Odds & Ends. Random thoughts. Flying in X-plane, airport files, regional dynamics.
On my mind a lot lately, the Custer Gateway scenery released last month, and the implications for a new, mid-western training region. That’s where this post is going, part of it, anyway, and in the next several ‘reviews’ we’ll keep our focus on the idea of training regions, and perhaps because we are finally getting our hands on some truly excellent airport scenery files – with these new offerings conducive to forming regional links.
We rounded out our Baltic Journey a few posts back with a look at ENBR Bergen, yet even as we were finishing up that post we had the unexpected pleasure of getting our hands on a new AeroSOFT file in Norway, ENSH Svolvær XP, which we reviewed last week as well. It’s been that kind of season, too, with lot’s of new commercial files coming out in an almost steady procession, yet one thing that crystallized in my thinking as I worked around the Baltic is what a perfect training region this is, and how perfectly the area ties is with existing airport scenery files in Europe generally, but Germany in particular.
Using the Leading Edge Saab 340A, I’ve flown from EHAM to EDDL, then onto EDDP, then Warsaw, Riga, and Tallinn. Looking over the X-Flight.SU freeware files last week for Moscow, I stumbled across two files that team have on hand that fits in nicely with our new Latvian and Estonian files, namely an interesting UMKK Kaliningrad and a decent EFHK Helsinki, and we’ll look at a few images from those airports today. What we still lack in XP, to truly complete this region, are Copenhagen and Stockholm, but who knows? Maybe someone is working away on those right now…
Anyway, from Tallinn to Helsinki is a rugged fifty-mile flight (that’s sarcasm, too; sorry), and from Helsinki, you can fly on up to a truly excellent little freeware file at EFVA, again, perfect in the 340A, and from there on to Oslo and Bergen. From Bergen, the hop back to EHAM is a long, dull, over-water hop, but you end up with about two days of really interesting flying under your belt. Do this circle in the CRJ-200 and you could spend one long day…but what’s the rush?
The developers of the Custer Gateway, the little airport just south of Detroit, Michigan, have intimated that their long-term plan includes adding more airports to the greater Michigan region, including the massive commercial airport in Detroit. If that is their next release then we, overnight, have a new turboprop and RJ training triangle: Detroit, then one of two Chicago area airports (ORD & Midway), and the absolutely great freeware KMSP Minneapolis-St Paul, and I wanted to look at that last file closely today, in case you’ve missed this one. We’ve heard there’s a new KORD in the works to replace the dated file from Nimbus…so that only adds to the dynamic.
In the US we have an excellent regional training ground in the Southeast, extending from Key West, Florida all the way up to Atlanta, and this is a circular routing like the Baltic so it can take, literally, a few days to complete, especially under IFR conditions. The US Pacific Coast is another region I want to explore in a coming post, and perhaps we’ll have a new Orange County//John Wayne release by then. So, that said, our roadmap over the next few weeks will include looks at several more regional training areas, including Florida, California/Oregon/Washington state, a look around Alaska, then one last region, and perhaps my favorite, Austria.
Austria provides an immersive training atmosphere filled with a wide variety of airports, and if you want to extend your flights internationally, there are ready options for Germany, Switzerland, France, and Spain – but the point here is simple to understand. These are all good training areas because there are already extremely good airport files available in X-plane to support these flights, and our guess is the situation is only going to get better.
Now, let’s talk about Michigan for a moment, and then, Minnesota.
The Leading Edge Saab 340A got me hooked on the idea of regional flights, first because it’s an immersive .acf (aircraft file), and also because it’s fairly complicated. One day, after fiddling around at the Custer Gateway airport file for an afternoon, I ran across this ‘skin’ for the Saab, and it got my attention. But let’s look at this one a little closer…
What we see on this NWA 340 is a route network for Northwest AirLINK. Notice the anchor cities to the west (aft) and to the east (forward): Minneapolis and Detroit, and a ton of smaller airports between the two. These smaller cities are located, for the most part, in Michigan and Wisconsin, but more towns are served in Iowa, Minnesota, South Dakota, Indiana, Ohio and Ontario, Canada.
