Today is a big day for Microsoft Flight Simulator fans, as helicopters and gliders finally take to the skies in the game’s 40th Anniversary Edition. While these two new ways to fly are highly requested additions, extraordinary attention to detail and craft has been given by French studio Asobo to realize helicopters and gliders in Microsoft Flight Simulator.
“We didn’t do this all alone,” says Microsoft’s head of Flight Simulator Jorg Neumann tells me in an interview. “This 40th Anniversary Edition is truly a collaborative effort by Asobo and 10 other creative teams all coming together to make this the perfect gift for flight sim fans around the world.”
Players will receive the Airbus A310 for free today, in addition to two new helicopters, two gliders, seven famous historic planes, classic airports and more than 20 classic missions from previous versions of Flight Simulator.
Especially the helicopters were a challenge to add Microsoft Flight Simulator. Although the game was developed with airplanes in mind, there was always a desire to add more. “There’s never really been a great helicopter simulator,” Neumann says. “The manufacturers tell us that too.”
And there’s a good reason for that: it’s hard. The physics of helicopters is much more complex than propeller planes or huge planes like the Airbus A310. Helicopters are an entirely different beast. Asobo has long meticulously researched and simulated the aerodynamics of helicopters in Microsoft Flight Simulator.
The way the airflow works on a helicopter is largely from the top down. “It comes from the rotors and pushes the helicopter down, so we had to increase the resolution of the specific turbulences around the actual helicopter a lot more.”
Things like the translation elevator have been perfected in the game so that helicopters can realistically move from a hovering state to a forward flight. That sounds simple, but the point is to code exactly how rotor systems respond to turbulence and vortices caused by hovering flight.
The Microsoft Flight Simulator team worked closely with helicopter manufacturers such as Guimbal, also based in France. “We got full access to the production team, to their flight data and we spoke to their test pilots,” says Neumann. “That makes a huge difference when you’re trying to make something accurate.”
Even lift asymmetry comes into play, which in helicopter aerodynamics is the unequal amount of lift on either side of a rotor disc. “In our case, that means you have to do something like flapping, which is essentially a hinge that the motor blades hang from and the hinges go up and down,” says Neumann. “These things go up and down and bend and tilt. This all had to be completely rewritten. It has never really existed in a flight sim like this.”
“None of us had ever flown a helicopter before, but we had to,” admits Neumann. The result of the Asobo team taking helicopter flying lessons and two-hour trips to manufacturers translates into what Neumann describes as an “extremely accurate” depiction of helicopters in Microsoft Flight Simulator. You can choose between a Bell 407 or a Guimbal Cabri G2, but third-party developers will be happy to add many more.
But the work of Microsoft and Asobo does not stop here. While there are many famous helipads available in the game, such as the landing next to the pyramids in Egypt or the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro, there is a desire to map them all, not just the 14 available today. are at launch.
“It turns out that there is no global database of heliports,” Neumann says. The wider aviation industry has airport codes, and they are all well documented, but helipads can be found in police stations, hospitals, private yachts, and oil rigs. So Asobo creates its own database. “We are currently building this from scratch for the first time,” reveals Neumann.
Gliders are the second new type of aircraft available in the 40th Anniversary Update. As with helicopters, there is the usual attention to detail to make these as realistic as possible. The thermal environment is critical for gliders, especially if there’s no engine, you’re always running out of energy, and you need to analyze the wind around you and drive with wind shears. While light can hit forests or water and look different when you fly in an airplane, the thermal impact of the sun plays a bigger role for gliders.
“Now we know the amount of moisture that’s in the ground based on the last time it rained, and then we know at what angle the sun is firing rays at the ground, and that’s what drives the upward drift rate,” Neumann says. “That’s dynamically creating the thermals.”
The real test for glider fans will be flying over the Andes Mountains in Patagonia, where you can experience the real-time weather that Microsoft Flight Simulator replicates. If you manage to get back to an airport, it’s like landing a plane. But if not, you’ll need to reset, and an AI-powered tow plane will get you ready to take off again.
In fact, Asobo has found some 3,000 glider clubs around the world and written them all to find out what type of aircraft they have, the 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 turned on the sum total of glider clubs in the world,” Neumann says. “As a group, they don’t really communicate with each other, and I think we kind of trigger that.”
In the future, there are plans to allow you to tow a friend’s glider in the game’s multiplayer mode and maybe one day even have copilot helicopters together. Developers have also been waiting for the release of this 40th Anniversary Update so they can check out the software development kit and bring more third-party gliders and helicopters to the game.
“When I look at the twelve planes, ten were not made by Asobo,” says Neumann. “All we really need to do is take the platform to a higher level of sophistication, and then they can go crazy.”
For now, the hope is that hardcore simmers and casual players of Microsoft Flight Simulator will love the additions of helicopters, gliders and an Airbus A310 with a pilot’s handbook with thousands of pages. There’s always a risk that these new simulated planes won’t be as accurate or welcome as more mainstream planes, and it’s something Asobo experimented with earlier this year.
the free one Top Gun update allowed players to have unlimited take-offs, high-speed maneuvers and learn the low-altitude stunts found in the Top Gun: Maverick movie. “The maverick experiment was: will people enjoy a three-minute flight? The interesting thing was that everyone did that,” says Neumann. “We were pretty sure the gamers would like it, but the core simmers liked it, and that was cool.”
Like everything else in Microsoft Flight Simulatorthe attention to detail in the Top Gun: Maverick the expansion was impressive, and the new helicopters and gliders being released today certainly did a lot of work. “As an IP, we strive to be as authentic as possible,” says Neumann. “I think we’re there.”