Testing out the improved Cessna 172 flight model in MSFS

Sim Update 9 is out and with it comes something very interesting that could have a big impact on the future of Microsoft Flight Simulator. Asobo have added a CFD based flight model upgrade on the Cessna C172 Skyhawk and here are my impressions.

CFD what?

Computational Fluid Dynamics or CFD is a simulation model for liquids or gases. I can infer that Asobo are essentially doing more calculations on the flight model in a way that models the behavior of the air as its flowing down the side of the aircraft. Airspeed and temperature are among the variables that are being fed into the CFD flight model that should influence the overall handling of the aircraft.

I’m not a developer nor am I all that gifted at physics but I’ve asked around and ultimately what this all translates down into can be simply put that the new CFD system is “calculating more stuff.” And when it comes to flight models that’s probably a good thing.

How does it feel?

I’ve got to put some caveats in front of this. I’ve been in a Cessna 172, I’ve had my hands on the controls in flight, so I do have a small sense of what a GA airplane feels like in flight. I’m also not a pilot so everything I’m about to say is mostly comparison to other sims and my experiences there. I also don’t claim to be an expert in flight modeling which is why I so rarely talk about it on here but I can give you my thoughts on what this update is like. So here it is.

When the new propeller physics came in with SU8, I tested it out briefly. While the effects are there, it was a very subtle affair. With the CFD update, however, I think this goes beyond subtle into the more noticeable. As soon as I was up and flying I immediately noticed that the aircraft felt more alive than most MSFS aircraft have in the past.

Pitching, yawing, rolling, and the interplay between each felt really good. There are subtle movements now where before it felt a little more on rails. Put the aircraft into a turn and I still have a sense of that MSFS style reluctance to move into the turn, however, its getting better. It just feels better.

Using the rudder now is substantially better too. It feels less on rails and more organic as the nose returns to centre while oscillating slightly. Land at a funny angle with too much speed like I did in a test and I found that I could use the same kind of rudder slide step method that I’ve used on some combat landings in IL-2 in DCS. Before, it never really quite felt right doing that.

Compared to the default X-Plane 11 model I think this is getting much closer than it had previously. This may be controversial but for the first time I think the MSFS option feels more “alive” and dynamic where the X-Plane 11 model is perhaps a bit more accurate by the numbers but just a bit more clinical.

What happens next?

The C172 G1000 model that Asobo have upgraded here for Sim Update 9 is undoubtedly being used as a prototype for other aircraft. The team have stated as much and have noted in the past that they have easier access to a Cessna 172 than most other types. So, they are often tweaking changes with this aircraft first before rolling it out to more aircraft. As far as I know, the non-G1000 C172 has not yet received the update so for now you can bounce back and forth between the two.

This is really a preview of what’s coming to more default aircraft later. It also opens the doors for third party developers to upgrade their own aircraft. Several have already indicated that they are going to do it. I hope others follow suit too. (Hey Carenado! Upgrade my Mooney M20R! Please?)

Microsoft Flight Simulator has taken some flak since release over the flight models. Although a big step forward from the days of FSX, there is still legacy code and simplifications that has hurt it from an authenticity point of view.

Fortunately MSFS isn’t done evolving yet. Updates from the last two years are proof enough to me that Asobo and Microsoft remain committed to improving the product. It’s paid off here with what is a much more impressive flight model for the C172 and I suspect its not even the last update that this aircraft or the sim in general will do to its flight modeling.

I’ve no doubt that things will need be tweaked and that more work is needed to catch up to the leaders in the segment. But make no mistake, this is a big step forward for this sim and I like what I’m feeling. More of this please!

14 Comments Add yours

  1. CanadaOne says:

    I’m going to try that out tomorrow. Sounds cool.

    Just bought the HPG145 helicopter today, and it’s a mighty sweet module. I hope you’re going to review it one day. Gotta say that helicopter flight in MSFS is a ton of fun.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. ShamrockOneFive says:

      I just did some flying with the H135 not too long ago. The payware 145 is definitely high on my interest list.

      I’ve got a bunch in the queue to check out.

      Like

    2. Urgent Siesta says:

      Try it for free in DCS World with the UH-60 Blackhawk (both are free!). And if you like that, all the other helos are available for 2 week trial.

      All that said, glad to hear the h145 is doing you well. I bought it awhile ago but haven’t gotten around to giving it a whirl yet (having too much fun in DCS Apache 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  2. butcher75 says:

    A great step forward. Hope it gets to the point where all light aircraft don’t feel the same. I tried to look into CFD to learn a little about it and ended up taking two Paracetamol and giving up lol.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. ShamrockOneFive says:

      Yeah I hope that these added variables in the mix will help give every aircraft a bit more of its own personality. I think that’s the direction we’re headed.

