Microsoft Flight Simulator

Our partnership with Microsoft Flight Simulator (MSFS) dates back to 2018. When meteoblue was approached by the MSFS team with the request of weather data for the most iconic flight simulator of all time, it was obvious to us that this project would be quite a challenge, as well as a unique opportunity for innovation. The meteoblue website has pioneered many visualisation forms such as meteograms with vertical cloud structure, multi-model forecasting, or graphics to compare all major weather models, and we wanted to rise to the occasion, further enhancing the way our weather data can be visualised.

Microsoft Flight Simulator, as the name suggests, is an amateur flying simulator. It is easily the longest-running, best-known, and most comprehensive home flight simulator program ever. Moreover, it was one of the earliest products in the Microsoft application portfolio. At 40 years old, it is the longest-running software product line for Microsoft, predating even MS Windows (!) by three years.

Yes, that is correct – in 1982 when the first Microsoft Flight Simulator was first launched, the users had to use DOS to start the program.

Indeed, a long time has passed since Microsoft Flight Simulator’s early days. Today it offers a hyper-realistic flying experience, using a virtual reality interface, true-to-life geography based on satellite data and flyover imagery, traffic data generated by artificial intelligence, and most importantly for us: realistic, real-time, and globally available weather data.

As our co-founder Matthias Müller explains in this video (which quickly became legendary – see the comments below it) the project originally started small. Originally, the task was merely to deliver a limited number of weather variables in order to better (and more realistically) simulate the weather conditions in the proximity of airports. In the previous versions of the Microsoft Flight Simulator, there were no scientific weather data used, so even this very idea was disruptive. However, we did not stop there.

Matthias Müller adds: “Originally, we only intended to deliver forecasts for airports. Then, winds at extremely high altitudes were added, so that the pilots can fly in the jet stream. And gradually the project developed into an extremely complex weather data solution, including the full 3D icing risk data derived from cloud microphysics – a variable we did not even think of at the beginning of the partnership with Microsoft.”

How exactly do we produce the weather data for MSFS? We divide the Earth’s surface into a grid consisting of 250.000.000 square boxes. For each of these, different weather conditions are postulated. Then, the vertical column of air over each of these grid boxes is divided into 60 vertical layers, all the way from the Earth’s surface up to the stratosphere (indeed - the sky is the limit!). Each of these layers within the column has unique weather conditions, and together they enable us to compute the global weather data model.

Matthias Müller continues, describing how our proprietary weather modelling helped us face the challenges the project posed: “Microsoft Flight Simulator is a project where there was virtually no limit on how much data we can provide. The most serious obstacle for us was figuring out how to deliver the huge myriads of data in real-time without crashing the system. Particularly demanding was a realistic rendering of cloud shapes and cloud texture, and above all, getting it done in real-time.”

And the result? If a picture is worth a thousand words, then this video is worth a million:

In a nutshell, the game’s reception can be described as a standing ovation. Microsoft Flight Simulator received universal acclaim from video game critics and flying enthusiasts from all over the globe. It was rated as a Top 3 game of 2020, being described as “a technical marvel, with an insane amount of polish, incredible realism, and phenomenal controls” as well as a “gaming essential”, “an aesthetic feat within PC gaming” or “a one-of-a-kind masterpiece that appears once a generation, predicted to see everlasting legacy”.

Since the launch in 2020, multiple new features were added, including the implementation of satellite imagery, as well as real-time weather event tracking. For instance, in the summer of 2020, aircraft enthusiasts were able to explore hurricane Laura in real-time, and in the spring of 2021, one of the most popular realistic add-ons was the cargo ship Ever Given stuck in the Suez Canal. Some journalists even explored the usage of MSFS for political discoveries.

All the positive feedback has been a huge reward for us. As Mathias Müller concludes, “The partnership with Microsoft has been exciting for meteoblue since innovation simply never stops. As you can imagine, here at meteoblue we work a lot with codes, maps, or diagrams – but with Flight Simulator it is different. Even for us, it is the first time we can truly experience the data we compute.”