Microsoft Flight Simulator 2004:
A Century of Flight - Part 2

by Jim "Hornit" Campisi


Microsoft has come a long way since the early days of Flight Simulator. Those who have been around a bit can attest to this. The first editions were DOS based animals with stick figures and cartoon graphics, yet we thrilled to the ability to fly on our desktops. As the years have progressed, things have improved mightily. In my first preview I touched on a few brief areas concerning the weather and the basic elements of the simulation and some first impressions. With this look I will get a bit more specific and concentrate on the learning and media aspects of the sim.

Microsoft Flight Simulator 2004: A Century of FlightEach version of Flight Simulator has been familiar to those who have used the versions prior to it, this is a good thing. As we move along in its evolution things have changed subtly and usually for the better. With this version of Flight Simulator, the helpful aspects of simulation have really blossomed. The flight lessons and learning center are truly well done and make it easy and enjoyable for the neophyte on their road to the sky.

Getting Started

John and Martha KingJohn and Martha King greet us as always (or at least in the last few versions) on the front page of Getting Started. Here you can view some nice videos of Flight Simulator and all its new aspects and features. Included here is your introductory flight and a few words about it and what to expect. On this page is the familiar menu system as used in earlier versions on the left side of the screen with the same old options. All the tweaking and reading can be found accessing this menu. From this menu you can click on A Century of Flight and read about all the new vintage and historic aircraft. Lane Wallace, a popular and excellent aviation writer introduces and provides anecdotes and stories about the different aircraft and its nicely done. Lane writes for Flying magazine, and if you don't know about her already I suggest you pick up a copy here or there and check her writing out. She is a gifted aviation writer and I have really enjoyed her obvious passion for aviation and the love of the sky.

A Century of Flight with Lane Wallace A Century of Flight

The Learning Center

The Learning Center is the meat and potatoes section for all documentation available for FS2004. It's basically set up like a PDF manual, but it's easier to use and everything is integrated very well. Everything has a more polished look and it just seems to flow and function a whole lot better. The content is all very similar, some of it may actually be identical, but there is much more here now. It's more relevant and its presented in a logical and easy to use manner. You no longer open up Adobe documents, but rather use a nice looking html type interface. The interface is sharp and laid out in an organized fashion. Everything is reachable from a main screen as before, but now its enhanced with some nice graphics and screenshots. The learning center can be thought of as basically a manual of sorts. It's an in-game menu from which you can choose just about anything to do with Flight Simulator. Want to learn about graphics settings and how they affect performance? Or how about how to use ATC and all the new features involved with it? It's all right here in an easy to use format. Again, a lot of this is familiar, but there is more content and its much better done this time around. As the top of the first page says, it's your one stop shop for everything in Flight Simulator.

Learning Center Learning Center - Optimizing Visuals and Performance Learning Center - Air Traffic Control
Learning Center - Pilotage Learning Center - Navigation

What I found that's a whole lot better this time around is that the articles and tutorials are much better illustrated with overall a more professional feel. Its really not a bad alternative to not having a printed manual. After all it's not a combat sim, where you have to have the manual in your lap while trying to figure out how to designate that radar target marching down the scope.

For instance, clicking on the "Navigation" section inside the learning center takes you to its own page with several topics. Here you can learn about pilotage, charts, maps and how to use the tools in FS2004 to do all of this. The really rich part is this extra stuff, the part on pilotage was particularly well done. Each section has these nice enhancements making this a much more well rounded and complete product.

Flying Lessons

Rod MachadoHere is where our good old buddy Rod Machado greets us with all his wit and wisdom. Rod is back in A Century of Flight to be our mentor and entertainer during our road to becoming a pilot. As far as I can tell things are done pretty much identically to the earlier versions. Truthfully I have not spent a whole lot of time prior to this "learning" in flight simulators of any kind. I spent a lot of money and time in the real world learning this trade! I can say that the audio portions of the lessons are much nicer with crisper and better quality audio. The content seems just about identical and even the locations for flights and training are the same. A big improvement has been done to the reading and ground school parts of each lesson. This coupled with the better resources make learning to fly really enjoyable. I would submit that this is a really good tool for someone who wants to become a real pilot. It's not just a game anymore.

Hornit gets a new set of wings.In several places it's noted that FS2004, while still not FAA approved for meeting hourly requirements, is being used for flight training and ground schools in many areas. It's a great tool for visually engaging students for many concepts related to flight training and ground schools.

I did a sampling of lessons and I have to say it was an enjoyable experience overall. There are limitations to what can be done but it does a good job of teaching fundamental skills and Rod is a fun and enjoyable companion on your flight training journey. What happens if you stray from the lesson plan? Well, its kind of funny but Rod starts to have trouble with correcting you while trying to also teach what's in the lesson. It can rapidly deteriorate into a "your too low", Not so much left bank", Your too fast, reduce power" session. All this while poor Rod tries to tell you about a VASI or how the glideslope for an ILS works. I got a few chuckles out of this. For what its worth, its very well done overall and while a bit too hard at the higher learning levels like ATP etc., its a real challenge and will give legs to the sim and hours of fun to those who get into this stuff.

Flying Lessons Flight Analysis

As before there is a flight analysis section and it remains pretty much unchanged except for the enhanced functions available with the map display.Flight Analysis Flight AnalysisWith the new map you actually get terrain from the sim world as a background now instead of the standard white background from previous versions. Also you get to see airports and airport info like its depicted on a real sectional chart with airport symbols and it's information displayed as you mouse over the airport icons. Its a nice touch and I like using it.

That's enough for this time around! My next preview will concentrate on the new environments, the autogen features and a look at some of the new high detail airports we get in this new version of Microsoft Flight Simulator.

The Microsoft Flight Simulator 2004: A Century of Flight official web site is here.

Video downloads showing different aspects of Microsoft Flight Simulator 2004: A Century of Flight are available here.

The Microsoft Flight Simulator Insider web site is located here.


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