10.
  15. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2011-07-08. Retrieved 2011-07-05.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  16. "Lockheed Martin Announces Prepar3D". Archived from the original on 2010-07-13.
  17. "Prepar3D Product Overview". Lockheed Martin - Prepar3D. Retrieved 2019-11-18.
  18. "Prepar3D website". Retrieved 2019-06-10.
  19. "FSX Insider FAQs". FSX Insider. 2014-12-18. Retrieved 2014-12-18.
  20. Dovetail Games (18 December 2014). "Microsoft Flight Simulator X: Steam Edition Change Log". Steam Community.
  21. "FSX: Steam Edition App page". Steam. 2018-04-23. Retrieved 2018-05-02.
  22. "Flight Sim returns to the skies this month with new title". PCGamesN. Retrieved 10 April 2018.
  23. "Flight Sim World Closure Announcement". Steam. 2018-04-23. Retrieved 2018-05-02.
  24. "Microsoft cancels Flight and Project Columbia development". SlashGear. Retrieved November 1, 2012.
  25. "Microsoft Flight Simulator - E3 2019 - Announce Trailer". Xbox. YouTube. 9 June 2019. Retrieved 9 June 2019.
  26. "Insider Program Faq". Retrieved 9 June 2019.
  27. Keane, Sean. "E3: Microsoft Flight Simulator coming to PC". CNET. Retrieved 2019-06-10.
  28. Machkovech, Sam (September 30, 2019). "The new MS Flight Simulator taught me how to fly an actual plane". Ars Technica. Retrieved October 5, 2019.
  29. "Microsoft Flight Simulator | Xbox & Windows 10". Retrieved 2019-06-10.
  30. Fastie, Will (January 1983). "Flight Of The 5150: The PC Takes Off". PC Magazine. p. 303. Retrieved 21 October 2013.
  31. Malloy, Rich (December 1983). "Reviewer's Notebook". BYTE. p. 282. Retrieved 20 October 2013.
  32. Miastkowski, Stan (March 1984). "Microsoft Flight Simulator". BYTE. p. 224. Retrieved 22 October 2013.
  33. Aarons, Dick (1984-10-02). "A Perfect Flight". PC Magazine. p. 269. Retrieved 25 October 2013.
  34. Florance, David (December 1984). "Microsoft Flight Simulator for PC & PCjr". Compute! (review). p. 142. Retrieved 30 October 2013.
  35. Lesser, Hartley; Lesser, Patricia; Lesser, Kirk (February 1989). "The Role of Computers". Dragon (142): 42–51.
  36. Trimble, Timothy L. (January 1994). "The Friendly Skies Of Flight Simulator 5". Computer Gaming World. pp. 108–109.
  37. Jeff Lackey, "Microsoft Flight Simulator Review" Archived 2012-10-06 at the Wayback Machine, GameSpot, 21 Oct 2012
  38. Moses, Asher (2009-03-12). "Matt's on a different plane ... and it's surreal". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 12 May 2012.
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