After months of planning, thousands of miles travelled, and hundreds of magazines printed, FlightSimExpo 2019 wrapped up just over a month ago. In the few weeks since the event, it has given myself along with the FSElite team an opportunity to reflect on the event. In this article, we’ll look at how did the event went, what we would like to see at next year’s event, and why we’re already excited to pack our bags for Las Vegas in 2020!
Building On 2018
Whilst the people involved in FlightSimExpo have experience in event planning from previous events, the event in Orlando is only their second event as part of the FlightSimExpo brand. Last year in Las Vegas, the expectations around attendance numbers, organisation and more were completely blown away. This year, there was even more pressure on the event to not only deliver but to exceed expectations again.
After what was probably a year of extensive planning and organisation, Phil and Evan, the co-founders of FlightSimExpo, took to the stage on Saturday 8th June 2019 to announce that they had outdone themselves yet again. The opening video showed a stunning takeoff and as the aircraft climbed through the sky, an altimeter appeared on-screen. Of course, that wasn’t just representing the number of feet the plane was climbing, but the registered attendance number. Watching it back, the cool footage, the epic music and seeing that number go up and up and up still gives me chills. The wooing and clapping you hear is totally reactionary to just how incredible the achievement is.
Of course, 1,577 was just the number of people registered. By the end of the event, over 1,650 had attended FlightSimExpo. That is 500 MORE than last year in Las Vegas!
Exhibitors start the long process of setting up their equipment ready for Saturday morning
How many people!?
Of course, with over 1,600 people there to learn more about flight simulation, what was there to keep people entertained?
The main attraction at the event had to be the huge range of exhibitors that attended. This year, over 60 of them were on site with large booths, new products, and exciting hardware. Your usual suspects, such as Laminar Research, Orbx, Aerosoft and Navigraph were all there presenting their new products.
The central area, decorated in FSElite colours, was busy the whole weekend.
With all of these developers, there was a great opportunity to try out some cool new gear and see some of their products for the first time. Orbx were front and centre with a massive projection screen for people to try out TrueEarth US Washington. Navigraph had a huge stand where people could chat to the developers, see the new chart system in place, and much more.
Beyond the big names, there were also a range of smaller developers as well, such as PILOT’S, who had an incredible Varjo VR headset. Those who tried it out claimed it to be the most realistic VR headset they have ever tried. It comes at a cost, but FlightSimExpo is definitely the type of event to be trying these cool new things out. There were other big simulation products too including gear from Red Bird, Skalarki Electronics, and Elite Simulations.
Other highlights included finally getting my hands on the Stay Level Avonix panels, trying the Honeycomb Yoke and throttle set as well as finding out about new software from Cardinal Horizon.
The exhibitor selection this year was more diverse and varied than last year, but it is always a shame to not see certain names showcase their products. For example, Just Flight, REX, and Flightbeam all skipped this year, and other names such as FlyTampa, MisterX, and FSLabs would all be welcome additions to next year. Whilst people from A2A Simulations, simMarket, and others were in attendance, it would be great for them to have an actual booth so that members of the community can meet and greet those people. The same could be said for the likes of Lockheed Martin and of course, the ever elusive PMDG.
In terms of engagement from exhibitors, I think some lessons can be learned from individuals in terms of what they provide for those attending the event. There were some reports of people taking too long on certain hardware, so some attention should be paid to how to better manage that. I think another lesson for people to learn for future events is to ensure that they have their booths manned at all times. I appreciate that it can be hard to manage, but for the 1600+ people who have paid to come to the event, it’s important that there’s a presence at all times so that regardless of time, fans can visit and find out more about your products.
With that said, I think the majority of people loved what was on display this year. Even the more left-field stands such as remote-controlled drones and the basketball shoot arcade machine from iCloth were unique and fun to get involved with.
Not just exhibitors
Not only were there many developers and publishers showing off their content in the exhibition hall, during the event there were numerous seminars and talks. This year, the seminars started on Friday with Captain’s Corner.
The seminars on Friday were an opportunity for developers to talk to an audience about the challenges they face creating products for the community or tips to help inspire people to work on their own projects. In total 5 different developers took part, including Orbx, Lockheed Martin and Jetline Systems. They were very educational talks and gave insight unlike other seminars and chats that took part during the weekend of the event. I hope that Captain’s Corner returns for 2020 with even more interesting chats.
Saturday then kicked off with the aforementioned introduction seminar, which was filled with information about the event. The room was packed and the atmosphere was fantastic. Following the opening, Jason Miller and FlightChops gave a detailed look at introducing at-home flight simulation; a theme that would carry on through the entire event.
