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MS Flight Simulator 2000

Microsoft Flight Simulator 2000

Soaring to New Heights

By Jim Bray

Fans of Microsoft's earlier Flight Simulators will probably eat up the new version, FS2000. It builds on the fun (and, yes, training) of the older versions by adding new aircraft and better rendered scenery than before.

This isn't the best sim if you like dogfighting (try Combat Flight Simulator for that!), but if you've always dreamed of being a private or commercial pilot, you'll find more than enough on this CD ROM to keep you happy for many hours on the Hobbs meter.

The new planes are of the commercial variety - and a welcome pair they are indeed. You can now get into the left hand seat of the beautiful Concorde, as well as Boeing's latest masterpiece, the 777. The 777 is a biggie (not as big as the 747, but it certainly ain't no slouch), and offers a nice way to get the virtual feel for what it's like to command a widebodied "jumbo."

And of course the Concorde is FAST! 'Nuff said about that...

Microsoft says it picked the brains of aviation industry leaders, including manufacturers and pilot organizations, to help ensure the most lifelike flying experience. It claims it was so successful that the U.S. Navy might use FS2K in its training.

I don't know about that, but as a person with some experience in single engine light aircraft, I found the Cessna 182 about as satisfying an experience as I could expect short of wearing a virtual reality helmet - or, better still, taking a real flight.

In fact, I was thrilled to find the sim puts so many new airports at your virtual fingertips that it even included the little strips in British Columbia I used to frequent.

On the downside there, I was a bit disappointed with the landscape rendering of those admittedly obscure strips. The area around Castlegar wasn't bad, but the mountains around Trail looked nothing like the real ones.

Still, I was blown away that the airports were even there - and to be fair, the rendering of the areas around more mainstream airports is far better.

Microsoft includes some 20,000 airfields in this version, so if you've even been aloft chances are you can find your favorite strip.

VIrtual Cockpit

One downside about FS2K (and any other simulation like this) is the fact that keyboards and mice just don't cut it when it comes to recreating the thrill of flying. Fortunately, I have CH Products' Virtual Pilot Pro" flight yoke, which transforms the experience from one of "airborne computer geek" to "deskbound ace."

FS2K's navigation capabilities are up to date, too. You can find your way around using the Global Positioning System (GPS) to give you constantly updated position, ground speed and info about your course. You can also take advantage of Jeppesen's Worldwide NavData Database and approach charts.

Or you can throw caution to the wind and "IFR" it ("I follow roads") for some seat of the pants flying.

The updated technology includes updated weather, too, so you can freak yourself out by flying into clouds or storms. You can also download actual meteorological conditions and have the sim generate them during your trip.

The actual flying experience is pretty good. Though I've never flown a Cessna 182, the feel is mostly as I remember it from my hours in the smaller C150’s and 172’s - except for one major difference: retractable gear. And, yes, it pays to lower them before landing. In fact, one of the great things about a flight simulator is that you can try out many things that would be really, really stupid in real life, safe in the knowledge that the only thing you can hurt is your pride.

Which means I felt obliged (as I do with each new version) to try some things virgin pilots would avoid like the plague, like buzzing buildings and flying into clouds. Or even sillier things like flying into buildings! I quite happily destroyed my virtual Cessna quite convincingly.

I had a really good time reliving my flying days. I began at Castlegar, where I took my training, and practiced circuits and spins and other fun stuff, flying down the Columbia River valley to land at what had been my base airport at Trail. I also took a few virtual trips and one of these days will try recreating my solo cross country flight that preceded my flight test.

All of the various aircraft are fun (my second favorites were the big jets), but I must admit I spent the bulk of my virtual flying in the 182 because it brought back so many great memories.

God bless simulations!

FS2K is the best version yet, and is a wonderful toy for the Walter Mitty in all of us. It ain't flying, but it ain't bad.

If only I had a VR helmet!


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January 31, 2006