Hello there folks, this is Kenneth J. Kerr (A.k.a. “KJKSimmer”) once again, and welcome to another article in my series on an older system.
While many of my articles will be based firmly in the world of FSX, today I want to branch off in a totally different direction, and it might surprise the heck out of you. Today, instead of looking at the older “legacy” sim platform, we’re going to consider a “new generation” program that actually runs on my old computer. We’re going to “teleport” over to the world of Aerofly FS2. Say what? O yes, I can hear the muffled expressions of shock and horror coming from some readers even now… “That thing? Are you serious?” Well, yes, I am serious, and we’re going to talk about it very openly, warts and all.
Before we jump in however, I should let you know that this article naturally splits into two sections. The first part is the narrative, and I’ve chosen not to add screenshots into that section as it might disturb the flow of thought. The second section is photographic, and that’s where you’ll find over 50 fullsize (1920 x 1080) screenshots from AFS2. These are not edited in any way, what you see is what I saw on my large monitor, although there might be some image degradation in saving them as jpegs. Where addons are shown in those images, I will try to acknowledge them in the commentaries. I will also add a brief article conclusion and summary after the image gallery.
So… buckle up, and let’s fly into a brave new world!
Is it a real sim?
Aerofly FS2 is in many ways a very beautiful simulator. However, many of our flight simming brethren don’t even think of it as a real flight simulator at all. Now, I get that, because I’ve been around this genre for more than 30 years. These days we have very high expectations in the industry, and with the impending arrival of Microsoft Flight Simulator (FS2020 colloquially), the bar is being raised even higher. And so, we expect a modern sim to at least have things like real weather, AI traffic in the air and on the ground, Air Traffic Control, detailed global scenery, complex GPS navigation even in the Cessna, immersive aircraft systems, and so on. Let’s face it, after years of addon development for the legacy sims, we have become accustomed to such things as almost the starting point of our experience.
Perhaps that’s why many simmers dismiss AFS2 without even giving it a try. At the very best, AFS2 is a “light” sim in comparison with this shopping list of features. It does not have real weather, it does not have AI traffic, it does not have ATC. There are vast areas of the world undeveloped, and autogen is sporadic even in some of the areas that are developed. I must also point out the absence of street lights at night in many of the core areas, and the fact that there is nothing even close to real water. Unfortunately, in the eyes of many people, these startling omissions relegate the title to the status of a joke.
However, after two years of using AFS2, I must voice the following opinion. If you leave AFS2 untried because you think it’s a joke, the joke might just be on you. No matter how incomplete it may arguably be, I see more and more experienced and discerning simmers giving AFS2 a go every month. The numbers are growing in the user base, the community is expanding in the forum, and maybe the best way to answer why this is, is to simply tell you my own AFS2 story.
My AFS2 story
Like many of you, I have decades of time (and thousands of dollars) invested in the Microsoft flight simulator ecosystem. I’ve grown very used to how that world looks, feels, sounds, and acts. It really has become like a second home, a home where I slip on some kind of alter-ego avatar, and jump back into familiar territory that fits like a glove. But, every now and again, the familiar becomes boring. Of course, we can always buy another addon, and that’s what we typically do. It’s a constant balance of the known versus the new, but it’s still the same world. Well, for many people the answer is to try another sim. And so they have bought and loaded up DCS world, or X-plane, or the latest Prepared. And, of course these new worlds have replaced the old world of FSX for many hobbyists. And truth be told, I’d like to do that too! BUT… you guessed it… My old system will NOT run these newer programs. And so, I have stayed back in planet FSX while many have moved on.
And then, two years ago, I started hearing stories about AFS2. People with newer systems were being blown away with 150+ FPS, no stutters, no blurries in photoscenery, and the thrill of a totally new approach. I was curious. If AFS2 could run that fast on a new computer, was there a possibility that (unlike the other new sims), it might at least run on my old rig to some acceptable level? I plucked up the courage to download Steam, then I bought Aerofly FS2 with very few expectations. “This might end up being a one-flight-and-erase experience” I thought. But I was wrong. Two years on, I have logged over 980 hours in AFS2, and instead of using it less, I’m actually using it more often.
So what did I like?
