On final LEPA ILS 6L, the body of my 767 cramped with happy tourists, chanting from beer and cheap champagne. Ah… GS indicator comes alive … down and locked, three greens … flaps 15 … speedbrake armed. In the clear evening air the runway lights have been visible for minutes already, an ever beautiful sight. Approaching minimums … I have the plane … threshold passed … looking good … touchdown … autobrake kicks in … I hit for F2 … yup, the always satisfying sound of the reversers rising … sixty knots, F1 … the plane comes to a standstill. A very, very rewarding experience, sometimes I hit S a couple of times to watch the planes in the external views, to catch the beauty of strobe and positions lights pulsating in the night environment of my airport scenery.
But that basically was it for me, my next press was escape and to end the flight. I never saw the point of actually driving the plane via Mike, Foxtrot and whomever to Gate XY and all that. I was using flight simulator to fly. Period. Besides that, I found it cumbersome to stay on the yellow lines.
- that all has changed now, let me explain you why:
With Control-Shift-W and after that F3, a little checkered VW-Van pops up (yeah, sadly enough, it pops up, but that is subject to change in further updates), its lights cutting through the darkness. I follow the little chap, and when he intends to turn for the next taxiway, he gives a turn signal in time and I can conveniently follow him to my chosen gate or stand – my nifty little follow me van. Driving through the ICAO-Alphabet, we could finally introduce outsells to another trusty fellow, a fully animated 3d Marshaller who would direct us into a parking position at a stand. Left, closer … closer … closer … stop – and the cut throat sign. However, at the modern jetways gates of Palma de Mallorca, automatic docking signs will direct the plane.
Now, for the first time ever, I find myself working through the shutdown checklist. While doing that, the whining siren of a moving jetway arises from the left. Panning around, I observe the rubber seal perfectly aligning to my jet. The only things left to be wished for are animated hugs and kisses at the arrival hall.
What is is:
AES is a tool that offers detailed adjustable and aircraft tailored ground services for certain, mainly Aerosoft distributed airports. It provides you with a fully automated pushback service, a follow me vehicle, an animated 3D marshaller, a visual docking guidance system, moving and well aligned jetways, stairways, catering vehicles and luggage-belt or container vehicles serving your plane. It offers these services only to the user plane, not to AI aircraft. A credits system enables you to buy credits and to use them to activate the services at additional airports.
Installation and Documentation:
The Base Pack download V1.50 is 11.9 Mb in size and dates from April, 14th 2007. The download is free of charge and enables you to use the AES with the FS 2004 default Airport EDDN, Nurnberg (Germany). The package contains an installer and the procedure is only a matter of a few confirming mouse clicks. The package comes with a 17 pages PDF-manual mainly outlining the process of entering credits, adjusting plane services and using the services in the sim.
Setting it up:
The main application providing user configuration is the AESHelp module. You can enter new credits their and spend them on airports to activate the service for them. You can adjust your plane services to an aircraft type via a graphical interface and you have access to the manual from there. It is really easy and intuitive to use and you will gain a lot without having to read the manual.
Entering and spending credits:
The AES-Base pack comes with three credits. 10 additional Credits will cost you about 17.06 $US or 14.95€ (April, 19th 2007), so one credit equals 1.7$/1.5 €. (Note, the prices are subject to change and depend if VAT applies to you or not). You will receive a registration number like row of digits and paste them into the AESHelp application. After that, you can spend your credits in the “Activation of Airports” section. Costs for the activation of an airport ranges from 1 credit (e.g. Simwings Santander or GAP Berlin-Schoenefeld) up to 5 credits (GAP MAP Frankfurt and Simwings Paris). I have to mention that some aerosoft distributed airports (e.g. GAP Moenchengladbach, Simwings Gibraltar and others) will come for free; with their required credits set to zero. So for users who already own some Simwings or GAP airports, the AES-Base Pack will offer service on some airports at no costs.
I had a minor issue there: I erroneously thought I owned Simwings LEVC (Valencia, Spain) and spent a credit on its activation. The interface confirmed if I really wanted to spend my credit and accepted it. It turned out however, that I did not own the airport and the credit was lost (at least until I buy the airport, I guess). While incidents like this unmask the stupid bastard I am, I would have expected a policy implemented that detects wasted credits and saves them for me.
Adjusting services to you aircraft:
For a number of Airliners, I couldn’t find out which ones exactly but the Boeing 737 and the 767 obviously belong to them, there are default settings. So no need to set them up. While having your plane situated somewhere at a supported airport, you have to open the AESHelp module and arrange the windows in a manner that you have FS9 and AESHelp side by side visible. Then you can adjust the door markers selected in the AESHelp module at your aircraft in FS9 application window. Once satisfied, you save your parameters and close the AESHelp.
