If sheer numbers have any say in the matter, then Los Angeles’ main airport is a giant amongst giants. By the end of 2005 (per LAWA’s Dec 2005 TCOM Report), it had seen some 61 million passengers pass through its various terminals, dealt with 2.1 million tons of cargo, and had seen better than 650,000 total aircraft movements! Those are impressive figures by any measure, and are worthy of the largest US gateway to the Pacific Rim.
We’re talking, of course, about KLAX, the world’s fifth - and the US’s third - busiest airport. Given its stature in the realm of commercial aviation, it’s only natural that it has been the center of many a scenery developer’s creative attention. Joining the ranks is Cloud 9, probably best known for their previously released F-104 Starfighter aircraft add-on.
Installation and Documentation
As with most add-ons these days, the installer for KLAX is available for download directly from the Cloud 9 website. It is the updated v1.01, including all the necessary improvements and modifications that were made after the package’s initial release. Following the prompts will reward you with a standard, pain-free installation process.
The included documentation is thorough, and deserves a look-over. It goes into good detail as to the airport's long history, what makes the scenery tick, tweaking it for maximum performance, etc. If you happen to be using Cloud 9 add-on AI aircraft, you definitely will want to read the manual, as it has special information for those that fall under that catagory. Other goodies include approach plates and a detailed airport map.
Given the worldly status of what they took on, my expectations were a bit higher when I started loading up MSFS for the first time with Cloud 9’s product up and running in the scenery library. Let’s face it; KLAX is no small fry in terms of airports, with one aviation-related site showing an average daily count of 1,794 aircraft operations per day. That works out to one every minute and fifteen seconds in a twenty-four hour period! But enough about numbers.
I give Microsoft kudos in the fact that KLAX is one of the better default airport sceneries in FS2004, but it takes something like Cloud 9’s rendition to do it justice. A couple of comparison before-n-after shots should start things off quite nicely.
The main terminals take centerstage, and the efforts are immediately apparent. All structures, including their gate layouts, now mimic their real world counterparts, and the details really leapt out at me. Roadways, parking lots, signage, and ground equipment are thrown in with loving care, filling in much of the void that the default version seems to have a plethora of. Closer up, the smaller details are readily apparent and recognizable. Slewing about with a grin on my face, I dredged up what few recent memories I have of the airport and, with the backup of readily available photo material, was more than impressed.
The details continue throughout the field. The southside of the airport now has life breathed into it in the form of various cargo carrier and GA ramps. Slew right down the center of the west end between the two pairs of runways and you will come face to face with the dozens of airline maintenance and airport support facilities that just aren’t done justice in default-land. And let's not forget what has been done outside the security fenceline perimeter, where landmarks and roadways well known to the flying public are also included throughout the immediate are. Hey… it wouldn’t be KLAX without them.
KLAX may be a hoot in the day, but it shines at night as well. Runway, taxiway, and approach lighting are very well executed, giving me some serious consideration about enjoying my hobby during "after hours" (wait… that’s what Time And Season in the menu is for, right?) Again, the surrounding hotels and offices were not missed, making the short finals from the east a little more memorable.
A little lower on the bar is the ramp lighting, where I felt that it seemed a bit dim anywhere outside the terminal area (the south side of the Delta Maintenance Ramp specifically comes to mind), but it still gets the general ambience of the place quite nicely, once the sun goes down.
Animation and interactivity are rapidly becoming the norm these days in scenery add-ons, and Cloud 9 decided not to make an exception here. In the immediate area of the field, you just might catch a glimpse of cars making their way down the Avenue east of the approach ends of the 25's, or it might be a baggage tug smack in the middle of all the gateside activity.
If you happen to look towards the ‘Theme Building’ at night, you might discern a sudden change in its appearance as it changes colors. Great touches to support the notion that you are flying into a beehive of activity, if not just something to look at while waiting for all those virtual passengers.
As for interactive details, selected gate positions around the terminals all have animated jetways and marshallers. Something that I just loved about these features is that there is no dialing in a frequency to identify what kind of aircraft I was in… the man with the wands just somehow knew what kind of plane was coming in, and the jetway operator knew how to saddle up to the door of the aircraft. It’s called ‘Active Gate’ and as long as you’re flying a plane that the system recognizes (outlined in the manual) and you're using a predefined gate, the process works each and every time.
There aren’t a whole lot of things that I found in KLAX that I could short Cloud9 on. In fact, there really is only one, and it relates to the field lighting. While it details the general ambience of the place after sundown, I still felt that it seemed a bit dim anywhere outside the main terminal area. It’s an minor glitch, and had I not been reviewing this software for everyone’s benefit, I might have not even bothered mentioning it.
Other items caught were less of a problem on Cloud9’s end than they were because of how things just happen to be. LAX has a preference for concrete runways, probably for the virtue of greater strength. While this is all well and good, one must bare in mind that concrete is much lighter than asphalt, and this has a net effect of not being able to get a solid visual on any of the four runways until inside the 6 miles mark, even in the best weather conditions. Under real world conditions using identical visibility, I typically can sight any asphalt runway quite well 10 miles away, and spend the extra time getting aligned.
The last item encountered in my review of this scenery is entirely not Cloud 9’s fault. A pre-existing glitch exists on Rwy 06R, in and around the intersection of Twy AA. Anything rolling on this surface in the vicinity of intersecting Twy AA will act as if the pavement has been ground out, seemingly bumping up and down on the (approx ) 100 ft stretch, and in my tests, usually in the eastbound direction. This is a hiccup in FS2004’s default scenery, and not the result of any imperfections in the Cloud9 version.
* Baseline Tests Parameters: resolution - 1024x768x32, detail / autogen levels – MAX, traffic – OFF, no weather *
This was the second Los Angeles Int’l scenery I’ve ever come across, so I was bracing myself for a very severe drop in performance when I first ran it on my PC. After all, this facility has a lot chocked into the relatively small space. Surprisingly, when that hit came, it was nowhere near what I was expecting.
Using MSFS default aircraft under the baseline settings, I was shocked to find myself getting framerates during the day in the 26-28 FPS range. It isn’t very often when a commercial payware scenery goes this easy on the system, and it’s a rarity when one takes into account the extra animation that’s been thrown in around the place. Admittedly, nights are a touch harder with all the lights around the field being rendered, dropping down to a 23-25 FPS average.
Of course, the more one throws into the mix, the lower the FPS gets. Subsequent tests were run using my standard settings of 1280X1024, detailed weather, a variety of commercial add-on aircraft, and 3rd party AI traffic set at Cloud9’s recommended level of 50%. Despite the heavier load, however, KLAX still remains more than usable, with framerates averaging in the 14-15 FPS range.
Should you have any doubts about whether or not your rig can handle KLAX, Cloud9 has generously allowed the scenery to be used on a trial basis. Simply choose the ‘Trial’ option in the appropriate checkbox during installation and the package will come up active in its entirety for a full 7 minutes. Afterwards, the scenery deactivates automatically, requiring a restart of MSFS if you didn’t quite come to a decision.
Adding It Up
Excellent. That’s all I have to say about Cloud9’s latest offering to the sim world. Being system-friendly, glitch-free, and accurate in the minute details, it really couldn’t have gone any other way. Based on my observations, KLAX should whet the appetites of virtual flyers hungry for an up-to-date rendition of this airport, and newcomers certainly won’t be disappointed if they give it a try.
Now if you excuse me, I’ve got a little more Socal flying to do.
AI aircraft courtesy of Traffic 2004. Weather effects courtesy of Active Sky 6.
|What I Like About KLAX|
|What I Don't Like About KLAX|
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