Roughly five hundred trained pilots were qualified to fly F-35 Lightning II jets as of 2017. Given that there are now nearly 650 operational jets, that number of pilots has certainly gone up. Still, there are well under one thousand of them.
For many aviation buffs, flying the F-35 Lightning II will remain a dream, but soon there might be the next best thing. A third-party video game developer has been working to incorporate the fifth-generation combat aircraft into the popular Microsoft Flight Simulator. While still essentially a video game, even experienced pilots have praised the realism of the program.
Long Time in the Simulated Air
First developed in the late 1970s, the Microsoft Flight Simulator is actually the software giant’s longest-running software product line, predating Windows by three years. Moreover, it is now the longest-running personal computer video game series of all time.
The latest version was released last August with three different versions available including “standard,” “deluxe” and “premium.” Each provides an incremental set of gameplay features that include airports and airplanes for players to choose from.
What also sets this franchise apart is that Microsoft has long encouraged community engagement, which has included commercial and volunteer ventures, including the development of aircraft "add-ons."
The F-35 Takes Off
Microsoft Flight Simulator is not a combat game but earlier this year third-party game development studio IndiaFoxEcho announced that it would bring the F-35 Lightning II to the long-running franchise. At the beginning of the month, the developer provided the latest images of the simulated version of the F-35B, the short takeoff and vertical landing variant of the Joint Strike Fighter.
Additionally, it wasn’t just the aircraft that would be added to the mix but also a platform for virtual pilots to takeoff from. Instead of an airport (airports are regularly added to the game), the developers at IndiaFoxEcho are including a digital version of the amphibious assault ship USS America, which they said was “based on the ship we published for P3D in the past, and will either be included in the F-35B package or released as freeware.”
IndiaFoxEcho isn’t just working on the F-35B simulation model. The developer also announced, “F-35A external model is now finished (except the emergency tailhook), F-35 is 80 percent finished (cockpit and weapon bay doors missing) and while we have just started the conversion/improvement of the F-35C model.”
“The virtual cockpit is experiencing some delays . . . as we had to remodel a number of parts to achieve the level of detail we wanted,” the developer announced publicly. “We cannot show it yet, but we are very happy with it.”
Because the game isn’t combat-based, players won’t be able to utilize some of the advanced sensors or fire the weapons, but for those who ever dreamt of flying the most-advanced aircraft in the world, this might be as close as they can get to it. And even that could be very cool.
Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He regularly writes about military small arms, and is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on Amazon.com.