Microsoft Flight Simulator is a flight simulator program for Microsoft Windows, marketed and often seen as a video game.

One of the longest-running, best-known and most comprehensive home flight simulator series, Microsoft Flight Simulator was an early product in the Microsoft portfolio – different from its other software which was largely business-oriented – and is its longest-running franchise, predating Windows by three years.

Bruce Artwick developed the Flight Simulator program beginning in 1977 and his company, subLOGIC sold it for various personal computers. In 1982 Artwick's company licensed to Microsoft a version of Flight Simulator for the IBM PC, which was marketed as Microsoft Flight Simulator 1.00. Microsoft CEO Bill Gates was fascinated with Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's "The Night Flight", which told in great detail of the sensations of flying a small aircraft.


Microsoft Flight Simulator began life as a set of articles on computer graphics written by Bruce Artwick in 1976 about a 3D computer graphics program. When the magazine editor said that subscribers wanted to buy the program, Bruce Artwick incorporated a company called subLOGIC Corporation in 1977 and began selling flight simulators for 8080 computers such as the Altair 8800 and IMSAI 8080. In 1979 subLOGIC released FS1 Flight Simulator for the Apple II. In 1980 subLOGIC released a version for the Tandy TRS-80, and in 1982 they licensed an IBM PC version with CGA graphics to Microsoft, which was released as Microsoft Flight Simulator 1.00. subLOGIC continued to develop the product for other platforms, and their improved Flight Simulator II was ported to Apple II in 1983, to the Commodore 64, MSX and Atari 800 in 1984, and to the Commodore Amiga and Atari ST in 1986. Meanwhile, Bruce Artwick left subLOGIC to found Bruce Artwick Organisation to work on subsequent Microsoft releases, beginning with Microsoft Flight Simulator 3.0 in 1988. Microsoft Flight Simulator reached commercial maturity with version 3.1, and then went on to encompass the use of 3D graphics and graphic hardware acceleration to become a state-of-the-art product.

Microsoft has consistently produced newer versions of the simulation, adding features such as new aircraft types and augmented scenery. The Professional Edition released with the 2000 and 2002 versions, which included more aircraft, tools and more extensive scenery than the regular version, was a format abandoned for the 2004 (version 9) release, which returned to the single edition format and marked one hundred years of powered flight, and with Flight Simulator X, has returned to dual editions with "Standard Edition" and "Deluxe Edition".

The most recent versions of this simulation, MS Flight Simulator 2004 and the newly released MS Flight Simulator X, cater to pilots, would-be pilots and people who once dreamed of being pilots alike. Less a game than an immersive virtual environment, it can often be frustrating, complex and difficult due to its realism, but it can be rewarding for the skilled flightsimmer at the same time. The flying area encompasses the whole world, to varying levels of detail, including over 20,000 airports. Individually-detailed scenery can be found representing major landmarks and an ever-growing number of towns and cities. Landscape details are often patchy away from population centres and particularly outside the USA, although a variety of websites offer scenery add-ons (both free and commercial) to remedy this.

The two latest versions incorporate a sophisticated weather simulation, with the ability to download real-world weather data, a varied air traffic environment including interactive Air Traffic Control (although the MSFS series was not the first to do so), player-flyable aircraft from the historical Douglas DC-3 to Boeing 777 and a large number of resources including interactive lessons and challenges, and aircraft checklists. It is the wide availability of upgrades and add-ons, both free and commercial, which give the simulation its flexibility and scope.

Version history

  • 1982 – Flight Simulator 1.0
  • 1984 – Flight Simulator 2.0
  • 1988 – Flight Simulator 3.0
  • 1989 – Flight Simulator 4.0
  • 1993 – Flight Simulator 5.0
  • 1995 – Flight Simulator 5.1
  • 1996 – Flight Simulator 95
  • 1997 – Flight Simulator 98
  • 1999 – Flight Simulator 2000
  • 2001 – Flight Simulator 2002
  • 2003 – Flight Simulator 2004
  • 2006 – Flight Simulator X
  • 2012 – Microsoft Flight

Flight Simulator X

Flight Simulator X Flight Simulator X, also known as FSX, is the most recent version of Microsoft Flight Simulator. It includes a graphics engine upgrade as well as compatibility with DirectX 10 and Windows Vista technologies.