One of my favourite seminars from the event was the developer panel, hosted by ChillyWillies. Seeing some of the biggest developers together on stage talking about how they got there and their inspiration was pretty fulfilling. These types of seminars are always exciting because developers drop the PR veil and discuss things in an open and frank manner. It’s refreshing and enjoyable to watch.
There was a range of other seminars in the morning, but I know many were eagerly anticipating the developer seminars. Starting with new company Parallel 42 in the afternoon, they were quick to establish themselves as a group to watch as they confirmed their partnership with Orbx. Following their presentation was Mettar, who shared some new details regarding projectFly and a brief update on PTA. As the afternoon progressed, iCloth, Virtual-Fly and Gleim Entertainment gave information about some of their products. This was followed by Orbx and Laminar Research, with new updates and even a surprise release announcement from Orbx regarding Austrailia V2. Orbx then announced, together with Flight Velocity, TrueDeck.
These seminars are always a great opportunity to showcase brand new products to the community. Whilst many of the seminars did a good job at this, others didn’t quite have the impact I believe these types of seminars are designed for. I’m not expecting E3 levels of excitement, but the people in your audience are there to learn new things from you, so it’s best not to disappoint. I certainly think the team at FSExpo got it right this year by enabling people to have a dedicated amount of time to announce their products compared to the short 5 minutes to last year.
Throughout the Saturday, the environment was incredible. So many people in a connected environment encourages conversation, enthusiasm and passion for the hobby. It undoubtedly brings out the best in people and you can see the ideas flowing. Seeing young children try their first simulator or watching someone a bit older sit inside a VR headset is always heart-warming. This, and the delight it brings, is what FlightSimExpo is all about.
The FSElite team winds down with a game of bowling after a busy Saturday show
Room for improvement
What is disappointing is that the Sunday felt a bit flat. It’s not surprising that Saturday is considered the primary day, but Sunday does feel a little lacklustre in comparison. Perhaps it is because the Saturday is always super exciting and Sunday is a more relaxed day, or maybe it is the fact everyone is pretty tired from the previous day. Regardless, the pacing of Sunday was a lot more relaxed. One thing I did notice is that some exhibitors took advantage of the slightly quieter time and started to pack up early. This is a big no-no from me. Some people have paid to attend just the Sunday event, so to see people packing as early as 13:30 (the event finished at 15:00) was disheartening. I appreciate some people have hundreds of things to pack, but some more consideration for attendees would be appreciated.
That isn’t to say the event would work better as a single day event. It really wouldn’t, but I think some more activities or reasons to see things on the Sunday would help with making it feel a bit more lively.
Definitely not something that needing improving. This was a nice distraction from all the flight sim stuff on show.
Something else I feel that should be considered is food options for people at the event. I completely appreciate that the FSExpo team are tied to hotel options or suppliers, but food this year felt really expensive. A turkey sandwich with crisps chips cost $13 at lunchtime, and the only real alternative on-site was a Starbucks (which was also priced higher than usual for being in a hotel complex) or a few food bars around the hotel. What was great was the breakfast food available in the morning. This too was pricy, but it was a good option for those that skipped breakfast (and it was cheaper than some other hotel options).
Whilst Sunday was a bit flat, there were still some memorable moments and things to do for attendees.
I was very humbled to be asked to present the first of three seminars all dedicated to getting people involved in Flight Simulation. My 30-minute presentation hopefully gave some inspiration to future simmers about some of the great ways to get involved in simulation. Off camera, I then had a great opportunity to chat to many attendees to discuss their individual needs as well as ways I could improve my presentation. I am still proud that I was able to provide a room full of people with some of my knowledge and to anyone reading who was there, I hope you’re now up and running.
As mentioned, my presentation was just one part, with Sebastian (founder of FlightX Pilot Experience) and Ethan (VP of Pilot Training on the VATSIM network) providing their experience and knowledge about online flying.
All of this information is certainly available online, but having it presented by 3 different people with different knowledge and experience is just another reason why events such as FlightSimExpo are so important.
Something I would like to talk briefly about is the volunteers at the event. Known as the Ground Crew, they were easily visible in their bright red shirts. Each person there was dedicated, passionate, and did a great job at looking after people. No task was too big for the volunteers and everyone was always on hand to help. From the people checking the attendees in to those making sure social media was updated – they all knew their roles and did a great job at making sure things ran smoothly.
Of course, like all good things, it all eventually ends. Once the final call had been made over the PA, the doors closed on yet another successful event. There’s no question that 2019 in Orlando was the biggest yet for FlightSimExpo. We caught up with Evan and Phil after the event to get their thoughts on how it went.
