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Review: Orbx 2W3 Swanson Airport for X-Plane 11

Review: Orbx 2W3 Swanson Airport for X-Plane 11

By Shawn Weigelt


Well, here we are, at least a monthsince my last review for FlightSim.Com. The Covid 19 pandemiccontinues on, and the world still battles for a vaccine. The term"new normal" has become cliche for those of us living throughself-quarantine and government imposed stay-at-home orders. For me,the view from the inside of my four walls is starting to get reallyold as I long for social contact and a return to how things used tobe, despite by staunchly introverted nature. Fortunately, extra timespent with family and a chance to take stock in the things that reallymatter has been a welcome blessing through all of this. When I'm notplaying board games with my kids, tending to my vegetable garden (asurprisingly refreshing new hobby of mine), or playing on the X-Box, Ifind myself perched in front of my computer, flying around in X-Plane11's skies.

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Recently, I have been on a bit of an Orbx kick (if it hasn't beenpainfully obvious), and I have been completely enamored with andimmersed in the recent airport products that I've had the privilege totest and review. Most recently, I reviewed KBVS Skagit RegionalAirport and absolutely fell in love with it. I didn't have high hopesinitially that I would like Skagit as much as I have, but I waspleasantly surprised and have flown in and out of the airport quite abit lately. As I've said, my Orbx kick has been alive and well oflate, so when my good buddy Dom Smith asked if I'd be interested intaking on another Orbx scenery review, I jumped at the opportunity.

2W3 Swanson Airport is yet another offering from the sceneryspecialists at Orbx set in scenic Washington State. As Washington ismy adopted home state, I admit that I'm partial to any sceneryavailable for it that allows me to fly over familiar territory.Washington has a lot to offer in terms of gorgeous scenery combinedwith large and small airports with lots of character. 2W3 SwansonAirport certainly falls into this category.

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Swanson Airport is located within the small town of Eatonville,which is a typical "small town America" kind of place. Having driventhrough Eatonville many times, I can attest that it is a bit of a"blink and you'll miss it" kind of town. It is far enough removedfrom the greater Tacoma area to avoid the hustle and bustle, but closeenough so that trips into the city aren't hardships. When one takes acloser look, however, it is easy see the "Americana" charm ofEatonville shining through. Swanson Airport has a very similarcharacter to it as the town it's located in...quaint and unassumingbut with lots of hidden charm. The best thing about Swanson airport,in my opinion, is that it is situated at the Western edge ofMt. Rainier's foothills, and is a perfect launching point for scenicflights around Washington's tallest peak.

Orbx's rendition of 2W3 Swanson Airport is a relatively old file for FSX and P3Dthat has been ported over for X-Plane 11 users. I'm sure a lot moregoes into the whole process than the term "ported over" implies, butI'll leave that to others with more technical expertise than Ipossess. I'll just continue to be thankful that X-Plane users aren'tbeing left out of the sweet Orbx goodness!

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Compared with relatively new Orbx files like Tacoma Narrows andAnacortes, Swanson is definitely one of their older offerings. Thisfact initially gave me pause when I considered taking on the review,because I knew that the construction modeled along the southeast edgeof the runway was not going to be up to date with reality. Still, Iresolved to review the airport anyway, and critique the file based onthe more permanent features of the airfield.

As I've already stated, Swanson really is a quaint and unassuminglittle airport that is, surprisingly, open to the public. I say"surprisingly" because the runway is flanked on both sides by housesand looks more like a small private "airpark" than a public airport.Swanson's single runway 16/34 is 2,990 feet long by only 36 feet wide.This small size does not leave pilots with a large margin of errorwhen it comes to approaches made too fast or in crosswind conditions.It also restricts the airport's use to light General Aviationaircraft. According to 2017 data I gleaned from AirNav.com, SwansonAirport has 13 aircraft based at the field (12 single engine, and 1ultralight), and averages 134 aircraft operations per week. Yeah,there's really not much to Swanson Airport, but that's what makes itso great!

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When I received my review copy of 2W3 from Orbx, I was able toeasily download it utilizing their Orbx Central tool. This not onlydownloaded the scenery package to my iMac, but it installed it withinmy X-Plane 11 custom scenery file without any input from me. Thewhole process is completely seamless and carefree and makes me wishthat every third party developer made it this easy. Again, this isjust another shining example of the fine work and attention to detailthe Orbx team puts into everything they do, that has me continuallycoming back for more.

Much in the same way as I started my KBVS Skagit Regional testingand evaluation, I decided to fly to Swanson Airport from a nearbyfield rather than start out there. I really enjoyed doing that withSkagit and found it helpful to take in the surrounding scenery andmesh as it blended in with the Orbx TrueEarth US Washington HD I havekept as a permanent fixture on my copy of X-Plane 11.

For my very first flight to 2W3 Swanson, Airport, I took off fromKPLU Pierce County Airport - Thun Field in Puyallup in my trustyJust Flight Piper Tomahawk.Being just a short jaunt to the south of Thun Field, I only climbedthe spritely little PA38 to 2,000 feet and kept a lookout for Swansonon the horizon. Within minutes, I could see a couple of thesurrounding lakes come into view and not long after that, I could makeout the field itself. My biggest objective at this point was to seeif any of the surrounding mesh at Swanson conflicted with theTrueEarth product that really turns X-Plane's Washington State sceneryup to 11! It was subtle, but I did notice a slight difference in themesh in and around Eatonville and the airport that looked slightlysharper and more defined than the TrueEarth scenery. While moredetail is definitely not a bad thing, I have to report that I noticedit, and it did break up the overarching continuity of the scenerysomewhat.


