• Aerosoft Cape Canaveral X

    Aerosoft Cape Canaveral X

    By Andrew Herd (1 May 2008)

    The history books tell us that Cape Canaveral was 'discovered' by a Spanish explorer, one Ponce de Leon, who landed for the first time in 1513. His discovery came as an unwelcome surprise to the inhabitants, the warlike Ais, who sent him packing in short order, little realising that his arrival meant that their days were numbered. The origins of the name remain something of a mystery, the traditional account being that the Spanish thought they saw sugar cane growing on the coast, which chimes with one interpretation of 'Canaveral' which is 'Point of Canes'. After that first encounter with the Ais, the Spanish left the place well alone, regarding it with a certain amount of dread, because it was a popular place to get wrecked and the inhabitants were seriously unfriendly to any survivors who made it ashore.

    In the early 1560s, the French managed to establish a colony and established peaceful relations with the native people, but five years later, the Spanish landed again, drove out the French and built a fort, only to end up being forced to abandon it by the Ais again. The area fell under British rule from 1763 until 1812, when it became a US possession, but there was no serious effort to settle the place until the middle of the nineteenth century and there still weren't many permanent roads in the early twentieth. Several small villages grew, the remains of which can still be seen - for example Stinkmore, which is close to launch pad 5 and which had a dock and a long pier. To the north there were a couple of larger settlements called Nathan and Titusville, the ruins of which can be seen near the shuttle launch pads, but the population was never very large and the Cape itself only had something like a hundred inhabitants in 1940.

    A couple of naval stations were constructed in 1938, but the major expansion of the facilities at Cape Canaveral began post-war, when an unfortunate incident involving a test launch of a V-2 rocket from the White Sands range resulted in it landing (well off-course) in a cemetery in Juarez, Mexico. The resulting diplomatic incident resulted in a search for a new site and although the first choice was in California, the Mexican government understandably wasn't too keen and so Cape Canaveral was chosen instead. It turned out to be a good choice, because the site covered 15,000 almost completely deserted acres, allowed testing to be done over the sea and had good road and rail links - but on top of that, it was near the equator, which meant that if launches were aimed in the right direction, less thrust was needed, than with a more northerly site, because of the added 'push' given by the angular momentum of the earth. The establishment of the range wasn't without problems, because some of the families who lived there didn't want to go, but in the end they had little choice. Construction of a deep water port began in 1950, which was also the year the first rocket launch was made, another V-2, which missed Mexico.

    In 1954, experiments were conducted to see if winged rockets could be recovered after firing, which resulted in the construction of an airstrip called the 'Skid Strip', the idea being that the rockets in question would glide back in and land on skids. The first Snark missile this trick was attempted with crashed and blew up, but they got the hang of it in the end and although the program is long over, the name has stuck and the Skid Strip is used to this day for shipping in rocket components and for personnel transport. It has a runway long enough to land just about anything you like on, at 10,000 feet.

    By the early sixties, with the Saturn program in prospect, more room was needed and large areas of Merritt Island were added to the launch ground, totalling another 88,000 acres. This led to a dispute with the Air Force, which wasn't settled until 1963, the year in which Lyndon Johnson renamed Cape Canaveral to Cape Kennedy. Although the name change applied to the cape itself, the City of Cape Canaveral and Port Canaveral didn't change their names, with the result that many people were unsure of what they ought to call the place. Then in 1973, after a decade-long campaign by local residents, the name of the cape was changed back to Cape Canaveral, although the John F. Kennedy Space Center still kept its name, with the result that many people are unsure of what to call the place. You can't win.

