Do you like bush flying? Even if you’re not sure where Papua New Guinea is, keep reading; this one is fun and priced to sell.
In November 2005, I published an article in Computer Pilot magazine titled “Free Flying in Papua New Guinea.” I have still never been to PNG, but I continue to fly there in the sim and read about its history.
During World War II much of the island was occupied by Japan, which was hoping to use it as the staging ground for an invasion of Australia. If you’re interested, there are some good fictionalized accounts of the fighting there in Anton Myrer’s Once an Eagle, told from the American side, and Neal Stephenson’s Cryptonomicon, told from the Japanese side.
The island of New Guinea is the second largest island in the world, but the two sides are controlled by different governments. For the eastern side, Papua New Guinea, “controlled” is a euphemism. In 2004, PNG (as I am going to refer to it here) had 571 airfields and only 370 nautical miles of paved roads. One reason is money; another is terrain, which is mountainous and densely forested. In consequence, the main ways of getting around are foot, boat, and airplane.
The region is a challenging one for pilots. All but around twenty of the island’s airfields are unpaved. Many of them are at high altitudes, where the thin air reduces engine performance and requires longer runways; not for nothing does the Fane scenery in this package include a crashed Islander hauled off to the side of the runway. (There’s another crashed plane at Ononge, which I only just noticed) Navaids and radar control are minimal. Most flying is VFR, but precipitation is high and visibility low. There are few towns and roads to use as landmarks.
So why fly here? Think of it as the tropical version of Alaska: raw, majestic nature, with mountains, water, and lots of weather. There’s also what Yeats called the fascination of what’s difficult. Finally, there’s frame rates. With almost no cities, frame rates in PNG are on the high side; according to the developer, autogen is actually more realistic at middling levels than at high. The only thing missing, in the default scenery, are accurate landclass, detailed coastlines, detailed terrain mesh, and about 500 airfields.
For FS2004, there were several freeware add-ons to improve the landclass (Ian Thatcher), terrain mesh (Andy Weir), and airports (Adrian Shortall). The landclass and terrain mesh still work in FSX (although, if you use the landclass, you will see some anomalies), but Shortall’s airport package does not. That is too bad: it was one of my all-time freeware favorites, especially Cape Rodney.
Then, last spring, Graham Michael started releasing freeware airports for FSX, using objects from the default scenery library; look for png_airports_part_1.zip in the AVSIM file library. The payware package under review here is an extension of that work. It includes new terrain mesh (76m), 23 airfields, and 10 seaplane or helicopter bases (one of which is on a cruise ship).
Four of the airfields -- Tokua (AYTK), Hoskins (AYHK), Kerema (AYKM), and Tapini (TAP) -- were part of the freeware package, but they look quite different here because now they are built with custom objects, about 500 for the whole package. If you combine the two (and most buyers will want to), you should delete or rename the freeware versions of the four fields that overlap: AYTK_ADE_GM.BGL, AYHK_ADE_GM.BGL, AYKM_ADE_GM.BGL, and TAP_ADE_GM.BGL.
Installation and Documentation
The download is a little bit over 90 megabytes and requires a serial number; an installer program takes care of the rest. There’s also a repair program if you make some changes that go the wrong way.
Documentation is a strong point. Limitations of the scenery, and of the simulator, are discussed forthrightly. For example, airfields can have parking spaces or sloped runways, but not both; this package has fields with both types. Several charts are provided, which indicate airfield locations and suggested routes. There are three of these, plus an introductory tour: Airlink Freight Run, Kula Ring Run, and Missionary Freight Run.
The bulk of the manual, pages 5-16, is a facilities directory. For each airfield, this shows name and ICAO code; latitude and longitude; elevation; runway lengths, directions, and surfaces; navaid names, frequencies, and ranges; communications frequencies; and notices to airmen (NOTAMs). For example, the notices for Tokua (AYTK) state that there is no straight-in approach to runway 10 outside a 5 nm radius, there are bird hazards on and near the runway, and there is an active volcano 12 miles west, on a heading of 292.
Sure enough, you will see animated birds over and around the runway; and if you travel 12 miles on a heading of 292, you will see an erupting volcano, complete with lava, rocks, and ash. There is also a separate directory of navaids.
What’s Not Included
On one of the forums that I frequent, someone compared this package with the Orbx region packs for Australia. That’s natural, given the proximity of the two countries, but the products do fundamentally different things.
Orbx products like “AU Blue” and “AU Green” (which are the two that I own) improve things like ground textures, landclass (including autogen), shorelines, and roads. “Raw Grit” is more like OZx, a collection of airfields. Australia has a large enough base of customers and developers that it can support both types of product, especially when one is freeware; PNG, its neighbor to the north, is much smaller than Australia and is lucky to have this one.
The airfields modeled are:
The fields with seaplane facilities are:
A cruise ship between Salamo (SAO) and Esa'ala (ESA) has a landing pad for helicopters, as does the wharf at Tufi (TFI). Jacquinot Bay (JCB) has a pad as well, somewhat off the main field.
Each field in the package is closely modeled on a real-world airport or strip. At most fields, except Tokua (AYTK), this means no passenger terminals, no paved aprons, and no baggage or fuel trucks.
