First flights in Microsoft Flight Simulator

It’s been just a few days but I’ve had my first flights in the public release version of Microsoft Flight Simulator checking out both the multiplayer and single player experience and I thought I would share my experiences.

Checking out Billy Bishop (CYTZ) and the Toronto Area

I wanted my first flight to be in my home region and I decided to pick one of the premium, handcrafted airports included in the base version of the sim to get started with so naturally I picked CYTZ Billy Bishop airport – also known as the Toronto Island Airport. Having flown on Porter, a regional airline, out of this airport a few times I thought it would be a lot of fun to start here.

Located on Centre Island and until a few years ago requiring the shortest ferry ride (it’s just a few hundred feet) in the world this airport is located right on the Toronto waterfront which meant that I could get a good look at the scenery there.

The results are, very good but not particularly beautiful in places. The airport itself, in handcrafted glory, is excellent with plenty of detail. The ramps look great, the runway signage is all there, and generally speaking it looks accurate. Nearby Toronto waterfront is less accurate with photogrammetry in place but some buildings including the iconic CN Tower looking sub par. Don’t get me wrong, it’s all accurately placed and the buildings do look like themselves but this is an area where the sim doesn’t quite get it right.

My route was a simple one flying out and over the city of Toronto and north over Toronto Buttonville (CYKZ) and then over Toronto Pearson (CYYZ) before I headed west out of the city and over the suburbs before making the short trek over to Burlington Executive Airport (CZBA) where I landed.

The flight was done with the Cirrus SR22, one of the premium aircraft in the sim, and a good looking GA aircraft that I’ve been interested in flying in flight sims for a while. The cockpit was extremely well detailed and the aircraft itself fun to fly although I did struggle with some tech issues.

I turned on multiplayer traffic for this experience which meant that when I spawned at Billy Bishop, there were aircraft everywhere. It’s not surprising as its the standout airport for Canada at the moment and it’s also located at the heart of Canada’s most populated city so everyone wants to check it out. Immersion gets a bit broken here as the airport has more aircraft and people randomly flying around than is accurate.

The airport also is only rated to support turboprop aircraft up to the Bombardier Q400 and at the moment isn’t allowed to have jet aircraft due to noise considerations. Of course this is a flight sim and unless you live in the area you probably don’t know that. So… queue up the 747-800 on takeoff along with dozens of other aircraft parked all over the place.

The simple solution is to go over to an AI only flight experience if you find this immersion breaking so this isn’t a huge problem.

Group flight from Zadar/Zemunik Airport (LDZD) and around Croatia

Another one of my first flights was my first group flight. Five of us set out from Zadar/Zemunik Airport (LDZD) in a wide assortment of aircraft and decided to look around the area. Located near the Adriatic Sea, we decided to follow the coastline flying over a wide array of smaller villages before heading into the mountains and finding some fun canyons to fly through.

Right away I want to say that the way that Microsoft Flight Simulator models turbulence around mountains is the most dynamic I’ve ever experienced. I’ll write more about it later but it was the most convincing experience of turbulence I’ve seen in a sim.

The aircraft I was flying is the X-Cub. A Piper Cub modification that I can tell I already really enjoy flying. Smooth and easy handling with good power overall and terrific stall character means you can get it in on a short grass strip or a flat piece of ground without too much trouble. The glass cockpit injects a modern touch into the aircraft which I quite like (and some of you may not).

After carving through the canyon for a while we climbed the ridge line and transitioned from the rocky scenery of the coast into sweeping hills and then farmland. We ultimately landed at Velika Kladusa (LQVK) to finish the flight off.

There are some problems

Both of these flights were great, however, there are some serious problems that marred the experience.

First, performance on my system has been challenging. All of the screenshots above are taken on Medium settings. Although the sim suggested High-End as my preset, that setting seems to consistently overwhelm my 16GB of RAM. Medium is gentler although by no means problem free and there were stutters and pauses. Some sort of process in the background was definitely causing the whole thing to grind to a halt.

My system is starting to get long in the tooth (Core i5 6600, GTX 1070ti, 16GB DDR4) but I have experienced better and typically outstanding performance in most other sims including X-Plane 11.41 and DCS World (except when the sim was having performance issues) so I think there is room for Asobo and Microsoft to solve some underlying performance issues potentially. Paradoxically, at times the sim ran smoothly as well with beautiful visuals and frame rates back up into the 40-50fps range.

For a while on my Toronto flight with the SR22, my mouse was unable to click any of the buttons in the cockpit and I wasn’t able to use the mouse wheel to zoom in and out. Key binding worked but nothing else. Again, some sort of issue that needs resolving.

In one case while the active pause was on, the autopilot somehow caused a problem with the aircraft causing it to pitch up and down wildly. No amount of autopilot disengaging or trim control was able to solve the issue. A glitch I assume!

In multiplayer, not all of the group were able to actually be part of the group because many of the members appeared as offline. When we did link up, performance was good although the closer you get the more jittery the aircraft appear. On the whole it was good but not as rock solid as say IL-2: Great Battles is for close formation flying or DCS World on a good day when the server isn’t having serious problems.

None of this is an indictment on the new sim and my full review will take some time to put together as there’s much to learn, a lot to tweak, and I think many readers out there appreciate less a rush to judgement and more of a nuanced take on what the new Microsoft Flight Simulator is and is not.