      And yes, the same thing happened to me. I dig into and I figured that understanding CFD beyond it calculating more stuff was for someone else to tackle. Besides, I’m more interested in the outcome and the outcome is good!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Urgent Siesta says:

    Definitely going to try this out!

    Did a bit of CFD vs Blade Element (XP) reading and it seems as if Blade Element is “CFD Lite” (i’m sure that’s a GROSS oversimplification).

    Now, how the two compare in terms of their implementation in the two simulators is all WE really care about, and I haven’t found that yet.

    Interestingly, if you look at Austin’s improvements to XP v12’s FM, he’s pushing BET further than ever (e.g., the work on the greatly improved F-4 Phantom aeros), so v12 will definitely up the ante for FS2020 to match.

    CFD is traditionally extremely computationally expensive, so Asobo have probably drastically reduced the number of samples taken so an addon can use it real-time. How that approach may compare to the upgraded XP v12 BET will be interesting to see!

    One VERY cool thing is that the CFD and Soft Body Physics and Prop Physics can all be turned on for any aircraft in the Developers Options. Hopefully, that applies to any user – I will definitely be exploring that TODAY!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. ShamrockOneFive says:

      Thanks for the comments! I’m sure you’re right that the CFD that Asobo has implemented is a simplified model. I guess for me the technical stuff is what it is and what matters to me is the outcome – how it feels.

      I’m looking forward to seeing what XP12’s setup is like too. All of these sims pushing ahead is great to see.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Urgent Siesta says:

        So I gave the 172 G1000 a try in MSFS.
        Then in the XP Default 172 G1000
        Then in the XP Reality Expansion Pack + XP 172 G1000

        While the FS2020 upgrade is indeed noticeable, the XP Default 172 is quite a bit better.
        And the REP upgraded 172 is far, far ahead.

        So, though things are indeed improving in FS2020, there’s still quite a ways to go. Very GLAD to see the CFD and other aero improvements Asobo have been making of late (esp since they said many of them are directly in support of the forthcoming HELICOPTERS!), hope it keeps going and that the devs jump in on the aircraft already released 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      2. ShamrockOneFive says:

        The Reality Expansion pack is one thing I don’t have to compare against. I have been considering picking up the Airfoil Labs C172 as it sounds like a really impressive product.

        I do think that MSFS has closed the gap with the base model XP11 C172. Definitely encouraging. I know some folks like to disparage the sim for various reasons but I, as usual, like to take a more optimistic look at things and this kind of progress is a good thing to see.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Firdimigdi says:

    Well this is certainly encouraging as the on-rails feeling is very often there – hopefully it will be expanded to the rest of their released planes and also not be snubbed by 3rd party developers.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Urgent Siesta says:

    Re your comment about the AFL Cessna. I have the years older version with steam gauges. It’s very nice, so I’m sure the new G1000 is quite a step up across the board.

    The CFD discussions going on around the forums are proving quite interesting!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Jake says:

    I’m pretty disappointed in the Cessna flight model. I’m flight training in a c172s g1000 and don’t feel this Sim is accurate at all. Attempting to do crosswind correction takeoff and landings lead to some weird things happening. Like needing a bunch of left rudder on takeoff… the sensitivity adjustment in msfs is terrible and I can’t find a sensitivity that feels realistic at all!

    Like

    1. ShamrockOneFive says:

      Thanks for the comments Jake. My real life experience is limited so I can only comment on feel.

      I have read a few talking about crosswind takeoffs not feeling quite right. As for control sensitivity, that may be less of a flight model and more of an input issue. What kind of control setup are you using? Everyone in simming will have a slightly different experience there – alternate between a VIRPIL WarBRD and a VKB Gladiator NXT these days. Very much more suited to combat flying.

      Either way, I think the CFD improvements are a step forward. It hopefully won’t be the last!

      Like

      1. Jake says:

        I am using the full logitech setup and everything feels fine using it in xplane. Ive tried lowering the sensitivity and increasing it and msfs2020 just feels super innacurate, especially when flaring to land it just goes kinda crazy. I also have an issue with the airport IO fly out of being super wrong. I fly from KBJC and they got all the taxiways wrong and have random lights ALL OVER the taxiways, like in the middle of the nonmovement areas and the terminal area…

        Like

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