| The World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. (AP/PTI)
New Delhi, July 30: The trauma is over. Or, is it just beginning'
Even as the US government issued fresh warnings of another wave of terrorist attacks, Microsoft today launched an upgraded version of its much-admired Flight Simulator gaming software that some al Qaida terrorists are believed to have used in their preparation for the 9/11 strikes that killed nearly 3,000 people and turned the twin towers of the World Trade Center into a heap of rubble and twisted girders.
The Flight Simulator was never withdrawn from Microsoft’s range of gaming software. However, sales in the US plunged soon after the attacks, especially after security agencies started pulling in for questioning all those people who had bought the gaming software in the weeks running up to Terror Tuesday.
Microsoft Corporation today launched its ‘Microsoft Flight Simulator 2004: A Century of Flight’ which will retail in India at a price of Rs 3,499.
The launch coincided with a global terrorism warning issued by the US that added hijacking to the list of potential attacks Americans could face after new al Qaida threats of strikes similar to 9/11.
The department of homeland security has warned that extremists might be plotting suicide airliner hijackings to be carried out before the end of the summer, with possible targets including sites in Britain, Italy, Australia or the eastern US.
“As of mid-June, Islamic extremists may have been planning suicide hijackings to be executed by the end of Summer 2003,” the CNN reported.
“The plan may involve the use of five-man teams, each of which would attempt to seize control of a commercial aircraft either shortly after takeoff or shortly before landing at a chosen airport.”
Such a plan would preclude the need for hijackers to take flight training, the department says in a document.
The state department renewed an existing April 21 alert that had not been due to expire until September to incorporate new information about possible new attacks using hijacked aircraft.
“Terrorist actions may include, but are not limited to, suicide operations, hijackings, bombings or kidnappings,” it said in a notice titled “worldwide caution”.
“These may also involve commercial aircraft,” the notice said.
Microsoft’s Flight Simulator 2004 allows a gamer to fly airlines ranging from gliders to jetliners over 24,000 authentic airports worldwide. The upgraded version offers interactive air traffic control and a new dynamic weather system that creates real-time, real-world weather for virtual pilots to experience as they fly to their destinations.
Within three days of the September attack, Microsoft had said that it would remove the image of the twin towers from its the Flight Simulator 2002 — the older version of the game.
Concerns in India also grew over the gaming package after the December 13 terrorist attack on parliament, which showed just how vulnerable key buildings and institutions were to committed militants bent on causing widespread destruction.
The new simulation package offers a choice of flying 15 contemporary aircraft including personal aircraft such as the Cessna 172 Skyhawk SP and Robinson R-22 helicopter as well as turboprops and jumbo jets, each of which includes interactive 3-D virtual cockpits.
The product also offers the experience of flight in historic aircraft such as the 1903 Wright Flyer, Curtiss JN-4D “Jenny,” Charles Lindbergh's Ryan NYP “Spirit of St. Louis” and the Douglas DC-3.
The latest version offers superior graphics, interactive 3-D cockpits, dynamic weather effects and an interactive multimedia content to celebrate history and teach the basics of flight.
The product is already available at retail stores in major cities in India.
“Currently, the world wide market share for flight simulator games is less than 10 per cent,” says Jayant Sharma, chairman of Milestone Interactive, one of India’s leading games and interactive software publishers.
Perversely, sales of the flight simulator in India had actually shot up after the 9/11 strikes.
“In the US, the crackdown on those who had bought the software program did spark a scare and this was reflected in the preference for flight simulators for fighter aircraft rather than passenger planes,” says Sharma.
An industry observer said: “Some of the most critical information is available on prominent computer entertainment programs. The huge resource of materials and information relating to civil aviation is easily available on the Net that would assist a terrorist planning another 9/11 attack.”
Mohit Anand, manager, home and entertainment division, Microsoft Corporation India, said: “A Century of Flight empowers pilots of all age groups to take control of aircraft that most would otherwise never be able to fly. Without leaving the ground, virtual aviators everywhere can experience what it was like to be one of the pioneers of flight. They also can fly a variety of contemporary aircraft in the most realistic skies available on the PC.”