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Is Microsoft hiding the big jets in Flight Simulator? Time for a reality check

The promotional video for the recently announced Flight Simulator 2020 shows a series of jets, but some people suggest jets will be forgotten in the simulation, something of an habit for Microsoft. Is it true? Time for a reality check!

The Microsoft haters are at work, and with the announcement of a new Flight Simulator they are all excited, as they have an excuse to disseminate wrong information and share their venom. Examples? I recently came across this comment:

98% of the new FS marketing material is based on GA stuff, I am almost sure jets will be relegated in a silly isolated corner as per usual MS habit.

Well, this is plain wrong and I believe is done on purpose. Why? Because Microsoft regularly used jets in its simulation, a fact that is available to anyone who wants to confirm it before saying stupid things. Don’t believe me? Let’s look at facts, because fact checking is something I’ve done for some four decades now, as a journalist.

Starting in 1988, with Flight Simulator 3.0 users had the option to fly three simulated aircraft: the Gates Learjet 25, the Cessna Skylane, and the Sopwith Camel. That means one third of all the planes were jets! One year after, with Microsoft Flight Simulator 4, released at the end of 1989, the ground work for future expansions was created. With the inclusion of Aircraft and Scenery Designer (ASD) integration module, and the Aircraft Designer Module users could select the type of aircraft frame, prop or jet, and customize its flight envelope and visual aspects. The ASD module also provided new aircraft, including a B747 with a custom dash/cockpit, which required the user running the simulation at a resolution of… 640 × 350.

The introduction of FlightShop allowed users to create aircraft. Jets appear on the cover of the manual

Where are the jets in Microsoft Flight Simulator?

The introduction of Aircraft Adventure Factory (AAF), in that period, running from 1989 and 1993, led to the production of a large series of add-ons for FS4, from planes created by third-parties to the Adventure Module enabling users to create missions for Microsoft Flight Simulator 4.

With the introduction of Flight Simulator 5.0, in late 1993, the simulator had its first version with textures. While it was a huge step forward, it meant that all add-on scenery and aircraft for the previous versions became obsolete, and developers had to start from scratch. A bit like moving, in modern days, from 32 to 64 bit versions. This version included the Cessna Skylane RG, a Learjet 35A, a Schweizer 2–32 sailplane and a Sopwith Camel. One jet in four aircraft. That’s 25%!

Because everything had to be developed for the new version, it tool quite a long time for add-on developers to explore all the new options, but once they did, users got the chance to use Flightshop, a program that allowed users to create almost any aircraft. So, in 1995, after the release of Flight Simulator 5.1, a lot of freeware sceneries and aircraft was available, expanding the core of the program. Which had the same aircraft as the previous version.

The section of the manual explaining how to fly the Learjet in Microsoft Flight Simulator

Four jets in a fleet of 10 aircraft

With the introduction of Windows 95, Microsoft developed a new version for the platform, and named it Flight Simulator for Windows 95, although it was, in fact, Microsoft Flight Simulator 6. Released in mid-1996, this version includes additional aircraft. In fact, looking at my manual, which I picked from the shelf, this version had a Cessna Skylane RG, a Learjet 35A, a Boeing 737–400, the Extra 300S, a Schweizer 2–32 sailplane and a Sopwith Camel. That’s a total of two jets in a series of six planes covering everything from training to aerobatics and a look at the past. Not bad, I believe.

Flight Simulator 98 (or FS 6.1), released mid-1997, included a new Cessna 182 for training purposes, the old Learjet 35 was retired and the Learjet Model 45 business jet entered service, and a Bell 206B JetRanger III helicopter was included, for those wanting to try something different. Flight Simulator 2000 (FS 7.0), from late 1999, added the Beech King Air 350 and a Mooney Bravo to expand the GA aircraft section. This version also introduced the Aerospatiale-BAC Concorde, and the Boeing 777–300, which had recently entered service. Not only that, it also offers virtual pilots access to the Boeing 737–400, meaning a total of four jets appear in this version that has a fleet of 10 aircraft. That’s 40% of the whole fleet. Microsoft is hardly relegating jets to a corner…

The cover of Flight Simulator for Windows 95 and Flight Simulator 2000 show jets, so they were always in plain sight

FSX has an Airbus 321 and Bombardier CRJ700

After the release of FS 2002 in October 2001, Flight Simulator 2004 (FS 9.0): A Century of Flight represents a key moment for the simulation, as it is used to celebrate the evolution of the industry. This version includes historical aircraft such as the Wright Flyer, Ford Tri-Motor, and the Douglas DC-3 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Wright Brothers’ first flight. PC Gamer editors called this version “the best-looking and highest-flying collection of vintage and modern aircraft in this storied series”.

