The missions also assume little to no prior knowledge of esoteric things like aerial navigation which were previously left to the user to learn of their own accord. The new missions have an optional (‘on’ by default) waypoint indicator that will enable even a novice pilot to navigate through a mission without having to understand VORs, ADFs, GPS, or any other means of aerial nav. For those that want to go the next step and learn how to do things for themselves, the Rod Machado lessons from Flight Sim 2004 are still available, as are training scenarios created with the new mission tools. The mission-based tutorials allow a higher degree of interactivity in the learning experience.
The missions have completion points in FSX, and the sim is capable of judging whether the mission criteria were satisfied or not. These new features make completing the missions possible for the novice and worth doing correctly for the expert, and will broaden the appeal of the overall sim to a much wider market than previous versions. Because the missions can also include optional branches (“Ok, you found the lost mountain climber. Would you now consider landing on that tiny little field to pick him up?”), there will also be some level of replay value to them. The deluxe version includes the SDK (Software Development Kit) that can be used to develop anything from new panel gauges to complete airplanes to new missions, so I fully expect that there will be additional missions available in the future, either developed for commercial sale or available as free downloads. Even with no additional missions, the collection included does a wonderful job of demonstrating the breadth of modern aviation. From flights in aircraft as simple as an ultralight, to flights in large commercial airliners, just about every aspect of flying is represented.
Playing through the missions will also demonstrate some of the other long-awaited updates that are now in place. One such feature that is long overdue is the ability to use a tow plane to haul your high-performance sailplane aloft. There has been a sailplane included in the Flight Sim hangar for a long, long time, but no means was ever provided for starting a glider flight from the ground. With FSX, you simply attach to a tow plane and follow it up to whatever height you deem appropriate for the inevitable parting of ways. Once released from the tow plane’s tether, you’re free to hunt out thermals that will provide the list you need to stay airborne.
Also new to the hangar are a couple of planes made famous by their yeoman-like efforts in providing trusty mounts for bush pilots. There are many communities around the world that owe their very survival to such workhorses as the deHavilland Beaver, a single engine float plane, and the Grumman Goose, a twin engine amphibian. Both are included in FSX, and both are a treat to fly. Of the two, the Goose is by far my favorite. It’s insanely strong, relatively fast, stable in flight, and fun to fly. There are a couple of missions that utilize the Goose, and they are designed to showcase its strengths. Other new planes included in FSX are an ultralight, a Canadair Regional Jet, and a Maule M7 STOL including optional landing skis. There are, however, planes that were not carried over from Flight Sim 2004 such as the deHavilland Comet, the Remy bomber, the Wright Flyer, and the other classics that were included as part of the Century of Flight theme of Flight Simulator 2004. I tried copying the older planes over from my FS2004 installation to the new FSX installation, but had mixed results. Some worked perfectly, others became very quirky. This is something that might be addressed by Microsoft further down the road, or it might not be. If not, I’m betting that the modders will take care of it for us.
Three of the legacy planes have seen a significant upgrade, albeit one that will only be available in the Deluxe version: the Cessna 172, the Beech Baron, and the Mooney Bravo now have the option of using the relatively new Garmin G1000 avionic package. The G1000 is a state-of-the-art glass flight system, including integral nav/comm radios and GPS. The G1000 in FSX seems reasonably accurate when compared to the real-world kit, but I’m not familiar enough with the operation of a real G1000 to make a definitive comment one way or the other regarding the simulated version’s fidelity to the actual equipment. I can say that it does what I need it to do, and any weaknesses in the simulation have yet to crop up. Even if it provides just 75 – 80% of the real world functionality, it will be enormously useful for pilots transitioning into the more modern cockpits that are starting to appear at FBOs across the country. Actual airplanes make for a lousy learning environment, and being able to sit down at your desk with a copy of the G1000 Operators Handbook and practice using the equipment in a safe, low-stress environment is a fantastic opportunity.
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