Commercial aviation into and out of Los Angeles, Southern California’s mega-megapolis, is dominated by Los Angeles International Airport, and it’s been that way for more than fifty years. Hard to imagine, but this wasn’t always the case; Hollywood/Burbank held that position for a while, from before WWII well into the 1950s. Today, LAX has come to define both the good and the bad about L.A.; with its massive scale and interesting architecture crashing head-on into the reality of stupifying crowds and an often run-down appearance, with a lot of recent complaints, especially from people visiting the US for the first time. It’s not the easiest airport to get around, too, and changing terminals between flights can be a real nightmare – for the uninitiated. But…it’s the scale of the place that’s so daunting…
Air traffic around LAX can be daunting, too, and there’ve been more than a few midair collisions in the corridor between San Diego and LA; as a result, the airspace around LAX is tightly controlled, while VFR OPS are heavily restricted.
Getting to LAX from San Diego/KSAN is, of course, weather dependent – so let’s look at the low altitude chart from XP to gain some clarity:
When you get a flightplan for this leg – and with winds from the west – one of two routings will usually apply. The most likely, seen in blue above, will take you along the coast to the Oceanside VOR, then the Seal Beach VOR, and on a dedicated airway. The more direct routing is seen in green, and Heavies usually get this one. If the winds are from the east, as during Santa Ana conditions, the blue route often gets picked, only with an extended Downwind over the city before turning Base out over the Pacific. The other option is an offshore routing, with Leg One to Oceanside, Leg Two to Catalina Island, then runway routing from there. Once again, the overland routing is typical for RJs, the offshore route for Heavies.
We tend to think “Sunny Southern California” is the norm out there, but the winter months bring nasty storm systems with often brutal conditions aloft. Holding patterns are legendary here, too, with hours-long waits for a landing slot not unusual. At the other end of the extreme, Santa Ana winds – with their 60-80 knot gusts – frequently close LAX, though most often in autumn. Diversions to Las Vegas are common, as when these conditions hit the entire area can be affected. Note all the fires in the news recently? Well, the smoke can complicate operations, too.
Getting to LA is only half the battle, however. With routine operational delays and tight landing slots the norm, waits on the ramp for an open gate aren’t unusual. Typically not long, most waits are in the 10-15 minute range, but when the weather turns foul all bets are off.
We’re using the Funner Flight scenery from the Org store these days, as it’s well optimized and offers a staggering amount of detail in a framerate friendly package. This pack advertises offering “more than 750 animations!” and they ain’t kidding, either. The elevator up into the control tower is visible – and animated – and there are often dozens of airliners taxiing around the ramps…with no 3rd party plug-in needed. These taxiing jets are for decoration only and follow simple taxi routes; there are no take-offs or landings involved, and no ATC interaction…but for simple “eye-candy” it’s hard to beat what the developers have included here.
Of course, HDR lighting is almost magical here, and because the file has been so heavily optimized the framerate hit is negligible. We keep World Objects MAXed here, and HDR at high (but at night only) – and both the IXEG 733 and the E175 gave us no trouble…like framerates in the high-20s. Dialing up texture quality hurts some, but if you add “shadows on scenery” or “anti-aliasing,” well, Watch Out…as your framerates are going to tank. FYI, the full load here with settings MAXed is over 12Gb. Your GPU will be smoking before it catches fire, and our FPS dropped into the 0.3 range. As in: what’s the point? Yet…backing off just a little yields huge performance gains.
The odd thing about this file? You don’t really need great gobs of texture quality. Textures are simple enough that dialing up quality yields only modest improvement – until you get really close to an object, that is. Mid-range settings worked for us here, and we only add HDR after dark. We did this so we could keep World Objects (or, W.O.) at high or, preferably, MAX settings, because only then does LA begin to look like LA. In other words, packed to the rafters with people, houses, and cars – and because all the various skylines look great in XP11– but only with W.O. at MAX. As (below), note the Century City area, in the middle of the image…Accurate, and a nice VFR landmark, too…
And note the downtown area in the distance (about ten miles out). It looks great, too, but only with WO at MAX.
But also consider this: no matter where you are when flying over LA, you’re flying above millions of people.
