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

    For my very first flight to 2W3 Swanson, Airport, I took off from KPLU Pierce County Airport - Thun Field in Puyallup in my trusty Just Flight Piper Tomahawk. Being just a short jaunt to the south of Thun Field, I only climbed the spritely little PA38 to 2,000 feet and kept a lookout for Swanson on the horizon. Within minutes, I could see a couple of the surrounding lakes come into view and not long after that, I could make out the field itself. My biggest objective at this point was to see if any of the surrounding mesh at Swanson conflicted with the TrueEarth product that really turns X-Plane's Washington State scenery up to 11! It was subtle, but I did notice a slight difference in the mesh in and around Eatonville and the airport that looked slightly sharper and more defined than the TrueEarth scenery. While more detail is definitely not a bad thing, I have to report that I noticed it, and it did break up the overarching continuity of the scenery somewhat.

    Orbx - 2W3 Swanson Airport

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

    Once I rolled the airplane out to the northern end of the runway, I really started to take in the details surrounding me as a wide smile spread across my face. The 3D grass, custom modeled and textured buildings and objects immediately grabbed my attention and didn't let go. I found myself staring out of the windows as I back-taxied along the runway looking for a spot to park. I eventually found one, but I still have no idea if it is where a visitor ought to park in real life. It's not like there is any ramp or apron present anywhere on the field or any signage directing transients where to park. Flying into Swanson Airport almost feels like I'm trespassing...like I'm somehow violating the privacy of the people who live here and have their 172 parked in their front yard.

    Orbx - 2W3 Swanson Airport     Orbx - 2W3 Swanson Airport

    It sounds weird to me even as I type this, but the sensation that I didn't belong and had broken the rules was palpable. Tell me, and be perfectly honest. Have you ever felt this way flying into an airport on a flight simulation? I have certainly never approached this level of authenticity before in my experience with the hobby and it completely took me aback. I guess you could say that I was absorbed within the moment and caught up in what I was doing, but I think it was more than that. I believe it was the high level of detail and effort of the development team to bring as much realism as possible to Swanson Airport that completely sucked me into the moment. We in the flight simulation community call this phenomenon "immersion," and 2W3 Swanson Airport had immersed me in a way that I had never experienced before.

    My first impression of Orbx's 2W3 was a very favorable one considering how it made me "feel," but I wanted to scrutinize it in more detail in subsequent testing flights from a more objective perspective. Rather than explore the airport from within an airplane, I did what I typically do and used my virtual camera to "fly" around the scenery package drinking in all the details that Orbx scenery is so well known for. I tried to find as many real world images as possible 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.

    Orbx - 2W3 Swanson Airport     Orbx - 2W3 Swanson Airport

    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 is surrounded by homes on either side, which provides owners no excuse to get to the airport and take advantage of a nice day for flying. The 3D buildings at Swanson are unique and beautifully modeled and textured. I have no doubt that all of the buildings on site were precisely modeled to resemble their real world counterparts as closely as possible. In addition to homes, there are hangars present, as well as what I can only describe as "micro hangars" that are only large enough to cover the engine cowling and part of the cockpit of a Cessna single. This kind of small town American charm is the stuff I crave at these sorts of custom-built airports, and Orbx's Swanson package has charm in spades. It reeks of aviation "Americana" and harkens to days gone by with the quaint homes, hangars, and signage scattered throughout the scenery package. Swanson is the kind of place you'll want to fly to and just take your time to explore once you've arrived.

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

    Orbx - 2W3 Swanson Airport     Orbx - 2W3 Swanson Airport

    Another minor issue is that the scenery is a bit dated. While I appreciate that the developers were careful to show ongoing construction occurring around the southeast edge of the runway, most of this work has been completed for years now, as there is a new housing development right next to the runway that is not present in the scenery package. A quick examination of the satellite imagery on Google Maps will prove my point. The simple truth is that this is an older scenery package that has been out for years now for FSX and P3D and 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 that an expectation of the Orbx developers to change this part of the package just to bring it up to date for X-Plane would be absurd.

    Overall, I have been extremely impressed with yet another great scenery package now made available to X-Plane 11 users from the talented Orbx team. They really "sucked me in" with Swanson Airport and have provided me with yet another outstanding Washington State airport to make my new favorite destination.

    Orbx - 2W3 Swanson Airport     Orbx - 2W3 Swanson Airport

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

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

    Shawn Weigelt

    Purchase Orbx - 2W3 Swanson Airport

    Tags: 2w3, orbx, swanson

    1 Comment
    1. btwallis's Avatar
      btwallis -
      One of my favourite's from Orbx.
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