Flight sims have been around for almost as long as the personal computer. Flight simulator software has always been a best seller over the past few decades.
It was the idea that there might be a realistic alternative to actual flying that first attracted me to PCs. I was learning to fly in the 1980s but I didn’t have enough money to fly as often as I’d like.
To have a very realistic flight simulator on a powerful home PC seemed a great idea. However, it was to be a long time before the software and the processing power evolved into something satisfactory let alone a package that was truly impressive.
The evolution from the first attempts to the visual, auditory, and process realism of today’s flight sims are demonstrated in this video (it’s over 30 minutes long so you might want to scroll through it for glimpses).
Perhaps you can remember those early versions of Microsoft Flight Simulator. At first they seemed poor subsitutes for a real cockpit and instrument panel. As the years passed they began to take on a depth of realism that has evolved into something very close to the real thing.
The Realism of Flight Simulator Software
Today, realism is everything. Real pilots who want practice on light aircraft and aviation enthusiasts who want to fly airliners demand accuracy. They want total immersion in the experience.
Combat flight sims have always been popular but as the realism has improved the demand for civil aviation simulators has increased as well.
Today you can fly an airliner from startup to shutdown and select every button for every task, just as the air crew would do in real flight. Perhaps some of those flight sim enthusiast daydream of being asked to assist with any emergency that results in the air crew being incapacitated!
The Virtual Cockpit
The idea of a passenger being able to land an airliner in an emergency has often been the subject of debate among pilots and aviation writers. As the realism in affordable flight simulators improves it can only add more fuel to the fire.
Today’s flight sims contain fully functioning instrument panels to the front, overhead, and to either side. You can turn and select buttons and turn dials. The instruments give clear and accurate information based on your flight parameters.
For some years now it’s been possible to select the time of day, weather, and random flight emergencies as well as dozens of aircraft types. Given the amount of locations and terrain available it is not possible to live long enough to try every combination available.
It seems likely that the next generation of flight sim developers will exploit the potential of virtual reality. Surely there can be no greater fully immersive experience.
As well as, and perhaps in conjunction with VR, there is likely to be more advances in the feeback from the control columns and pilot seats.
So, whether you’re a pilot who is unable to fly due to bad weather or an enthusiasts looking for the next best thing, there is plenty of scope for exercises and enjoyment in the world of flight simulator software.