Exclusive Hands-On Microsoft Flight Simulator 40th Anniversary Edition

We tried out the helicopters, the A310 and more at an early preview event.

By now, many of you will have started the process of downloading the new 40th Anniversary Edition of Microsoft Flight Simulator. This new free update comes jam-packed with a whole host of new features, aircraft and airports to expand your virtual world.

Similarly to the Game of the Year Edition we saw in 2021, the 40th Anniversary Edition is all about a bit of celebration. Any franchise hitting its 40th anniversary is a huge milestone and Microsoft and Asobo are keen to celebrate.

FSElite was very lucky to be invited by Microsoft to celebrate the huge milestone at the Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum in McMinnville. During this event, we were treated to a presentation from the developer, a series of interviews, a tour of the museum and plenty of hands-on time ahead of the formal release. There’s a lot to unpack with the 40th Anniversary Edition of Microsoft Flight Simulator, so let’s dive in on what the actual update brings.

The first thing I tried out were the gliders. A different type of flying I never thought I would want to really do, but what a load of fun it was! With the gliders you have the choice between either the DG Aviation DG-1001E neo or the DG Aviation LSB-18. Both of them have been developed by Flight Sim Studios, who already have experience with creating gliders for the sim. However, having full support makes them even more fun and real to fly.

Once you’ve picked what glider to fly, you can then also select how you wish to get airborne. In addition to using an AI-controlled Cessna 172 to take you to the skies there are also three different winch systems that will propel you. Regardless of your option, you always have to start by moving your rudder to let the sim know you’re ready to go. To assist with keeping the glider straight during the initial movement, a 3D animated character (known during the event as Jimmy) will run alongside you until he can keep up no more. It’s a nice touch that those who have used a glider before will surely appreciate.

Exclusive Hands-On Microsoft Flight Simulator 40th Anniversary Edition

In the air, I released the cable and flew around following the sound of the Audio Variometer, which was essential in order to stay in the air and maintain speed. Actively seeking out the thermals is best done on a warm, sunny day. To assist, a new option in the weather menu will allow you to visually see thermals, giving you the best chance to enjoy your glider flight. After some trial and error, I was confident in my ability.

This is the first iteration of what gliders will become in the future. The implementation here is already a great base, but there’s more to come in the future. I asked Martial Bossard, Executive Producer, if in the future the tow-plane can be manually controlled, to which he said “yes, in the future.” This would open up really cool possibilities in the future and make for some cool multiplayer experiences. You can also use the forests and terrain to help give you that much-needed momentum. Even in my short time, gliding was really fun and it’s going to give me a totally different take on discovering some of the more scenic areas of the world.

On the other end of the flying spectrum, the 40th Anniversary Edition brings with it the Spruce Goose. It has such a unique story as we learned from Tyson Weinert from the Evergreen Museum. He explained how Howard Hughes surprised the world by taking off the gigantic aircraft during a period of testing when it was supposed to be just for water taxiing tests. But once airborne, Hews spent time learning about the plane and how it handled in the skies before then tweaking it in the hangar.

Exclusive Hands-On Microsoft Flight Simulator 40th Anniversary Edition

The Goose itself is a unique plane, having only ever flown one time. Now preserved by the Evergreen Museum, it has been digitally recreated for Microsoft Flight Simulator. It’s been completely modelled for the sim and it will certainly be fun to see these flying around in multiplayer.

It’s freaking huge and simply eclipses anything around it. In the sim, it flies slowly, is heavy and needs a lot of time to adjust to your movements on the controls. With 6 gigantic engines, a massive 320ft wing and a tonne of weight behind you, you’re going to have the most unique water-based experience ever.

It’s an interesting plane, but is it one that will be used often? Probably not, but it’s much more than just another plane for the sim; it’s all about digitally preserving historic aircraft. Only one person has ever piloted the Goose before, but now millions of people will be able to virtually fly it from now on.

One of the standout features of the new update is the inclusion of the first ‘true to life’ airliner, the A310. Developed by iniBuilds, this is going to change the game moving forward. Everything that was loved about iniBuilds’ previous experience with the aircraft has been brought over to Microsoft Flight Simulator on both PC and Xbox. My first impressions were great; visually it’s stunning, with plenty of details across the cockpit and external model. The sounds were really fantastic, with loads of rumbles, groans and screams from the engines as they rocket you off the runway. Inside the cockpit, you will find a complete MCDU with plenty of options, an onboard EFB allowing you to change options and calculate take-off performance and much more. By the way, my first experience with the A310 was on Xbox Series X and it ran super smooth, with pretty much all the features running. The only difference I saw between the PC and Xbox versions was there was no virtual cabin for the Xbox version. A small price to pay for an amazing frame rate.