I entered the traffic pattern for 2W3 on the left downwind forrunway 34 and made a quick base to final approach, as the surroundinghills felt really close through the windows of the Tomahawk. With therunway being so narrow the ground seemed to come up quickly despite anormal 500 fpm descent rate and 60 knots over the fence. I coulddefinitely see how landing at Swanson could take some getting used to!I admit that trying to get the airplane down onto the runway tookpreeminence over observing the scenery itself on the way back down toearth, but eventually I was able to settle the airplane onto thepavement near the center point of the runway.

Once I rolled the airplane out to the northern end of the runway, Ireally started to take in the details surrounding me as a wide smilespread across my face. The 3D grass, custom modeled and texturedbuildings and objects immediately grabbed my attention and didn't letgo. I found myself staring out of the windows as I back-taxied alongthe runway looking for a spot to park. I eventually found one, but Istill have no idea if it is where a visitor ought to park in reallife. It's not like there is any ramp or apron present anywhere onthe field or any signage directing transients where to park. Flyinginto Swanson Airport almost feels like I'm trespassing...like I'msomehow violating the privacy of the people who live here and havetheir 172 parked in their front yard.

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It sounds weird to me even as I type this, but the sensation that Ididn't belong and had broken the rules was palpable. Tell me, and beperfectly honest. Have you ever felt this way flying into an airporton a flight simulation? I have certainly never approached this levelof authenticity before in my experience with the hobby and itcompletely took me aback. I guess you could say that I was absorbedwithin the moment and caught up in what I was doing, but I think itwas more than that. I believe it was the high level of detail andeffort of the development team to bring as much realism as possible toSwanson Airport that completely sucked me into the moment. We in theflight simulation community call this phenomenon "immersion," and 2W3Swanson Airport had immersed me in a way that I had never experiencedbefore.

My first impression of Orbx's 2W3 was a very favorable oneconsidering how it made me "feel," but I wanted to scrutinize it inmore detail in subsequent testing flights from a more objectiveperspective. Rather than explore the airport from within an airplane,I did what I typically do and used my virtual camera to "fly" aroundthe scenery package drinking in all the details that Orbx scenery isso well known for. I tried to find as many real world images aspossible on the web to compare to Orbx's rendition, but unfortunately,there's just not that much out there. That which I did find, however,painted the Orbx package in a very favorable light.

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It must be nice to be able to live at an airport in an "airpark"kind of style. As I've mentioned before, the runway at Swanson issurrounded by homes on either side, which provides owners no excuse toget to the airport and take advantage of a nice day for flying. The3D buildings at Swanson are unique and beautifully modeled andtextured. I have no doubt that all of the buildings on site wereprecisely modeled to resemble their real world counterparts as closelyas possible. In addition to homes, there are hangars present, aswell as what I can only describe as "micro hangars" that are onlylarge enough to cover the engine cowling and part of the cockpit of aCessna single. This kind of small town American charm is the stuff Icrave at these sorts of custom-built airports, and Orbx's Swansonpackage has charm in spades. It reeks of aviation "Americana" andharkens to days gone by with the quaint homes, hangars, and signagescattered throughout the scenery package. Swanson is the kind ofplace you'll want to fly to and just take your time to explore onceyou've arrived.

The scenery is not perfect, however, and most of the flaws arepretty minor in the grand scheme of things. For one, several of thecustom trees near the runway seem to have a transparent halo outliningthem that causes other 3D elements within the scenery to temporarilybe see-through as I panned my camera around them. This is a bitdistracting as one can't help but notice it, even when focusing onother parts of the airport.

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Another minor issue is that the scenery is a bit dated. While Iappreciate that the developers were careful to show ongoingconstruction occurring around the southeast edge of the runway, mostof this work has been completed for years now, as there is a newhousing development right next to the runway that is not present inthe scenery package. A quick examination of the satellite imagery onGoogle Maps will prove my point. The simple truth is that this is anolder scenery package that has been out for years now for FSX and P3Dand only recently has been made available for X-Plane 11 as well.Still, as the saying goes, "time waits for no man," and I think thatan expectation of the Orbx developers to change this part of thepackage just to bring it up to date for X-Plane would be absurd.

Overall, I have been extremely impressed with yet another greatscenery package now made available to X-Plane 11 users from thetalented Orbx team. They really "sucked me in" with Swanson Airportand have provided me with yet another outstanding Washington Stateairport to make my new favorite destination.

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2W3 Swanson Airport ran very smoothly for me on my mid-grade iMacunder what I would term medium-high rendering settings. Even with ahigh-fidelity aircraft in the Just Flight PA38, I found my frame ratesto be more than usable.

Priced attractively at $22.96 USD, 2W3 Swanson Airport from Orbx isa must have file for anyone who enjoys flying in the PacificNorthwest, and is sure to help self-quarantine pass by a lot moresmoothly.

Shawn Weigelt


Purchase Orbx - 2W3 Swanson Airport

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