Now that I’m home and looking back on some fond memories of Flight Sim Expo 2019 it’s time to do a recap and get some of the things that I learned out there. Read on as fans of IL-2 and DCS will probably find some of the information interesting and I want to spread to fan of flight sims in general as that is what this expo was all about.
Looking back on a couple of days
I want to start by being retrospective and summing up everything in general before I delve into the details. Flight Sim Expo is a community driven event that seeks to bring together fans of flight sims with vendors and offer a great experience. That’s exactly how I felt at the end walking away having met plenty of community members, vendors, Jason Williams from 1CGS, Matt Wagner from Eagle Dynamics (whom I talk about a lot on this blog), and learned about features and products in flight simulation that I just was simply not aware of before.
I saw and got to try lots of great new things that I may not have otherwise been able to (more on that later) and I’m still processing just how cool some of that stuff that I saw was. Let’s dig into some specifics.
1C Game Studios booth with IL-2: Great Battles
One of the big reasons for me to go was to go and meet Jason Williams and spend some time covering what was happening at the 1C Game Studios booth. While a lot of the booth was dedicated to helping people who aren’t aware of IL-2 get to know what it is there were some things for us long term fans – the reveal of the finished Me262 (now released to the public) being one of those big things.
The 1CGS booth was setup with two “regular” stations featuring large 4K displays using VIRPIL T-50 base and grip and MFG Crosswind and VKB T-Rudder for the rudder controls. They used Monster table mounts to attach the hardware to the desks. It’s a nice setup and I now want that for my own setup.
Here’s the first video that I put out with the 262.
And the second…
And some S.E.5a gameplay (yes I see the typo now):
The third rig was even cooler than the first two. GForceFactory’s EDGE6D product (retailing around $9,000 USD) offers a motion experience that was connected with IL-2’s engine and a HTC Vive VR headset. Here’s a video of Jason demoing the platform:
This setup attracted a ton of attention and when I got to try it for myself I can understand why. This was my first time trying VR for IL-2 personally and I added a 6 degrees of freedom motion rig to the experience. It’s the most real I’ve felt in IL-2 and a completely immersive, engrossing experience. I walked away with the biggest smile I’ve probably had in a long time.
The rig doesn’t have enough motion you make you feel like you’re upside down but it does try and give you the acceleration/deceleration of such a movement. Rapid rolls or tight turns were definitely felt but the biggest moment of them all was when I winged over in a Spitfire on a formation of He111s and I felt like I was falling downhill – I think I said choice words because I wasn’t prepared for it.
The Thrustmaster booth and DCS
Thrustmaster was there and I got a chance to meet with the North American Marketing Manager which was great. We talked a little about the new F/A-18C Hornet™ HOTAS Add-On Grip as well as general directions that the company was going in.
The Hornet grip is an authentic reproduction of the real grip and is licensed by Boeing. Getting the licensing done was a big part of the reason why we’ve been waiting since that 2017 E3 announcement – but the team apparently worked very hard to make the grip even better while we were waiting.
The bottom part is metal while the top part is a high grade resin material to keep the weight balance better. There’s also a up/down/push wheel that was added as a consideration for good gameplay on the grip. Flying for a few minutes with it in DCS in the F/A-18 was just an incredibly authentic experience. It’s also very comfortable to use. Check out these images:
We also talked about other products and generally where Thrustmaster is going. They are a mass market company so their ultimate goal is to make products appealing to a wide range of consumers and price points. I asked if we might see a refreshed T.16000 and while they were reluctant to discuss any future products I got the sense that they were looking into it.
Arguably the T.16000 set (with throttle and rudders) is one of the best bang for the buck products out there but I think it could use both a refresh to keep it current. An update to the styling to make it a little more serious might be nice too. Maybe just exciting enough for both space and flight sim pilots to appreciate the aesthetic – a difficult balance.
Meeting Matt Wagner
I had the pleasure to meet with Matt Wagner at the Thrustmaster booth which was great. He was a popular guy so I tried not to monopolize time but I did learn a few interesting things. Chief among them that the DCS: Syria map is perhaps further along than many of us thought and should be coming “soon.” I get the sense that it may appear sometime this summer though Matt was careful not to give me anything too specific.
I am hoping to follow up with him in the future and do a Q&A with him (or perhaps a series as I did with Jason Williams). If you have questions be sure to let me know in the comments and I’ll do my best to incorporate them into something.
A2A Simulations and DCS?
The word spreading around the DCS community is about a possible partnership between Eagle Dynamics and A2A Simulations. That all stems from this photo and caption posted by A2A.
As coincidence would have it, I was just off to the side of this photo. I was busy talking to some of the Thrustmaster staff and not wanting to intrude on the conversation but it sounded like there was at least an informal interest in A2A maybe doing work with DCS World in the future. FS Expo was great at facilitating these kinds of meetups which start informally and sometimes progress into a more formal arrangement later. Will this be one of them? Who knows and I hesitate to speculate more than I have.