Michigan, by the way, is famous for making cars (and football), while Wisconsin is noted for making cheese (and football), so we have two states representing two very different ways of life, while Minneapolis is often regarded as something of an odd cousin…very progressive politically with a lot of economic activity centered around hi-tech medicine (and football). So, we have the makings of a good reginal network here…but then…
Here’s part of the announcement that accompanied the release of KTTF: “Attitude Simulations brings you a level of detail never before seen in X-Plane with this new regionalized scenery pack! This pack will later be able to be coupled with packs for Ann Arbor Municipal Airport (KARB), Erie International Airport (KERI), Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport (KDTW), and Mackinac Island Airport (KMCD), making for an amazing experience all around the Great Lakes!
So, what we have here sounds at first like a GA mecca, yet you’ll note it will also offer an outstanding training ground for XP-pilots wanting to operate in a realistic midwestern RJ-commuter airliner environment. Perfect, in other words, for the Saab340A, the CRJ-200, all the various ERJs and, hopefully someday soon, the new Canadair CS100 & 300 aircraft.
KERI Erie offers service from American Eagle, Delta Connection, and United, to, respectively, Philadelphia, Detroit, and Chicago (though FedEx operates out of here, as well), while KDTW is Delta Country – as Detroit is a major hub for that carrier. KMCD Mackinac is principally a GA airport, but if you’ve ever wanted to use a Baron in airline service, this is your baby – as Great Lakes Air uses Barons and Piper Cherokee Sixes to get people to the island – which is famous in popular culture as the filming location for the romance movie Somewhere In Time. KARB Ann Arbor is simply a small GA airport convenient to the University of Michigan Medical Center, though it is frequently used to transport patients to and from the hospital.
So, three of the five airports in Attitude Simulation’s package will offer passenger service, from the smallest operator to one of the busiest airports in the US, and we’re assuming the detail offered at these airports will be mind-blowing – given the quality we found at KTTF. That’s one big incentive to build up this network in XP – starting right now, too. And you can do so by looking over a freeware version of KMSP Minneapolis-St Paul.
Oh, before you do, here’s an image of a “real” 340 leaving KMSP several years ago:
Now, let’s hop on over to Minnesota:
There aren’t very many freeware airports in XP that reach the level of realism found in payware packages, but KMSP – Minneapolis/St.Paul International Airport. v 0.96.1, by T_Fleck is one of them. This sprawling airport is realistically modeled, and the file includes a built-up downtown, as well as many local landmarks around the area, so let’s take a look around.
With World Objects set to MAX levels, you’ll need to be careful with all your other settings, as Minneapolis & St. Paul are both very large cities – separated only by a river. I managed this by keeping textures, AA and HDR all in the moderate range, though I turned HDR to MAX when imaging at night (and FPS tanked). The default 738 usually managed framerates in the low-20s under these conditions…not great, but I would sacrifice objects for performance if I was not imaging, so, all in all, for such a big airport framerates are reasonable.
In the image above, the airport fills the roughly diamond-shaped area around the two main runways, so that ought to give you an idea of the scope of this file.
