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Gliders in MSFS: your guide to thermals, ridge soaring and more

Gliders are planned for MSFS, according to Asobo and Microsoft, but if you can not wait, there are already sailplanes, ridge soaring and even thermals in the simulation. You just must know where to look.

Asobo talked so much about the weather simulation in Microsoft Flight Simulator that those who aspire to fly gliders imagined it would be easy to explore the landscapes in the simulation. Well, as experience has shown, the weather simulation is still not reflecting the real world, meaning aspiring gliders pilots must try their best to leave the ground.

One thing is true: although recent updates to MSFS — I write this as we wait for a hotfix to the most recent update — broke part of the wind system, removing gusts, wind is still there, and can be used by anyone who wants to fly a glider. I first discovered how fun it could be using wind in MSFS while following mountain flying and valley flying lessons in FS Academy pack for VFR.

Real world and simulation: one of my photos from gliders in the real world, with a powered aircraft towing a glider, at the airfield near my home, and the AS 33 Me in MSFS

The lessons in FS Academy use a powered aircraft, but what you learn there is important if you want to move on to gliders. You can also get this information on the web, but if you’ve the VFR pack, it’s a straightforward way to read and understand, by trying, what it is to use the wind in MSFS. Try it if you have not paid much attention to those lessons in the pack before.

Initially there were no gliders in MSFS, so my first experiences were made with small and light aircraft, like the Pipistrel Virus SW 121, which although different is from the same family as the Pipistrel Sinus motor glider. Once gliders appeared for MSFS, though, I started trying them. Gliders have now gained their own section at Flightsim.to, and there are now four gliders to choose from.

A shortcut to fully enjoy gliders in MSFS

I’ve tried the different gliders available now, but I’ve settled for the AS 33 Me for a variety of reasons. This is the first glider to reach a Version 1.10, and it offers me a huge map panel — like the real aircraft — that helps to navigate around the map. The whole cockpit is, in fact, very user friendly for someone like me, that is beginning to spend a lot of time flying gliders, because of the scenery in MSFS. I did try it before in FSX and X-Plane, but it’s a completely different story here, thanks to the landscape.

A glider makes complete sense in MSFS and I’ve found that I spend more and more time trying to keep the AS 33 Me up in the air, as I learn more about gliders and the different dials and functions in the cockpit. My passion for photographing gliders in real life extends, here, to flying them. The AS 33 Me, being a competition model, may not sound as the more adequate for a newbie like me, but I’ve chosen it for the reasons pointed above, and because it is a glider that includes an electric engine for you to take off and, if necessary, to return home.

Since starting this adventure, I’ve joined the MS Flight Simulator Gliders group in Facebook, which is the place to go to learn about what the community is doing. The members of the group, some of them the creators behind the aircrafts and other tools available for gliding in MSFS, have a lot of experience, also from real life gliding, so you’ll be in good company.

This guide sums some of my recent experiences interacting with the group, and my discoveries, and while you may find more information about gliders around the web, I’ve tried to compile here some notes that may help whoever wants to try this. I hope the guide spares you from making the same mistakes I made. Consider this as a shortcut to fully enjoy gliders in MSFS… NOW!

Pick the glider that best suits you

First, get a glider. You can try the different versions available at Flighsim.to, but if you want to go for one model, pick the AS 33 Me, which is easy to understand. The AS 33 Me is the result of a cooperative effort from MADolo Simulations (3D model, animations and interior textures), B21 (custom coding, flight dynamics and sound) and Chris Bullas (exterior textures). Reading the info available and watching the videos where the coder behind the project, Ian Lewis, shares his experience, is mandatory. I have seen people asking questions whose answers are in the videos. Do yourself a favor and follow the protocol and… RTFM!

Once you’ve the glider installed, it’s time to choose where to fly. Depending on where you live, you might already know of an area where gliders use to cross the skies, so maybe you want to emulate that in the simulation. There is enough information online about places to fly, both in simulations and real life, all around the world.

