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A short list of dumb, dangerous stuff I did in Microsoft Flight Simulator

Plus the feedback that the game gives you when you mess up

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A yellow bush plane parked in the middle of the Golden Gate Bridge. Image: Asobo Studio/Xbox Game Studios via Polygon
Charlie Hall is Polygon’s tabletop editor. In 10-plus years as a journalist & photographer, he has covered simulation, strategy, and spacefaring games, as well as public policy.

Microsoft Flight Simulator is magical, an engine capable of creating escapism on a global scale. But it’s also a simulation game of the highest order. With all the difficulty settings cranked up, it really does require that you know how to fly an airplane to have any fun. That means it’s incredibly easy to kill your virtual self by accident ... and on purpose. So, here’s a short list of all the dumb, dangerous stuff that I did during the week I spent in Microsoft Flight Simulator.

First, a quick note on the history of doing dumb stuff in Microsoft Flight Simulator. The first version of the game that I ever played came out way back in 1988. I remember taking off from the default airport in Microsoft Flight Simulator 3.0 — Chicago’s Meigs Field — for the first time. The little airstrip was spread out over a bunch of landfill in Lake Michigan that was originally built in the 1930s for the Century of Progress World’s Fair. Heading north, players could fly out over the big blue expanse of the lake — which was super boring — or they could weave in and out of Chicago’s iconic skyline. Pretty much everyone did that instead.

A cracked windscreen in Microsoft Flight Simulator 3.0
Microsoft Flight Simulator 3.0 circa 1988
Image: subLOGIC/Microsoft Corporation

That means that virtually anyone who played the game immediately broke the law, veering into restricted airspace at dangerously low altitudes. Unskilled pilots eventually crashed, either by coming in too fast on their return trip to Meigs or by slapping into a skyscraper. In 2003, Chicago mayor Richard M. Daley ordered city crews to bulldoze the real-world Meigs Field. The site has since been turned back into a park.

What’s interesting though is that in vintage versions of Flight Simulator, players could actually see their plane crash. It wasn’t terribly dramatic — just an image of a broken windscreen. But it got the point across.

In the new version of Flight Simulator there is no crash animation to speak of. The screen simply fades to black, giving you a quick one-line message on what caused your plane to break up. Additionally, you can damage the plane and that damage will affect its flight characteristics, but you won’t actually see that damage in-game. That makes belly landings somewhat anti-climactic, but it’s something that developer Asobo Studio is working on.

This is all just to say that there’s not a big payoff when you do something foolish in Flight Simulator. But it doesn’t make it any less fun to do. Here’s a few of the ways I died:

A single-engine plane landed without landing gear. Image: Asobo Studio/Xbox Game Studios
  • Canyon racing: One of my favorite things to do in previous versions of Flight Simulator — once I had the appropriate third-party terrain packs, of course — was fly through the Grand Canyon. I’m happy to report that the Colorado River is much more interesting to look at this time around. Clipping a wing in a tight turn will end your flight real quick, however.
  • Flying under bridges: One of my favorite planes in the new version of Flight Simulator is the Pitts-branded aerobatic plane. Not only is the little red-and-white thing quick and maneuverable, it also has less tendency to break apart mid-flight when you push the nose down. I’m happy to report that you can fly under both the Brooklyn Bridge and the Golden Gate Bridge. However, depending on the weather, the waves do present a bit of a problem at lower altitudes.
  • Landing on bridges: In addition to flying under bridges, know that you can also fly through them. I did touch-and-go landings on the Golden Gate Bridge for an entire afternoon. Thankfully, vehicles are not collision objects in Flight Simulator. Bridge supports, on the other hand, definitely are.
  • Flying into a tropical storm: In addition to getting access to Flight Simulator in July, I played the closed alpha for a few months earlier this year and tested out its weather simulation, which runs on real-world data. That meant flying directly into tropical storms Bertha and Cristobal. The experience was terrifying. With zero visibility, I watched in horror while my instrumentation did terrible things. Best I can figure, my little single-engine plane got tossed around like a paper cup and torn to shreds. Suffice it to say, I’m looking forward to modders who are interested in modeling the United States Air Force’s 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron, also known as the Hurricane Hunters.
  • Landing on the pond out back of my house: Microsoft Flight Simulator models everything that Bing can see from space, so that means your home is probably in the game. My house has a pond behind it. It’s only about 75 yards long, and if I flare at just the right spot a block over, I can drop a water plane right in there. I’m still working on stopping before I hit the neighbor’s house. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Finally, there’s one stupid thing that I haven’t yet done in Microsoft Flight Simulator, and that’s mess around in airspace that is strictly off limits. That means I have yet to fly over Area 51, Afghanistan, or the contested Crimean peninsula. Those places are all there, because they’re all visible from space. There’s nothing stopping you from checking them out in-game. In fact, North Korea looks pretty chill.

Microsoft Flight Simulator arrives for PC on Aug. 18, and will eventually come to Xbox consoles. It’s being sold in three editions, ranging from $59.99 to $119.99. It will also be part of the Xbox Game Pass program.

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