And, as already mentioned, this IS Delta Country…and the ramps prove it. Here’s the list of cities served by Delta: Amsterdam, Anchorage, Atlanta, Austin, Baltimore, Billings, Bismarck, Boise, Boston, Bozeman, Cancún, Charlotte, Chicago–O’Hare, Cincinnati, Columbus-Glenn, Dallas/Fort Worth, Denver, Detroit, Fargo, Fort Lauderdale, Fort Myers, Grand Rapids, Hartford, Honolulu, Houston–Intercontinental, Indianapolis, Kansas City, Las Vegas, London–Heathrow, Los Angeles, Madison, Memphis, Miami, Milwaukee, Missoula, Nashville, Newark, New Orleans, New York–JFK, New York–LaGuardia, Omaha, Orange County, Orlando, Paris–Charles de Gaulle, Philadelphia, Phoenix–Sky Harbor, Pittsburgh, Portland (OR), Raleigh/Durham, Sacramento, Salt Lake City, San Diego, San Francisco, San Jose (CA), Seattle/Tacoma, Sioux Falls, Spokane, St. Louis, Tampa, Tokyo–Haneda, Washington–Dulles, Washington–National, Winnipeg
Seasonal: Albany, Albuquerque, Appleton, Aruba (begins December 23, 2017), Buffalo, Calgary, Chicago–Midway, Cleveland, Cozumel, Duluth, Edmonton, Fairbanks, Grand Cayman, Green Bay, Ixtapa/Zihuatanejo, Jackson Hole, Jacksonville (FL), Kalispell, Liberia (CR), Mazatlán, Montego Bay, Nassau, Palm Springs, Puerto Vallarta, Punta Cana, Rapid City, Reno/Tahoe, Reykjavík–Keflavík, Rochester (NY), Saskatoon, San Antonio, San Juan (Suspended), San Jose del Cabo, South Bend, Syracuse, Traverse City, Toronto–Pearson, Tucson, Vancouver, West Palm Beach.
And, via Delta Connection, service is available to: Aberdeen (SD), Appleton, Austin, Baltimore, Bemidji, Billings, Bismarck, Bloomington/Normal, Boise, Brainerd, Buffalo, Calgary, Cedar Rapids/Iowa City, Charlotte, Chicago–Midway, Chicago–O’Hare, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus–Glenn, Dallas/Fort Worth, Dayton, Des Moines, Duluth, Edmonton, Fargo, Fayetteville/Bentonville, Flint, Fort Wayne, Grand Forks, Grand Rapids, Great Falls, Green Bay, Hartford, Helena, Hibbing/Chisholm, Houston–Intercontinental, Indianapolis, International Falls, Iron Mountain, Kalamazoo, Kalispell, Kansas City, Knoxville, La Crosse, Lansing, Lexington, Lincoln, Louisville, Madison, Marquette, Memphis, Milwaukee, Minot, Missoula, Moline/Quad Cities, Montréal–Trudeau, Mosinee, Nashville, Newark, New Orleans, New York–JFK, New York–LaGuardia, Oklahoma City, Omaha, Peoria, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Raleigh/Durham, Rapid City, Rhinelander, Richmond, Rochester (MN), Rochester (NY), Saginaw, San Antonio, Saskatoon, Sault Ste. Marie (MI), Sioux Falls, South Bend, St. Louis, Syracuse, Toronto–Pearson, Tri-Cities (WA), Tulsa, Vancouver, Washington–Dulles, Wichita, Williston, Winnipeg
Seasonal: Albany, Aspen, Harlingen, Hayden/Steamboat Springs, Idaho Falls, Norfolk, Savannah, Spokane, Traverse City, Washington–National.
Oddly enough, the largest international destinations are by KLM to EHAM and with AirFrance to CDG, while Delta, Icelandair, and Condor handle the rest of Europe. Mexican and Canadian carriers are represented here, too.
If you enjoy using the CRJ-200, man…this is your airport. Look over the list above, then factor that in with the Chicago-Detroit regional concept we’re developing here. Obviously, this is an ideal western terminus of operations, but the Saab, as well as the various ERJs, will be perfect to use here.
Optionally, 747, 767, and 757 service will all work for European, as well as Mexican destinations, not to mention the larger cities Delta serves.
What we’re going to end up with in Minneapolis is a great airport for just about any commercial activity. There is service to Japan via Delta, however none to China. So, think KLGA, KATL, KSFO, KLAX, and KABQ – all with good airports in XP.
