Members of Microsoft's Flight Simulator team wanted to recognize the anniversary of the Wright Brothers historic first flight. So, working with the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA), the team adapted the simulation technology to create a virtual flight of the Wright Flyer over the sand dunes of Kitty Hawk, N.C.
"There is a lot to celebrate," says Bruce Williams, business-development manager for Flight Simulator. "Launching "A Century of Flight" in conjunction with a historical milestone as monumental as the invention of powered flight is a once-in-a-lifetime experience for all of us on the Flight Simulator team."
The Wright Flyer simulator will accompany a year-long touring pavilion that honors aviation heroes and innovations. Sponsored by the EAA, the tour will begin April 2 in Lakeland, Fla. with the Sun 'n' Fun EAA Fly-In. Guests can experience what it was like to be Wilbur or Orville Wright by operating the virtual aircraft from a horizontal hip cradle, using hand levers and a shifting hip mechanism to control takeoffs and landings in front of a panoramic projection screen.
"A Century of Flight" gives would-be pilots the experience of operating a variety of planes built over the past 100 years.
"There are a lot of organizations celebrating the centennial of flight," Williams said. "But 'A Century of Flight' gives people a chance to climb into the cockpit of legendary aircraft, such as the 1903 Wright Flyer and the Spirit of St. Louis, to feel what it was like to fly those planes."
Virtual pilots also can climb into the cockpit of the Vickers F.B.27A Vimy, a World War 1 bomber; the Curtiss JN-4D "Jenny," a stunt-flying plane; the Ford 4-AT-E Trimotor, or Tin Goose, the first all-metal transport aircraft; the Model 5B Vega, a popular plane flown by famous pilots Amelia Earhart and Wiley Post; and the Douglas DC-3, the staple aircraft of the airliner and transport industry in the 1930s and '40s.
While "A Century of Flight" offers a flight back in time, the present day isn't forgotten. PC pilots can take a crack at flying 15 present-day aircraft, such as the Boeing 777-300, the Robinson R22 Beta II helicopter and the Cessna Skyhawk SP Model 172.
And pilots get much more in "A Century of Flight" than the rare opportunity to virtually fly 24 different aircraft. The simulator also features interactive multimedia content about aircraft, briefings, interactive lessons and more.
A dynamic weather system also provides a more robust experience. Players can experience rain, fog, drizzle, clouds and hot hazy days with the simulator's improved Real World Weather system.
Three-dimensional virtual cockpits are also part of the pilots' package. This feature far surpasses previous versions, enabling pilots to operate aircraft controls, to tune radios, and to flip switches. Air-traffic control is also interactive and updated during flight simulations.
The award-winning Flight Simulator has progressed from low-resolution, basic graphics to realistic views inside and outside the cockpit. When the title was launched in 1983, it included three simple airports; now there are 24,000 from which to choose.
"We really want to bring the feeling of flying to our users and the experience of being in the cockpit," said Ken Lavering, Flight Simulator lead program manager. "We have a lot of talent on this team; several are pilots and bring an incredible depth of knowledge in aviation. We keep getting closer and closer to the real experience with the Flight Simulator product. 'A Century of Flight' is an amazing experience of aviation history."