If you’re completely lost let me share with you my secret spot for flying: Juneau, in Alaska. I like to start from PAJN and fly to the mountains around using the electric motor in the AS 33 Me to reach about 2000 feet and start ridge soaring. I usually spend more than one hour per flight — and it could be more — jumping between ridges, using the wind. The video I did for the article about the AS 33 Me was created there and shows sections of the area. I’ve also flown with my younger son in other areas, and it’s great to share with others this experience.

Before taking the glider up you need to set the wind direction according to the geography of the mountains or hills where you want to fly, unless you’re not using real weather… and are happy with it. Ridge lift is easy to get in MSFS, and is also the fastest way to start having fun. Start by flying in a small area — like Juneau — to understand how the wind variations related to the terrain affects your flight. The more you try, with different conditions, the more you learn about how the aircraft reacts.

Kinect Assistant shows 106 thermals all around my glider in this region of Austria

Gliding is like playing chess in the air

As Ian Lewis, one of the authors behind the AS 33 Me told me, “gliding has been described as ‘playing chess in the air” because the art of gliding from A to B as quickly as possible is totally dependent upon the choices the pilot makes to route from one Cumulus cloud to the next.” This is true for ridge soaring, but another component is missing — or not fully present — in MSFS: thermals. A lengthy conversation about this subject — and others — can be followed in the MS Flight Simulator Gliders group in Facebook, so if you want to know more, sign in to be part of the community.

Thermals are a key part of gliding but, unfortunately, they are not working as they should in MSFS, and there is no visual cue about their presence, in case they appear. In real life, pilots only must look for Cumulus clouds, among other signs, to know where their next thermal is, but in MSFS, unfortunately, Cumulus clouds and thermals are not talking to each other. Because of that I thought, initially, that I could only use ridge lift to fly in MSFS, despite the fact that it limits you if you want to fly across areas away from mountains.

The Kinect Assistant panel works in the cockpit and works fine in Virtual Reality too, for a more immersive flight

I came across an external tool to create thermals for MSFS, Kinect Assistant, but felt it was too much trouble — because I did not read the instructions fully! — and decide to wait and see if Asobo would implement some form of thermals in the sim. Still curious about Kinect Assistant, I decided to download and install it a couple of weeks ago and was amazed to discover that the software injects thermals in MSFS automatically. So, I am sharing it with you here: Kinect Assistant, which has both a free and paid version, will give you thermals, besides a few other options that you might want to try, from a winch to a tow plane. Me, with the AS 33 Me, I am completely independent and just need the thermals.

Kinect Assistant gets the info on thermals from the web — all is explained in the manual - and while it does not cover all soaring areas around the world, it has enough info to give you thermals automatically. If you want to control things yourself, it is also possible, using LittleNavMap, to create thermals and inject them in MSFS through the Kinect Assistant. Fantastic!

Use Kinect Assistant for thermals

Now, I only had a problem: how do I know where the thermals are? Well, Kinect Assistant has a panel for MSFS that shows you thermals as circles around you. GREAT, I said, with a smile. What’s more, the panel works in VR, meaning once I’ve started the flight, I am fully aware of the areas where I will have lift from thermals, besides the ridge lift I may have set myself or the one provided by real weather.

The circles in Kinect Assistant’s panel may not be very realistic, but due to the limits of the simulation they are needed and make complete sense. I remember that FSX had both thermals, although limited, and some sort of visual cue — a spiral — showing you were to fly. It was not realistic, but it was there in place of Cumulus clouds.

During my exchange of comments with the various authors present at the MS Flight Simulator Gliders group in Facebook, Alex Marko, author at Touching Cloud, the team behind Kinect Assistant, told me that “maybe visual indications will be added some day — like birds/insects/poorly made clouds, but no promises here” but while we wait, Kinect Assistant is the best option you have if you want take your glider in MSFS through ridge and thermal lift. Hope the suggestions here, along with the images, help you enjoy the ride.

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Jose Antunes

Jose Antunes

I am a writer and photographer based on the West coast of continental Europe, a place to see the Sun die on the Sea, every day.