Because there are almost twice as many people in California as there are in Canada, and most of ’em live in the greater L.A. area. Hence, all that – Control.
Also, consider these stats: last year LAX handled almost 81,000,000 (million) passengers. There are nine passenger terminals, 128 gates, and four parallel runways. Getting all this into a model for X-plane was a monumental task, and only possible due to recent advances in GPU/rendering hardware AND the advanced image processing capabilities built into XP. Not too many years ago the first payware LAX hit the market and our half gig GPUs had a collective heart attack – then ran for the hills. That what we now consider a “modest” computer can run this file is stunning.
Below, you’re looking at five concourses, everything from International to American, Delta, and United. In the background…tan-roofed maintenance hangers that once belonged to TWA – when Howard Hughes ran TWA.
Below, the new annex to the Tom Bradley International Terminal, which to my mind looks a little like breaking waves. Peeking inside this model, it almost looks like the developers started to finish it out – but I think they, wisely, chose not to.
And this is the terminal where the heavies hang out.
While the north side accommodates Southwest – and the many other, smaller carriers.
The control tower is a landmark structure, while the UFO-shaped restaurant – referred to as the “Theme Building” – has been refurbished a couple of times since it opened in the early 1960s.
The “spine” along the control tower is the glass elevator shaft that I mentioned; an elevator cycles up and down, night and day. Next, notice the parking garage? No simple textures on the outer walls, either…like those I griped about at ENBR Bergen.
No…you need to look closer…
No, closer still.
Yes, the ceilings are lighted. And note all those lights reflecting off auto windshields…?
Yes, just about everywhere you look you’ll run across surprising details…
Like fire escapes…
And oversized nuts securing Jetway piers…
And functioning docking aids, at every gate.
While taxiway markings are crisp and clear…but then again, that’s about the time you realize you’re not alone out there…
What you can’t see here is as interesting as what you are looking at.
So, following an Airbus A330, above, and off to the far right is a 747 taxiing, while another, this one a FedEx 747, is barely visible over the A330s right engine…but he’ll pass by in just a minute…
Yup, there he goes, off to our left.
Just another one of the “750 animations.” Yup, told ya. And there’s an American Eagle Saab340a back there, too! At the so-called Eagles Nest, where all the American Eagle RJs load and unload.
There are accurately placed airport hotels, as well as the famous colored light towers installed for the 2000 Democratic Convention.
And above, here are the same towers in daylight, looking towards the terminal building complex.
FInally, let’s look at a few other airports in the region, ones you might want to get in your Custom Scenery folder. The first airport is ancient in XP, too. There’ve been versions around since v.8, I believe, and the first file I downloaded was one of the first MsFS conversions in XP. It was a groundbreaking file – ten years ago – but I was looking at this latest version recently and it’s keeping up with all the changes in XP11. Or…maybe XP11 is catching up – to it!
Anyway, let’s head out to Palm Springs.
To KPSP Palm Springs International. And YES, this one fits in nicely with our regional training plan, as this airport is noted for RJ flights all around the southwest – and then some.
This latest version is extremely well-executed, with great lighting, good placement of ground support vehicles, and interesting new buildings around the perimeter.
But, like the original MsFS conversion, this file simply comes alive at night, and under HDR lighting it looks fantastic…
Like I said, this one has been a favorite for years. When we first reviewed JRollon’s Jetstream32 we worked out of here to our own KMMH Mammoth Yosemite – and that was a LONG time ago…!
I still consider this a MUST HAVE file for all operations around Southern California.
Now, just released yesterday, a small California airport, just north of LA.
This is L05 Kern Valley Airport, located 125 miles due north of KLAX. I was looking for a small, out-of-the-way place to test the G1000 in the new, default C172, and I’m testing it against the unit in the Thranda Kodiak. Anyway, this is a cute little airport, well detailed and worth having on hand for a rainy day GA session.
Good ramp detail, appropriate static ac, even a handy diner for a nice, light chicken-fried steak.
Not to mention the fly-in picnic area at the north end of the airport, far from the madding crowds…
I’d be willing to bet you’re as tired of reading right about now as I am tired of writing, so I’ll sign off and pick up next time with the NAV routing from LAX to SFO. Seeya then. – A