It’s been a long time comin’…
There’ve been a few KSNAs in X-plane over the years, none very good, though we have had one FsX conversion that showed up once that wasn’t exactly bad. Well, that state of affairs is all over now. Those of us who’ve held our breath and stomped our feet have finally got a file worth the wait.
First, a few odds and ends about the airport, and the area, maybe worth knowing.
In the image below, numbered from 1,2…9 from left to right, we have: Doris Day’s house; John Wayne’s old place, Linda Isle (Bruce), the Newport Peninsula, Balboa Island, KSNA, Little Balboa Island, UCIrvine, and the Newport Jetty.
So…why’s this airport named after John Wayne? Yeah, he lived here during most of his adult, ‘movie-star’ life…but so too did Doris Day. Why isn’t KSNA called Doris Day airport?
Well, KSNA got its name from being, kind-of-sort-of, in Santa Ana, California. That accounts for the SNA part of the name, anyway, but that’s only the beginning of this tale.
While most all the rest of California is a liberal, well, let’s just say it’s a very progressive state, you just can’t say that about one county in California. It’s called Orange County, or just The OC, and The OC is Red. As in: conservative Red – and the epicenter of The OC is Newport Beach. When people gripe about the 1% and wealth inequality and all that blather, the people they’re hating-on live in Newport Beach, because there’s more wealth in Newport that just about any other city in the US. That’s one reason why KSNA is so busy, and so big, but we still haven’t answered the John Wayne part of the question, have we.
Well, unless you’re of a certain age (ahem, cough-cough) or lived in Newport while The Duke was alive (ahem, cough-cough), you probably don’t recall him riding around Newport Beach in a specially modified station wagon, standing up through an oversized sunroof, waving at everyone – with that huge, oyster-colored Stetson he wore in most of his movies… It’s probably fair to say the people who lived between the Balboa Bay Club and Promontory Point loved him about as much as The Duke loved America, although, in truth, a lot of his immediate neighbors disliked the crowds that gathered hoping to snatch a glance of him. There was some bad blood, but that’s all water under the bridge now, right Bruce?
Anyway, to the people in Newport Beach, John Wayne epitomized America, and he personified the Ideal American: tough, resolute, and an uncompromising approach to personal responsibility – and the duties of manhood. Hence, after he passed they changed the name…
Okay. Got it?
So, back in the late-60s (ahem, cough-cough), KSNA was home to Air California (aka Air Cal), which flew a bunch of second-hand Lockheed Electras, and mainly up to SFO and Sacramento, the capital (thanks, Dennis). When Boeing came out with their brand new 737, new start-ups Southwest and Air Cal jumped all over the new model, and Air Cal started aggressively pricing their KSNA to KSFO route, with weekend faires often as low as $9.99 – each way. Well, it’s a five hour + drive from The OC to the Bay Area (also each way) so lot’s of people did the math and figured it was cheaper to fly, and then folks discovered they saved a helluva lot of time, too. Well, Air Cal went from a sleepy little airline to the big time – until American bought them out, anyway – and, in the process, Air Cal turned KSNA from a sleepy little GA airport (there was a passenger terminal there way back when, of sorts, but a 7-11 convenience store was probably bigger) into what we now have in Skyline Simulations new KSNA file for XP 11.
Well, let’s get down to it: the file released earlier this morning (as in: 22 Dec. 2017) and Laminar released a new update about the same time, so when I installed this file and opened XP, XP asked if I wanted to upgrade and, yup, like an idiot I clicked ‘yup’ – and then, when I opened XP, and this is what I saw.
This is NOT what KSNA looks like, folks. This is what it looks like when KSNA loads, and then a Lego-brick auto-gen airport loads too. It almost looks, well, plausible, doesn’t it? I almost thought so too, then I looked at my FPS and, well, then I flat-freaked out.
I was getting 1.8 FPS.
I was not happy.
I looked at the main terminal building and shook my head.
“No,” says I, “it don’t look like that. Not one little bit.” I went into Google and double checked. “Nope, even Google says it don’t look nuthin’ like that. Not one little bit.”
