Exploring the vast Earth Microsoft has created for Flight Simulator 2020

The Air Current was given the world's first hands-on look at the new 2020 version of Microsoft Flight Simulator.

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Renton, Wash. — A decade ago, Microsoft Flight Simulator was a casualty of The Great Recession.

The development team that built Flight Sim, known as the Aces Game Studio, was disbanded by Microsoft in 2009. The company walked away and the code was eventually licensed to Lockheed Martin to create its own simulation software called Prepar3D (pronounced Prepared) that it uses for professional air, land and sea training.

In Microsoft’s absence, an entire economy sprung up around the platform to keep it (and Lockheed’s P3D) alive. Third-party developers harnessed leaps in graphics and computing power, bringing complete simulations of real aircraft like Boeing’s Next Generation 737, 777, 747-8, Airbus’s A320 and then-Bombardier’s Q400 to life. Ultra-precise photoreal terrain and airports have become commonplace. Dynamic weather generators and global air traffic control networks thrive. In 2011, Microsoft had tried to find its way back to flying software, but struggled mightily to do so as its plans largely shut out those same developers.

But about five years ago Jeorg Neumann, a Microsoft executive, had an idea for the company’s Hololens — its augmented and virtual reality headset. A feature, called Holotour, allowed you to explore San Francisco, the Collosseum in Rome and Machu Picchu in Peru. “It looked right, it felt right, it sounded right, but it was just three dots on Earth,” said Neumann. “I wonder if we can do this for the whole planet?”

Neumann showed what he and a small team had created. Phil Spencer, Microsoft’s Executive Vice President of Gaming, put on the Hololens, running a rudimentary version of Neumann’s experiment. Spencer asked Neumann why he was being shown a video of Seattle. “And then I turned the plane,” Neumann recounted. “This is real. We can do this.”

And so Microsoft Flight Simulator was reborn.

Earlier this month, Microsoft gave The Air Current the world’s first look at the rebirth of Flight Simulator, a title older than Windows and Office itself. What The Air Current was shown and demonstrated was a pre-alpha build of the newest version of Flight Simulator. The visual fidelity is expletive-worthy.

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