One of them is FlightAware, a company that “collects, interprets and distributes real-time and historical flight information” gathered from 28,000 ground stations in 195 countries. It effectively allows you to fly around in Flight Simulator with real-time air traffic flying all around you. You can also turn it off if you’d like a more private experience, but in remote locations like Moloka‘i, it adds a lot of flavor to the simulation. That’s how I found myself sharing a runway with George’s Aviation Service.

…I paused to take in the surroundings as my little yellow bush plane taxied to a stop at Moloka‘i Airport. Final approach had been beautiful. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky as I lined up on the runway, dipped down below the treeline, and flared out for a graceful landing. I’ve been to the real islands of Hawaii before, but I’d never visited this particular one. Now, thanks to Microsoft Flight Simulator, I felt well on my way to learning about the place for the first time.

Then, something strange happened. The virtual air traffic controller started chirping in my ear, guiding in another airplane. Just behind me came a second single-engine airplane with tail number N778DS. It belonged to George’s Aviation Services, a real-world general aviation company with a 20-year history of flying into Moloka‘i, something I found out with a quick Google search.

Thanks to this marvelous simulation, which blends real-world data with video game technology, George and I were actually sharing the same airspace at the same time — he in his real airplane, and me in my virtual one. It’s not a moment that I’ll soon forget.