Here we have another one of those “special” files, folks, a very new, very specialized file from Rim & Co., who also developed the Ayer’s Rock/Connellan file. The current file is – almost – all about the underlying orthos – or, at least at first glance that appears to be the case – but scratch the surface a little, dig a little deeper, and what you’ll find on this tiny island in the mid-Atlantic is really interesting, and quite out of the ordinary.
When considering this file, one issue that immediately comes to mind is location, as the island of St Helena is one of the first hurdles you’ll have to jump before you pull the trigger on this purchase. Let’s take a closer look at that issue now, maybe help put this location into some context before you shake your head and sign off – because there are options available for use in Xp you might not have thought of.
First up, above, the island in GoogleEarth-Pro. It is, all told, only 47 square miles in size. Note that the City of San Francisco, California (just the city, mind you, not the peninsula) is 49 square miles, and also note: see the airport on the east side of the island? The runway, which is not particularly long, takes up a fair proportion of the east coast.
Next, Ascension Island is the closest landmass of any size to St Helena (and this is a much SMALLER island, folks), and at over 800 miles distant it’s not exactly close, either. So, consider this: there are NO alternate airports when flying from Namibia, which all traffic uses to-and-from St Helena uses. So, Namibia connects St Helena to the “outside world,” and “Why?” – you ask. Well, take a look at some of the other distances involved…
It’s 2500nmi to the Cape Verdes, and 3100 miles to the Canaries, and then a further 1850 miles on to Heathrow, yet it’s only 1580 miles to Windhoek, Namibia’s Hosea Kutako International Airport (FYWH – and yes, there IS a file over at xpfr, but it was released for Xp version 8 and it was rather rudimentary even by those standards, but then, there IS a Global Airports Lego-brick airport here too, but, well, you know how those things look) – so somebody…care to make some additions to the Lego-brick file, because we’ll need a decent FYWH to take full advantage of this new file. The other thing we’ll need is a South African Airlink livery for the Embraer E-195, because this will soon be the only bird making the run.
So, what are they using now?
The Avro Rj85, and SA Airlink is one of the last carriers using this aircraft. And yes, there’s a brilliant .acf for Xp11, available from the Avroliner Project – and we’ve been enjoying this constantly updated file for years. A 3D cockpit was introduced back in v10, and now there are three freshly updated RJs offering Xp11 compliance. If you’ve never used one of these files, they’re wonderful fliers and have decent STOL capabilities built-in right out of the box. Again, what there isn’t is an SA Airlink livery. Okay, Andreas, get out your paintbrush, would you? I can only hide the bare-white paint on this bird for just so-o-o long!
Of course, there’s another possibility: UPS, DHL, or FedEx. Getting hi-tech spares here from either the US or Europe could be accomplished via one of these carriers, no? The logistics of the flight would be interesting to work out, though.
So, without resorting to flying a Carenado single on sight-seeing runs around the island, we already have three perfectly realistic, perfectly viable commercial runs to and from the island – and these despite St Helena’s extremely remote setting. And I’d imagine there will be charters operating to-and-from the island soon, as this airport only went fully operational in October of this year – as in 2017!
Yes, because FHSH is THE NEWEST AIRPORT IN THE WORLD, and it’s ILS equipment is too. All of which gets us to an examination of why this airport file is billed as having “neck-breaking approaches.”
And, well, consider one more thing…there is another type of flying available here – which you definitely don’t want to rule out. More on that in a bit.
The Impositional Realities of Geography
As you approach the airport on St Helena, the first thing that hits you is its geographic isolation. Next? The apparent volcanic origins of the island. The runway is almost surrounded by cliffs. Very tall cliffs…like a thousand feet above the breaking waves below. Cliffs, then…so the airport is perched on the edge of the sea.
And as an aviator, this means one thing to you, and one thing only: wind shear.
Yet, these cliffs are surrounded by even more geologic upwellings – inland. And these undulating terrestrial formations play further havoc with the airflow around the airport.
So, as you make your approach you’ve got incoming sea air meeting cliffs, this air then zooming up a variety of rock faces and THEN mixing with other airflows streaming down from mountains that line the inland side of the airport. Got that?
All these geologic realities turn the skies around FHSH into the aeronautical equivalent of a washing machine, on spin cycle. How well will Xp emulate this chaotic mini-environment? Set Xp’s weather to generate a little chaos and find out…but it can get messy in a hurry.
We tried a few settings and got bumped around a little bit. You get kind of busy with crosswinds dialed up to 25-knot gusts, yet this is just one more reason why air carriers are having such a difficult time working out of this airport. First big thing to consider, with no practical “alternate” available – under any conditions – the capricious winds may force a landing from downwind.
Got that…? Not “into the wind” – but “downwind.”
