• Fly Wonderful Islands' Canary Islands Scenery

    Fly Wonderful Islands' Canary Islands Scenery for FSX

    By Bill Stack (17 September 2009)


    Screen shots by FWI



    The Canary Islands are a cluster of volcanic islands off the west coast of Africa, about 54 nm (100 km) west of the border of Morocco and Western Sahara. As an autonomous region of Spain, it is the westernmost region of the European Union. Its islands are: Tenerife, Fuerteventura, Gran Canaria, Lanzarote, La Palma, La Gomera, El Hierro, Alegranza, La Graciosa and Montaña Clara. The overall population is 2.1 million, and Tenerife Island is the most populous with 886,000 people. Tourism is the islands' primary economic activity with agriculture second. The high mountains, the clean air, and the proximity to Europe make them ideal for huge astronomical telescopes.

    Being a possession of Spain, the Canary Islands' airports will be found in the MSFS airport-selection menu under "Spain," not "Canary Islands."

    Fly Wonderful Islands (FWI) has released a scenery that includes five of the Canary Islands' nine airports and areas around those airports. Begun in 2008, FWI is a development team that makes sceneries for Microsoft Flight Simulator.

    "The Canary Islands was looking so desert in FSX," FWI explained in response to my question. "So we focus to fix those default desert Islands locations, that were really sandy!!! and where the flight enthusiast community loved to fly. Our first attempt to fix this, was Lanzarote GCRR in the Canary Islands."


    Canary Islands Location

    Screen Shots by Bill Stack




    Major Features

    Fly Wonderful Islands touts the following features, among others:

    • Ground terrain seamlessly integrated with Flight Simulator
    • High resolution building textures
    • Fully 3D taxiways lighting
    • Animated ground vehicles
    • Intensive use of LOD techniques in order to offer the best possible performances

    Five airports and surrounding areas are enhanced:

    • Lanzarote (GCRR), a civilian/military airport near the city of Arrecife on Lanzarote Island
    • El Berriel (GCLB), a private airport on the island of Gran Canaria
    • El Hierro (GCHI), a domestic airport on El Hierro Island
    • La Gomera (GCGM), a domestic airport on El Gomera Island
    • Gran Canaria (GCLP), a civilian/military airport on Gran Canaria Island
    In response to my question, FWI describes LOD as follows: "LOD stands for 'level of detail' and means the game will either use simplified 3d models to draw items that are far away from the camera, or skip them altogether. Enabling it can result in more frames of animation drawn per second and 'smoother' graphics."

    PURCHASE FEATURES

    Instant download from the Pilot Shop

    YES

    Installation program

    YES

    License key required

    YES

    End user license agreement (EULA) Required

    YES

    Uninstall program included

    YES

    Manual included

    YES




    Visual Features

    Terrain overall appears more accurate than FSX compared with real-world satellite photos I found on the Internet. The FSX scenery appears like desert sand and dunes, while the FWI scenery depicts flora, farmlands, cliffs, and sands where appropriate &#8212 all as seen in satellite photos.

    Depictions of airports and surrounding areas appear realistic and accurate compared with satellite photos. A few of many examples:

    • Airport facilities such as terminals, hangars, and fuel depots are realistic.

    • Race tracks at El Bierrel (Aero Club Las Palmas) are realistically depicted.

    • The tennis courts near El Hierro are realistic.

    • The red gravel along both sides of the runway at Gran Canaria appear in satellite photos.

    • Resort areas are realistically depicted with hotels, swimming pools and similar tourist amenities.



    El Berriel Airport:

    FWI
    FSX
    FWI
    FSX


    Gran Canaria Airport:

    FWI
    FSX
    FWI
    FSX
    FWI
    FSX
    Screen shots by Bill Stack



    Technical Features

    The runway at El Bierrel appears to be more accurately placed in relation to the coastline, based on real-world satellite photos.

    A major flaw in the FSX default scenery for El Hierro Airport is corrected in FWI's scenery. El Hierro's elevation is supposed to be 103 feet, but the FSX scenery shows the elevation at 482 feet above mean sea level and the runway at the bottom of two 380-foot-deep holes. (See the screen shots.)

    Fairly high display settings for scenery are recommended in the manual.


    El Hierro Airport and Surrounding Area:

    FWI FSX
    FWI FSX
    FWI FSX


    El Gomera Airport and Surrounding Area:

    FWI FSX
    FWI FSX
    Screen shots by Bill Stack



    Examples of Scenery Levels:
    Gran Canaria Airport

    FSX FWI terrain only FWI airport only FWI airport and terrain



    Nice Features

    The enhancement of terrain throughout islands where airports are enhanced is a major advantage of this scenery package. The islands overall appear much more like satellite photos than the sandy surfaces depicted in FSX. (Islands without airport enhancements do not have terrain enhancements.)

    The spinning wind turbines between El Bierrel and Gran Canaria are a nice touch. I found in the satellite photos objects that could be wind turbines, but they're too small and the resolution is too poor. Given the overall accuracy of FWI's sceneries, I cannot doubt their existence at those locations.

    The realistic depictions of buildings and miscellaneous objects on, around, and near the five airports reflect considerable attention to detail and accuracy. But they come at a price (see Issues).

    A 31-page manual in Adobe Acrobat format with text and images is included. It describes system requirements, FSX performance, airports, and other topics.


