The other day, someone on the Flight Sim team sent around a screenshot of an early version of FS, side-by-side with a contemporary shot from Acceleration. This started a lot of us stumbling down amnesia lane, sending screenshots and other reminiscences of versions we remember. Such are some of the slightly curmudgeonly joys of working on the longest-running consumer software franchise we know of. There are people on the team, myself included, who’ve been customers since Version 1.0 for the IBM PC … and there are others who haven’t even been alive that long.
Then there’s our own Dave Denhart, who worked alongside Bruce Artwick in the earliest days of Flight Simulator, even before Microsoft got involved. Dave loves to enthrall the team with colorful tales of those heady times when you had to whittle your software by hand, with only a rusty buck knife, a bag of pistachios, and a healthy dose of determination to see you through. Then sometimes he starts to spit a little bit, his voice goes up an octave or two, and he explains what’s wrong with the government and that he can prove that Steve Jobs is monitoring his thoughts while we mutter excuses and sidle out.
Anyway, as more people started jumping on the thread, seizing the chance to surf the web and reply all (what we call "pulling a Hudson"), I did a bit of reminiscent waxing myself, thinking back to what was, technically, one of my very, very first flight simulators. It may not have been hand-carved, but it did predate software, at least in our house. It was produced by Schaper, a company that was blissfully unashamed to refer to itself as "the Cootie Company", and it was called, simply, "U Fly-It".
And I did.
So much so, in fact, that it might have been called "U Fly-It and Then U Fly-It Some More Did I Say U Could Stop?", "U Fly-It And Ignore Your Parents, You Can Always Eat Tomorrow Besides We’re A Big Corporation And U’re Just a Four Year Old Kid So U Should Do What We Say", or "U Fly-It Because If U Don’t U’ll Get Cooties."
Thanks to the miracle of space-age Ethernet technology, U can can actually watch the original "U Fly-It" TV commercial, delivered straight to your face in conveniently pre-encoded data packlets, courtesy of the good people at Like Television. Give it a look – I’ll wait:
Even though this brings back a flood of childhood recollections, I should probably point out that, unlike the kids in the commercial, I was listening to the Beatles and not to the soul-numbingly repetitive instrumental strains of what sounds like a bad Fifth Dimension cover band and I paid regular visits to both barbers and dentists. And, most importantly, never, not once, have I ever goofed a landing.
Amazingly, about this same time, my dad actually built me, in effect, a life-sized (kid life-sized, anyway) "U Fly-It" as part of an elaborate scheme to get me to go outside and make my mom nervous. It was a pedal-plane of sorts that ran on a wire what seemed like miles up the hill from our house, ending with a carrier-style landing on our back deck. Unfortunately, I don’t think any pictures have survived over the years, but I’ll ask the family archivist over the upcoming holiday.
After the "U Fly-It", it was a pretty steady progression to the Vertibird, then Star Wars, then Flight Sim, and, finally, girls, where the aforementioned haircuts and dentistry suddenly seemed even more relevant.