AVSIM Commercial Scenery Review

Aerosoft

German Landmarks X

Product Information
Publisher: Aerosoft
Description:  Placement of thousands of VFR-navigation aids (landmarks), with hundreds of hang glider airfields and heliports for Germany.

Download Size:
96 MB each version

Format:
Download
Simulation Type:
FS9 and FS-X
Reviewed by: Allen Lavigne AVSIM Staff Reviewer - April 8, 2007

Introduction

When I first read through the features list I was amazed at the amount of object placements; glider fields, and heliports this package gives you! I had to have it. I received my downloads from Aerosoft and it included one for FSX and an FS2004 version of about the same size (96 Megs each). Connection was up to speed with their server and in no time I had both of these on my HD (14 minutes using broadband).

Quoted From AEROSOFT:

Features:• About 2.200 objects added precisely according to the official AIPO from DFS.
• Using glider databases and satellite images another 8.000 objects have been added.
• More then 340 glider / ultra light fields and 320 heliports are available.
• Around 1.000 individual objects were created and other objects taken from the FSX library are used, so a large variety of objects is guaranteed.
• The location of the objects are shown on a digitized maps that can be zoomed in and out.
• The objects are optimized for FSX mesh, other higher density mesh projects have no yet shown problems.
• For slower systems it is possible to reduce the number of objects to ensure a smooth frame rate.

Note for FS2004 users: As a bonus the full FS2004 version is included (but note it is not as elaborate as the FSX version!)

Since this is mainly a VFR scenery package, my primary a/c will be the hang glider for checking both sceneries and performance. I would not expect FSX, with a fast moving Lear, to be capable of rendering all these objects without a disruptive performance hit.

I quote from the manual: “The incorporation of the visual navigation aids for the whole of Germany, which are published as navigational hazards within the official VFR maps, originally was our goal. By combining these elements, we also blended all relevant map entries via a data bank with exact GPS-positions. Thus, all visual navigational aids and hazards, as published in VFR-maps, are now reflected within the German Landmarks.”

Installation and Documentation

The installer for FSX is a setup application that required my email and registration key information. Have the serial copied beforehand, because although the setup does not use the whole screen, I found it hard to get back to the Windows toolbar during setup (not unusual).

There are two locations where files are allocated: the German Landmarks folder (171 megs) in FSX’s add-on scenery was properly installed on my E partition without any help from me (it can be re-directed); and the Map Viewer, which is installed on C regardless (only 9 megs though).

From Windows Start menu/programs

In the Windows Start menu you have a manual, a list of newly added airfields, the Landmarks MapViewer, a readMe, and the uninstaller.

The airfields list is 20 pages long with up to 40 fields listed per page. The bilingual manual is 35 pages long with the English content beginning at page 20, the first part being in German. I also found that although the English grammar of the people at Aerosoft has improved, it was still rather awkward, and at times difficult to understand.

The following add-on scenery folders are activated (by the setup) in your scenery.cfg file. There is no need to manually activate them.
- German Landmarks Exclude
- German Landmarks Airfields
- German Landmarks
- German Landmarks Terrain
- German Landmarks Landclass

If you have any other German airports activated, there is a section in the manual titled “Optimized Configuration of the scenery Library”, where optimized orders of priority are listed. This is a thoughtful addition.

The Mapviewer

You can use the MapViewer to see just where you are in relation to all these hundreds of landmarks (it shows regular airports too). FSX does not have to be connected in order to use the MapViewer. To avoid excess clutter, there is a zoom in/out button, a button for displaying cities (more shown with zoom in), one for airports/airfields, and one for landmarks. Having all of these on at once is very crowded. The full MapViewer shown has cities, landmarks, and airfields displayed, with no magnification.

The “de-cluttered” sample in the second picture has only cities and landmarks on, with the zoom high to reduce congestion. It is centered near the city of Hamburg (EDDH). There appears to be a long line of landmarks in the inlet leading to the cities. Magnification is already at a max in that display, and if I put the cursor on an object, I get a title of what it is; only problem being, it is in German (even though I have the language set to English). But from the shape of the icons I can guess that Windpark means windmill. The zooming in and out is limited to three different magnitudes; more would have been a great help. However, whenever MapViewer is loading anything, especially the large database of landmarks, FSX’s fps falls to a crawl. Still, it is beneficial to VFR navigation.