PC Gamer had erroneously reported in its January 2006 edition that Microsoft Flight Simulator X would be released in February 2006. The report was premature and Microsoft corrected the information in subsequent press releases. The actual release date was October 17, 2006 in North America. There are two versions of the game, both on two DVDs. The Deluxe edition contains the new Garmin G1000 in three cockpits, additional aircraft in the fleet, Tower Control capability (multiplayer only), more missions, more high-detail cities and airports, and an SDK pack for development.

Microsoft has released details and screenshots of the simulator including mission-based gameplay with mission specific aircraft as well as an upgraded rendering engine capable of increased detail. Flight Simulator X was officially unveiled at the 2006 International CES as a gaming showcase for Microsoft Windows Vista. Microsoft has released screenshots as well as a list of frequently asked questions as a press release on Microsoft Flight Simulator Insider, as well as numerous flight simulator communities (see External links).

Microsoft has also released a (time limited) Flight Simulator X Demo which is available for Windows XP SP2 and Windows Vista. The demo can be found at the Microsoft Flight Simulator X website.

Announced at the AVSIM convention, FSX entered Gold status earlier in September 2006. Several different languages will be available as well as the two versions.

Third party add-ons

Flight Simulator benefits from a structure that allows users to modify almost every aspect of the game's content. File types are of several categories, allowing the modders to edit specific features with great flexibility. The game's aircraft, for example, are made up of five parts:

  • The model, which is a 3D CAD-style model of the aircraft's exterior and virtual cockpit, if applicable.
  • The textures, bitmap images which the game layers onto the model. These can be easily edited (known as repainting), so that a model can adopt any paint scheme imaginable, fictional or real.
  • The sounds, literally, what the aircraft sounds like. This is determined by defining which WAV files the aircraft uses as its sound set.
  • The panel, a representation of the aircraft's cockpit. This includes one or more bitmap images of the panel, instrument gauge files, and sometimes its own sounds.
  • The FDE, or Flight Dynamics Engine. This consists of the airfile, a *.air file, which contains hundreds of parameters which define the aircraft's flight characteristics, and the aircraft.cfg, which contains more, easier-to-edit parameters.

Individual aspects that can be edited include cockpit layout, cockpit image, aircraft model, aircraft model textures, aircraft flight characteristics, scenery models, scenery layouts, and scenery textures, often with simple-to-use programs or only a text editor such as Notepad. Dedicated "flightsimmers" have taken advantage of Flight Simulator's vast add-on capabilities, having successfully linked Flight Simulator to homebuilt hardware, some of which approaches the complexity of commercial full-motion flight simulators.

A number of websites are dedicated to providing users with add-on files (such as airplanes from real airlines, airport utility cars, real buildings located in specific cities, textures, and city files). The wide availability over the Internet of freeware add-on files for the simulation has encouraged the development of a large and diverse virtual community linked up by design group/enthusiast message boards, online multiplayer flying, and 'virtual airlines'. The presence of the internet has also facilitated the distribution of payware add-ons for the simulator, with the option of downloading the files reducing distribution costs.

There are many addons that are payware. Makers such as Aerosoft, PMDG, Flight1, Just Flight, Captain Sim, LAGO, Project Magenta, SimFlyers, Captain Keith and Phoenix Simulation Software (PSS) produce addons of this sort. Scenery enhancements, aircraft, sound packages, utilities, and many other kinds of programs are available under this payment method. Payware addons often tend to have larger feature sets than their freeware counterparts; extensive features are not, however, restricted to payware packages, and a select few freeware packages are renowned for offering the same functionality and professional quality at no cost. Payware airliner addons often feature in-depth systems simulation, virtual cockpits/cabins with 'walkaround' feature (where the simmer can leave the plane's cockpit and move around parts or sometimes all of the cabin), and highly realistic 2D panels.


A large community exists for the Microsoft Flight Simulator franchise, partly stemming from the open nature of the simulator structure which allows for numerous modifications to be made. There are also many virtual airlines, where pilots fly their assignments as pilots do in real airlines, as well as world-wide networks for the simulation of air traffic and air traffic control, such as VATSIM and IVAO.


  • Microsoft removed the World Trade Center from the games scenery objects as a result of the September 11, 2001 attacks. Many rumors arose that the terrorists used the software as training. Microsoft issued a patch to remove them from Flight Simulator 2000.

External links