    The excitement that surrounds the Space Shuttle project makes Cape Canaveral an obvious target for an FS addon and sure enough, one has come along, in the form of Cape Canaveral X by Aerosoft, which replaces the default ground textures with a photographic landscape and enhances the airfields. Needless so say, this product is for FSX, although an FS2004 version is available. Minimum system requirements are given as a 2.0 Ghz Pentium (dual core recommended), with a gig of RAM (2 Gb advised), 200 Mb of hard disk space, and Windows XP or Vista. This really is a minimum system requirement and I did the review on a 2.66 Ghz Core2Duo with 4 Gb of RAM, a 768 Mb GeForce 8800GTX video card, Window Vista and FSX SP2. The package is a 51 Mb download from the Pilot Shop and installation was no problem once the registration key had been entered. When everything was done, I found a 35 page manual in a new program group under the Start menu. A quick check around showed I had version 1.0 of the product and that no updates were available.

    While FSX was wondering whether to cry uncle and load, or to hang, or just spend a long time apparently doing nothing, before springing into life, I read the manual. The scenery covers the entire launch area, stretching from just north of Dummit Grove down to, but not including, Patrick AFB - basically you get nearly all of the islands, but none of the mainland. Three airfields are included: KTTS, which is Titusville; KXMR, which is the Skid Strip; and KCOI, at Merritt Island, which is the shuttle landing field. The manual states that some flights are included, but I was danged if I could find them in the FSX version; other than that, some attention needs to be paid to the display settings if you want to get the best out of the addon. Aerosoft suggest having 'Global texture resolution' set to Very High and 'Texture resolution' to 2 m, but apart from that and a few paragraphs setting the scene, the bulk of the manual consists of airport data and plates (there aren't any for Snark missiles, in case you are wondering, but I guess you could simulate one by doing a vertical approach and crash).

    Loading the scenery for the first time was enough to reaquaint me with the predominantly flat nature of the landscape around the Cape. The area features some attractive coastline, which makes for some attractive flights if you take the scenic route, but other than the airfields, this product stands or falls on the quality of its phototextures, given that there isn't much else to look at on the Cape. The manual states that the developers have gone to some trouble to ensure that the phototextures (which completely replace the default ground textures) blend into the surrounding area as seamlessly as possible, which means that for once, it should be possible to fly over this photoscenery without having joins with the standard FSX textures staring you in the face. As you can see in the screenshot above right, within limits, that is true, but unlike Aerosoft's new German Airfields series, the textures appear to have been ported straight over from FS2004 and appear to be based on satellite imagery, which means that you don't really want to be flying any lower than about 3000 feet above ground level. Unlike German Airfields, whose phototextures are as crisp as hell and ultra-real, letting you fly right on the deck, the ones in Cape Canaveral have a blue-green cast and look to me as if they are based on 5 m per pixel photography, so I don't quite understand the necessity for the 2m setting in the display/scenery dialog. Aerosoft have made something of a rod for their own back with German Airfields, which has some of the best phototextures around, but take a look at what PC Aviator are doing with their FSX sceneries and you will see what I mean about Canaveral. On the plus side, the history of the site shows up very well in the addon and the whole area is littered with old launch pads and stuff.

    As you can see from the screenshots, apart from the rather less than state-of-the-art phototextures, the custom scenery is fairly sparse, which makes it all the more surprising that KCOI has a 'double runway' with the addon version and the default pavement both visible - see the screenshot middle right. You get a few static planes, which are no great shakes and apart from that, the scenery is limited to a few hangars and ground vehicles and some of the launch facility buildings, but nowhere near enough to give you the impression of immersion. Despite this, flying over the custom scenery did what so often does in FSX and reduced my frame rates down to single figures at times, but on the whole, depending on where I had Autogen levels set, frame rates were good. OK, they were normal for FSX. While I remember, if you use map mode, the area covered by the addon doesn't show up in the FSX map window, leaving the runways floating in the sea.

    Verdict? An acceptable addon that provides the best scenery available for Cape Canaveral, but that isn't saying much, because as far as I am aware, there isn't any competition. To be good, Cape Canaveral X would need better phototextures and more custom scenery to make the place look as if it was alive, but given that it is the only game in town, if you want a scenery to fly the Space Shuttle from, this is the one.

    Andrew Herd
    [email protected]

    Learn More Here


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