I remain excited about the possibilities that this new sim offers and more content will be coming soon!

12 Comments Add yours

  1. Ian says:

    I have to say, buggy as it is, it is a lot of fun. I have pretty much identical system to yours and am running at 4k on high, so pushing my luck, but generally runs OK in sparsely populated virtual NZ. I’m flying Skyhawk, (the only aircraft modelled I have actually flown). The feel and engine sound is very good, I think. Like you I find turbulence modelling very good. Ground looks fantastic, as long as you keep above 5000ft, (things can get very ugly at low level). Sea is much less impressive, particularly total lack of breaking waves. But detail is good enough I was able to navigate around my country (NZ) using VFR very easily. Its very impressive the way details are visible at a pretty long range

    Liked by 1 person

    1. ShamrockOneFive says:

      It is a lot of fun for sure! Last night, despite the bugs, I found myself having an absolute blast flying around and checking out different parts of the world.

      Like

    2. NobiWan says:

      FS2020 really benefits from hyperthreading. Turning it on changed performance from meh to buttersmooth on my 4 core i7-7700K.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. ShamrockOneFive says:

        Oh good to know. Likely a good indication that as the sim evolves it will benefit from the increased number of cores and threads being offered by the newest gen of CPU.

        Like

  2. CanadaOne says:

    I flew around Toronto last night and I have to say I thought it was excellent. It was just before sunset and the scenery just blew me away. I have the advantage of being a Montreal guy, so I couldn’t tell if anything was out of place in Toronto. (Technically, everything in Toronto looks out of place to someone from Montreal.) 😜

    I’m flying on a purpose built FS2020 rig. When the specs came out I went with as much as I could afford which was a 3700X – 32GB RAM – 1TB NVME. The 2060 Super I already had. I’m flying at 1080p and high to ultra settings and in most places it’s 30fps+. I tried the Nvidia downscaling, or whatever it’s called, to simulate 1440p and it killed my FPS and looked horrible.I’ll probabably stay at 1080p.

    I am loving this sim!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. ShamrockOneFive says:

      Glad to hear it CanadaOne! I’m looking at building a system a bit like yours in the next few months but waiting to see what Zen 3 architecture might offer. Sounds like a great setup though!

      Most things in Toronto, minus a few new condo buildings, look pretty much bang on. A bit melted looking but bang on. I’ll have to do a flight over to Montreal and see if the poutine and bagel places I’ve visited look ok! 😀 (and Mount Royal)

      Like

  3. Blue 5 says:

    Whar is the current map coverage? I presume targeted on the densely populated areas of thr US and Europe

    Liked by 1 person

    1. ShamrockOneFive says:

      It’s worldwide coverage. Everywhere with Bing Maps there is autogen of some kind processed by the Blackshark.ai system. Apparently they can regen the whole thing in 72-hours which is just incredible.

      Like

  4. Adalberto Schneider says:

    Nice reading again, i am planning to buy it today for flying in third world small desert areas, although i am a little confused since the launch. I´ve been hearing many users say they are happy flying at 30-40 fps, that this is OK for a flight sim, etc. As far as i comprehend, if you are playing a RTS game or a city builder game, it is sort of “OK” to play at 30-40 fps but in a simulation? You can´t feel right or simulate well your vehicle or aircraft under 60 fps. Am I missing something or are people creating false narratives in their minds to accept the harsh reality?

    Like

    1. ClannK says:

      not at all.

      30 FPS is actually a global standard for TV and movies (and it goes back so far that “frames” refers to the squares on actual photographic film rolls(!))

      Anything above 30fps is fine in a flight sim, though if you’re averaging 30fps, you’ll usually dip down low enough on a regular basis that it becomes apparent, so i personally usually shoot for a 40fps average.

      The 30 fps performance is very much in line with x-plane and prepar3d, though fs2020 delivers unbelievably better visuals at the same frame rates. From my experience, pushing either XP or P3D to the same level of detail as FS2020 runs at would crush their frames to single digits at best.

      you can jump in to FS2020 with very little risk via the xbox game pass for pc, which lets you try it out for $1 for the first month, plus all the other stuff. I you like it, you can switch to the standalone, or enjoy the benefits of game pass for $4/mo, IIRC.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. ShamrockOneFive says:

      Because of the age of the engines and the complexity of what’s being simulated, a lot of civil aviation sims tend to run slower than other entertainment titles. 60fps or higher is often a goal in a twitch based shooter game but somewhat less required for simulating flight. There are obvious benefits to a smoother experience but it’s been uncommon to get more than 30 in most sims.

      That MSFS can pull off the details it does AND potentially go higher than 30fps is a bit of a coup. Still waiting on the 11.50 Vulkan patch for X-Plane to go to public release to see if their updates engine finally delivers on those higher frame rates too.

      Like

  5. ClannK says:

    Good article, as always!

    So far i’m having a blast and haven’t had the least temptation to crank up x-plane or P3D. I’m honestly not sure when/if that’ll happen again as FS2020 is already Good Enough in the flight model department (which is better than x-plane default aircraft and far superior to P3D’s defaults), and the ability to teleport to any random corner of the world and have *at least* pretty good scenery waiting for you is simply amazing. And as has been said, the default aircraft are beautifully rendered (simply top notch), and have reasonably believable flight models to go with them (i’ve been flying the mountains, too – the turbulence is very close to IRL flights I’ve taken).

    Liked by 1 person

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