• Aerosoft's German Airfields 1: Island Hopping

    Aerosoft German Airfields 1 For FSX

    By Andrew Herd (12 March 2008)

    Aerosoft have built up an excellent reputation for addon sceneries over the past decade - for many years, the core of their output being the award winning 'German Airports' series, which been regularly updated since the first volume appeared for FS98. Building on their success, Aerosoft have branched out over the past few years and nowadays offer a wide ranging catalog, featuring everything from single aiports like Heathrow, to entire countries like Monaco. Given Aerosoft's location, it isn't surprising that the company has been heavily involved with German scenery products and in addition to the German Airports series, they have released a wide range of packages, including Real Germany and Scenery Germany, which changed the default FS2004 installation beyond recognition.

    Scenery Germany will not be upgraded to run under FSX - instead, the developer has replaced it with a new and much better product, the German Airfields series. The aim of the package is to upgrade the entire German landscape, so that detailed small/medium sized airports 'bed in' to a realistically phototextured scenery. The series has been designed from the ground up as part of an ambitious package that will be split as follows:

    1. VFR Germany, which will upgrade the 'base' German scenery with 1 meter per pixel phototextures, thousands of visual reference points, custom autogen and corrected rivers and lakes (4 parts announced, of which 'West' has been released at the time of writing).

    2. The 'Mega Airport' series, which will cover international hubs, like Frankfurt (no details).

    3. The German Airports' series, which will cover the large airports (no details, but I would guess four parts).

    4. German Airfields, which will be released in the form of 11 regional packs, covering the smaller fields.

    Users will be free to mix and match depending on what type of simming they enjoy, but it is clear that purchasing the entire set is likely to be an expensive proposition - the one package in Aerosoft's catalog that doesn't seem to fit into the new strategy is German Landmarks X, which appears to overlap with VFR Germany in terms of the objects it provides and has to be installed in the layer below GA1. Even a conservative estimate points to around 20 packages to provide a complete FSX Germany, which means that the developers are going to have to go some if they are to complete the task before the next version of Flight Simulator is released. However, I am settled in for a long acquaintance with FSX, because it has clearly been designed to perform best on hardware that hasn't happened yet... just wait until those eight core systems with 16 gigs of RAM arrive (-:

    German Airfields 1 (henceforth GA1) is sub-titled 'Island Hopping', which is an apt description of what you will find yourself doing, if you visit all 15 airfields included in the package. The addon covers a slice of territory in northern Germany, along the East Frisian coast, where you will find some delightful little airfields; the longest runway available being 14/32 at Westerland/Sylt, which is 2120 m, the shortest being at Baltrum, where you have to squeeze down in 360 m, while the remainder are in the 500 - 1000 m class. One thing you cannot complain about is lack of variety and you can fly from Wangerooge, to Langeoog, Baltrum, Juist, Borkum and Norderney. The fields included are: EDXW - Sylt/Westerland; EDXY - Wyk Auf Fohr; EDXB - Heide-Busum; EDXO - St. Peter-Ording; EDWR - Borkum; EDWJ - Juist; EDWY - Norderney; EDWZ - Baltrum; EDWL - Langeoog; EDWG - Wangerooge; EDXP - Harle; EDWP - Bremerhaven; EDWS - Norden-Norddeich; EDWI - Wilhelmshaven; and EDWE - Emden, with Pellworm airfield and the island Spiekeroog provided as a bonus.

    The download was no problem and installation was straight forward, other than having to enter my email address and a key code. When the installation was done, I found a new program group under the Aerosoft label, containing links to German and English manuals, a set of charts, and a useful link to Google Earth, which shows where the airfields are to be found. The manual gives a great deal of advice about what display settings you will need to get the best out of the scenery, which is well worth a read, being informed and realistic - for example, although GA1 installs local AI traffic, the manual acknowledges that these planes eat frames and suggests starting with an AI traffic density of less than 20% and working up. There are some key settings that can't be avoided if you want to get the best out of GA1, including having Global Texture Resolution set to 'very high', Scenery Complexity to 'Extremely Dense' and Texture Resolution to 60 cm. Although the blurb says that textures are provided 'down to 5 cm', GA1 provides 1m phototextures for the islands and the result is very, very realistic at the 60 cm setting.

