I went off the reservation on Sunday and flew from Telluride to Aspen, with a diversion over the Reudi Reservoir and Upper Frying Pan River region, checking out the Hagerman’s Pass area for good measure, and I did so as it seemed like an opportune time to check out the differences between good orthos and AlpilotX’s v4UHD mesh. I think you’ll see why, too, in the images that follow.
I heard from Caroline at FlyDesign, one of the developers behind the gorgeous EPSY file we reviewed over the weekend; she advises one of the possible items they plan to include in a future update would be an animated train coming up to the airport’s platform.
Can you imagine? Cockpit window open, you hear a distant whistle…then a train pulls into the station and people appear on the platform? I can’t even begin to imagine how “off the charts” cool that would be. Well, anyway, this appears to be a development team to keep your eyes on, and considering the price of this file I hope you got it onboard. Flying the Saab 340a to Leipzig-Halle is a great one hour romp in X-plane, with the trip anchored by two great airports.
Now, on to the ortho vs v4UHD mesh comparison.
We now have two of the most colorful airports in the American West available for Xp11, and both payware files include seriously good looking ortho-imagery. The ortho file included with the KASE Aspen file is, however, not only seriously good, but seriously huge too, and covers far more than the area immediately around Aspen proper. With both these files loaded, and with the v4 UHD mesh onboard as well, I wondered what that part of Colorado would look like? Well, this is a short flight, and the differences are immediately on view, so join me now for a quick look around.
Below, on the taxiway to the active, with Telluride and the San Juans visible just ahead, in the near distance.
Take-off and turn NNE, then look to your right as you head towards Aspen; the line delineating ortho from mesh is clear. Grasslands show natural variation within the ortho, pine forests look like just that, and even rocky terrain above timberline exhibits a lot of variation. The mesh? Not so much variation shown, is there?
Below, approaching Aspen with Gunnison, CO well off to the right and Aspen’s ortho seen ahead, one observation is clear: stands of forest are too light-green colored on the mesh, and rocky areas above timberline are uniformly gray. In the second image, below, this rocky color is more starkly evident when right next to the ortho…
…but…the nature of an accurate solution is far more elusive than might seem obvious. The alpine layer seen in this ortho is good, to a degree, but in some areas the ortho has got too much red in the mix. If you were to look at similar mountains in the Canadian Rockies or the Dolomites, you’d realize the gray in the v4 mesh is more accurate – but only for those land-forms, anyway. If you look at the region just NE of here, between Leadville and Vail, Colorado, the mountains there are almost orange after a heavy rain…so how the devil do you make one product that accommodates all these regions?
Well, you can’t. Not with one product anyway, and with these mesh files, it feels like Laminar and AlpilotX are sticking to a losing paradigm.
The only possible solution is to use orthos, at least if you want the utmost in realism. And now that Google has turned their imagery loose, made it royalty free? What’s next? Who’s going to take the next, most obvious step – to turning Google’s imagery loose in a full featured flight simulator?
In the image below, this is Reudi Reservoir, in the next valley north of Aspen; notice the earthen dam? Even the color is right in this ortho. I’ve lived in and hiked these mountains half my life and I know them well; what’s captured here could easily be a photograph taken of the lake taken from a Baron, and I can identify Jeep trails in the distance I’ve driven a hundred times. I say that, because I turned and followed the valley all the way to the Frying Pan Lakes, and I can see where we used to camp up there. This level of realism will never be revealed in a generic mesh product, and it’s time we laid this horse to rest and moved on. If you want realism, start building an ortho terrain file. Meshes just superimpose one layer of generics for another.
What AlpilotX has right is a pain free, easy way to get these large files onboard; nothing like his distribution network exists in the flight sim world.
Wouldn’t it be something if he turned his genius to getting orthos into Xp as expeditiously?
One problem with orthos? Houses appear to be sliding down the hillside behind the FBO at KASE. Fun to look at? No, not at all.