A2A have been held up as being a great example of a company that does really detailed and quality work for P3D and Flight Simulator X. Having an experienced team like that add DCS modules would be a great thing. Check out their website for more information and definitely have a close look at their FSX B-17 – imagine that in DCS World.
A product I had little to no knowledge of prior to my attendance at FS Expo was Infinite Flight. This is a serious flight simulation with detailed controls, several dozen aircraft, live ATC and hundreds upon hundreds of airports to fly from – some with detailed buildings and taxiways. Did I mention this all runs on an iPad or Android Tablet?
I had a great chat with one of the reps at the Infinite Flight booth as he walked me through flying a SOCATA TBM. The controls are great given the interface and there is apparently joystick support through a couple of methods depending on if you’re using an iPad or a android phone/tablet. There’s a strong community behind it made obvious by the number of players flying online which we could see via a FlightRadar24 type display.
I was impressed by the whole thing. Infinite Flight is available in a limited way for just $4.99 on the Apple App Store and $6.49 on the Google Play store. The more expansive option with a full global map, multiplayer and added aircraft is available via their Pro subscription model which comes in at $9.99 a month, $49.99 for 6 months or $79.99 for the year.
I got a chance to meet with indie-developer Jon Coughlin during the expo and check out his new product that he’s working on called: Roger Meatball. Far from the serious civil aviation and military aviation sims that were on display throughout the expo, Roger Meatball goes the other way offering a quirky, fun, cell shaded stylized version of a flight sim potentially accessible to people who don’t otherwise play flight sims.
The goal of Roger Meatball involves landing an F3F on a carrier deck. Pass or fail the experience is entertaining and funny! Your carrier landing attempt gets a score with information on if you’ve broken the gear, engine, tail wheel, main wheel, etc. Also, potentially hilarious pictures (themepark style) of your expert or not so expert landing.
I’ll be doing a full write-up sometime soon but in the meantime check out Roger Meatball. It’s free to try out right now as development is ongoing.
X-Plane, P3D, FSX and more
The biggest parts of the FS Expo are the ones that I’m probably least qualified to talk about. There is a huge following around civil aviation both as entertainment and as a training tool for real pilots or aspiring pilots.
I had a quick look at the X-Plane booth (and tried a yoke in X-Plane doing touch and go’s at an airport in Germany) and came away impressed with that. I’ve already written a bit about X-Plane so I knew a little of what they were about.
X-Plane put on a 737 Juno landing competition which involves flying the last part of a final approach into Juno Alaska. One of the more difficult airports to land at in real life. I didn’t stay for the whole competition but it looked like everyone was having a good time doing it and a couple of people walked away with prizes.
Orbx was one of the big sponsors and I had a quick chance to see some of their latest work. During the expo they announced a version 2 of their well known Australia scenery pack for P3D and FSX. That’s 8-million square kilometers of scenery to fly over using some of Orbx’s latest technology.
I was very impressed by my chat with one of the reps from HiFi Simulation Technologies and their Active Sky XP which brings their expertise on weather simulation to X-Plane 11. They are not yet replacing the cloud rendering but are instead focused on the underlying physics and technologies that support it. Realism for active weather systems, up and down drafts, turbulence, and the ability to import weather models (both past and present) into the sim are just incredibly cool abilities.
Air traffic control
I should have figured but was completely unaware at the level of detail that simulation can offer and there were multiple companies and organizations offering air traffic control experiences to sim pilots.
I talked with the rep from VATSIM (short for the Virtual Air Traffic Simulation Network) which was a free community organization that offered real time air traffic control. I saw that there were other groups out there too offering paid experiences too. I’m talking about experiencing about as real as it gets in simulation air traffic control at the level that a pilot would need to be trained on the correct terminology.
Supporting all of this is some very serious hardware. From small and modest setups to a full featured cockpit with overhead controls and hardware that feels like it was ripped out of a modern jetliner.
If you wanted a Cessna 172 panel in front of your computer monitor that was certainly possible along with sophisticated avionics modeled on the modern gear currently available. As I wrote in my tweet, the depth of the experience is just incredible.
It’s all about the people
As much as Flight Sim Expo is about a subject that we love this is ultimately about bringing people together around a common interest. There were a wide cross section of the flight sim community from enthusiasts more interested in the entertainment side to the serious pilots looking for training opportunities. There were people representing flight schools and developers of flight sim products trying to meet the expectations of everyone there.
I got to meet people like Jason Williams and Matt Wagner from two of the sims that I cover a lot but it was also great to meet community members too. I had great chats with everyone and it was wonderful to see how positive everyone is about our shared hobby (or in some cases profession). I’ll forget everyone that I had a chance to meet so I’ll just say generally that it was a real pleasure to meet everyone!
Flight Sim Expo 2020 is set to travel back to Las Vegas with more information coming soon to their website. I hope to be there next year!