Sion can be found in the Rhône valley in the Swiss Alps. Surrounded by picturesque mountains this is a very beautiful area. The airport itself was first opened in 1935 and with the imminent outbreak of the Second World War and it's favourable location, the airport quickly caught the attention of the Swiss military.
In 1937 an agreement was signed to make this a joint civilian military airfield. This agreement continues to this day making it the only airport of this type in the country.
The airport currently operates two runways; a 2000 meter concrete runway that was upgraded with ILS capability in 1991 and a second 600 meter grass runway. In 2007 there were over 44000 combined aircraft movements making this small airfield a busy place.
The file size is a mere 23Mb so the download is fast and small in comparison to many add-ons these days. I'd have to say that the installation was very quick, this is the standard Aerosoft installer but it did leave me hanging for a few minutes at one point.
After picking my language, which for me is English, I entered my serial number and confirmed the FSX directory path, it then prompted me with a question in German asking me if I used DX10. As I do not, I selected no. At this point the installer screen disappeared without warning only to reappear after several minutes with a message that the installation process was finished. The installer adds the scenery to FSX so it's ready to use the next time you fly.
The manual is a 24 page PDF document with sections in German, French and English. The English portion was only seven pages. It provides information on a variety of topics.
Some of the ones I found useful were system requirements, installation, compatibility, scenery features and activation commands for dynamic objects. The sections titled "Activation commands for the dynamic objects" was the most interesting and useful.
The Aerosoft site mentions that a manual is included as part of the download but none came with mine. I had to go to the Aerosoft website and download it afterwards.
Included with the download were four charts, all in PDF format and all are accessible via the program group "Mailsoft". They include a ground chart, approach chart and two departure charts, all of which I found useful.
Loading the flight that's included with the package you'll find yourself just west of the main civilian terminal building in a Swiss Maule. The first thing that jumps out at you is that you're in a valley surrounded by the Swiss Alps. Panning around, you begin to notice that there are lots of little touches that bring the airport to life.
In this particular instance there was a Dash 8 parked outside the main terminal building which is a red brick structure. It is fairly well detailed with windows that have the appearance of transparency. You might notice though that if you zoom in close some of the writing looks blurred.
They've placed people so that they appear to be arriving to catch a flight or perhaps they are waiting for someone to come pick them up. There are vehicles in a grassy parking area, with personal bags and cargo placed just where you would expect to find them.
Looking to the west there is a line of cargo hangers, once again you have items such as boxes and crates and a variety of airport vehicles, some of which are animated. It was not uncommon to see a fuel truck driving around the airport.
f you like plane spotting there is no shortage of aircraft here.
There is quite a variety of small private and business aircraft
parked in the apron area. Most of the objects look good but many
of them, as you zoom in close, appear less detailed and blocky.
This statement holds true for the military side of the airport
On the south side of the main runway is the military portion of Sion airport. Just as with the civilian side you will find a variety of static objects but this time, as you would expect, they are military in nature. There are some static military vehicles, personnel and aircraft. In front of one of the buildings there is a Hunter aircraft on a pedestal but looking closely you will notice that the markings are mirrored on one side so the lettering is backwards.
They've included some animations here as well; you can open and close the doors of the military and emergency hangers. This is done by selecting a specific frequency in your aircraft once you are within a certain distance of the appropriate hanger. Another dynamic feature that you have some control over is the taxiway and approach lighting, again by selecting a specific frequency, in this case either the airport's tower or ground frequency to activate the lights.
Beyond the borders of the airport you'll come across some extra objects included to spruce up the area. For me some worked, some didn't. The one that stood out the most was the 3D railway that runs parallel along the northern boundary of the airport. It looks out of place, plain and simple. It begins and ends abruptly not appearing to connect to anything.
The next thing that wasn't right was a bridge crossing a stream at the western end of the tracks, it looks bad; it doesn't line up correctly and it is incomplete. They should have just left it out. At the other end of the rail line are some houses and trees, they appear on the railroad tracks, clearly out of place. On the ground at the airport you really don't notice these but from the air they stand out like a sore thumb.
To the south of the airport is a stretch of power lines that look good except they cast large square shadows. It's not all bad though; some of the other noticeable scenery additions do look good and fit in quite well. There is a petrol tank farm, a nearby hospital and the castles of Valere and Tourbillon.
On New Year's Eve and August 1st, at specific times, you can watch a fireworks display originating from the castle at Tourbillon. The display is rather impressive and is not just a repetition of the same graphics animations over and over but has quite a variety of colourful explosions.
One last comment about the airport is the way in which the ground textures blended, or in this case, did not blend in with the immediate surroundings. You will see by my screenshots that the boundary of the airport is quite distinct and that it doesn't merge very well. Winter is better but still not seamless.
As I could not test this with Switzerland Pro X I don't know if some of the short comings I came across, especially those with the 3D railroad track scenery or the blending in of the airport with the ground textures, would have been less pronounced or non existent.
Flying the scenery
Flying in and out of this airport can prove to be a challenge depending on the aircraft type you choose. I did the majority of my flying in a Cessna 206 which is fairly manoeuvrable; however the airport does accommodate a wide variety of aircraft including some larger commercial aircraft types such as the 737 as well as high performance military aircraft like the F-18.
As is recommended, I normally approached the airport from the east. Doing so provides certain advantages, the ILS is active on runway 25 which includes approach lights and the valley is much longer and wider from this direction making it easier than a westerly approach. Most of my departures were also to the east as the initial climb is not as steep.
I ultimately flew in and out in both directions successfully but when doing so from the west; you get more of a sensation of flying through a tunnel as the valley is only about 2.5 kilometres wide on average with 3100 meter high mountains looming close by. It does make for interesting flying and keeps you on your toes as you have to be aware of where you are at all times.
There are lots of little extras in and around this airport that give you the feeling that the airport is alive and not just a deserted concrete strip. The scenery is not without its faults but overall it's nicely done. They've tried to bring this airport to life and it's my opinion that they've managed to do that, despite some problems.
What I Like About Sion X
What I Don't Like About Sion X
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