I opened Custom Scenery and saw that nasty little bugger sittin’ there. Yeah. Global Airports. You know the one, right? The one that forces all kinds of load order shenanigans. Yeah, I tossed that one where I always toss that one, then reopened XP.
Okay, second mistake: I had all settings at MAX. I also had a total scenery load of 12,000Mb, and was still running in the sub-5FPS range. The install manual advises they’ve enclosed a file to help with low-end systems, but my little Mac has been handling files like KLAX and EDDF with not too much trouble, so I reset all rendering options to what you see below and tried again.
Success! Back to 40FPS, so I increased rendering settings until I had good graphics rendering and, more importantly, enough objects to make the airport area look somewhat realistic. For anything in the Los Angeles basin, including OC, to look somewhat reasonable, Objects needs to set to MAX. Actually, it needs to be at MAX plus 5, but as there’s no +5 we just have to make do, don’t we? Anyway, I found a sweet spot and had FPS in the high-20s, so let’s see what it looked like.
“Visual Effects” just NEEDS to be a MAX in order to get nice HDR effects, and that cost me a few more FPS too, but the results are worth it – at night. Just a little right of center in the image below is the atrium at the center of the terminal, and that’s where a lot of the action is taking place in this file (nice drop in FPS when the FOV points this way), so, what’s going on?
Well, looking at it you can see there’s an interior in there, not just a simple faux-interior texture, because I can see seating and more…
Yup. Like at Icarus’ KSAN San Diego, a food court arrangement. I get it: it just wouldn’t be an American airport without a few dozen fast-food emporiums, right? Except as flying moves more and more away from the realm the other 99% can afford, the move is towards sit-down restaurants in airports, not fast food.
Yeah, this works; yeah, I get it. Americans are fat and eat too much junk food. Let’s try something new next time, fellas. A quick trip through an American airport these days will show you this view of “reality” is long gone. These days you get a sit-down restaurant with linen-tablecloth, Eggs Benedict for breakfast and steaks at night. Everything else is Starbucks and Cinnabon, and maybe a Barnes & Noble Bookstore. Fast Food IS O.U.T., unless you’re in Jersey.
At the north end of the main terminal building, hard by I-405, are RJ Gates 1a-b-c, and you’ll find more transparent glass and seating visible inside. Nice touch.
The first thing to recall about KSNA? This has always been, primarily, a GA airport, and was until quite recently…hence the small tower. In the background, below, a few of the buildings in the area behind the tower, which has been a business park with small office/warehouse-style facilities since the early 70s.
GA facilities are still where they’ve always been…the south end of the airport, on both sides of the runway. Back in the day, there was a huge GA ramp up where the RJs are now. That’s all gone, obviously, and I wonder how much longer the other GA areas will remain…?
This south end has been home to aviation museums and maintenance facilities, but it looks cleaned up in this file.
With much fancier hangers on the west side (below) than in years past.
Speaking of movies, Frank Tallman kept most of his collection at SNA over the years, and he flew in many WWII era movies, and more than one screwball comedy, such as this scene, from It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, World…
Look at the image below. At the light reflecting off the curved roof. Is that PBR, or what?
Then, look at the lights reflecting off the black asphalt on the runway. You have to be a real texture freak to get this, but man, do I get this. Real artistry here, guys.
Another transparent section down here at the south end of the main terminal, and lots of good parking detail, too.
Oh yes, there’s a FedEX air cargo ramp down at this end, too.
Overall, the night works as well as day here, and that’s much appreciated.
Now, let’s look at that little E-jet.
We reviewed the new SSG E-195 a few days ago, and as we picked up the E-170/E-195 Evolution package we decided to use the -170 for a quick hop up to LAX today, for this review…and, as there were a few other files we wanted to check out in the area, we went low and slow (about 7000AGL and 225KIAS).
Above, the ramps at SNA. In the image below you can make out KSNA above the E-170, and the circular, grassy area off to the left side of the image is what was once the El Toro Marine Corps Air Base, a huge helicopter training facility. There are two airship hangers at El Toro included in both the KSNA file and the OC file (this is the Skyline file’s hangers), and they make nice VFR reporting landmarks. You can just see them in the first image. (They’re huge buildings, designed for massive airships.) In the next two they are both enlarged due to a telephoto effect.