Exclusive Hands-On Microsoft Flight Simulator 40th Anniversary Edition

Now that we’re somewhat spoiled by this new airliner, others look rather crummy in comparison. It’s not fair to say that the other aircraft are rubbish, considering that iniBuilds focused on this one airliner, whilst Asobo had to focus on a whole platform AND build the A320 and 747/787 (plus more). So I asked Jorg Neumann, Head of Microsoft Flight Simulator, about their previous planes. He said they intend on going back through their planes and see what they can do. He also said that he wants to really focus on some of those Premium and Deluxe aircraft, especially considering those people really put their faith (and money) in the platform from day one. That said he recognises that the A310 will change people’s perceptions of what it means to be a ‘base’ aircraft in a simulator and loved working with the iniBuilds team to bring it to millions of users.

Of course I also needed to try out the helicopters. Sergio from Hellisimmer.com has begged for years to get me to try them and I finally caved. I loaded up the Guimbal Cabri G2 and immediately put the ‘collective’ to 100%. “No, no, no”, I heard as my helicopter just crashed. Reload the sim, and try again. “Go gentle this time and bring it up slowly to around 65%”. Success! The helicopter lifted slowly off the ground and using the ground effect, I began to ascend. It’s a really different style of flying and it will take some time to get used to.

Exclusive Hands-On Microsoft Flight Simulator 40th Anniversary Edition

Development for helicopters began well over a year ago and it has been quite the journey for the development team. Sebastian Wloch, CEO of Asobo Studio, explained that helicopters use a whole new flight dynamic engine to simulate them correctly. He explained that aircraft are currently simulated at 100hz (the rate at which the data is captured), but for helicopters, in order to be accurate, this has been upped to 1000hz. This allows the wind and generated forces to be accurate when flying these wingless birds. Turning on the CFD (Computational Fluid Dynamics) visualisation, you will see first-hand just how wild the airflow is around helicopters. Those concerned about helicopters in the sim need not worry as you are able to perform all the manoeuvres you would expect to be able to pull off.

Two different helicopters are included with the 40th Anniversary Edition: the Guimbal Cabri G2 and the Bell 407. The Guimbal Cabri G2 is lighter and more agile, but it needs a lot of TLC in order to keep it airborne. The Bell 407 on the other hand is heavier and thus provides a much more stable experience. Despite both being a helicopter, they handle very differently and offer a unique experience. It’s good to note that there are a few assistance options included in order to help all simmers with flying helicopters. You can easily turn them off once you’re more confident in your flying experience.

Overall, I loved flying helicopters. They’re so much different to flying any fixed-wing aircraft and having the ability to have assistance options is great.

Of course, there are many more aircraft to come with the 40th Anniversary Edition of Microsoft Flight Simulator. This includes the 1903 Wright Flyer, the 1915 Curtiss JN-4 Jenny, the 1927 Ryan NYP Spirit of St. Louis, the 1935 Douglas DC-3, the beautiful 1937 Grumman G-21 Goose, the 1947 Havilland DHC-2 Beaver. What’s special is that pretty much all of the aircraft in the update were created by third-party developers such as Blackbird Simulations and Aeroplane Heaven.

Gaya Simulations also contributed to the 40th Anniversary Edition by creating a number of new hand-crafted airports. They’re not just any airports, either, they’re classics that any aviation enthusiast will recognise. The original classic airport, Meigs Field, is back, fully recreated in the simulator. If you’re looking for a challenge, then look no further than Kai Tak. Whilst in the real world, both of these airports are closed, they’re digitally recreated for anyone to fly to. I tried to take the A310 into Saint Maarten, another of the new hand-crafted airports, but it didn’t quite go according to plan. Finally, you can also discover the ‘First Flight’ airport now in the simulator.

As the 27th update from Microsoft, there’s a lot of new content already. With a dozen new aircraft, 4 new hand-crafted airports and also the inclusion of new heliports and glider airports, there’s already a lot to experience. But if you still want more, then you can check out the 24 classic missions from the franchise’s past that include dialogue from the original simulators.

The 40th Anniversary Edition of Microsoft Flight Simulator is truly a celebration of the franchise as a whole. It not only introduces many classic aircraft, but also brings with it new and desired styles of flying that have been awaited since the arrival of the sim 2 years ago. Jorg Neumann said that originally both gliders and helicopters were meant to arrive as separate packages, but given the community response, it was only right to include them in the package for the whole community to use.

The question is, what is next from Asobo and Microsoft? That wish list we see updated weekly is gradually getting smaller and smaller with some big items now ticked off. It was joked that we’ll see big things for the 50th Anniversary, so there’s quite clearly still a hunger and desire for everyone to still keep the franchise going for many years to come. I for one can’t wait to see where we head next.

Happy birthday Microsoft Flight Simulator, here’s to the next 40 years.

Disclosure: Microsoft invited FSElite to the event and paid for flights, hotels and meals during the event day. Microsoft did not pay for our opinions, thoughts or impressions; we were free to share our stories however we wished after the embargo. Our views are our own and are in no way influenced otherwise. Without being invited out to the event, FSElite would not be able to provide coverage.

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Calum Martin
Content Director
Calum has been an avid fan of Flight Sim since the release of FS2000 and has developed his love for aviation ever since.
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