A brief history of Contrail

Hey it's Lars,

the founder of Contrail! Welcome to our shop, and I'm glad you're interested in its origins and the vision behind it!

So, what is Contrail? It's more than just an online shop catering to your everyday flight simulation needs with high-quality products. It also features a desktop app with a unique capability: you can connect it to more than just this shop.

Image caption: The first draft of the Contrail App UI (early 2020, colorized).

The Vision

Imagine the Contrail App as a shopping mall, where the same product might be available from different stores, or might even be on sale in one of them.

That was the vision back in the day, and I'm proud to say that this vision has become a reality with 8 shops and counting! But how did we get here? The journey actually began in the good old days of FS9, so let’s dive into it.

Oh, and before I forget, the gentlemen in the picture taken at the FSExpo in Houston 2023 are (from the left) Mir of Flightbeam Studios, Edson of //42, Thom of JetStream Designs, Ed formerly of Orbx, and me – the tall guy with his eyes closed. Of course.

The Beginnings

Aviation has always been a passion of mine, and thanks to my uncle, I first encountered flight simulation in the '90s with FS95.

Many years later, I noticed that the airports I frequented in the sim lacked certain details. I began adding library objects on final approaches to give a sense of speed. I always thought it must be cool to look down at people watching you land an airplane, especially since I was always the one looking up. So, at least in the simulator, I got to look down!

Fast forward to my first payware release: Phenick Field for FS9, a fictional 1930s airfield. To enhance immersion, I developed volumetric grass, which worked great despite being a bit hacky—though performance was always a challenge. What was the logical next step? Of course, a program that allows you to configure the airport to your liking!

On the right is the first "Configurator" I ever programmed. The code was hideous (I can admit that now, but everyone has to start somewhere, right?).

Twenytine Palms Scenery Design

You might have noticed the small trademark in the previous image - my first brand, actually named after my first project, KTNP airport in California.

I chose it after seeing a beautiful image on airliners.net; the airport looked straightforward to replicate. It's called 29Palms nowadays, and we've published quite a few airports (and islands) for FS9, FSX, P3D, and MSFS.

But focusing on "Configurators," what was the next logical step? Yes, to improve and combine!

Having one app per scenery isn't ideal, so why not create an app that can configure multiple airports? Although only one airport is visible in the screenshot, trust me—it can load more!

Flightbeam Studios

The Configurator caught the attention of multiple developers, sparking high demand for such apps back in the day.

Flight simulators have always demanded a lot from systems, so the key was to make everything optional: animations, static aircraft, people, and more.

I've always been an admirer of Flightbeam Studios, marveling at how Mir managed to create textures that made airports look incredibly realistic within a simulator—I spent countless hours just staring at them.

So, you can imagine my excitement when Mir reached out about this Configurator project I was cooking up. From that collaboration, the Flightbeam Manager was born!

The Contrail App

Cool, we now had multiple apps, and each one could manage multiple products—but only those from the respective developer. So, what's the next logical step?

Exactly, let's combine them all! And have it ready in time for the release of Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020. Flightbeam was already working on KDEN and planning to transition to a new shop system, both of which needed to be ready when MSFS launched.

It's now early 2020, and as you might remember, MSFS was released in August of that year. Creating a new app from scratch and transitioning an entire shop to a new system in less than six months was a formidable challenge. Many long nights and plenty of coffee fueled the effort!

And that’s how the Contrail App was born, but that’s not the end of the story...

Webshop anyone?

Following a logical progression, why stop at combining multiple developers and products in one app? Many developers operate their own online shops.

Imagine integrating these shops into the app, just like a shopping mall! That's where we stand today.

The Contrail App now supports 8 online shops, including our own, simplifying product and account management for you (hopefully!).

Best of all, when you buy directly from the developers, they benefit the most from their hard work.

So, as a parting thought: Buy direct! (Or from this shop, where we offer very generous commission rates 😉).