To begin with, you simply cannot downplay my sheer delight in the fact that AFS2 even runs on my system. A few moments ago I went back onto Steam and reviewed again the so-called minimum required specs for the program. Frankly, my old rig shouldn’t even run AFS2, but it does! Do I get those lightning speeds with super smoothness? No, I don’t. BUT it does run just about as well on my old computer as FSX does, and for me that has been the passport into a new world, and a new experience.
And, there is so much to love about the new experience. The first time I ran AFS2, I remember being totally shocked that I could be up and flying in less than a minute. I have become so used to launching FSX and literally having time to go and put on a pot of coffee before the sim has even got me to the loading screen! Wow… How many times had I felt like flying for just five minutes and been unable to accomplish that with the loading times of the old technology? Now it was possible.
There was more to love. Want to gain altitude and fly around at say 5,000ft in a Cessna? No need to piddle around climbing. Just press the “U” key a few times and you are there. I’ve used that a lot in AFS2 when I had limited time to fly. Or what if I feel like a change of time? Who needs menus when you just hit the “T” key and instantly watch the sun move around the sky, complete with appropriate changes in shadow, shade, and light. These are seemingly small items in the overall scheme of things, and yet I have grown to really appreciate them. Still talking about light and shadow, I used to watch YouTube videos from X-Plane and Prepared and feel very envious as I practically drooled over the way the sunlight and shadows moved across the instrument panels in the VCs. FSX could never match that advance, and my system could not run the sims that had it. My first few days of flying AFS2 brought smile after smile to my face because I could finally enjoy something as simple as that on my dinosaur computer!
And then something else hit me. I flew the F-18 low and fast, and… Where were the famous FSX blurries? There were none. What about the annoying “popping in” of the distant trees? No, they were visible for miles! I took it higher. How does the photoscenery look in the distance now? Stay within the AFS2 default scenery areas and it displays far clearer than addon photoscenery does in FSX. Ok, let’s add mist and see how that looks. Weather menu perchance? No. Just press the “V” key a few times (or Shift+V) and change the visibility on the fly. Looks pretty good with a hint of fog on the horizon. These were some of the lasting first impressions of AFS2 for me. I also liked the map screen for changing location, the fact that I could hit the “L” key and have place names displayed on the screen in flight, and the sheer beauty of the VC interiors, surpassing the aesthetics of almost everything I had seen in FSX addons over the years. Yes, there was so much to love about AFS2 right from the start.
And then the boredom set in
And so, for several months, I simply put FSX aside and spent all my time exploring AFS2. I went back into Steam and added some free DLC packages put out by IPACS (the makers of AFS2). Now I could also enjoy Utah and Colorado, and higher definition textures for the more western US states. Many of the airports in those IPACS sceneries (and some of the cities) are very nicely done, so I added more months to my flying, exploring this new world with a passion. It was addictive and stimulating, until the first little hints of boredom began to show up.
It was lonely to fly out of an airport with not as much as another Cessna on the frequency. Indeed there was only silence and an empty world. I started to miss using ATC, started to long for the sight of another aircraft taking off or landing in front of me, and even missed the road traffic on those terribly empty highways. Was I the last person left alive in the virtual world?
I went back to FSX, and flew it for a few weeks. BUT I was so frustrated at the long loading times, the return of the blurries, and all the deficiencies I had forgotten about there. Sometimes, I’d fly a short flight in AFS2 to get the real scenery, then I’d repeat the same route in FSX to get the missing immersion. Each simulator had its strength, and each had its weaknesses. There was truly no such thing as perfection in any one simulator. The funny thing was this, despite the limitations of AFS2, I did not abandon it, just as I had not abandoned FSX even in spite of its old architecture. That simple action speaks volumes about the inherent appeal of both AFS2 and FSX.
But behold the turning point cometh
Well, that was two years ago, and now it is the second week of 2020, and I’m flying AFS2 more than ever. Sure, I am still aware of the perceived negatives, the idiosyncrasies, and the limitations. However, as we advance into the new year, an interesting turning point has been reached. It’s a crossing of the Rubicon sort of a moment, a paradigm shift if you will! In a nutshell, the third party ecosystem for AFS2 has come alive!
Why is this important? Just look at industry history to find the answer. Microsoft Flight Simulator would have been buried decades ago without the development of the addon ecosystem that supported it. Same can be said for X-plane. This is why these two platforms continued when many other contenders disappeared. And now, the third party world has finally started to explode for AFS2. In fact, there’s hardly a day goes by without something new coming from the third party developers.
