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Microsoft is celebrating the 40th anniversary of the venerable flight simulator series today with an update called “Microsoft Flight Simulator 40th Anniversary”. As previously teased by the company, the update will introduce helicopters and gliders to the simulator, as well as some classic aircraft. Gliders and helicopters were no strangers to the old Microsoft Flight Simulator, but they were still missing from the game when Microsoft and Asobo resurrected the simulator in 2020.

The update includes a total of 12 new aircraft (two helicopters, two gliders and eight fixed-wing aircraft). The highlights here are what Microsoft and Asobo call their first “real” airliner in the base game: the Airbus 310-300, and the largest seaplane and wooden plane ever built – the Hughes H-4 Hercules, nicknamed Spruce Goose.

Other new aircraft included classics such as the 1903 Wright Flyer, the 1915 Curtiss JN-4 Jenny, the 1927 Ryan NYP St. Louis Spirit, the 1935 Douglas DC-3, the 1937 Grumman G-21 Goose and the 1947 Haviland DHC-2 Beaver.

To celebrate the release, Microsoft and the simulation’s developer, Asobo Studios, invited a small group of flight simulation influencers and tech media to the Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum in McMinnville, Oregon. Why? Because that’s where the Spruce Goose is on display, what better place to celebrate the release of this update (the Spruce Goose just celebrated its 75th anniversary of flight on November 2)?

To bring the helicopter and its aerodynamics, which are different from those of fixed-wing aircraft, to life, the Asobo team built a new physics engine into the simulation game, where the fluid dynamics simulation modeled for the aircraft runs 100 times per second, while the helicopter’s rotors are modeled at 1,000 times per second to achieve a higher degree of realism. And to really showcase this, you can now also visualize how the air is flowing over and around these helicopters (and planes). The team says this new physics system realistically simulates ground effects and also allows you to recreate emergency situations, such as using the auto-float feature to lower the helicopter down when you shut off the engine.

As you might expect, the glider behaves more gently. Here, too, Microsoft has added some new visualization features to the simulation that let you see the rising and falling air currents around you. This aspect of the physics engine takes into account everything from the external temperature, the angle of the sun, the material from which the sunlight reflects, and so on – but the Asobo team also admits that it’s still doing a lot of cheating here in order to do this within the engine’s computational limits. For example, the weather engine doesn’t create clouds from the first principles, so in creating the thermal system, the team started with the location of the clouds and worked backward from there.

“If we want the perfect simulation, then we’re going to need a quantum computer 100 years from now,” explains Asobo’s Martial Bossard.” Sometimes you have to make some smart choices that help us create the same behavior at a lower computational cost.” Their idea was to create an engine that would allow real-life glider pilots to find exactly the thermal airflow they were looking for.

If you’re looking for a more relaxed flying experience, gliders are definitely for you. An interesting feature is that you can choose to winch launch, which is standard practice in Europe, or use a tow plane, which is the usual way to launch gliders in most of the United States. The simulation also includes your friendly launch assistant running alongside the glider to help keep you steady as you begin to take off. There’s also the option to launch the glider from anywhere, whether it’s JFK or your local gliding airport.

Interestingly, while there are no new tutorials in the game to teach you how to fly the helicopter – as the team believes it’s actually quite easy to fly the helicopter with all the assist features turned on – I’m sure we’ll see some helicopter tutorials pop up in a future release.

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