I noticed little in the way of so-called LIT textures here, leaving the terminal windows black at night, yet HDR lighting leaves the ramps more than usable – and with window detail still somewhat visible at night the loss is tolerable. In daylight, there’s not much need to crank up textures as the ones used aren’t detailed, so save the framerates. This is an as yet unfinished freeware file, so if you’re looking for imperfections you’ll find all you want, but you’ll miss the point, too. This file is already more than the sum of its parts, and with a little work could easily be payware quality. As it is…I like it because it fills a niche we need to be filled, and it’s a well thought out package.
Details abound, from full ramp detail to bright, legible taxiway markings, from baggage carts to luggage conveyors, and people too…
So, what we have is a fully functioning western terminus to our forthcoming Detroit-Chicago-Minneapolis triangle, this file anchoring everything from RJ and turboprop flights to heavies taking off for Europe.
You’ll have room to do air cargo OPS, as well as an ANG facility to operate C-130s, C-17s as well as F-16s, and even an FBO for bizjets…but, to top it all off…
…a nicely detailed downtown area, as well as regional landmarks to flesh-out the VFR landmarks in the area.
Okay, let’s jump up to Alaska now.
Tom Curtis has been producing his regional airport packages for almost as long as I’ve been using X-plane, and I think you could say he gave us, with his first British Columbia and Alaska packages, the first unified regions in XP. That these files were tailor-made for bush-flying seemed only to increase interest in this type of file, and not just in XP, as Orbx’s success reinforces the notion, too. Flying in the rough, into remote wilderness areas, feels a little like a western movie too, only instead of a man and his horse we get a man and his balloon tired Piper Cub. Add to that…this kind of flying is simply fun. And a challenge, too. Like landing at the Heron’s Nest is a challenge, no?
Anyway, for whatever reason, Alaska remains one of the most heavily used areas in XP, and while we won’t be covering much on a regional level, when we run across a good airport file we’ll be sure to give it a nod. Though the file we’ll mention today has been around a while, it’s one we wanted to shout out – in case you missed it.
PAWG Wrangell Airport serves Wrangell, Alaska, and as there are no roads or bridges into or out of Wrangell, you could also say this is an island lifeline of sorts for a good many people living in the area. Wrangell is located in the southern, “Inside Passage” part of Alaska, not far from Juneau, and interestingly, Seattle is the number one destination for Alaska Airlines out of this airport, which operates 737 Classic aircraft. So, all you IXEG drivers just found a great new place to test your skills, because this is a fun one.
The runway is not quite short, but at 5000 feet it isn’t long, either. The airport is surrounded by mountains and the sea, however, which adds to the spice.
Of course, while RAVN (formerly ERA Alaska) doesn’t fly here, there’s no reason you can’t use your Beech 1900D.
But however you get here…
…once you hit the ramps you’re going to find a freeware file that’s every bit as good as most small payware files. And with HDR effects at MAX, this file simply shines.
All the buildings at the airport appear to be custom made for the project, and the textures are first class. Beyond that, the trees and grasses used lend an air of authenticity that is, again, unusual for a freeware file. Ramp detail is not overwhelming, but it usually isn’t at such a small airport. What there is looks authentic, and it provides another high-quality, immersive touch, too.
HDR lighting? Not so sure about that, but the ramps are decently lighted, though in summer there’s not much night to deal with this far north. Below…at four in the morning…and night just isn’t a factor.
There’s a turnaround at the end of the runway, but with a heavy load you’ll eat up almost all of this asphalt…so you might want to get an early start on your takeoff run…
Under IFR, this will be one tiger of an approach. With a G1000 and terrain features maybe less so, but there’s a reason why Alaska Airlines pilots get more heavy IFR time than any other pilots in the US.
All in all, if you fly southern Alaska this is a must have file.
Two more files to look at today, so let’s move on.