    Night Scenes:

    Gran Canaria Airport El Hierro Airport Lanzarote Airport Lanzarote Airport

    Screen shots by Bill Stack




    Manual Pages:


    Cover

    Coverage Map

    Display Settings

    Airport Data

    Screen shots by Bill Stack




    More Information

    An excellent map of the Canary Islands can be found on the World Atlas website.

    Good satellite photos are available from Google Maps.

    Information about the Canary Islands is available at Wikipedia.


    Areas Near Airports:

    El Berriel

    El Berriel

    El Berriel

    Lanzarote

    Playa Blanca Resort (FWI)

    Playa Blanca Resort (FSX)


    Screen shots by Bill Stack



    Issues

    Three of the seven islands and four of their nine airports are not enhanced: Fuerteventura (GCFV), Reina Sofia (GCTS) Tenerife South, Los Rodeos (GCXO) Tenerife North, and La Palma (GCLA). Having an enhanced version of Los Rodeos in particular would have been nice. Tenerife is the Canary Islands' most populous island, and Los Rodeos is a busy airport serving Tenerife's capital city. This airport handled 4 million passengers and 65 thousand aircraft operations in 2007 (most recent data). Satellite photos show a modern terminal surrounded by urban development. It is also site of the world's worst civilian aviation disaster.

    In reply to my question, FWI said: "We are actually working on our three last Canary Islands, La Palma, Tenerif, Fuerteventura. These islands are programmed for 2010."

    The scenery is made of 10 separate packets, two for each airport. Scenery packets ending with "LC" are "landclass files in a lower layer priority in FSX," the developer explained. Each of the 10 packets requires a separate file folder and subfolders. As a result, many file folders and files are added to your FSX scenery folder, users must activate and deactivate each airport's scenery twice. (See screen shot.)

    Night effects at some locations are odd. Some buildings, vehicles, and similar objects are a lighter color all over, as through they were illuminated from inside like plastic boxes. (See screen shots.)

    Impressive sceneries sometimes come at a price. Even though the airports and surrounding areas are beautiful, detailed, and accurate, the number of these 3D objects and their complexities burden the simulator tremendously and diminish its performance significantly. I did not observe the benefits of the advertised level-of-detail technology.

    • Questionable is the need for numerous motor vehicles and canopies in the parking lots on the public side of the terminals, or all those cars and buses parked at the passenger terminal's entrance, or 3D pedestrian walkways, or the flower gardens, and on and on. They can't be seen from the ramps and taxiways or very well from the air as aircraft are taking off or landing. There's also no need for so many boats and inumerable other objects at the Playa Blanca resort on the south end of Lanzarote Island. Users have to fly unrealistically low over these area to see those details.

    • In addition to the high number of 3D objects around the airports and in other areas, their complexities are also questionable. Their details cannot be seen well when flying by at legal altitudes, but their amounts and complexities diminish performance.

    • As a result of the excessive 3D objects, my frame rates were in single digits whenever I was flying around Lanzarote and Gran Canaria. They went as low as 8.6 several times, and the simulator frequently hesitated for a second or so, especially on landing approaches. Once my aircraft was away from these objects the frame rates went higher, but I never had good frame rates while flying in these areas. (See screen shots.)

    • Not only are frame rates diminished so much that flying and taxiing in the area is jerky, but slewing around to make my screen shots was bogged down so much that extra time was required to make the shots and my computer's cooling fan ran at highest speed, spewing heat out of the box.

    In response to my inquiry about this problem, FWI said: "This is amazing; we do have some feedback from customers on the products on different kinds of things, but not on this, usually it’s the other way round." They cited feedback from a video maker who was "very impressed with the detail and low frame hit." They also provided copies of emails from beta testers who identified other problems but did not mention low frame rates. So clearly user response and results will vary.


    Examples of Issues:


    Scenery library list

    3D objects at Gran Canaria

    Many items and details at Gran Canaria

    Many items and details at Gran Canaria

    Many items and details at Lanzarote

    Many items and details at Lanzarote

    Many items and details near Lanzarote

    Many items and details near Lanzarote

    Many items and details near Lanzarote

    Many items and details at Playa Blanca Resort

    Low frame rates at Lanzarote

    Low frame rates at Gran Canaria

    Odd night lighting at El Berriel

    Odd night lighting at La Gomera



    Screen Shots

    My comparative screen shots were made with FSX display settings as recommended in FWI's manual. While FWI's scenery was active, I slewed to a good vantage point and snapped a shot, then I moved to another vantage point and/or airport and snapped another shot. After all the FWI shots were made, I deactivated their sceneries and slewed to the exact vantage points and reshot the views with FSX default scenery. As a result, almost all comparison screen shots are exactly of the same views. The only exceptions are at El Hierro, where I was forced to increase altitude because the airport elevations are very different between the two sceneries.

    Summary

    Although this scenery package is very well done at the five airports and surrounding areas, two shortcomings affect its value.

    First, the package would have been better with all nine Canary Islands airports instead of only five.

    Second, the abundance, complexity, and location of 3D objects in several areas diminishes simulator performance. It appears to me that the developers were carried away with details, lost sight of their effects on the simulator, and didn't balance their advantages with their disadvantages. In fairness to them, they say low frame rates didn't arise in their beta testing so this may not be a problem for everyone.

    If your computer can handle the workload, or if you can overlook the diminished performance, or if you stay away from the overloaded areas, this scenery package is worthwhile.


    Bill Stack



    Learn More About FWI's Canary Islands Scenery


    Bill Stack is author of several books about flight simulation, a regular author in flight-sim magazines, and a contributor to Flight Sim Com. His website is www.topskills.com