New Update!! Microsoft Flight Simulator: Adding helicopters has meant physical innovations

Jorg Neumann, Lead Simulator Manager for PC and Xbox Series, explains the technological and physical innovations they have had to introduce for these two new vehicles.

Microsoft Flight Simulator: Adding helicopters has meant physical innovations

Microsoft Flight Simulator
Microsoft Flight Simulator
Among the many new features that are added for free toMicrosoft Flight Simulatorwiththe 40th anniversary update, which is now available, highlights the incorporation of two types of vehicles: helicopters and gliders.

The simulator community forPCandXbox Serieshas been asking for these additions for a long time, practically since the launch in August 2020, and therefore, when we met through Microsoft Teams withJorg Neumann, responsible forthe game, we had to ask him why it has taken time to materialize these desires.

The extensive response made it clear that the Xbox team and Asobo Studioshas not limited itself to adding some new mechanics and changing the modeling of theplanes for helicopters. They have created technologies,incorporated systems and introduced calculationsinto physics so that these vehicles behave as they actually do.

"Airplanes obviously have fixed wings, and when we started withMicrosoft Flight Simulator, it was a big effort because we recreated the entire planet, we hadthe wind simulations and the physical simulation of the planeswas a massive amount of work that we worked on for almost six and a half years," Neumann begins.

"But there are remarkable differences between airplanes and helicopters, and that's why it took a good amount of time. We've been working on helicopters fortwo and a half years. The reason is that helicopters have a different shape, right? They have an arbitrary shape. And of course, the airflow is completely different. So thefluid dynamical system (CFD) had to changea lot."

Microsoft Flight Simulator
Microsoft Flight Simulator
The following explanation gets quite technical: "There is something calledtranslational elevationin airplanes. When you fly, the air comes towards you. You have a wing that is a surface. Air hits that surface. That gives you the impose, and you have yourflapsto control that, which lifts you into the air."

"For the helicopter rotor, the first thing you do is that thepropeller spins and creates a vortexthat basically pushes you to the ground, and that lifts it into the air,"continues the head of MFS. "But that's where what's called the ring vortex comes in: the center propeller continues to press the air down and that creates anothervortex."

"What happens is that outside the vortex of each aircraft there is another vortex. That resulting vortex creates an effect that is dangerous, which is whyhelicopters are so difficult to navigatein the real world. What happens is that when you take off the helicopter, there is avortex that you have to get out of by tilting the helicopter down. You really look at the ground, you're not looking forward. You look at the ground and you push out of that vortex, so you're basically pushing back to the ground, the air is more horizontal as you go.

"That's translational elevation. That's complicated. So we had torewrite the dynamic fluid system to simulate all those air effects around theaircraft," Neumann continues. "And then there are a lot of other things, like when the rotor rotates; There is something calledelevation dissymmetry: the air mass on each side is different. The rotors of the helicopter are not a single surface. It's a lot of surfaces, which can debalance the aircraft on the vertical axis."

In short, the addition of helicopters meant introducing new physics calculations and changing others that existed, something totally unheard of in the saga, because inMicrosoft Flight Simulator X "thehelicopter was essentially a box, with a point at which all physics had to be calculated". "This is all an enormous amount of computational complexity that wasn't possible in 2006, but is possible now."

Now it is not only much more complex, but thanks to the liveweather dataand how they have transferred it to the game, it isdifferent to take off and drive a helicopter in Brazil or Paris, on a clear day or on a cloudy day, during the day in a city or during the night in a forest, on a city helipad or in the middle of nowhere, in summer or spring.

Recreating those systems meant that the Asobo Studio and Xbox team had to talk to helicopter manufacturers and pilots to make an authentic simulation. And of course, they had to create ways for anovice player to enjoy the new vehicleswithout having to consider all these aspects. For this they have added, in addition to tutorials such as theDiscovery Flightsof the base game, assists of different types that can be deactivatedlittle by little.
Microsoft Flight Simulator
"And at a certain point, if you turn them all off, you're on to something that's extraordinarily close to flying in a helicopter in the real world, which is the purpose ofMicrosoft Flight Simulator," Neumann concludes. "It's a simulator, not a game, but we want to make the simulator really accessible. That's why attendances and learning systems are very, very important."

Although with these statements one could assume that starting to operate a helicopter inMFSis a challenge, the truth is that with the aids activated it is similar to the control of that vehicle in popular games. "I think people who play, for example,Grand Theft Auto, have an idea of what a helicopter feels like. I think that's the model in action games, right? With the aids inFlight Simulator, it's pretty much like that. I mean, you still have the things that no other game has, like the actual atmospheric simulation."

Gliders have required a simulation and representation of air currents

Microsoft Flight Simulator
And what about gliders? "With the gliders we did a whole set of tutorials because the gliders are very different. There's a towing plane and then there's the winch, which is basically a machine that lifts the glider when you don't have a plane that can lift you. So we didseven tutorialsassociated with gliders," says Neumann.

The complexities necessary for the inclusion of helicopters are also necessary for gliders, which do not have any type of engine, so from Asobothey had to know "how much moisture is in the soil". "We know that because, when it rains in our world, we have to know the strength of the sun and its angle. Lux levels. So lux levels hit the ground, and we know what the humidity is."

"Then there's absorption," the developer continues. "A city has almost no absorption because it has a waterproof field. But in a forest almost everything is absorbed, especially in summer, when the leaves are green. So you have alot of momentum in the city, almost none over a forest, and absolutely none over water."

This has led to introducing a system to visually represent air currents: "We havedrawn lines that show you where the air is, both for helicopters and gliders. There's a button that says 'air simulation visualization' that shows you where the impulse currents are." Neumann says that with experience "you learnto visualize and see the rules and patterns of the world, and you become a better and better driver. And at a certain point, you turn off the visualizations."

You can try these new features forfree in Microsoft Flight Simulator, which is available on PC (Steam and Microsoft Store), Xbox Series and Xbox Cloud Gaming; all versions of the title are included in Game Pass.