Anyway…here we go…
In the image (above) we’re flying north along I-5, not quite a minute after leaving KSNA. If you do too you’ll come to this odd looking white thing, seen here off the right wingtip. You will, I might add – if you have this file loaded. That’s the Matterhorn ride, at Disneyland. A few other buildings in the park, such as the Main Street train station, are visible from up here (at 7000AGL), but this is not a detailed Disneyland file. A bunch of LA landmark files were released a few days ago, and I installed them all – except for the file surrounding LAX (scenery conflicts, I think, kept me from doing so). But, as an option, you can just install this file, which adds all the landmarks from all over the LA Basin to your XP scenery folder. Again, these are each available as a separate download, and you might think about the performance consequences of loading them all in one big file.
Here, seen above, are many of them, stretching from downtown LA all the way out to the Malibu – Santa Monica area. Below, the Century City area, and I’ve added two pointers. The green pointer indicates LAX, the red arrow points to the building used as Nakatomi Tower in the movie Die Hard. There IS a heliport on top.
Below, and the E170 is out over the water now, and we’re looking back at all those dark gray buildings – and I think all those are from the landmarks package. Oh, I did NOT find the Tommy Burger shack down on Beverly Blvd, BTW.
Now, a few more notes from our first brief flight in the E-170.
Wing detail seems very, very good on this file.
With leading edge detail on par with the best out there.
And note the trim scale on the fuselage (below):
The APU area is fully detailed, and the inner edges of the passenger doors are textured on this model. Very nice!
As on the -195, landing gear and nacelles are correct, with well-executed textures and excellent fan blade detail.
Engine, engine pylon, and reverser details look excellent.
Correct triple-slotted Fowler flaps are completely modeled, and there are hydraulic tubing details, not simple textures, inside the wing, visible when the spoilers deploy. Big time excellence here…
Night panel? Same issue here I had with the -195. The panel is almost black unless dome lighting is used. Here, dome lighting is on.
There’s a much better selection of liveries included, or available, with this .acf than for the -195, including:
Beyond that, I was impressed with the accuracy of this detail on the nose: pitot tubes and AoA sensors. When you look at these, note the textures used. Fantastic. Again, real excellence.
So, let’s wrap-up these two.
First, Skyline’s KSNA is a winner, but this isn’t surprising. As Icarus, members of this team have been putting out some of the best files in X-plane, and their LEVC is one of our very favorite files. Details abound here, but the transparent window/interiors are a cut above what many other developers are doing. Runway textures are faultless, the reflections at night simply stunning. Ramp clutter and taxiway markings are well done, and the appearance of the terminal at night/twilight is without peer. Parking facilities look realistic, and the supporting area around the airport is thoughtfully well executed, many buildings off airport grounds include transparent windows and are well lighted at night – showing tons of detail inside – detail I’ve never seen other developers even attempt. I’d have liked to see the campus at UC Irvine included, and perhaps more boats down on Newport harbor. No big deal, however. Maybe next time. If there’s a downside, it’s the performance issue. You can’t use a file like this on an underpowered computer, but to get the most out of this file you’ll need a real powerhouse. The additional file for low-spec units is a nice touch.
The SSG E-170 seems to be an even smoother operator than it’s big brother. I didn’t use the autopilot once in two hours of flying around LA, and this wasn’t a chore. Using trim and throttle it’s easy to balance this .acf into just about any normal flight regime…it just stays there – and that’s remarkable – and remarkably fun. Very few files in XP achieve this combination of stability and realism…the IXEG 733 does, however, so the guys at SSG are in good company. Details are getting to be top-notch in this series, and yet framerate performance isn’t bad…indeed, it’s really quite good. My only concern remains the night panel. It’s too dark without resorting to storm/dome lighting.
Bottom line? We have no problem recommending both of these files. KSNA fits into our West Coast Regional Network, and so too, obviously, does SSGs little E-jet. We think you’ll enjoy using both of them.
As always, thanks for reading along. We’ll see you next time.