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  • Writer's pictureAaron "Ribbon-Blue" Mendoza

Flight Sim Expo 2023: Our Perspective

Updated: Sep 4, 2023

A perspective changing in person experience

The world and I are a lot different since the last time I traveled to an aviation related event in person. The last time I flew to an event and provided media coverage was for PAX South 2019, during the launch weekend for Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown. In retrospect, that turned out to be something of a defining event in my ongoing journey with flight games and simulators. It changed the way I approached things, Skyward Flight Media was eventually formed and my interests in pursuing high fidelity flight simulation increased rapidly. That exposure to something that was a next level event also made me "level up" so to speak.

From my early morning flight from Denver International Airport (KDEN) to Hobby Airport (KHOU) on to the quiet night of June 22nd, listening to aircraft depart in the distance, I wondered if Flight Sim Expo 2023 would have a similar effect on me.

Many months ago, Skyward Flight Media officially became a media partner for Flight Sim Expo (FSE) for a second year. This year was our first time attending in person. In the aviation themed DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel, the tone and energy of the convention was set on the first day of the convention: Friday, June 23rd.

If you were to ask the internet at large what the main draw of Flight Sim Expo is, they would probably say it is the product announcements. The newest hardware, vital software updates, upcoming aircraft and eye watering add-ons - the types of things flight enthusiasts of all levels universally look forward to. On Friday, I chose to forgo some of the extra activities to took a closer look at the attendees as they arrived to the hotel. Spending most of Friday just chitchatting with who I could, it was interesting seeing the wide reach of the people attending. From retried or active duty aviators all the way to first time attendees that just barely began flight sim activities the week before. The type of person I thought attended something as serious as Flight Sim Expo was not what I was expecting.

The ballroom that sat the audience attending the product announcements was rather large, but nearly every seat was full by the time the introduction to FSE 2023 segment began around 1:00 PM CST. Evan Reiter, co-founder of the Flight Sim Association and Flight Sim Expo, confirmed that in that room alone there were more attendees than the entirety of last year's expo. Crossing this milestone at the start of the event put things in perspective about how far they've come. Being there in the room, I can tell you that the amount of people in that single location was impressive.

On Friday, Flight Sim Expo provided professional grade broadcasting and live updates were provided by other media outlets like our buddy over at Stormbirds blog. Flight Sim Expo itself has videos on demand of the presentation available on the official website, with these same videos eventually available on their YouTube channel. There were some major announcements from companies like Microsoft, Honeycomb Aeronautics, Thrustmaster, A2A Simulations and others. Some of these products elicited cheers, gasps, laughter and general buzzing commentary from all attendees. Things like Thrustmaster’s Viper TQS throttle, HoneyComb’s Delta Panels, details on Microsoft Flight Simulator 2024 and other great simulated products. I have thoughts on some of the announced products, but I’ll be writing about those in varying degrees for the rest of 2023 as separate articles. If I were to write them all here, this piece would easily be 30 something minutes long - haha!

Following the end of the buzz of the product announcements, the people and energy spilled throughout the hotel that evening. The formal question and answer sessions of yesteryear, that usually follow each company's presentation, were replaced by an attendee social. Every badge holder at FSE 2023 had a complimentary drink and snack ticket. With food and drinks in hand, exhibitors had small tables dotted around two or three areas of the hotel. This enabled casual conversations directly between the attendees, developers, content creators - heck, even CEOs of companies. Something I witnessed multiple times were everyday simmers striking up conversations and asking all manner of questions with the very people behind the platforms, virtual aircraft and manufacturers of brands we all know and respect.

Perhaps because Flight Sim Expo is community driven at its core, the entire event was easy to approach, easy to strike up conversations with just about anyone and easy to connect with like-minded flight simulation enthusiasts. Whether that was in the official expo locations or at restaurants, hotels or anywhere else, my attendance to this event truly made me feel as though I was a part of the larger flight simulation community at all times.

