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.
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!