In the last three months we have seen the entire UK being transformed from something unusable into something completely flyable, with freeware photoscenery, hundreds of basic airports, autogen, night lighting, and hi-res topographic coverage. We’re seeing the same thing happening for areas as diverse as France, Argentina, Norway, the Czech Republic, Italy, and parts of western Canada. We have also seen the release of a magnificent freeware Tecnam P2008 to fly, and it is easily up to commercial standards. In addition, there are hints of further development of the free airport-adding program that was launched almost two years ago, and a newer photoscenery creation program has taken the place of older approaches that were the norm even a year ago. All of this is coming freely to the AFS2 world at the hands of hobbyists. They even have their own website! ( http://www.flight-sim.org ).
And the commercial world is taking note too. ORBX has several highly-detailed airport packages on the market, as well as the AFS2 version of TrueEarth Netherlands. While they pulled back from their original plans to give us a lot more in 2019, we are still hopeful that 2020 may see a revival of their AFS2 interest. Aerosoft also has a few smaller scenery packages out.
But it’s not just scenery. Just Flight has ported four of their popular General Aviation aircraft into AFS2. While they do not have the systems depth of their Legacy-sim versions, they have all the looks and sheer fly-ability in them! And you know something? I cannot even run the FSX versions of those same aircraft on my old rig without it becoming a slideshow. Yet in AFS2, I can finally enjoy the Just Flight Cessna 152, PA-28 Arrows, Duchess, and Tomahawk. There are also new mesh offerings for AFS2 from Taburet, a new commercial version of Boston from a new development team, and a somewhat complex (and so-far limited) ATC program as the starting point of development in that area. These are commercial offerings.
This change augurs very well for the future of AFS2 from the user’s point of view.
Let’s get to the screenshots! (clickable to expand in size)
So, what’s the best way to share the beauty of AFS2 with you now? That’s where these screenshots come in. Please note that they are taken on a monitor (a very large TV actually). I say that because one of the biggest selling points for AFS2 is that it’s the best sim out there for those with VR headsets. Well, my old rig won’t run one of those new-fangled devices, so monitor it is! I’ll add comments to the images as I go along.
1. The default Cessna 172 over default scenery near Santa Barbara, California.
2. The Cessna 172 cockpit. There are two female pilot avatars in AFS2, and quite a number of gentlemen too.
3. The default Beech Baron 58 over default scenery of San Francisco, California.
4. The Beech Baron cockpit.
5. The default Pitts over default scenery near Trinity Lake, California.
6. The cockpit of the Pitts.
7. The default Corsair over default scenery near San Diego, California.
8. The Corsair cockpit.
9. The default Beech C90 over default scenery near Reno, Nevada.
10. The Beech C90 cockpit.
11. The default Learjet 45 lifting off in default San Francisco airport scenery.
12. One of the gentlemen pilot avatars at the controls of the Learjet 45.
13. The default P-38 over the default Las Vegas scenery.
14. In the P-38 cockpit.
15. The default Airbus A320 in Delta colors lifting off from Salt Lake City, Utah. Utah is a free Downloadable Content (DLC) from IPACS available on Steam.
16. The Airbus A320 cockpit.
17. The default Boeing 737 as supplied by Milviz, high over Colorado. Colorado is a free Downloadable Content (DLC) from IPACS available on Steam.
18. The Boeing 737 cockpit.
19. The default Boeing 747 in suitable KLM livery near Amsterdam in ORBX TrueEarth Netherlands scenery.
20. The Boeing 747 cockpit.
21. The default Jungmeister over Switzerland. Switzerland is an additional paid content available from IPACS via Steam.
22. The language-appropriate Jungmeister cockpit.
23. The default Schleicher ASG29 glider over Switzerland. Switzerland is an additional paid content available from IPACS via Steam.
24. A great view from the ASG29 cockpit.
25. The default Robinson R22 helicopter over New York City. The Northeast USA is an additional paid content available from IPACS via Steam.
26. The view from the R22 cockpit.
27. The Dash8 Q400 is a free Downloadable content by IPACS available on Steam. The scenery is part of ORBX Innsbruck, a paid addon also available on Steam.