A revised Madrid City File came out this weekend, too. This latest v2 features revised texture files all around, so get down low and take a closer look, or follow the developer, here, on FB. This is one of the best, if not the very best of all the recent city files, and this developer is refining his work, too. Nice update. Next time, I want to get out and walk around!
ruifo released a trio of files on Sunday (how does he do it?!), and all three are interesting in their own way – though each is as different as night is from day. First up? His latest release, MM81, Isla Socorro, Colima, Mexico.
If you want to find this one, go to the ass end of nowhere then fly 600 miles out into the Pacific.
This is a naval air station, too, and the only inhabitants on the island live, and work, at this facility. I cannot imagine what kind of transgression one would have to commit in order to be sentenced here, as the word solitude can’t even begin to describe what living out here would feel like. The island is volcanic in origin, and it erupts, frequently, too.
Let’s put today’s three airports in context now.
MM81 is, as mentioned, out there all by itself in the middle of nowhere.
We sailed past this group in the early 90s on our way to the Marquesas, and this was before the advent of GPS; we closed on the island to validate our celestial navigation track was okay. About all I can remember of the spot? The island looked a little greener than it does here, especially around the volcano. We were told not to approach the island except in case of dire emergency; we remained about ten miles off. Most people sailing the coconut run, from San Diego to Tahiti, sail to Cabo San Lucas and re-provision, then pass these islands on their way SSW. It’s become a popular diving destination, but only liveaboard dive boats make the 600 miles trip out there, and the airport remains closed to the public. If you want to fly out here in Xp, use the C130 for a little extra-added realism.
Located on the extreme eastern tip of Mexico, MMPY is a tiny GA airstrip located in the middle of a freewheeling stretch of Mexico noted for Mayan ruins, upscale hotels, and fiercely violent clashes between rival drug cartels. Reputedly one of the most dangerous towns in Mexico (according to the US Department of State), the town is apparently loaded with gangs and their cartel sponsors, yet Cancun is located just to the north. The island of Cozumel, another immensely popular tourist destination, is located just offshore, too. A land of contrasts, to be sure.
The runway, as measured in Google Earth, is 2320 feet long; it’s hard to find accurate published data, and even most of that appears contradictory. Anyway, with such limited asphalt available, it’s curious the developer lined the ramps with Lear Jets and Avantis. If you check the imagery from Google Earth, you’ll note the area surrounding the airport looks nothing like what’s included in this file. Beirut in the early 80s looks more appropriate.
As I stated, this is a small GA airstrip – but for small GA singles only. Nevertheless, I used the Hawker 4000 jet, very lightly loaded, to attempt a takeoff here. It used every inch of pavement – and then some – but cleared the highway (just).
Tom’s MU-2 did not do so well. Xp does make crashes entertaining, however.
The Evektor EV55 Outback used only half the runway so, just for grins, I tried again – and cut engine 2 halfway down the runway on takeoff. Yup, it still made it, with room to spare, too, though I wouldn’t want to land here with an engine out, in any airplane. The EV55 is an interesting aircraft…in Xp, anyway. Great STOL capability, right out of the box. The only thing safer here might be that hot air balloon! Perhaps putting fuel tank farms at either end of the runway would make this an even more interesting excursion into the Twilight Zone…?
And last up today, a large commercial airport close to Mexico City.
This feels like familiar territory after the last two files!
Lots of regional players here, but American flies to Dallas, and United to Houston.
This file, like all ruifo’s files, is nicely planned out and brilliantly executed. If you fly in Mexico, these files are indispensable. If you fly in Texas or the American southwest, all his Mexican files make for interesting alternatives to the usual airports in your CS folder. If you fly metal or Rjs, this is an important collection to keep in Xp. You can learn to better use available NAVaids than the ones you’re used to, to gain skills in less familiar environments. Good for any pilot worth her salt to consider.
We’ll see you later in the week. – A