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Multiplayer adventures in Microsoft Flight Simulator

Graphically, if you’ve the computer to run it, Microsoft Flight Simulator is a feast for the eyes. It’s not perfect, but it is, no doubt, miles ahead of anything else available now. Sightseeing is mandatory and even better with company!

Since Microsoft Flight Simulator was released that I’ve been exploring the corners of the world, mostly less populated places. With the Alpha and Beta period behind us, I felt free to look at the simulator now, as it offers the whole community as well as newcomers, a unique bird’s eye view of the world we live in. In these times of social distancing — I prefer physical distancing — the option to travel virtually may be the safest bet, with the advantage that we may fell so much in love with places we did not know about that we will want to go there when real life resumes and a solution to the pandemic frees us.

I know this from experience. Months ago, I had a friend, who happens to be a commercial pilot and captain — after an Air Force career — over at my place to try DCS and X-Plane 11. While flying from Anacortes airfield to Orcas Island classic KORS destination, in the Washington state, he admired the San Juan Islands and said we wanted to visit them — in RL — after seeing the landscape. That was in X-Plane 11, with Orbx’s True Earth scenery for the area, so I wonder what he would say if he saw the region in the new Microsoft Flight Simulator. While TrueEarth in X-Plane is good, the region in the new simulator runs better on my machine and has less graphic problems.

The end of the journey in Sitka

From Juneau to Sitka

As a photographer and aviation enthusiast, with some time spent in real world cockpits and hundreds (thousands?) of hours in virtual cockpits I’ve a keen interest in the concept of using flight simulations to explore the world. As a journalist that has written about computer games since back in the 80s, with a special interest in flight simulation, I am both interested in the challenge of understanding the flying machines, but also use the virtual aircraft to go places I will probably hardly be able to visit in a life time. This is something I’ve written about here before, in articles covering a variety of products.

I bought the Premium package from Microsoft and my son is using the Xbox Pass to enjoy the experience, so we’ve had a chance to fly together a few times and intend to do more. Our first real flight together was from Juneau to Sitka, on the Cessna Caravan, which is a great adventure to take and gives you a taste of Alaska. Although I am ferrying a Daher TBM 930 from Canada to Europe amidst my other flights in the simulator, I very much enjoy short trips, which give you the time to explore both planes and regions.

ICON 5 and water landing areas

The Juneau-Sitka adventure is a 93-mile trip that gave plenty of time to explain my son how to use some of the functions present in the glass cockpit of the Cessna 208 B Grand Caravan EX. It’s a great way to have fun and learn stuff, and that makes him even more interested in the idea of flying with me. We’ve had the experience of flying together in DCS, but this is completely new ground, and there is so much to do here.

We’ve been busy, trying the ICON A5, which I had tried in Microsoft Flight and of which I also have a version in X-Plane 11. But being able to fly it here with company makes a difference, also because of the options this type of plane opens. Although Asobo still has to get special effects and other stuff right to make the illusion more convincing, using the waters around the San Juan islands as a landing strip — the simulation map is still missing the water landing areas, as far as I can see — with company is a great way to explore Microsoft Flight Simulation.

Norway: the European “Pacific Northwest”

Besides the Pacific Northwest area, I also like very much to fly in the Norway region, with its fjords. The actual state of the graphics for this area in the simulation is not fantastic — I used to fly there in FSX and FSX SE and Prepar3D with Orbx add-ons — but two recent FREE files made available attracted my attention: one corrects the Bergen area, a great starting location (ENBR) to explore Norway’s West Coast, the other gives you a great destination at the end of a leg, the Sandane airfield (ENSD).

Departing from Bergen to explore the North Coast

These two files will enhance your experience in Norway. I hope they are the start of a long list of add-ons that make the area even more interesting for those who like to fly in remote locations. I’ve always considered Norway to be the European “Pacific Northwest”, and I enjoy flying in both regions, away from busy airports, just me and the sounds of the virtual world around — wind, birds, water and planes.

Where are the Northern Lights?

Exploring the simulation with other flyers is also an experience, especially because now it is even possible to share the same experience in terms of weather conditions. It’s really something special to feel the same wind or even the same thunderstorm, although I would like to see it extended to what everyone experiences visually: while flying together me and my son have discovered that we do not see the exact same crews at airports, or even the same planes.

Around Sandane, for example, I’ve found a ship connecting two locations that my son can not see. Maybe I am asking too much, though, because this simulation is fantastic, and it really is something to share and experience with friends. I remember years ago planning and flying together with friends to see the Northern Lights in the old Flight Simulator, fully aware that we were all seeing different things although flying together online. I wonder if the Northern Lights are present in this simulation. That’s something I’ve to discover, as those atmospheric phenomena always attract me, and are one of the reasons why I enjoy flight simulations.

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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.