Full MapViewer A de-cluttered MapViewer
The MapViewer’s toolbar Airfields.pdf

When flying, the MapViewer can connect (through FSUIPC) to FSX and display your aircraft position as a small red cross on the map. The large cities in the MapViewer can be used to find out which airfields are in your area by going to the pdf airfields listing and finding the nearest city listed to the one you are near; heliports and glider fields are also grouped by city. In the example, I found Gransee (highlighted in blue) using the search box, which is one way to find airfields in smaller towns without knowing the nearest large city.

I can understand the exclusion of roads from MapViewer as some may have UTEurope installed but it would have been nice as well as a better representation of rivers. When connected through FSUIPC to FSX there is negligible performance reduction since the aircraft’s position is only updated every 5 seconds. You can use the MapViewer while flying and refer to it occasionally for navigational information without hindering performance, except when loading objects into the MapViewer.

A couple of oddities in MapViewer: Landmarks’ ID in close proximity to your aircraft’s positional marker do not display, but this does not reduce the usefulness of the viewer, which is not a real navigational tool, but only an aid. City names are of a slightly different shade of green against the green background, thus causing reading difficulties.

Landmarks and Airfields

The term “landmark” is used in the VFR navigation sense, not in any historical “tourist” context. It can be any visual aid to navigation such as a mountain, a tower, a windmill, buildings, etc… Added airfields and heliports are, for the most part, generic and are in no way meant to reproduce the actual site.

There are reportedly 5000 VFR landmarks featured from more than 800 different objects. Some of these are FSX-native, some borrowed from previous landmark issues, and some customized or made exclusively for German Landmarks X.

3 different settings at a Frankfurt industrial

The manual states that to see the landmarks correctly, the autogen must be set to sparse, and to see the windmills rotate, the wind speed must be only light, which may be difficult to follow using real weather. They suggest reducing the visibility to maximize the viewing of landmarks. There are three settings used of the six available from the FSX “scenery slider” for setting the density of landmarks: 2/6 sparse: obstacles such as towers, windmills; 3/6 normal: objects such as castles, churches, buildings; 5/6 very dense: candy, such as ships, trains.

Sometimes these landmarks are hard to see when alone and surrounded by trees in the distance as the picture of a distant tower about 8 miles away shows. Up close, as the next snapshot of a windmill shows, they are quite nice in design: the blades rotation is slow but smooth. There should be a hazard beacon on top of these; it would make them more discernable from a distance. In one of the following pictures are three landmarks at one time, an antenna, a hostel, and a factory; it makes for a nice enhancement. At cross country VFR altitudes (7000 feet), these landmarks are still visible from a distance, but it helps to be aware of their approximate whereabouts first using the MapViewer, because they do appear much smaller, but are distinct even from 10 miles away, yet are difficult to locate.

Flying in congested urban areas did impede my fps performance and stutters were becoming more apparent the closer I got to a cluster of landmarks. These happened to be in the city itself in the form of buildings and a custom designed tower. This is really an FSX problem. I once had a large castle landmark being loaded, causing the fps to be much too low, but then performance returnedg to normal upon the completion of its rendering.

Distant tower Rotating windmill With and without distant landmarks
A castle landmark and its default
Antenna tower Three landmarks Distant tower at night
Group of antennas Factory and smokestack

New airfields are included in the FSX GPS database and can be loaded as the “direct-to” destination. By doing a search in the airfields list for the nearest large city, it is then easy to find nearby airfields for gliders and helicopters. A quick check on the MapViewer shows any landmarks in the vicinity of our chosen airfield and we can then keep a lookout for them. In these photos, I have chosen to fly to the Munchen Deutsches Herzzemtrum E721 airfield that is near Munich and a group of landmarks I’ve encircled. You can easily see these landmarks as churches and large buildings on the horizon about 12 miles from my aircraft (the red cross), but there are no blinking hazard beacons on the towers and windmills, even at night. Their inclusion would have made navigation at lot easier. The visual distances are around 15 miles, so you can see them, if you try.

