Flight Simulator 5: heading for the clouds

by Alan Zisman (c) 1993. First published in Our Computer Player, December 17, 1993

Microsoft Flight Simulator ver 5.0
list price, $89 CDN,
from Microsoft Canada

Flight Simulator has a long and distinguished history in the mini-
universe of personal computer gaming. First appearing nearly 10
years ago, created by Bruce Artwick but distributed by Microsoft, it
early-on gathered the reputation of being the ultimate test if a
computer was really 'IBM compatible'. If your machine ran Flight
Simulator and Lotus 1-2-3, you could trust that anything would run
on it in those hairy early days when you often couldn't take that
for granted.

But it wasn't meant to be a systems analyser. It's a game. Or is
it? There are lots of flying games... you can fight dogfights over
World War 2 Europe, shoot MIGs over Korea, refight Desert Storm.

But aside from a little diversion in a WW 1 Sopwith Camel, Flight
Simulator isn't trying for arcade action. This game isn't
interested in spilling enemy blood.

Despite the lack of gore, this is one of the few computer games
that has created its own sub-culture. While it's not an approved
method of study for a pilot's license, Flight Simulator has gained
a devoted following for an attention to detail.

A full instrument panel. Different planes with vastly different
flying characteristics (try landing that Learjet for the first
time after practising on a Cessna if you don't believe me). Maps
of real airports, real radio beacons. Navigation.

And with the previous version, ver 4.0, Microsoft added an
optional, extra cost Scenary Designer program. Users could create
airports, add mountains and coastlines. Instead of taking off from
Chicago's O'Hare, you could take off from Vancouver and fly over
the Gulf Islands. A whole mini-industry sprang up selling Flight
Simulator scenery for exotic locales.

Now we get a new version, 5.0. Eagerly awaited by the Flight
Simulator buffs. Four times the floppy disks. We get:

-- More realistic graphics. Previous versions used vector-drawn
art for the outside of the plane, the landscape and scenery, the
ocean and the sky. Now we get gradient colours on the horizon,
clouds... so-called photorealism.

-- A larger world. Maps that can be zoomed out until you see the
entire planet. Accurate latitude and logitude coordinates for the
whole world.

-- More environmental realism. Lighting changes with the time (
either imaginery flight time, or the real time on your computer's
clock). Weather and turbulence. You can even have equipment
realism, with malfunctioning technology. With a sound card, you
get a quite satisfying roar to the engine.

-- Flying lessons, from beginner level to aerobatics. And a 'Land
Me' option so you know you can get down safely.

Still, not all the changes are happy ones. While you can zoom the
map view back out to a space-shuttle like view, when you try to
get in close for detail, all you get are blocky enlarged pixels,
like looking at a paint-program's magnified view. Hard to tell
where you are that way. You can use your maps from the older
version, which provide much more usable detail, but that sort of
defeats the purpose of an upgrade, doesn't it?

Some inaccuracies have been uncovered, as well, which has led some
users to question the program's claim to ultimate in realism. The
Lindberg scenario instructs you to follow the famous pilot's route
from New York to Paris... northeast, passing over St. John's on
the tip of Nova Scotia...

Hold on! We all studied Canadian geography. Quick... where's St.
John's again? Not in Nova Scotia, Microsoft!

Similarly, take your Cessna into the air, at full throttle.
Slowly, lower the throttle, down to 50%, then all the way down to
idle. Watch those rpms, listen to the engine. Hardly slowed down,
didn't it? Certainly not anywhere near the effect you might
expect (and got with the previous version). And where's the
propeller? Neither turning PROPELLER ON or OFF will bring it into

Many users are also reporting problems with memory. Surprising,
this version still insists on using expanded memory... a memory
management relic of the late '80s. You can, if you have DOS 6, dig
out your DOS manual, and read up on multiple-boot configurations,
so you can set up for expanded memory for flight simulator, and
extended memory for most other software, but this sort of
aggravation shouldn't be necessary anymore.

I don't want to harp on the negative. At its best, this program is
stunningly attractive, a giant step beyond FS 4. It remains a
great experience for all us non-violent pilot wannabes.

Still, it has left many of its biggest fans somewhat disappointed,
and hopeful for a quick version 5.1.

(Note from the year 2003): The above article was originally published in 1993, as a review. A decade and more later, I've gotten a series of emails from FlightSim fans hoping that I could sell them a copy of this software or direct them to a place where it is still available. While I have reviewed software since 1991, I am not a vendor of r any products. I suggest to everyone looking for copies of older software to check at eBay or at OldSoftware.com.If you check on my Files webpages, you'll find links to a number of (mostly freeware) downloadable software, some of which may be good replacements for older programs.
-- AZ (September 15, 2003)

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Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan