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The aircraft is not real, but it is altogether operational. The gauges, switches, and knobs in the cockpit cannot be touched, but are equipped for total interaction. The air traffic controllers and other pilots are not made of flesh and bone, but can be contacted through radio. Although the pilot is at home, he or she can soar all across this expansive globe, and gather in the skies with real-life friends from other locales. Assisting them in their expedition is a set of authentic, though digital, navigational tools. And although the landscape is not real, the simulation is ground-breaking.

You might question how a new flight simulator can be considered "ground-breaking" at this stage in the history of aviation. After all, the basics have changed little during recent decades. Although Global Positioning Systems (GPS) are slowly replacing older NAVAID-based methods, the FAA will not be switching to a GPS-only system for several years. Given this, upcoming simulators, no matter how ambitious, will be hard-pressed to improve on realism. At best, designers can maintain the status quo, since most popular simulators already do a passable job of modeling aircraft navigation.

How, then, can a general aviation simulation enhance the experience? By taking full advantage of the technological parameters of current PCs, and by adding an unprecedented depth of detail, which is precisely what Terminal Reality is doing with their upcoming simulation FLY!. "We feel the real weaknesses have been in taking advantage of the huge advances in PC technology in the past decade, particularly advances in the last couple of years regarding processor and 3D accelerators," senior software engineer Richard Harvey says. "With FLY!, we believe we have developed a quality, high-fidelity aircraft simulation and flight model, but without sacrificing attention to detail in other areas, particularly in ground scenery and cockpit detail."

The true-to-life flight models he refers to are based on performance and test data compiled by the each aircraft's manufacturer. There will be five civilian aircraft from which to choose, including a Cessna Skyhawk 172R (single prop), a Piper Malibu Mirage (single prop), a Piper Navajo (dual prop), a Raytheon/Beechcraft King Air 200 (turbo prop), and a Cessna Citation 10 jet. Why were these specific aircraft chosen? "We believe this gives the general aviation user a wide range of aircraft that might be encountered if someone earned their private license and progressed up to the more detailed and challenging turboprop and jet aircraft," explains Harvey. "We purposefully have left jumbo jets out of version 1.0 for one reason -- we want to deliver a fully detailed jumbo with all avionics fully functional and accurate. To do this is well out of the scope of the initial release."

Harvey can almost see serious sim pilots reaching for their pilot operating handbooks, looking up one of FLY's aircraft, and checking out their accuracy in terms of performance, range, fuel consumption, and limits. So, is he comfortable the hard-core group will be satisfied with their efforts? Most definitely. "For anyone to claim they can fully model, in real-time, a natural phenomenon is stretching the truth," he admits. "Even a simple analog gauge could be modeled in thousands of frames per second and still be lacking. This gets amplified with items such as weather, where billions of mechanics take place to form the weather patterns. Simulators were designed to simulate environments. Real-time simulators, even multi-million dollar ones, must make compromises. Now, given this, we believe we have made less compromises than any other general aviation product offered on a PC. We have focused incredible attention and time on the accuracy of the flight model and avionics."

A built-in GPS navigation system appropriate for each aircraft will allow instant and accurate navigation at any time, anywhere is the world. In addition, an expansive airport and NAVAID database will allow flight throughout the U.S. and major countries. True time-of-day and passage of time, as well as a configurable weather system, will give pilots complete control over VFR and IFR flight conditions. Then there is the integrated Air Traffic Control system for heightened realism and interaction with other aircraft and airports in the environment. Should those other aircraft be piloted by humans, live microphone communication, something all online gamers long for, will facilitate efficient interaction.

The designers have also devoted a great deal of attention to creating an authentic environment. The globe is a full latitude/longitude sphere, and users can fly point-to-point anywhere in the world, courtesy of an accurate Great Circle Navigation system. Harvey says there are some visual exceptions regarding the extreme north and south poles, although pilots can still traverse these areas. Fully scalable satellite scenery will provide increased ground resolution at low flight altitudes, and a global digital elevation model will allow for remarkably realistic terrain.


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