Another image showing some of the software on my archive related to flight simulation

Flight Simulator X (FS10), known as FSX, which was the last simulation to come from Microsoft, late 2007, introduced new aircraft such as the Airbus A321, Maule Orion, Boeing 737–800, and Bombardier CRJ700. Three more jets in a pack of four, that’s 75% I believe! The Deluxe Edition added the Grumman G-21A Goose, Maule Orion M-7–260-C Super Rocket, and G1000 furnished versions of the Beechcraft Baron 58, Cessna C172SP Skyhawk, and the Mooney M-20-M Bravo. The Acceleration expansion pack, release later, adds three all-new aircraft, the F/A-18A Hornet, and the P-51D Mustang, and another helicopter, the AgustaWestland EH-101.

When FSX was released, the number of add-ons available, some of them including very specialized versions of a variety of aircrafts, was already in full swing, and continued since then, meaning there are enough aircraft for different types of users. If there is a group that can claim it was forgotten are the rotorheads, and even those have a wide choice of helicopters to fly, both commercial releases and freeware.

The jets in Fly!, ProPilot, Flight Unlimited and others

This look at Microsoft’s Flight Simulator timeline demonstrates that never has the company relegated jets to a corner, and only misinformation or some hidden agenda explain people stating otherwise. In fact, the first three lines from Microsoft announcing its new FS 2020 state this: “Coming 2020, Microsoft Flight Simulator is the next generation of one of the most beloved simulation franchises. From light planes to wide-body jets, fly highly detailed and stunning aircraft in an incredibly realistic world. Create your flight plan and fly anywhere on the planet.” There is more, though: some of the first images in the video are from jets at an airport and the view from inside the cockpit, followed by a jet departing.

A jet high in the sky with a thunderstorm in front of it is one of the sequences coming right after, followed by another view from a jet cockpit during landing, and yet another, after some sequences with GA aircraft. I’ve not timed the sequences, but I am sure that jets are very extensively featured in the short video. So, who is spreading wrong information and why?

Looking at other flight simulations, from X-Plane to retired projects as Fly! or Flight Unlimited, I find that they also have more GA and less jets, and that’s normal. ProPilot’99, from Dynamix/Sierra, has six aircraft: three single engine two twin-engine and a Cessna Citation Jet. Flight Unlimited, from Loooking Glass/Electronic Arts, has 10 aircraft and only one of them is a jet, the Beechjet 400A. Fly, from Terminal Reality/Take 2 has five aircraft, one of the them a jet, the Raytheon Hawker 800XP, and Fly! II offers a Peregrine 800 TR jet in a fleet of some eight aircraft, I believe. I could go on, but this suffices to demonstrate that, in general terms, flight simulations offer less jets than the remaining aircraft. Maybe, because that’s how it works in real life.

Flight Simulator X has two jets, with other aircraft types on the cover, and the Acceleration pack introduced a… fighter jet

More of 80% of pilots fly GA

Just to confirm what I wrote, here are the facts from the real world. According to the most recent data from AOPA, “2019 State of General Aviation”:

· An estimated 65% of general aviation flights are conducted for business and public services that need transportation more flexible than the airlines can offer.

· More than 90% of the roughly 220,000 civil aircraft registered in the United States are general aviation aircraft.

· More than 80% of the 609,000 pilots certificated in the U.S. fly GA aircraft.

According to AOPA, “General aviation [GA] is all civilian flying except scheduled passenger airline service”. The numbers from the report also indicate that single engine aircraft have the highest numbers, suggesting that the fleet in flight simulations may also reproduce that tendency. Just as simple as that. Most people prefer to fly, as I would put it, low and slow…

The “Number of aircraft in the United States from 1990 to 2019” another source of info, also indicates that “The number of aircraft in the United States has been steadily increasing, with 2018 estimates holding that the general aviation fleet was 213,375 aircraft, and the for-hire carrier fleet was 7,397 aircraft. However, it is predicted that the number of for-hire carrier aircraft will slightly reduce in 2019, dropping to 7,221”. So, I guess flight simulation is… simulating reality.

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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.