The use of computers for flight simulation started in the 1960s and became universal in the 1980s. In the beginning, these simulators were only available on high-end systems, but as the personal computer grew, flight simulator quickly became mainstream and accessible to the public. Today, flight simulation can be experienced via popular video game consoles and in-flight academy school in advanced technology systems that actually simulate what it feels like inside a cockpit.
The First Flight Simulator
In May of 1975, a flight obsessed graduate student named Bruce Artwick developed a thesis project with the title, “A versatile computer-generated dynamic flight display.” Although the project was written in the now archaic FORTRAN programming language, the concept of a home-based flight simulator accessible on a computer was now in the public domain.
Flight Simulator 1.0
In the 1980s the first home version of Flight Simulator was released for the Apple II by a company called subLOGIC. It was formed by Artwick and his partner, Stu Moment. FS1 supported both four-color and monochrome displays. It featured two gauges – airspeed and altitude. It was packaged in a cassette tape that took several minutes to load.
Microsoft Gets into Flight Simulation
Bill Gates and his Microsoft company outbid IBM to license Flight Simulator for the new IBM-PC’s. The initial PC version emulated a real airplane – a Cessna 182. It also upped the game by supporting four colors, had a control panel with eight gauges, and 20 different airports to visit. It also had nine different POV’s and simulated weather conditions to pilot your plane through.
Flight Simulator 2.0
FSII was released in 1983 on the Apple II, and conversions for Atari and Commodore computers would soon follow. The simulation was now running six colors and were solid colors rather than the prior wireframes. Users now had 80 airports to drop in on and the aircraft emulated a Piper Archer. Expansion disks would add scenery and landscape of the entire US and European cities.
ACE + Combat
The series got its start in 1995 on the original Play Station. The game had you fighting terrorists, and let you pick aircraft ranging from the F-4 Phantom to a Stealth Bomber. It featured an AI wingman that barked orders at you and also had a split-screen, two-player deathmatch mode. The feel was more “arcade-like” than other simulators prior.
Flight Simulator Games for 2020
Flight Gear is probably the undisputed champ when it comes to advanced settings and customization. The software dates back to 1997, but the large community of supporters continue to add and tweak the game. You can download over 20,000 airports! The 3-D realistic landscapes are as realistic as they come. Fly a Cessna 172 or a Boeing 777. Today’s home flight simulators were unimaginable not that long ago.