Approaching Munich City Center Munich Communications Tower
Heliport on rooftop Land based heliport

There are hundreds of heliports. The one pictured on a rooftop I found too difficult to land on, mainly because I am a fixed wing pilot (?). When I tried to situate the chopper at this location (E721), it was placed on the ground inside the building, not a great place to be. Most, however, are not on rooftops.

The heliports and glider fields have similar designations: E035, E544 etc… This can leave you wondering what is what when looking up possible destinations on the FSX Map, but they can be identified as to their type by using the usual alt-/World/Airport and typing in your destination; it will then say whether it is one or the other. The type is symbolically differentiated in the MapViewer, but the alphanumeric designations are left out. You can also use the Airfields PDF listing I mentioned earlier.

Pictured next is a field hanger and views from above and on approach. As expected, there are no runway or approach lights at the glider fields, although they are lined with barrels, halfway markers, have a windsock and a hanger. They slope with the terrain, a rarity in flight sims.

Glider hanger view from above view on approach
glider runway markers sloping glider runway

Landclass and Terrain

Landclass and terrain features are greatly improved over the default scenery for the entire area. Railways and railyards are properly placed. Cities and towns are better represented overall. They do recommend the use of UTEurope with FS2004, but that is not yet available in FSX, and one can but wait.

small town default -vs.- with landclass Factory town + smoke –vs.- default FSX Default -vs.- city landclass
EDDF extreme dense Munich rail yards Magdburg water bridge
Hamburg city Hamburg shipyards

It seems that most cities have something added to them in the form of large buildings (some custom designs, some generic), port facilities (these are mostly generic with customized layouts), industrial sections, factories, railyards and rail terminals. Bridges are placed where they should be and tunnels replace bridges where needed (even though FSX still insists on having cars over water, as in Hamburg, not a fault of the developers but an FSX limitation). Even some smaller cities have something added, usually a factory and buildings, adding some content to an otherwise bland landscape. There is even that interesting waterway bridge near Magdburg. In that picture you can also see a cluster of windmills on the horizon.

Towers, antenna masts and windmills are all of similar design with some variations. The comm towers can be seen from quite far, as they are tall and usually on top of a hill or mountain. The windmills are harder to see, especially in daytime in forested areas, where a flashing red hazard light would be helpful.

The FUN Part: The Sailplane in FSX:

In a few words: I found Nirvana in FSX: The sailplane. FSX seems so smooth it is unbelievable. Unlike a helicopter, abrupt movements of the stick do not pitch you into unexpected attitudes, and the VC cockpit was made for the sailplane, such a panoramic view. Ideal for VFR, in the sailplane is where German Landmarks X becomes most useful, giving you a large playing field made of all of Germany with hundreds of places to go. With wing flex, real weather, a tow plane, and VC panning, this is indeed an unexpected treat in the otherwise limiting simulator known as FSX.

Tow plane takeoff Antenna Landmark Glider field at 10 o’clock
Steep slope Berlin by sailplane default -vs.- Landclass
Alps Searching for airfield Found it ! A safe landing

With sloping fields that take the shape of the underlying mesh terrain, there is the occasional dipping of objects below the visual grass field, such as sinking barrels, and of the sailplane itself, for which experiences vary from the loss of sight of the undercarriage or the wingtips, up to the rare occurrence of the whole glider going under the grass carpet. This is a minor annoyance due to the nature of FSX and not the add-on. The pleasure of having a sloping airfield is well worth this small annoyance. Such is the price of a slopping field. (Regular airports have runways forced perfectly level such that this never happens with them.)

The landclass and terrain enhancements with German Landmarks X is again compared to FSX’s default in a side-by-side snapshot of the sailplane enjoying the German section of the Alps foothills. The MapViewer came in handy in my search for the nearest glider field at the foot of the Alps. The fps in these Alpine situations are higher than elsewhere and were smooth, with no loss due to the MapViewer running in the background. I could set the scenery level at extreme, but autogen levels were best left at lower settings.

Performance in FSX:

Flights between small cities and during departures/approaches to and from them showed fps performances that were acceptable to me, but in the areas of large metropolitan cities and larger airports, it certainly was not great, as can be expected in FSX. The larger stutters were observed when the sim had to load large complex objects, such as extended castle estates near larger cities.

