I recently posted a thread about scenery design for X-Plane, with some insight into the basic programs used and a few comparisons between scenery design in MSFS and X-Plane. In this thread, I will present some more information on my project, the tools I've been using, some of my views and thoughts on the process, and the overall experience.
As any flight simmer who dwells into the general aviation side of flight simulation, the local general aviation airfields are not the places where you are going to find much detail or realism in any simulator, and there are no options for improvement unless you are willing to learn the required tools to modify airports or to a sometimes limited extent, use payware software to place objects. In many instances, the smaller airports are covered by freeware authors but there are cases where even a not so little airfield in a relatively busy airspace or in close proximity to a large city has nothing for it to be found in any library except perhaps an updated AFCAD file. Such was the case for an airport (KHWV Brookhaven) in Shirley, Long Island that I was interested in. It's an uncontrolled airfield that sees quite a bit of flight training traffic and in close proximity to other airfields that conduct lots of flight training operations.
As a long time user of FS2004, I have recently in the past six or so months started using X-Plane 9 almost exclusively, which led me to install and experiment with Laminar Research's World Editor or "WED" as it is commonly referred to. Having already started a KHWV project for FS2004 in the past and after experimenting with WED, I had to decide for which platform to proceed with my scenery design "Ambitions". With very little doubt, I happily decided to work with X-Plane and I will explain why.
Almost a year had passed since the last time that I had a moment of free personal time to work on scenery design and although I had completed a considerable amount of work on my KHWV project, restarting the work meant I would have to literally relearn all the programs and processes involved. It was a didn't use it so I lost it scenario where I would have to go through all my bookmarks, read up on a few tutorials to refresh my memory and hope that I remembered some of the tricks that I learned for at least a couple of the programs that I was using. In contrast, I convincingly know that I can put WED away for a year and start using it again right away. It's plainly that simple and rounded out. Lastly, and I say this as a Microsoft Flight Simulator user through and through since 2.0 on my Atari XE that I personally prefer X-Plane for general aviation simulation and night flying.
So let's get to the scenery design of things. It's been about two months or so now since I started using WED to design scenery and in that time I've experimented with most of the available features of the program and implemented several into my projects. In order to take a break from KHWV, I began working on a couple of very small airfields on Long Island (Bayport Aerodrome and Spadaro/Lufker). These were nothing more than runways as default scenery but I managed to create a convincing rendition in a matter of days due to their small size. During the course of working on them, I tried out something that I'm sure has been done and done better but I had not yet experimented with. In short, I was able to keep the orthoimagery/photorealistic textures for the taxiways by placing a semi transparent concrete texture so that the taxiways appear with decent crisp details and not simply blurry photo textures. And this was always a barrier for the project that I am currently working on now, Republic Airport (KFRG). While my KHWV scenery can be considered a complete project minus the windsocks I keep procrastinating on placing, it will get a do over.
With some more time and experience using WED, I began working on KFRG, a field which I am familiar with firsthand since that is where I took flight lessons. I wanted to do this one as realistically as I could. There is one hangar that is very unique to the airport (Airpower Museum) and after using several payware sceneries, nothing spells out realism better than firing up an airport and seeing a well made terminal or building that you recognize right away and have seen in real life. To me, that is a good portion of what flight simulation is about. Seeing the real life counterparts of buildings and structures in the virtual realm of flight simulation. So I installed a free copy of Sketchup, hoped it would be as easy as Easy Object Designer, watched a few Youtube tutorials including the one with the guy putting together an outhouse, figured out enough things to accomplish what I needed and was reminded that modelling is the easier part of creating buildings and hangars. The real work is in creating the textures. I will present a few screenshots of the structures that I created along with other screenshots of the scenery in its current state. None have been modified for color, brightness, etc. With the exception of resizing them for Flightsim, they are as the screen captured them.
Below is the first structure that I created and the one where I made all the mistakes necessary to make life easier down the road, such as learning to make individual parts groups or components so that things don't become a sticky mess and you end up with things that look like blobs when you move or reposition a wall or roof. It is the SheltAir hangar. Although not implemented yet, the real one houses the airport's rotating beacon on top of the control tower like structure. The airport's real control tower is further down the field.
Next up is the Airpower Museum. I dedicated as much time to this hangar as I could throw at it because it's the signature of the airport. The museum houses a nice collection of vintage military aircraft, some of which were built at Republic. I went with the open hangar door.
With hangars mostly complete on what is the north side of the airport, I finished up the third and closest to the approach path. It houses an FBO. I again went with an open hangar door, a partial one this time. I feel it gives the hangar more dimension. During an approach to Runway 19, this one will be looking right at you.
The following shows a view of the airport from the south taxing towards the north. The hangars are visible along with static aircraft which have been placed throughout. Most are from the OpenSceneryX library.
An overhead view of the SheltAir hangar. Although mostly complete, some surfaces are missing textures. I'll more than likely redo the textures on this one and make a few modifications to the control tower section.
This one shows the Airpower Museum with some representations of the type of aircraft that are on display. These static aircraft are also from the OpenSceneryX library. Barely visible on the right of the screenshot is a Nike Hercules missile that I did with Sketchup. I could've done at least five other hangars in the time it took me to create that bad boy.
Here's an overhead view in the air from the south,
One from the runway 19 approach. A little low for a better view of the fencing.
An overhead of the hangars and Runway 19's blast pad.
The following screenshot shows the night textures that have so far been done. These are X-Plane 9 LIT textures and not the HDR lighting. The default Cessna 172's landing light can be seen flooding the ground.
Here's a view from Runway 1's approach at the southern end. Most of the hangars are temporary placements until custom ones are created. The first building with the parking lot adjacent was made in Sketchup by me. Those familiar with the airport may remember it as "Million Air". This is where I took lessons. There is a new FBO there now.
In Sketchup, I created some squares that were marked as "Ground" and created some textures to make these runway hold markings. The set includes about nine different ones that cover every intersection. The set on the other side of the runway would read in reverse or "19-1". Below is a view of them in both day and night. The landing or taxi lights flooding effect makes them look really cool. This is where X-Plane really shines.
As can be seen in many of the shots, there are still segments of taxi lines that need to be added over the orthos. These taxi lines are a mix of a regular center line and broken double yellow lines. Until I am sure of a good method to represent them, they will be left for later. To date, I am using Paint Shop Pro to edit textures which are saved in the PNG file format. I have not yet found a need to use DXTBmp for anything I have done. Bing Maps' "Birds eye" view and Google Earth with the 3D buildings feature turned on, street view and ruler tool have been invaluable as guidance when creating buildings in Sketchup. So far, WED and Sketchup have been the sole tools used to create this scenery.
The fun thing about using WED is the simplicity with which one can create scenery. Much of it in my experience has to do with the fact that it's a single program that covers almost all the important bases and with a minimal learning curve. It's great for the individual who wants to place a few scattered hangars around an airport to those who want to do more complex work. Laminar has really provided a great tool for the community and from what I've noticed as a relatively new user of X-Plane, the community is putting it to use with the goal of creating as many "Lego brick" airports as possible to populate all those airfields out there. I myself plan to do several airports in the Long Island, New York vicinity. As a disclaimer, I am not a paid spokesperson for X-Plane, Austin or any entity.
I hope that anyone who has read through this enjoyed the insight.