    System requirements are given as Microsoft Flight Simulator X plus Service Pack 1;Windows XP (SP2) or Vista, Pentium 2 GHz (Dual Core recommended); 1 Gb RAM; graphics card with at least 256 MB RAM and 700 Mb of hard disk space. I did the review using FSX SP2 on a 2.66 Ghz Core2Duo with 4 Gb of RAM, a 768 Mb GeForce 8800 GTX and Windows Vista and got good enough frame rates to make the package enjoyable at all times, even with a reasonable level of Autogen enabled.

    One way to get to know the scenery is to load the 'Kinofliegers' mission, which takes you on a flight to all the islands, based on a real-world service that delivers films to the local cinemas (though I guess in this age of satellite TV, the days of this milk run must be numbered). However, there is just as much fun to be had flying from one airfield to the next and the scenery is ideal for Aerosoft's fantastic Dornier 27, which makes mincemeat of the small runways and yet is perfectly at home at the larger fields, while being an accomplished addon in its own right. Although the screenshots show the scenery in good weather, the area is frequently socked in with low cloud scudding in off the North Sea and it is subject to some of the worst vis Europe has to offer, with the result that flying with real weather enabled can be extremely interesting, so a plane that can land on a dime comes in handy.

    According to the manual, GA1 differs from the packs which will follow later in the series in that the detailed phototextures cover more than the airfields themselves and a 4 km square area surrounding them - as you can see from the shots, all the islands have been covered, which make the scenery one of the most memorable I have used to date. The views are incredibly believable and to cap it all, the developer has very carefully blended the phototextures into the default FSX tiles, so that the old bugbear of photosceneries - joins between phototextures and default tiles - are very hard to spot indeed. This doesn't mean to say that you can't see where the phototextures end and the default ones begin, but you have to look quite hard. As you can see in the screenshots, sometimes the game is given away by a canal that suddenly shrinks to the trickle that FSX believes it to be, or a freeway shrivels to a thin brown line, but on the whole, the blending works extremely well and other photoscenery developers should take note. Nothing destroys the illusion of a photoscenery more completely than an in-your-face, ruler-straight, up-yours texture join and one of the best things about GA1 is that there don't seem to be any.

    The runways and taxiways at the airfields have been very carefully placed, so that there aren't any of the mismatches one often comes across in photosceneries and the airfields themselves have some of the most believable buildings I have seen outside GeoRender sceneries, which is saying something. The airfield textures are very crisp, the taxiway lines don't suffer from any 'bad' joins and the ground scenery is interesting, colorful and very believable. Custom sounds are installed (be prepared to hear lots of seagulls), you even get a small airshow at Wangerooge, and the water levels are mostly adjusted to the correct level. Despite all the care that has been taken, the scenery isn't perfect and you will see some conflicts, as shown in the screenshot above left, where the default FSX road system tramples all over the photoscenery, but once again, these aren't usually that noticeable.

    I am not going to say much more, beyond the fact that this is an outstanding product; the choice of area is good and the developer has really pulled the stops out. I seldom have had so much fun reviewing a scenery and I very rarely get the urge to revisit one once I am done - but I have made many flights in the Do 27 along the islands and can't wait to see the rest of the series. There are some occasional display issues related to ground levels within the scenery, mainly related to aircraft shadows and taxiway arrows, but these are mentioned in the manual - you will also find some stepping in the terrain in the area around the margins of the addon, where the FSX and GA1 ground levels equilibrate, but apart from that, this is the most engrossing scenery addon I have seen in a long, long while and if the rest of the series is this good, I cannot wait. The idea of signing up to a series that potentially involves buying eleven different packs just to collect all the smaller airfields in a country sounds daunting, but if the remainder of the German Airfields addons are up to the quality of the first one, the set deserves to become a best-seller. Yeah, sure, you can buy more airfields for less, but I very seldom get to see scenery addons coded to as high a standard as this and as I mentioned above, packages which can be mentioned in the same breath as GeoRender are very rare indeed. The icing on the cake is that if (and we will have to wait and see) Aerosoft's ambitious strategy to publish four different complementary series of packages which will combine to deliver a complete upgrade to Germany in FSX pays off, it will be the largest such exercise ever undertaken for Flight Simulator and could well turn out to be something rather special.

    Andrew Herd
    [email protected]

    Learn More Here

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