Say It Ain’t So


image Flight Simulator is the biggest product casualty of the Microsoft layoffs?  The layoffs are a sad day for all the people affected and a disappointing milestone for the company, but Flight Sim is an industry institution dating back three decades.  It is painful to see as I was the Flight Simulator product manager early in my career.

I have no idea what the health of the Flight Sim business is of late(and haven’t for well over a decade), but it was a nice business back in the day and already an institution during my tenure.  When I took over the job, it was already grizzled enough to come with a box of relics accumulated by preceding product managers, including a bunch of 8-inch disks with versions of the product that ran on who knows what kind of extinct systems.

The product had unbelievably fanatical customers and you’d get a significant amount of (postal) mail from people sharing their obsession with the product.  Long before the days of powerful PCs and affordable aftermarket flight controllers, people were spending thousands of dollars to build out full cockpits around their PCs.

Beyond beating back the internal wet blankets at Microsoft who thought selling games “sent a bad message to our corporate customers”, it was a lot of fun.  Bruce Artwick and the developers were in Champaign, Illinois (coordinates 0,0 in the original Flight Simulator world).  It got a little self-referential to fly to Chicago, meet up with them and fly a small plane (alas, not a Cessna 182) out of runway 36 at Meigs Field down to Champaign.


We got to tune Flight Sim’s 747-400 flight characteristics from inside the cockpit of the 747-400 simulator at Boeing.  The simulators ran 18+ hours a day training pilots, but when they’d have a free slot, invariably in the wee hours of the night, they’d let us come down to ensure the simulator handled like the real thing.  That’s why it took seven seconds to start moving from the time you went full throttle, just like the real thing.  The simulator had this irresistible board in the back where you throw all kinds of disasters at pilots — lightning strikes, head-on collisions, wind sheer engine failure, etc. — none of which helped the productivity of the developer in the pilot’s seat.

It was a great job and a great product.  Sorry to see it disappear.  Anyone know what happened?  I suspect the diminished mindshare in recent years also reflects diminished revenues.

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