The development of commodity flight simulation, in the form of PC game technology, continues to advance at a rapid pace. Indeed, the software industry is now being driven primarily by the requirements of gaming, digital media, and other entertainment applications. This has largely been due to the commoditisation of computer hardware, which is apparent when considering recent trends in central processing unit and graphics processor development.
The flight simulation industry has benefited from this trend of hardware commoditisation, and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. It is, however, yet to fully realise the potential for leveraging commodity-off-the-shelf (COTS) software. In this paper the opportunities presenting themselves for the next 25 years of flight simulation are discussed, as the aviation and games software industry’s requirements converge. A SWOT (strengths-weaknesses-opportunities-threats) analysis of the commodity flight simulation software industry is presented, including flight modelling, scenery generation, multiplayer technology, artificial intelligence, mission planning, and event handling. Issues such as data portability, economics, licensing, intellectual-property, interoperability, developer extensibility, robustness, qualification, and maintainability are addressed.
Microsoft Flight Simulator is used as a case study of how commodity flight simulation has been extended to include extensive programmatic access to its core engine. Examples are given on how the base platform of this application can be extended by third-party developers and the power this extensibility model provides to the industry.
This paper is presented to highlight particular technology trends in the commodity flight simulation industry, the fidelity that commodity flight simulations can provide, and to provide a high-level overview of the strengths and weaknesses thereof.