“As was the case with our inaugural event in Las Vegas last year, we were blown away by the amount of support we received from the community. Whether it be hardware developers bringing thousands of dollars in equipment, attendees travelling from across the world, and families who came to Orlando for FlightSimExpo instead of theme parks, it’s incredible to see so much excitement in the community about simulation.
Young and old, experienced simmers and first-timers, we’re so glad this event can be a small part of the fabric of a growing industry. It continues to impress us that there are so many connections and so much overlap between the ‘real-world’ community and our group of simmers. More and more, we’re seeing developers and organizations who actively contribute to both spheres.
Robbie from Virtual North-West (along with the Directors of FSElite and Co-Founders of FSExpo), our winner of the FSElite FSExpo 2019 Canvas. It was signed by many exhibitors from the event.
The biggest surprise for us, as we’re sure it was for many of our attendees, was the announcement about Microsoft Flight Simulator. It’s exciting to see more development in the space; hopefully this means more people getting into simulation, and discovering the wide world of content, simulators, and communities that exist within it. If so, it’s great news for the community. We’re hopeful Microsoft joins us in 2020 to share Flight Simulator with the community that’s supported the franchise throughout its many-year history.”
Overall, FlightSimExpo was enjoyable, uplifting and a perfect way to celebrate the hobby and subject I enjoy so much. It’s not just attending an event, but also the after party celebration. It’s having a good time with people I see once (or twice) a year. Celebrating with members of the FSElite team is also one of the most important reasons we attend these events and I’m proud to have worked with an incredible bunch of people this year.
The whole team were fantastic and I’m extremely proud of what we achieved together
With Las Vegas likely to be the event location for 2020, we’re already excited about what the future holds. FlightSimExpo and the team have proven to be completely community-driven and that has shown through attendee and exhibitor numbers. 2020 will certainly be an interesting year, especially if the event continues to grow at the pace it has been, and we can already tell you we are excited to attend. See you there!
Just like myself, some of those who attended also took the time to write a brief outlook on their experiences this year.
What Others from FSElite had to Say
Flight Sim Expo 2019 was the first North American, community-driven flight sim event I attended. It was also a part of my first ever visit to the United States making my overall experience in the States quite wholesome and one to remember. It was a real pleasure meeting the FSElite team and community members who all share the same hobby and passion residing at the other end of the globe. I found the atmosphere at this event to be rather cheerful and overwhelming with all of us constantly on our feet (or on the bean bags in the central area) chatting and getting to know simmers, developers and various known personalities within our joyous community. The social events and complimentary drink and food throughout the event were definitely an added charm to the cheerful atmosphere. I feel that the three days of the event flew by way too fast and should’ve carried on a bit longer (no matter how exhausted we were by Sunday). As long as it’s not during my exams, I definitely plan on attending FSExpo next year in Vegas to make another unforgettable experience.
Flight Sim Expo 2019 was the first flight simulation-related event I ever attended. I felt that my experience there was very special, especially being accompanied by so many I know through the internet, as well as my FSElite peers. It was awesome to interact with the community the way I was able to, and being an exhibitor allowed me to do so. It was very easy to fit in with everyone, and I can comfortably say that for every second that Expo was on, I was happy to be there. The atmosphere of the event also made it that much more exciting, as everyone was happy to be there, and getting to meet all my favourite developers was the cherry on top. Attending both the developer, and public social allowed for some laid-back conversations, and played as a great get-together for the flight simulation community. I have to agree with Max in saying that I felt that the three days of the event flew by way too fast and deep down I do wish that it lasted longer. I’ll definitely attend Flight Sim Expo 2020 in Vegas, (I have no excuses as I’m just a $50 flight away), and I cannot wait to meet you.
FlightSimExpo2019 was an eye-opening experience. Comparing it to Las Vegas is like comparing a Cessna 150 to a 747. The number of exhibitors and attendees was noticeably much higher. For some exhibitors, it was their first time showcasing their products and set-ups and I must say, some of what they had to offer truly blew my mind. Like the A320 simulator or the booth that had an entire lower pedestal and throttle quadrant from a Boeing 777. Pushing real 777 throttles forward made me feel like a kid in a candy shop.
Apart from all that, I was able to meet several other members of FSElite for the first time, after talking with them online for several months. It feels good to finally put a face to a name.
Looking at the sheer size of the showroom floor, and how many people attended and again how large the event was compared to Las Vegas, I would love to see how and where in Las Vegas they plan to host FlightSimExpo2020.