Lone Star Flight Museum.
Lone Star Flight Museum.

Saturday and Sunday were the primary days for attendees to interact with more than 50 exhibitors at the very appropriate venue, the Lone Star Flight Museum. Among various vintage war birds in wonderful condition were some of the most elaborate displays of professional and recreational flight simulation hardware and software I've ever seen.

A picture of Flight Sim Expo 2023 convention floor #1.
FSE 2023 convention floor #1.

This particular pastime of ours isn't one that commonly has conventions in every city or yokes and HOTAS on display in common, massive shopping centers or electronic stores. On their official website, Flight Sim Expo mentions that it is the ultimate "try before you buy" experience, and it absolutely lived up to it.

A picture of Flight Sim Expo 2023's second convention floor.
FSE 2023 convention floor #2.
Thrustmaster Viper QTS.
Thrustmaster Viper QTS.

Being able to physically pick up the latest hardware, sit in full cockpit simulators for commercial aircraft, GA aircraft and combat aircraft and get flight time before even considering buying products in the future is a rare experience in flight simulation. And everything was on the table for testing and scrutiny.

For example, the aforementioned Thrustmaster Viper QTS that was announced that weekend was available in simulators and just for people to pick up, examine closely and try all buttons, axis controls to test the material quality of the unit itself.

Entire airliner style cockpits which easily cost tens of thousands of US dollars were open for anyone. People of any skill level were invited to try a guided flight with an expert, or just sit and stare in awe while receiving a guided tour of the instruments. Even more pointed questions about build quality or concerns with performance and maintenance were fielded directly with representatives. That is a world away from receiving a reply from a company via a social media comment.

Admittedly, as someone that has been focused on combat flight simulation for the majority of my time, I was concerned that I wouldn't necessarily "fit in" with what I thought the demographic of the expo would be. Going into it, it's no secret that the event is very focused on general aviation or commercial aviation. I thought my lack of intimate knowledge of every airway in North America or exact start up procedures for multi-engine wide body aircraft would be some type of embarrassing black mark against me. But this was not the case in any situation.

I definitely found myself sitting in the flight deck of 1:1 airliner cockpit simulator, intrigued by entire rows of equipment that were familiar but still somewhat foreign to me. There wasn't a hint of judgement or refrain no matter what my question was. I observed the same for other attendees as well. This welcoming atmosphere was encouraging.

That's not to say that everything went without a hitch. There were some technical issues on the show floor that took time to be resolved. Hurdles with exhibitors struggling to maintain a stable Wi-Fi connection for products, occasional display teardowns and errors with head tracking equipment did happen. At a time, there was even a mix-up with the all important shuttle buses that transported everyone to and from the host hotels to the event venues. But all problems were solved relatively quickly. A quick five-minute walk around the site would often give enough time to let staff figure it out. The Flight Sim Expo staff in particular were constantly helpful, with the Flight Sim Association's Discord server being a primary communication hub between attendees and staff to quickly flag issues and find solutions.

My overall experience at FSE 2023 was not what I was expecting in the slightest. As I think about it, I feel as though watching the VODs of the past events that only show the seminars and announcements gives the expo a strangely clinical feel. Like it's more of a polo shirt industry insider event. But in reality, the sense of community is something that can't be captured in product presentations or from the show floor one-on-one interviews.

As I thought, my time at Flight Sim Expo 2023 was very enjoyable and did in fact change the way I view flight simulation once again. Since the expo's end, I've found myself researching more topics I previously had no interest in, and have made some interesting purchases that I'll be talking about in the near future. Now more than ever I feel that my interest in flight simulation has reached new heights after putting faces to names and truly immersing myself into the community. I sincerely look forward to attending next year's expo.


About the Writer

Co-founder of Skyward Flight Media. After founding, the first English Ace Combat database, he has been involved in creating flight game-related websites, communities, and events since 2005. He explores past and present flight games and simulators with his extensive collection of game consoles and computers. [ Read Profile ]



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