Grounded Travelers Climb Aboard Microsoft’s Flight Simulator

More legroom, less virus

Key Takeaways

  • The pandemic has left travelers grounded, so some gamers are turning to Microsoft’s new Flight Simulator 2020.
  • The game offers realistic details and a full map of the globe.
  • Some planes don’t perform realistically in the game, one pilot says.
Front view of a plane within Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020

With the coronavirus pandemic keeping people close to home, some wannabe travelers are turning to Microsoft’s new Flight Simulator 2020 to see new horizons. 

The latest edition of the venerable flight simulator was launched recently to rave reviews. The game is notable for its realistic graphics and detailed maps; for some, the game offers both an escape from grim headlines and a window to a world now unavailable because of closed borders.

"The feeling of being almost bird-like, it’s a thrilling experience."

"I have noticed more conversations surrounding flight simulators in our gaming groups and social media pages than ever before," Ashley Young, owner of the gaming site Gamer Women, said in an email interview. "Almost daily someone is mentioning the beautiful historical monuments and world landmarks being seen with their flight simulators. A sense of getting over cabin fever, community, gorgeous views, and the excitement of landing seem to add to the appeal of flight simulators since the impact of coronavirus."

In one sign of the game's popularity, some accessories for the game were reportedly sold out. Amazon’s best-selling flight sticks were unavailable for a period after the game’s release, and a quick check of Amazon this week found that many are still unavailable.

Satellite Views Power Images

Flight Simulator 2020’s big draw is its fully re-created Earth, built with Microsoft’s Bing satellite imagery and Azure cloud computing service. The game allows users to fly over hand-crafted airports, real cities, mountains, and landmarks in 20 planes with unique flight models. Not all areas of the globe are available in equal detail, but the company is working on upgrades.

"I think we’re going to get there pretty much everywhere," Microsoft’s head of Flight Simulator, Jorg Neumann said. "Commercial planes don’t fly everywhere, and some areas of the world are considered a little bit more remote. But those are actually the areas I’m going to focus on because you know western Europe and the US is good, right? But we want to focus on other areas because we think people have not been there, aviation hasn’t really gone there."

"Almost daily someone is mentioning the beautiful historical monuments and world landmarks being seen with their flight simulators."

The game is so true to life, in fact, that it's drawing real pilots. Steven Richardson, a private jet pilot, has been playing Flight Simulator 2020 up to ten hours per week since its release. "The best thing about MS Flight Sim is its hyper-realism," he said in an email interview. "It's so realistic that you'll see kids and teens learning to fly with ease because of hours spent playing flight simulators."

Don’t Jump in a Cockpit Yet

Learning to fly in the game doesn’t quite translate to real life, however, concedes Richardson. "Sometimes the flight behavior can be unrealistic and some of the cockpit functions aren't working true to real life," he said. "However, this only affects those that really know a specific aircraft."

Gamer Adam Drexler says he turned to Flight Simulator during lockdown because he misses the experience of travel. As a professional basketball player, he was used to a life on the road before the coronavirus. Prone to motion sickness, he says he sometimes actually enjoys the sim more than the real thing.

"I love being able to take to the skies and being able to pilot an aircraft," he said in a phone interview. "It’s something normally you would never get to do, but just being able to pick up and go and see and experience flight is special. The feeling of being almost bird-like, it’s a thrilling experience, but also one that's very soothing to the mind."

"The best thing about MS Flight Sim is its hyper-realism."

Grounded in real life in Houston, Texas, Drexler said he enjoys visiting New York City via the simulator. "I’ve been to New York a few times, but every time I go it's such a rush," he added. "It’s such a busy experience that I never really get to see how the city is designed or all the buildings."

Armchair pilots like Drexler are looking forward to the day when they can board a real plane. Until then, Flight Simulator 2020 will have to do. Pass the salted pretzels.

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