The flight corridor between LAX and SFO is one of the most heavily traveled in the world, and more than a few airlines got their start flying between the LA area and San Francisco. Most notable among these were Air California, or Air Cal, which started up at KSNA/Orange County/John Wayne in late 1967, and eventually folded into American’s route network after their post-1987 merger.
PSA, or Pacific Southwest was another So-cal start-up, and PSA’s economic model was used by the founders of Southwest to start the whole “low-cost” thing, so, in a way, PSA is ground zero for a lot of airlines that have followed since.
Air Cal, PSA, and Southwest are contemporaries, and Air Cal flew a similar type of route structure, in the beginning, entirely within California, just as Southwest did out of Dallas Love Field.
I bring all this up because when you think of the air corridor between southern to northern California, you need to think in terms of multiple airports in both regions, and do so in the framework of a massive commuter network. Back when Air Cal and PSA were competing with the majors, airfare wars were a way of life – until the first oil embargo of 1973, anyway. Billboards popped up advertising ten dollar one-way fares between LA & SF, and even PanAm got in on the action. They had a flight from Paris to LA that stopped at SFO both ways, and to fill empty seats you could hop on their 747 service…for the 45-minute flight! Ten bucks, too.
LA airports can be divided into five loading zones, with these five zones defined by the airports that serve them. LAX serves the West LA/Beverly Hills area (and most international service), while Ontario Airport covers east LA out to Pasadena. Long Beach serves the South Bay region, while Bob Hope/Burbank handles the San Fernando Valley. That leaves John Wayne to handle Orange County, but Wayne-Orange County is arguably the most important airport in the universe (because it is, after all, just a few miles from DISNEYLAND). That said, I can’t wait for KSNA to release in XP…but for now, for purposes of this review, we’ll stick with LAX to…oh yes…where are we headed?
Ah, yes. Northern California, because SFO isn’t the only player in that region, either, as both Oakland and San Jose have major airports serving the Bay Area. The immediate problem for us? Neither of those airports is represented in X-plane with an up-to-date scenery file, so that leaves us with MrX’s KSFO…arguably one of the best, if not the best freeware airport in X-plane.
Getting from LA to SFO, despite the crowded nature of the air corridor, is simplicity itself. About 95% of the time LA experiences onshore winds, meaning the wind is out of the west and blowing right down runways 24/25 – at a pleasant 10 or so knots. Almost all northbound traffic turns for the Ventura VOR as soon as the wheels are up, but routing splits to a couple of airways after that. The vast majority of northbound traffic to SFO lands on runways 28L/R (again, because of prevailing onshore winds), and so the northbound corridor funnels traffic into the region over KSJC San Jose. If the weather is snotty this is where holding patterns begin, but clear skies are the norm over the south bay. It’s just 30 miles from SJC to SFO, too, so about the time you get to San Jose you’re configuring to land.
One other consideration here that ought never be far from mind: Mountains. Lots of altitude restrictions due to mountainous terrain, so this isn’t the place to wing-it in X-plane.
Another idea you should keep in mind going forward. KSFO makes an excellent base of operations if you plan to fly heavies in XP. Long-haul OPS to KJFK, KATL, KDFW, and KBOS are the norm, but RJ service to places like Reno and South Lake Tahoe, and, yes, Idaho Falls, will add to the fun, and you’ll soon figure out it’s the range of options within California that will keep you busy in XP. Oh yes, there are about as many international flag carriers at SFO as domestic, and A340/A380 service to Europe, Oceania, and Asia is always an option.
I mention this notion of basing out of just one airport for a reason. It’s good to develop basic skills at one airport when just starting out. Knowing where things are, and at what altitude you need to be when you get there, is a basic skill, and it’s easier to develop this skill at one airport. My favorite, BTW, is LFLL Lyon, because there are great geographical reference points in the area, but SFO would come in a close second.
So, let’s take a look at MrXs KSFO.
The first time I opened this file, well, let’s just say my reaction was “shocked.” As in “there’s no way this is a free file!”
In the first place, this is a really, really accurate representation of the SFO. Next, it’s not a real bruiser in terms of performance…there’s a lot modeled here and the FPS hit isn’t too bad. Last thing to add to your list of why you’ll love this one?