28. The Dash8 Q400 cockpit.
29. The default Extra 300 over Switzerland. Switzerland is an additional paid content available from IPACS via Steam.
30. Extra 300 cockpit.
31. The default Sopwith Camel over user-created freeware scenery of England.
32. Sopwith Camel cockpit.
33. This Robin 400 is for those adventurous enough to download and install the SDK, and then run the aircraft converter program. I happened to also add a fictional Canadian registration. The scenery gives a tip of the hat to the early days of flight simming, it’s the ORBX rendition of Chicago Meigs field as it was before being torn apart and turned into a park. The scenery is available to purchase on Steam.
34. A “Go-Pro inspired” wide angle shot from the Robin 400 cockpit.
35. The brand new default Boeing 777 was just added by IPACS in the Christmas 2019 update. This Air Canada example is high over Los Angeles in default scenery.
36. The Boeing 777 cockpit.
37. The Just Flight Duchess model 76. I’ve been a fan of JF for a very long time, and I was saddened that their latest in-house aircraft designs would not run on my old system in FSX. However, the AFS2 versions run fantastically! I will do a separate article on the AFS2 Just Flight fleet shortly. You can purchase direct from JF, Steam, or in the Flightsim.com store. The freeware scenery in the picture is user-created, somewhere near the coast of southern Wales.
38. The Duchess cockpit.
39. The Just Flight Cessna 152. The freeware scenery is user-created, somewhere over the northern coast of France.
40. The Cessna 152 cockpit.
41. The Just Flight Piper Turbo Arrow III lifts off from Liverpool airport, England. This is one of the very few highly-detailed freeware airports created by hobbyists so far, but they are coming! You can create simpler airports using a program called FSCloudport (also free), but the detail shown here is still exceptional. The photo scenery, mesh, and “cultivation” are also freeware.
42. The Piper Turbo Arrow III cockpit. I used to fly a Piper Warrior equipped with an Archer engine and constant speed prop, so I was very happy to see this aircraft fly in the AFS2 skies.
43. The Just Flight Piper Turbo Arrow IV. The freeware scenery is in northwest England.
44. The Piper Turbo Arrow IV cockpit.
45. The Just Flight Piper Tomahawk, their latest AFS2 commercial release as this article is written. The freeware scenery is user-created, covering a small area on the western coast of Canada.
46. The Piper Tomahawk cockpit.
47. The recently-released, user-created, Freeware Tecnam P2008. The Scottish scenery is a combination of both user-created freeware, and commercial releases.
48. The Tecnam P2008 cockpit.
49. The default F-15 Strike Eagle. The Scottish scenery is a combination of both user-created freeware, and commercial releases. That’s Loch Ness in the background.
50. Screaming down low in the front seat of the F-15, the village of Fort Augustus (my old Scottish home), flashes by at over 400 knots. THIS is what has re-kindled my interest in AFS2. The excellent base program being added to almost daily as the third party ecosystem is now developing.
51. The default F-18, repainted by a user into a glorious representation of an actual RCAF aircraft. It’s just flown through part of the Mach Loop, experiencing this user-created freeware scenery of Wales.
52. The office of the F-18. The aircraft received significant systems upgrades by IPACS just before Christmas 2019. Sometimes their development may seem slow, but as this shot suggests, it is worth it!
Aerofly FS2… So what do I think really?
While I am still primarily an FSX user, I can honestly say that I enjoy AFS2 more than ever these days, and my continued interest is largely due to the third party developers.
- Is AFS2 a perfect simulator? Not a chance, but I enjoy it regardless
- Can I fly it with all the sliders to the right? No, but I fly it anyway
- Is it a real flight sim? Of course! It is a real flight sim because it simulates flight, it simulates aircraft, and it simulates a world to fly over
- Is it an expansive sim like X-Plane or P3dV4? Not a chance. But, those other sims won’t run on my system at all, and AFS2 does!
- Will I still run it in the future when I have a modern system? That is academic until I have such a system
- Will AFS2 run on your system? I have no way of knowing that
- Will it even appeal to you? I don’t know that either
BUT, if you dismiss it as worthless, you may be making one heck of a mistake, and missing out on a beautiful flight simming experience you could find as addictive as I do at this time. So, if you’ve enjoyed this article, why not give this brave new world a try? Love it for what it is, accept it for what it is not, and you might indeed become a fellow citizen of AFS2 Nation… Even on an older system!