About Flight1 Aviation Technologies
The Flight1 Aviation Technologies management team consists of President Steve Halpern, and Vice President Jim Rhoads, who also serves as the company’s Chief Operating Officer. They're joined by a team of talented developers, designers, and writers.
As a commercial pilot with multi-engine and instrument ratings, Rhoads began using Microsoft Flight Simulator to augment his own flight training back in the early 1990s. Long before Microsoft provided a Software Development Kit, he began hacking into the sim to figure out how it worked.
“Back then there were just a bunch of us on CompuServe,” he says. “Soon though, the flight simulation enthusiast community started to grow, and people started businesses to develop and sell add-ons for Flight Simulator.”
After working for one of the leading entertainment add-on developers at the time, Rhoads decided he wanted to focus on seeing just how realistic Flight Simulator add-ons could become, and set out on his own.
Halpern was among the community’s pioneers too. His first product, FSClouds, was an add-on for Flight Simulator 98 that improved the textures of the default clouds. It was a big hit among simmers, and improved versions followed. In 1995 Halpern founded Flight1 Software, and shortly thereafter brought Rhoads aboard.
An Award-Winning Passion for Realism
Flight1 Software’s first revolutionary product was a Boeing 737-400 aircraft add-on for Flight Simulator 2000 created in partnership with Dreamfleet. It featured a photo-realistic instrument panel and a functional flight management computer (FMC), and was widely regarded as the most realistic 737 ever created for Flight Simulator at the time.
Over the next decade, Flight1 Software continued developing highly realistic add-on aircraft, including a series of Cessnas, and an award-winning Piper Meridian designed as a true aircraft familiarization tool requiring the user to operate the aircraft realistically. In 2004, Flight1 released an ATR 72-500 developed in partnership with the French aircraft manufacturer, Avions de Transport Regional. It too won awards. Modeling almost every switch and system in the real aircraft, including the FMC and Traffic Collision Avoidance System (TCAS), it was acknowledged by press and users alike as the most realistic turboprop aircraft add-on ever created for Flight Simulator.
During these years, Rhoads spent a lot of time in the field at trade shows like EAA’s AirVenture and AOPA’s Expo, meeting pilots and demoing Flight1’s products. In spite of a few documented cases of Flight Simulator’s proven potential in pilot training (including use by the U.S. Navy), few of the pilots Rhoads met saw the true potential this “game” had for serious training.
As FAA-approved Personal Computer-based Aviation Training Devices (PCATDs) gained wider acceptance each year, the distinctions between simulation games and simulation devices began to blur, and the aviation training industry began to take more interest in the realism companies like Flight1 were offering in their add-ons to Flight Simulator.
A Move into Enterprise
When Flight Simulator X was released in 2006, aviation training organizations finally began seeing that the sim was capable of supporting training tasks that were typically done on very expensive devices and platforms. They knew they didn’t have the familiarity with the software to create the customizations they needed, so they turned to Flight1 and a few other small companies.
A major roadblock was the Flight Simulator X End User License Agreement (EULA), which stated that the software could be used “for entertainment purposes only.” Flight1 and other companies lobbied Microsoft to officially support use of the software in commercial training, and in 2008 Microsoft released Microsoft ESP, a “visual simulation software development platform” for enterprise.
“Once ESP came along,” explains Rhoads, “it gave us the freedom to bring our expertise to the people who could really use it.”
Microsoft ESP is based on the same technology as Flight Simulator, but is intended to be used for training. With the EULA issues overcome, and commercial and military customers taking notice, Rhoads and Halpern realized that the opportunity they had been waiting for had finally arrived.
A New Company
Flight1 Aviation Technologies was launched in 2004 to focus on delivering PC-based simulation solutions to aviation customers.
“Flight1 and Flight1 Tech are partner companies,” says Halpern. “They share and improve upon the same technologies, for different purposes.”
“We’ve been surprised by the level of interest there is in Flight1Tech,” says Rhoads. “Especially from some big players. They know we can provide them with a more effective, more affordable platform than what is conventionally available.”
When Microsoft unexpectedly announced in January of 2009 that it was closing the Aces Studio that made both Flight Simulator and ESP, partners and customers were bewildered. Not wanting to abandon the vision he had worked so hard to make real, Rhoads decided to ensure Flight1 Tech would continue providing solutions for enterprise customers.
In November of 2009, Lockheed Martin and Microsoft entered into an intellectual property licensing agreement that allows Lockheed Martin to further develop the Microsoft ESP code. Lockheed Martin’s resultant product, Prepar3D™, is positioned as “a proven simulation framework for aviation training that can be fully customized for ground, civil, and logistics applications.”
On December 17, 2009, Flight1 Aviation Technologies and Microsoft announced that they had entered into an intellectual property (IP) license agreement under which Flight1 Tech could distribute ESP.
“We consider our company to be one of the most experienced third-party solution providers working with Microsoft’s popular series of simulation engines. We see supporting the broad versatility of the ESP and Prepar3D simulation platforms as part of the natural progression of our portfolio of services,” explained Rhoads.
In the years since, Flight1 Tech shifted its focus to developing solutions solely for Prepar3D and Flight Simulator X. In February of 2017, the company announced that its Garmin G530 and G750 simulation software was also compatible with X-Plane.
With a unique history that has followed the simulation and training industry’s appropriation of game-based technologies, Flight1 Aviation Technologies is poised to continue helping change the way pilots train and stay proficient in the future.
“No matter what the platform, we’ve always pushed the limits of what it’s capable of,” says Rhoads. “We go far beyond what software development kits explain, and what most developers can provide. As simulation technology continues to change, we’re in a unique position to help our customers meet their training needs.”