So, an Embraer 195 can carry 99 passengers, yet the SA Airlink model will only carry 76 passengers on this run. Why? So they can land safely – from downwind. Because this is such a new facility, equipped with the latest instrument landing NavAIDS, the possibility of turning back with sufficient fuel to make a return to Windhoek is further reduced. So, you HAVE TO LAND, no matter what the conditions.
You ought to be, at least if using Xp to explore the world even a little appeals to you. This airport just offers some extreme challenges…that’s all.
Rim & Co, the developers of this file, opted to cover the entire island with an ortho-mesh. With all default auto-gen thus blanketed, they’ve had to come in and hand-place objects on the underlying texture in order to create plausible recreations of the settlements around the island. The largest such “village” is on the north side of the island, on the far side of the island from the airport – yet only a few miles away. It’s called Jamestown, and though the settlement is small, it’s setting is kind of spectacular.
You’ll have to get down low and slow in order to see what Rim & Co have done with the roads down there, but let’s just say they have NOT resorted to letting Xp’s auto-gen muck up the proceedings.
Below, an image of the real village. Note: roads are chiseled into pure rock faces in some places. Surfing safari, anyone? Climbing? Para-sailing? Huey driving…?
Turn inland over the little rocky beach and head up the valley behind Jamestown to the ridge overlooking both sides of the island – and you’ll run across the second major settlement on the island, called Longwood – and remember that name. The road to the airport from Jamestown passes through this village, and take a close look at the road itself – as again, this is not your typical X-plane artwork (see the second image, below). We saw this level of detail at KAWO Arlington Municipal in our last review, and it’s great to see more developers embracing this type and level of detail. It’s this sort of mental imagery that creates the most dramatic effect for many of us, imagery that helps develop the immersive nature of any given scenery file, and Rim & Co have certainly succeeded here.
Getting back to the airport, you’ll note it’s not a large affair, but with minimal traffic there’s simply no need. Elevation is 1013 feet MSL. One runway, 02/20, 1950 x 45m (aerodrome chart here), two primary ILS charts, one for each, (located here, and here), the lighted concrete runway and single, unlighted taxiway look brand new, as, indeed, they should. I’d like to see runway edge lighting, as well as taxiway lighting, but I have no way of knowing if that’s what’s on the ground or not, as I see no references to such on the chart. As it is, take great care exiting the runway after dark (note position in the image, below – turn when perpendicular to the main terminal entry). The single taxiway leads directly to the main terminal entrance.
Below, here’s an image of a BA 738 on the real ramp – after completing airport evaluations last year prior to opening the airport for service. Britain still considers St Helena a principle Overseas Territory, so built the airport to help foster more economic activity on the island. They have built a truly magnificent facility, and we think you’ll see that’s been captured in this file.
The file’s main terminal building appears to be a faithful reproduction of the real facility, right down to the materials used and the colors on display. There’s a bit of difference on the entry facade, but not much. In short, the model is 99.9% perfect.
There are animated flags and some OpenScenery X assets on the ramps to lend clutter, and a parking lot on the passenger entry side that looks perfect.
The main terminal building is layered with photo-textured surfaces and windows; these textures are convincing even under close inspection, while ramp lighting at night is as good as any I’ve ever seen.
The ground vehicles and emergency equipment are utterly convincing. No smeary textured cars or trucks, and many vehicles are animated – often seen scurrying about the facility and creating another layer of immersion.
There are turnaround areas at each end of the runway, and both REIL (runway end identifier lights) and HIRL (high-intensity runway lights), but only runway centerline lighting.
The three floodlight towers create a perfect night ramp area, with almost full coverage and an even falloff of light. With no dark pools of light anywhere on the apron, this is perfectly executed artwork.
As you can see below, all ramp/apron areas receive light, while the automobile parking lot is fairly dark. I’d say the passenger entry area is a little too dark, but I doubt you’ll ever notice that from the cockpit. Oh, the bright light off to the left, beyond the tower, is the local gendarmerie in their As-350.
In this image of the tower, below, note a couple of things. First, it’s night. Second, the tower is lit by spillover light from the three floodlight towers. To me, this screams realism, as too many ramp-side buildings in Xp look way too dark. Oh, there go the gendarmes again. They do love that flutterbug, as you’ll see them flying all around the island.
I wanted to come back to this image again (below) and point out something regarding the quality of the textures generally, and the window textures more specifically. If you get this file and turn HDR and textures up to MAX levels, go take a look at the three white windows under the control tower. Next, count the number of slats in the mini-blinds. Then…ask yourself this: how many files can you do that with, in X-plane? I was simply blown away by the quality of the textures on this structure.
So, let’s wrap this one up now.
What we have is a very modestly priced payware scenery file that is reasonably divided between developing an accurate representation of the airport facility on St Helena AND presenting the entire island in high-res orthographic detail. We’d say this file succeeds, and quite well, in both regards.