Going back to our Baltic Journey, look at the map above, bottom left, to EDDH Hamburg. Take off and head due east and we come to Gdansk, Poland, an airport included in the Polish Airports Vol.1 file we reviewed two weeks ago. After we left Poland we turned up at EVRA Riga, then went to Tallinn, but when we were digging through the Moscow files we ran across the airport in Kaliningrad, the Russian enclave between Poland and Latvia that is at the center of all kinds of mischief going on in eastern Europe these days. Anyway, without getting into the politics of the situation, the airport file is actually very good AND, as BalticAir flies there from Riga, we decided to add this to our Journey.
What you’ll find at this rather exotic destination is a nicely crafted airport file with well-executed textures, good ramp details, and decent night lighting. You can’t ask for more than that, and once again we’d say the team at X-Flight.SU has done an excellent job.
Fascinating history of this area, formerly the German territory known as East Prussia but ceded to Russia after the Second World War. One can see this becoming the flash point of some future aggression, but for now, the area is peaceful enough.
The main terminal is about as good as it gets for freeware, and the photo textures used are excellent. Framerates were okay, but we kept settings high to examine the textures.
Anyway, the airport is convenient to use on the Baltic route we developed, and if you want to use it the file can be found here. We highly recommend you check it out.
Rather than shoot my mouth off, I’m going to shut up and let the images talk for a while, but first…the basics. EFHK is a moderately large airport, with three long runways (two over 10,000 feet long) allowing nonstop worldwide service, from Asia to North America. Primary airlines are, of course, Finnair, with regionals and major European flag carriers well represented. That said, this is a major airport and it’s surprising AeroSOFT hasn’t made this one available for XP11.
But no matter – as that’s all ‘spilt milk’ now. What’s been developed in this file is startling, and startlingly good, if only because it’s obvious whoever made this airport is an Artist, with a capital A. But – and this is a big ‘but’ – you’ll need your graphic-rendering settings dialed up to see all there is to see. Take my word for it, though. It’s worth the effort.
Take a look…
You’ll find all the usual amenities at this airport, from multiple hotels to several air cargo facilities. There’s clutter on the ramps if you have objects at high or max settings, but little in the way of static aircraft – which will be good for WT users – but the main attraction here is the extravagant beauty of the main terminal, and the accuracy of the model. Its spectacular, and would be well worth adding to your collection for that reason alone, but added to the Baltic region, and all the various flying options here, this is a gem.
Again, you’ll find the file here. And once again, our thanks to the X-Flight.SU team for all they’re doing to get this region well developed in XP. Helsinki is a wonderful addition, and many thanks!
So, okay, one more and that’s it! I mentioned another airport in Finland, and you want this one, so let’s take a quick look around.
EFVA/Vaasa is located well north of Helsinki so makes a nice destination for an hour or so long flight, and when you get there you’re going to want to get and take a long look around. Why?
Well, because as small airports go, payware or freeware, this one is right up there with the best of them. Small details, many almost humorous, are tucked away in small corners, and everything you’d want for an airport this size is right out front for you to see. And at night? Special doesn’t even begin to describe what’s going on here because with HDR at MAX this one comes alive.
With all that detail under HDR lighting, everything simply “pops”.
Then…leave the ramps and walk out into the grass…stretch your legs…
What’s not visible here is the sheer effort it takes to get all this “grass” into a scenery file. Each clump has to be placed, and from what I can see the developer spent days getting the grass perfect. Then…examine the edges of the taxiways, the grass between runways and taxiways…the path out to the VOR antenna, because it’s all perfect. This is as close to a photo-real scenery as I’ve seen in a freeware file…in other words, this file is payware quality. And a perfect addition to our Baltic loop.
Again, the file is located here.
Okay, that’s it. No more, I promise!
So, next post we’ll look at both payware and freeware airports on the American West Coast, so grab your boogie boards and join us on the waves, as we’ll be California Dreamin’ all the way to Seattle.
As always, thanks for coming along, and we’ll see you again soon. – C