Today is a great day for Microsoft Flight Simulator fans, as helicopters and gliders finally take flight in the game’s 40th Anniversary Edition. While these two new ways to fly are much-requested additions, it took extraordinary attention to detail and craft from the French studio Asobo to make helicopters and gliders a reality in Microsoft Flight Simulator.
“We didn’t do all of this on our own,” the Microsoft official said. Flight simulator Jorg Neumann tells me this in an interview. “This 40th anniversary edition is truly a joint effort between Asobo and 10 other creative teams who have come together to make it the perfect gift for flight sim fans around the world.”
Players get the Airbus A310 for free today, along with two new helicopters, two gliders, seven famous historic aircraft, classic airports, and over 20 classic missions from previous versions of Flight simulator.
Helicopters, in particular, were difficult to add to Microsoft Flight Simulator. While the game was developed with aircraft in mind, there was always a desire to add more. “There’s never really been a really good helicopter simulation,” says Neumann. “The manufacturers tell us that too.”
And there’s a good reason for that: it’s hard. The physics of helicopters are much more complex than that of propeller planes or huge airliners like the Airbus A310. Helicopters are an entirely different beast. Asobo has spent a lot of time meticulously examining helicopter aerodynamics and reproducing them in Microsoft Flight Simulator.
The way airflow works on a helicopter is largely top-down. “It comes from the rotors and pushes down on the helicopter, so we had to increase the specific turbulence resolution around the actual helicopter much more.”
Things like the translation elevator have been honed in-game to allow helicopters to realistically transition from hover to forward flight. It sounds simple, but it involves coding exactly how the rotor systems react to the turbulence and vortices created by hovering.
The Microsoft Flight Simulator The team worked closely with helicopter manufacturers like Guimbal, also based in France. “We had full access to the manufacturing team, their flight data, and we spoke to their test pilots,” says Neumann. “It makes a huge difference when you’re trying to do something specific.”
Even lift asymmetry is covered in backlash, which in rotorcraft aerodynamics, is the unequal amount of lift on opposite sides of a rotor disc. “In our case, that means you have to do something like the flapping, which is basically a hinge where the motor blades hook together and the hinges move up and down,” Neumann explains. “These things go up and down, bend and tilt. All of this had to be completely rewritten. This has never really existed before in a flight sim like this.
“None of us had ever flown a helicopter before, but we had to,” admits Neumann. The result of Asobo’s team taking helicopter flying lessons and two-hour trips to manufacturers results in what Neumann describes as an “extraordinarily accurate” depiction of helicopters in Microsoft Flight Simulator. You’ll be able to choose between a Bell 407 or a Guimbal Cabri G2, but third-party developers will be eager to add many more.
But the work of Microsoft and Asobo does not stop there. Although there are many famous helipads available in the game – like the landing next to the pyramids in Egypt or the statue of Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro – there is a desire to map them all, not just the 14 available at launch today.
“It turns out that there is no global heliport database,” says Neumann. The wider aviation industry has codes for airports, and they’re all well documented, but helipads can be found at police stations, hospitals, private yachts, and oil rigs. Asobo therefore creates its own database. “We’re currently building this, from the ground up, for the first time,” Neumann reveals.
Gliders are the second new aircraft type available in the 40th Anniversary Update. Much like helicopters, there’s the usual amount of attention to detail to make them look as realistic as possible. The thermal environment is essential for gliders, especially when there is no engine, your energy always runs out and you have to analyze the wind around you and ride the wind shears. While light can hit forests or water and look different when flying in an airplane, the thermal impact of the Sun has a bigger role for gliders.
“Now we know the amount of moisture in the ground based on the last time it rained, and then we know the angle at which the sun is beaming down on the ground, which creates the percentage of upward drift,” explains Neumann. “It dynamically creates the thermals.”
The real test for glider fans will be flying over the Andes in Patagonia, where you can experience real-time weather that Microsoft Flight Simulator replicas. If you manage to get back to an airport, it’s like landing on a plane. But if not, you’ll have to reset and an AI-powered tug plane will prepare you for takeoff again.
Asobo even found about 3,000 glider clubs around the world and wrote to them all to find out what type of plane they have, types of winch equipment, and how they use tow planes. This should make gliders more accurate in game and also improve the 15 glider airports available today. “We have entered the sum total of glider clubs in the world,” says Neumann. “As a group, they don’t really communicate with each other, and I think we trigger that a bit.”
In the future, there are plans to let you tow a friend’s glider in the game’s multiplayer mode and maybe even co-pilot helicopters together one day. The developers also waited for this 40th anniversary update to be released so they could take a look at the SDK and bring more third-party gliders and helicopters to the game.
“If I look at the 12 planes, 10 of them weren’t made by Asobo,” says Neumann. “All we really need to do is take the platform to the next level of sophistication, and then they can go crazy.”
For now, the hope is that hardcore simmers and casual gamers of Microsoft Flight Simulator enjoy the additions of helicopters, gliders and an Airbus A310 which has a pilot’s manual with thousands of pages. There’s always a risk that these new simulated planes won’t be as accurate or as welcome as more regular planes, and that’s something Asobo experienced earlier this year.
Free Superior gun The update allowed players to learn the unrestricted take-offs, high-speed maneuvers, and low-altitude stunts found in the Top Gun: Maverick film. “The maverick experience was this: will people enjoy a three-minute flight? What’s interesting about this is that everyone did it,” says Neumann. “We were pretty sure the players would like it, but the core simmers liked it, and that was cool.”
Like everything else in Microsoft Flight Simulatorattention to detail in the Top Gun: Maverick the expansion has been impressive, and the new helicopters and gliders launched today have certainly been a lot of work. “As IPs, we strive to be as authentic as possible,” says Neumann. “I think we got there.”
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