I have to admit; I initially only skimmed through the manual and missed the point of having to run FS9 in windowed mode and to adjust its windows size. So it took me the better part of the evening to get the whole thing set up with those two separated application windows, but once done, it is exactly like the manual states “…actually fun…”. There are a few limitations currently: The height from the ground for passenger entries must be 1.8 m/6 ft minimum (sorry, no jetways for your C-172). Cargo and catering is only provided for the right doors. If those are disabled or not suitable (as for example in my ATR 72-500 with its left cargo door), no cargo service will be available. The pushback service is adjusted with bar at the position of the nose wheel axis. Given that the plane is tall enough fit into the pushback vehicle, this service would work for any sort of aircraft. The internal radius of the positions has to be at least 19 m/ ~60 ft to have a parking position serviced.
There are basically two situations when you would call AES interface on a supported airport:
1. Right after landing with your gate assigned, you can call the follow
Ref. No. 1:
Let’s imagine you came to a stop in LEPA and gate 18 was assigned to you. You would open the AES-User-Interface, which is similar to the ATC window, with CRTL-SHFT-W, adjust the Gate number with the function keys and then call the Follow Me van. As mentioned above, the van will appear suddenly if watched from an outside view, but if you stay in the cockpit, the van will create a realistic visual impression by driving from your peripheral field of vision into the center. You can now follow the VW to the gate. Since the AES is not aware of any AI-traffic, you have to stop by yourself at crossing aircraft, traffic congestions and such. While you hold your brakes, the follow me van comes to a stop. Arriving at your gate, the automatic guidance system will direct you into the parking position. Arriving at a stand; the 3D marshaller waves you into position. When he is happy with your alignment, you will be asked to apply parking brakes and soon after be informed that the blocks are now in position and finally the jetways or stairways come into play. Should you botch the parking, you can always have AES complete the job for you by moving the aircraft into the exact blocking position and handing it back over to you. This is a mere matter of selecting a keystroke in the AES user window.
Ref. No 2:
Having your plane replenished and your cockpit preparation checklist finished, you can deblock by opening the AES interface and selecting the ready for departure state. Jetways will separate now and service vehicles retreat. The vehicles will drive out of your cockpit’s visual field and then disappear. You can then select “pushback” or “no pushback, only clearance”, the latter in case you should prefer to turn on the taxiway by yourself. In any case, a clearance for starting the engines will be given. So you can spool up you engines while a much elaborated, handcrafted pushback procedure will take place. The procedure paths are individually designed for every Parking Slot at any supported airport. To give you some figures: Frankfurt has 184 pushback procedures, Munich 221 and Paris 394. The overall accessible pushback procedures in the AES 1.50 pack sums up to a whopping 2746. (If stats float your boat, the number of jetways is 1010 and the number of parking positions is 2648). I really enjoyed starting the engines while being pushed around; it just adds a lot the overall realism.
3D modeling and animation:
The screenshots speak for themselves here. The level of detail looks adequate for me and doesn't leave a lot to desire. It has been criticized that the wheels do not move. To be correct, I am mentioning this but I personally do not care. The marshaller certainly falls a little behind the animations known from 3D shooters, but hey, it is a flight simulation, isn’t it?
When the service trucks move themselves into position, you can sometimes spot side-shifting movements that may not look realistic, but this is very subtle. I am really impressed by finding out that the little extendable pads of the service trucks indeed extend when they moved themselves into position. The pushback procedures – given their high number, I may have examined 1% - are flawless and smooth. As mentioned above, due to limitations in detecting AI traffic, it will happen from time to time that airport AI vehicles will drive through AES vehicles. This is a rare event, but certainly takes a little away from the overall realistic impression.
For the comparisons, I used the default 737-400 with the Pacific Airline livery in 2Dd cockpit at the threshold of the active runway 28, engines running. Using AEShelp, I activated and deactivated the AES for the default EDDN. On the left hand side, you see the results for EDDN AES activated, ~ 43 fps. With AES deactivated, I reached ~ 47 fps. The second example is the same plane at the same airport at gate 9. Much to my surprise, in the external view the AESHelp Service vehicles seemed not to have a significant influence on the framerate (59.3 vs 59.6 fps).
Support (as far as I can tell):
Support is done via the Aerosoft forum. You have to wait till your subscription has been confirmed; the process took about an hour for me on a Saturday. They offer customer support and customer’s support there - as Mr. Kok wrote somewhere in the manual, “…customers will help customers while we are sleeping.”. I had a minor problem with active camera: With this installed, under certain conditions, you won’t hear the siren sound of the moving jetway and an announcement of the groundcrew will be clipped. Active camera is such an integral part of my FS9 setup that I forgot to mention it. Nevertheless, a couple of hours later I received my first answer from a user clarifying that. Browsing through the topics, in almost every substantial thread I found advices from the developer, Oliver Pabst himself or from the Product manager, Mathijs Kok. The same applied to a later request from me I posted there. The general attitude of the board seemed very friendly.
There is one provided that honestly struck me a little odd: You get a sound from hitting the runway center lights with your nosewheel on the activated airports. Um … interesting! Shame on me, but I have to confess that most of my takeoffs (in GA real life and in the simulation) aren’t skilled enough to make the most out of it. I tend to cross the centerline a few times on the take-off run but have a hard time rolling exactly on it. Nevertheless, I found it an interesting trivia to learn that these are the reason for Liner-Pilots not to stay exactly on the centerline during their take-off runs.