Well, it adds a mesh and MrX included many of the most observable landmarks in the area. So, for instance, in the image above you can see Candlestick Park in the lower left, and if you know where to look, the Transamerica Pyramid as well as Coit Tower. Pier 39 is there, and so is Alcatraz – but this is not a complete list…
…because…there’s this landmark, too…and still…there’s more…but I’m running out of ink.
Though I’ve already mentioned that the approach to runway 28 is the norm, Northern California gets it’s own version of the notorious Santa Ana winds, though they’re known locally as the Diablo. These were responsible for the horrific fires in the Napa/Sanoma area last October, and when these winds blow, usually from late August through early December, you’ll typically land on runway 10L/R…as below…
This brings you in over Hillsborough, and noise abatement protocols are often in place. Why? Well, Hillsborough is the local version of Beverly Hills, and, well, you get the point, right?
10Left is the longer runway, and there is an RNAV approach available.
But it doesn’t matter how you approach this airport file, it’s been realized with extraordinary care – and attention to detail. I said as much to myself the first time I used the file, when I saw this:
Grooved pavement on the tarmac. Access plate mounted on the pavement. SFO airport logos on the barricades. Ramp markings bright…yet weathered. Then…everywhere you look…
…clutter. Chaos. Movement. And all of it looking very accurate, very detailed, too. So many developers end up using ground assets that are of really poor quality…boxy, smeary things that look awful. Not here, because it seems MrX has developed his own scenery library, too. Smart move. Don’t depend on someone else’s tertiary assets, particularly when that stuff is garbage. Make your own, and make them better than anyone has before. That’s a winning formula and, I might add…a winner’s formula.
The clutter really looks good on the ramps at night (headlights, taillights…lots of motion), but if there’s one fault in this scenery file it’s seen at night. The ramps are a little too dark. Even with HDR rendering at MAX (note the red and green light cast on the pavement by all those position lights?), it’s simply a little too dark, or a little too uniformly lit. These areas need pools of brighter light…because in the real world people are out there working on those ramps, and people need light to see…
Compare this image with the similar one above. Note the small changes when landing & taxi lights from the 733 hit the vehicles and ramps? Subtle, but there. Only with HDR, though.
You can really tell a difference on these ramps when the aircraft’s lights hit the building, too, and these lights make all the difference. Look at all the vehicles parked out there!
Textures? Well, I don’t know where to begin.
Smooth. Subtle. But…look at the windows in the image above. Those aren’t quite simple “window” textures. No, you need to look closer – then you can see what’s really going on here…
By this point we ought to be down on our knees praying to MrX…because somehow he’s figured out how to get a simple textured interior in place – without killing framerates. And the thing is, these interiors aren’t “in your face.” They don’t stand out…you almost have to go looking for them. Maybe more transparency on the “glass” would help make these elements stand out more, but as it is they work for me.
So, consider that SFO is a big airport, and there needs to be more details scattered about the perimeter, and MrX delivered. Everywhere you look, as a matter of fact. For instance:
There’s an inter-terminal train, the cars seen in blue, above, and they’re operational, roaming along an elevated rail line between the terminals. And the main entry pavilion, above, is nicely modeled, too. Ditto, area roadways that feed into the parking buildings. And the trees…and on and on and…
Including the old TWA maintenance hanger above, and the lettered tank farms.
The massive UAL maintenance base is here, too, as well as a business aviation FBO. Multiple air cargo facilities…and on and on and on…it’s all modeled, all useable.
But the most important thing of all? After you land and start to taxi for your gate it just looks and feels right. It works…to make the experience of SFO in XP a little more immersive. Again, the only negative, and this is probably a subjective thing, is the darkness on the ramps. Maybe it’s simply a matter of upgrading to full XP11 compliant lighting, but whatever the issue, this is by far the best SFO in XP right now.
So, where to next?
North, of course, to Portland, Oregon, and this is a long slog better suited to the 757, but in keeping with the regional theme, we’ll do it in the 733. Oh, the route we’ll use takes us near some semi-active volcanoes – so anything could happen!
Anyway, thanks for coming along. Seeya next time.