By reducing my airline AI to 30% and GA-AI to 10, I could maintain a 14% road traffic setting without suffering a large loss of fps (the road traffic adds a great deal of realism for me so I leave it on). I did have to keep autogen at lower levels (sparse) regardless, and scenery was always kept at normal when near cities, meaning a loss some of the add-on’s objects. I used real weather via ActiveSky 6.5, which added to the charm of the sky scenery without affecting performance. Settings were at minimum for cloud view distance and one notch from max for cloud density.

These settings lead to a performance level that allowed me to enjoy most of the features at most localities using German Landmarks X. A high-end computer is an advantage, as usual. At altitude there is still an fps hit, but it is hard to say how much of that is due to FSX itself. I turned off all German Landmarks X files and was getting similar frame rates while enroute in the CRJ700 at FL 140.

Performance was at its best when using a sailplane.

FS2004:

The install is easy and straightforward here as well. There are fewer files loaded, because there are no airfield and heliports added. The MapViewer, being the same one used for FSX, shows the glider fields and heliports anyway. There are also files for terrain and landclass enhancements.

In the Windows Start menu/programs, you will find a German Landmarks Manager. What this does is enable the disabling/enabling of Landmarks’ scenery state-by-state, by one or many. This can optimize the interplay between German Landmarks and other add-ons in conflict with the same areas. Note that the FSX version does not have this manager.

Start menu/programs/CR-software Landmarks manager
Frankfurt city + EDDF Frankfurt Industrial

I did not use FS2004 German Landmarks much as it is similar to the FSX product with fewer enhancements. It is there if you want it. Suffice to say that I do not use FS2004 any longer except to compare products to FSX. Performance, as expected, is much better, but it is not as nice as the FSX version.

Test System

P4 3.2G
2G RAM
ATI X850XT 256Meg
Windows XP (sp2)

Note: My screen resolution is 1920x1200 so all the pics will have widescreen aspects.

Flying Time:
10 hours

Summary

German Landmarks X is an excellent VFR-navigation scenery enhancement best used with slow moving aircraft or helicopters. Performance was at best mediocre on my system (last years’ high-end system). This is not to say the developers were lax on their optimizations, but is rather a limitation imposed by the nature of FSX itself; maybe with the upcoming FSX patch things will improve.

Nevertheless, if your system is a lot less than the system requirements stated by the developer of a 3 gigahertz machine, you may end up watching a slide show. I must say they are being honest, although I would also suggest having 2 gigs of RAM (mine surpassed 1 gig often). Frame rates were often in the lower teens and less, but then I am not one to desire high fps over high quality scenery such as German Landmarks X.

I enjoyed using this add-on and would recommend it to anyone with the right equipment and a healthy attitude towards mediocre but smooth performances. I will not prejudice this product by quoting my exact fps, but suffice it to say that considering the flight sim they are dealing with, I was not disappointed, as I did expect some hit on performance.

I did not classify the fps hit, as a “What I Don't Like” in the list below because I think that problem is essentially FSX related, as can be seen by the number of snapshots I enthusiastically took. I really enjoyed playing about with this add-on.

In a communication with the developers, the issues raised of daytime navigational lights may be fixable, but is very hard to do in FSX and if it ends up impacting the fps too much, it would not be wise to implement. Also, the absence of roads and river details in the MapViewer is because one road must have minimum of one pixel of width; this cannot be realized yet in this version of MapViewer. It is a “gadget” to help with navigation and not a fully developed navigational tool add-on in and of itself. The developer also notes that the designations given to the glider airfields are fictional and no ICAO codes exist. The inclusion of these in the Mapviewer could be a future update to the add-on.

 

What I Like About German Landmarks X

  • Many thousands of object placements.
  • Many hundreds of airfields added.
  • MapViewer is a great idea and a useful addition.
  • PDF list of airfields grouped by nearest large city and has a search function.
  • Landclass and terrain enhancements are excellent.
  • Fun to have and pleasant to fly VFR with, especially in a sailplane.
  • Glider fields slope with the terrain.

 

What I Don't Like About German Landmarks X

  • Only a few minor glitches as discussed in the text

 

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