Come fly with me

I've rediscovered Flight Simulator. I used to play it religiously but stopped about three years ago for lack of time and processing power. But I picked up a copy of Flight Simulator 2004 in Hong Kong (legitimate, of course) and finally got around to installing it a couple of weeks ago. Now the last version of Flight Simulator I had played with was 2000, I missed 2002 altogether. Apparently 2002 was the real groundbreaker because 2004 is mindblowing. The graphics are unbelievable as always, the flight dynamics are true to life but the additions/enhancements that really blew me away were the ATC and AI traffic.The ATC is amazingly intelligent. You file an IFR flight plan and you have to get clearance from the tower, they know exactly where you're going, then they hand you to ground who tells you where to taxi to, you tell them when your there and they clear you for takeoff or hold you short, depending on traffic (more on that later.) Once you've taken off, you're handed off to the appropriate departure frequency and the handoffs continue with proper routing (turn left heading 260) and altitude management (descend and maintain flight level 250.) They even get you set up for an ILS approach and hand you off to the tower for landing clearance. Amazing. Coupled with this is the truly amazing AI traffic. Instead of flying around empty skies, you now fly through jam packed skies into jam packed airports. Not only are the planes truly autonomous, taxiing, taking off, flying, landing and parking, they also interact with ATC just as much as you have to . You can enhance this already great feature by downloading real aircraft and schedules from sites like These guys have spent days collecting real world airline schedules and putting them into Flight Simulator with the appropriate aircraft. So now when you go to, say, San Francisco, the place is teeming with aircraft that would be there at that time of day. When it comes round to their scheduled departure time, they get the appropriate clearances and they're on their way. It's great to be able to pull in to SFO about midnight and see the Cathay plane sitting on the tarmac! Not only is there an abundance of commercial traffic but also a ton of civilan traffic. Fly into Livermore and you'll see a whole host of other recreational pilots flying in the pattern or coming and going. It's fantastic. The addition of real time weather etc make it a very impressive experience. Even for the non-aviation enthusiast, it's definitely worth taking a look at. My evenings just got booked solid.