Early Years of Flight: The Genesis of Aviation

By Jane Rachel Whittaker for PC Pilot

If it was not for the pioneers of aviation, the world we live in today would be a very different place. We live in an age where we take airline travel for granted. Yet, the pioneers belonged to a golden age of aviation, where flight was in its infancy – a time when new records were constantly being set and technical hurdles were being overcome. Microsoft has recognised the contribution made by these stalwart adventurers and dedicated “FS2004 – A Century of Flight” to their achievements. It pays tribute to a century of powered flight by offering a collection of classic aircraft within its hangar.

First Class Simulations has now focused its attention on this pioneering period of flight with the release of its “Early Years of Flight” an add-on package for FSX and FS2004. It seems that First Class Simulations are rapidly developing a reputation for releasing products based on classic aircraft, following hot on the heels of their World War 1 Fighters and Hurricane. Early Years of Flight, as the title suggests, takes us back to the genesis of aviation. The focus of this product is on commercial rather than military aviation with a package that encompasses five groundbreaking aircraft. These included in the pack are the Wright Model B Flyer, the Blériot XI monoplane, the Santos Dumont 14-bis, the Goliescu Avioplan and the Handley Page Type-E. In addition to the aircraft there are three missions, complete with custom scenery.

A Flight with the Wrights

Perhaps the aircraft most familiar to many of us is the Wright Model B. This was one of the earliest and arguably the first successful attempt at mass production. The Wright Brothers even licensed the aircraft for overseas production. In all, more than 100 aircraft were built with purchasers including both the military and civilian organisations. The Wright Model B was a two-seater, although the passenger had to be seated somewhat precariously on the wing. It was a very brave passenger indeed who was willing to use this aircraft as transport! In common with all the other aircraft in the
package the FS2004 and FSX versions are identical. The model itself encapsulates the lines of the actual aircraft. As a result one gets a real sense of flying an aircraft that can best be described as balsa wood and string attached to bicycle wheels! The whole thing is extremely rickety, but that is the real pleasure of this package. Every aircraft in the collection would have most sane people rushing to take out life insurance before boarding! This is so far removed from modern aircraft we see simulated, that they come as an absolute breath of fresh air. I had a preview of this package before its release because I created the three missions which are included in the retail release.

These missions are designed to enable you to fly these aircraft in authentic situations. As such I had tremendous fun flying the Wright Model B around Ohio and gained a real respect for the Wright Brothers and their adventurous spirit.

Crossing the Channel in Fog

When it comes to respect, Louis Blériot certainly comes high on the list of amazing aviators. Included in the package is his XI Bleriot XI in which he successfully made the first channel crossing by air, flying from Calais to Dover. This flight is recreated in the missions utilising the same aircraft. The model itself has been recreated to perfection, complete with stunning sound
effects by Mike Hambly who is an expert in this field.
For me, the most unusual-looking aircraft in the collection is undoubtedly the Santos Dumont 14-bis. The aircraft looks very much like a number of packing crates attached to a canoe! With its huge rectangular nose that seems more like a tail and rear-facing wings the aircraft looks as if it’s flying backwards when in the air. Looks, however, can be deceptive as the aircraft entered the record books by becoming the first powered aircraft to make an unassisted take-off. On November 12, 1906 the aircraft smashed the distance record for a powered aircraft by flying unaided for a distance of around 600ft and achieved a height of 10 feet above the ground. In our current age of aircraft flying around the world at high altitude in a single flight, it really highlights how far aviation has come in the last 102 years!

The First Tubular Fuselage Takes to the Air

The least known aircraft in the collection is the Goliescu Avioplan. This external modelling of this particular aircraft has been authentically replicated. Like all of the other types in this collection the panel and virtual cockpit are simply a view from the nose of the aircraft looking at either struts or a small engine and joystick. However, this is not a flaw in the package. At that time in aviation, no-one had even considered fitting gauges and instruments to an aircraft. The Avioplan did, however, make a significant contribution to aviation history. It was the first aircraft to incorporate a tubular design and so set the trend for this type of aircraft construction for future designs.

The final aircraft in the collection, the Handley Page type E which has the distinction of being classed as the first passenger-carrying airliner! A small bucket seat open to the elements directly behind the pilot, was used to ferry fare-paying passengers. Handley Page firmly believed that the future was in passenger transportation, although his view that one
passenger per aircraft was sufficient significantly underestimated future demand!

First Class Simulations has continued to refine its portfolio of classic aircraft with a package that educates as much as it entertains. The included aircraft really demonstrate the genesis of aviation and the issues faced by pilots as they grappled to defy gravity. This is more than a flight simulation expansion it is an interactive history lesson.

This review was printed in a previous issue of PC Pilot and is based on the boxed version of FSX. There may be significant differences between your experience and that of the reviewer.

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