If, for some reason, you end up with a scenery that looks like this:
…you’re looking at stock X-plane auto-gen. This will happen as a result of not getting the two separate ortho (separate download) files installed properly, or by simply not getting them at all. These orthos were not a part of the main download, at least not as of this writing, and require that you download the two (free) files from the third party site referenced in the installation instructions. After downloading them you’ll need to get them into your custom scenery folder. If you end up with only the orthos showing (and no scenery elements, like terminal buildings), you’ll need to read this brief document on scenery load order.
If you get something that looks like this:
Go to settings, and make sure “Runway follows terrain contours” is checked, then restart Xp.
Oh Yes, What About Napoleon?
Ah yes, Napoleon. Well, read on.
After Napoleon’s brief exile to Elba in 1815, he once again formed an army and attempted to restore his rule; this led to Waterloo and all that hooey, and, in the end, to his permanent exile on the island of St Helena. He spent his last years in the house above, called the Longwood House, which is located in the ridgeside settlement atop the island, in the settlement called – Longwood. He passed away his last years here, on the island, in this house, which in no small measure is why so many people still visit.
So…should you consider this file?
We’d say yes, if only because of the quality of the airport file, which is excellent. When you add the ultra-detailed ortho and all of the details added to the island’s principal settlements, this file becomes much more interesting than what’s rendered by X-plane – and more than the sum of its parts. But you’ll need to think about what you’ll do once you open up in Xp, because the immediate options are somewhat limited.
You can, as we’ve mentioned, just hop in a Piper and have fun doing some sightseeing in a GA single or twin. You can put yourself in an Embraer E-195 or Rj85 and fly to Windhoek and on to Cape Town, or you could load up a 737 or 757 freighter and hop to the Canary Islands for fuel and a quart of coffee. From there, your options are very nearly limitless, but consider what you want to do first, then make a plan and carry it out.
Because, unless you opt for the sightseeing option, this is NOT a spur of the moment file. In “real life” this is flying so far off the beaten path that even the slightest mistake can have dire consequences. Too much weight, too little fuel? You ditch. Weather deteriorates below minimums en route? You’ve got a tough approach, maybe tougher than anything you’ve ever tried before – and – can you handle it? Wind shear? If you dial up METARs in Xp and get real conditions set, and do so with an approaching storm system loaded, you may find yourself on a real roller coaster ride. Again, can you handle it?
Important questions for “students” of aviation? Perhaps. Maybe important for anyone taking these matters seriously. Maybe important if you just like taking the road less traveled…?
Anyway, once you get on the ground you’ll find a first-class facility, and we suspect you’ll be glad to “be there.” In short, we think you’ll enjoy this file for the challenges it offers, as well as the scenic beauty that surrounds you. Again, it’s a question of all this being more than the sum of its parts…
So, two final observations. We’ve made the case for GA sightseeing as well as limited commercial activity here. Limited due to the meteorological interaction with local geographic features – and distance.
We set up a few scenarios with heavy crosswinds and can verify you’ll be in for some real fun. Try 25-30 knot crosswinds that hit the formations at the end of the runway…then fun…becomes a relative term…
It’s not impossible, but it is a challenge.
Also, SSG’s E-195, with it deployable air-stairs, will be a must-have file here, too. With the appropriate livery, anyway.
Now, one last thing to consider before we sign off.
Flutterbugs – aka Helicopters.
This file seems as if it was made with flutterbugs in mind.
First, there are a couple of landing facilities worth trying…at the main airport, and at a local construction site. One could, I suppose, make the case for adding another landing site at the island’s hospital? Please?
But the two already there are not without challenges of their own.
Next, the nature of this ortho scenery, set among mountains and valleys, is visually gorgeous in use – yet, while being visually interesting it offers a few other challenges for flutterbugs. Wind comes to mind, as in – wind shear. Steep terrain is another. Lots of box canyons and sheer cliffs to duck in and out of will keep you interested.
Flying among the various settlements is a fun mini-challenge too. Again, the narrow canyon walls add an extra dimension to your flying here.
As, perhaps, the terrain will test your flying skills – and attention span.
In the end, it’s probably the terrain that energized us most. It’s just more fun flying in areas that look this good.
And, once again, you’ll end up at a first-class facility.
Ready for the next time, I reckon.
So, with your purchase you’ll download an airport scenery file; you’ll also then need to download orthos from the provided links. These are 300+Mb and 1.1Gb, compressed files. Once loaded, we kept settings in mid-ranges until we were sure which aircraft files were going to give us trouble (none did, by the way), and we ran with these settings and got 30-40 fps most of the time. It seems to take forever for such huge files to load, but once in the system, they don’t bog down Xp. Using the EADT x-737-7 we were getting 40+FPS, which was astonishing for such large files. Generally speaking, increasing texture quality increases textures on these orthos, but not so much I’d recommend higher settings all the time. Below, textures at MAX:
And, it’ll be FUN in all your flutterbugs, too.
We’ll enjoy seeing more from this developer. That said, thanks for dropping by. We’ll see you again soon.