Questions for the developers:
As a staff reviewer I am encouraged to mail interview questions to the developers. So I took a look at the forums to catch what may be of interest or remarkable to ask. I came up with the following:
My first question was regarding the sales numbers, M. Kok, Aerosoft’s Product Manager answered:
“ Yes I think it will top the Beaver as our best selling download product this week. It has seriously impressive sales. Even more impressive as there has been very little attention from the press in the form of reviews. I keep pushing for it, but I basically get the same answer every time ‘we concentrate on FSX at this moment’. But customers tell us that they are looking to ‘upgrade’ FS2004 with more (or better) functionality while waiting for FSX to be better usable. When this is offered at a low price (nobody is going to invest heavy on FS2004 at this moment), we see that customers love it. And using AES, FS2004 is simply better looking, more accurate and more fun, than FSX in the same stages of the flight.”
On my question, “How difficult is it to make additional airports available? As I understand it, you need to modify 3D files from the scenery/airport developers to make them work with AES?” I received the following answer from the developer, Mr. Pabst:
I received the following answer from the developer, Mr. Pabst:
“ For some of the feature of AES, I need no support, because there is no conflict with the scenery, like Follow-Me, Runway features or the Pushback. But to animate the jetways or the replace scenery based Docking Guidance Systems or Marshallers will need to eliminate the (mostly) static objects included in the scenery. The problem is, that every designer has a different strategy to place this objects in his BLG code. In the easiest situation, each of these objects is placed separate as a single object and so the exclude command of the FS can remove these objects of lower leveled sceneries. But in the most cases, jetways are part of the terminal buildings are grouped together with other stuff, like lines on the ground or details around the position. In this case, it is not possible to eliminate the jetways with out removing other stuff. In this case, only the generation of a different export from the designer’s source can help, to get these parts separated, so that AES can remove the original one and replace it with one without the non needed parts. The second reason, why we need the cooperation with the designers is the policy of AES, not to modify the “style” of the supported scenery. So the jetways of AES should have the same textures and design form, as the original scenery has. And so I don’t want to use Textures with out permission of the developers. To get some info and maybe code support from the developers is the only reason for the situation, that AES now only support sceneries, which are in relation to Aerosoft products, because there I have the contact to the designer groups over years now. But I am very optimistic, that we will get in contact with other groups very soon and that they will learn, that the invest of there time is very low, but the benefit in sales count for there products will be given very soon after the AES release.”
Regarding the credits system Mr. Pabst wrote:
“ The credit system for AES was my idea, to make the product flexible. We could not know at November, which airports will follow and how many invest of time we need. So it was not possible build bundles of airports and to make a fair pricing for it. With the credits we are very flexible, the software packs can be free downloadable and we can add free airports to the packs. The user can make the decision, which airports he wants give the AES support.”
I finally asked if there were any development updates they want the community to know about. Again, Mr. Pabst answered:
“ The major goal for AES is, to have the Apron traffic under control, to have streets at the apron, where the vehicles will drive and not popup in front of the aircraft. A little bit like FSX has it, but more detail and realistic. The Version 1.50 shows the user, that AES is on the right way. But it is a long and very complex development, because all the vehicles must have the intelligence to drive around with only a minimum of specific data.”
Summary / Closing Remarks:
“ Any snags on the bird?” – “No, no snags. She’s looking pretty good!” Simming is a lot about immersion. Immersion is a very personal matter, if ground handling is on your list, then AES helps a lot.
Some parts of the AES features you can find in other sceneries or plane packages, like a moving marshaller in the Flightzone sceneries. But to the best of my knowledge, nothing offers such a comprehensive, conceptual approach and level of detail, especially when it comes to the pushback procedures.
I had no serious issues with the package whatsoever, everything worked as advertised. Installation is smooth, using it is very intuitive and you only have to remember one keystroke to master the program in flight, or to be correct, while taxiing. Saying that, it has to be pointed out that to get the most out of the AES package; you have to fly preferably an airliner, since features like jetways or the pushback truck make no sense in smaller aircraft.
As you can try the package with a FS9 default airport; everyone is free to check out if this is his cup of tea and suits his way of flying … I mean, driving. The credit system seems fair enough, though it remains debatable if someone who spent 40$/€ on a major airport will happily spend another 5-8$/€ for the AE services. But sales figures seem to proof their point. Overall, AES impressed me as an elaborate, genuine and substantial contribution to FS9 with still lots of promising perspectives. Sounds biased, and probably is, but I really cannot make out anything substantial that should keep you away from installing it.
While editing this review, AES 1.6 was released. No new trucks have been introduced, but the timing of their sequences had been tuned, and support for another 15 airports was added, Fly Tampa's St. Maarten amongst them. For an actual airport list, check their website.
Reviewers Note: For the pictures taken in this review I used the following add-ons: Aerosoft’s “MAP Frankfurt”, Simwing’s “Balearic Islands and Gibraltar”, Level-D Sim’s 767, Flight One’s ATR 72-500 and Shockwave’s “Wings of Power”.
What I Like About AES
What I Don't Like About AES
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