This does not mean that the airfields are empty; far from it. Some have animated human figures. All have appropriate sounds: whether it be of surf, several types of bird, or bleating sheep. A few airports have night lighting, but most are closed for night operations.
There are windsocks, of course, storage and repair sheds, runway and taxi pylons (which will generate a crash if you run over them), several types of hut (including stilt huts), lighthouses and light towers, at least four species of animated birds (crows, white parrots, gulls, and eagles), tractors, forklifts, skip loaders, freight pallets, wooden statuary and other forms of local artwork, smoke markers, smoking chimneys, flaming torches, radio beacons, radio towers, lodges, eateries, fences, shrubs, barrels, bins, benches, thatched shelters, corrugated metal shelters, silos, swimming pools, a dive shop, boardwalks, paving stones, metal vats, jeeps, buoy markers (for seaplane bases), a playing field at the de-licensed Talasea (TLS), shipping containers, moving boats, moored boats, canoes, wooden wharves, wooden crates, a tree house, resort housing, tourists, leaping dolphins and diving orcas (both with sound effects), fishermen, and static airplanes in various states of storage, repair, or ruin.
This is something that I like about the package in general: everything looks worn, weathered, and even moldy.
There are also obstacles. These range from mountains to boulders to trees, with the main obstacle being trees. I did most of my testing with another review product, a World War II-era German fighter. This was the opposite of realistic -- in the real world, PNG pilots fly Islanders, Twotters, C206s, and the occasional DC-3 -- but I was trying to maximize my time with both products.
About the only problem I had with the fighter was seeing the runway over the engine cowling. This was a common problem with fighters from this era and ordinarily it wouldn’t have been fatal, but many of the airfields in this package are carved out of the jungle, which means they have trees on both sides of the runway and sometimes on both ends. If you’re not lined up properly, it’s very easy to catch a wing on one of the branches.
In addition, some of the runways have bumps in the middle and others are sloped. For mountain airfields, such as Tapini (TAP) and Fane (FANE), there’s the additional problems of, well, mountains and thin air. All of this makes for a more interesting package.
According to the developer, this product was developed on a relatively low-end system. On my mid-level system (see Test System specs) performance is excellent. Frame rates will drop somewhat on my initial approach to one of the enhanced airfields, while the custom objects are loaded from the hard disk. But that lasts for maybe five seconds at the outside, and once it’s done there’s no further hesitation, stuttering, or loss of frame rates.
There are many otherwise-excellent products that end up not getting used because of low frame rates; I’m happy to report that this won’t be one of them.
The Future of Raw Grit
Michael Graham, the lead developer, is now beta testing an expansion
pack that will include several more mountain airstrips, including
There will also be another sea-level strip, with a wharf for water landings, at Saidor (SDR). Another feature of the expansion pack will be custom rivers and shorelines around the new airstrips; if successful, Graham hopes to provide these for the original base pack fields as well. In addition, he is still developing freeware.
The base pack, which I have described here, currently sells for about 17 Euros (20 if you live in the Euro zone and have to pay VAT). That’s for 23 bush strips, one airport that accepts international flights (Tokua), and several seaplane facilities, with custom objects, sound, and animated wildlife.
This product is similar to the German Airfields series that I’ve previously reviewed. There’s a good range of difficulty, and of distances between fields. (This is useful when you’re tired or busy, and only have time for a very short flight.) As I see it, there are three main differences. The German fields are in towns, most of them, and include more objects (including more landmarks); not surprisingly, they also have lower frame rates. The fields in this package are also spread out over a wider area.
Here’s a serious question that most customers have to consider: what is this product’s replay value? Will I keep using it, or will I fly it once, say “That was cool,” and move on to something else? It’s impossible to predict, but I’ve been flying here almost exclusively for the last six weeks, and I’m still finding new things to see and do. Why? Weather is one reason: it never stays put here. Another reason is artistic: with more than 500 custom objects, there’s a lot of detail here.
If you want a more abstract reason, try network theory. The value of a network is said to increase with the square of the nodes. What’s a node? Let’s take the telephone network as an example. Your phone line is one node; your neighbor’s is another. Imagine that your two phone lines are the only ones in the whole world. The value of the network is 2 squared: 4. But if you add a third node, the value goes up to 9. Add a fourth node -- say, everyone on your block decides to buy a telephone -- and the value jumps up to 16. Do you see the pattern? The same principle applies to airfields. If your package has 5 nodes (meaning, 5 airfields), the network value is 25. This product has 24 nodes, not including seaplane bases and helipads, so its network value is 24 squared: 576. That’s quite high. It doesn’t explain everything -- network value is not the same as product value -- but it’s a factor.
I’m guessing that most people who are reading this have never been to PNG and don’t have immediate plans to go there. I’ve never been there either, but Port Moresby (which the developer has already released as freeware) is one of my favorite airports for testing new aircraft models and, until FSX came along, the whole island was full of colorful airstrips, courtesy of Adrian Short. (It still is, if you’re actively flying with FS2004.)
Now, thanks to Graham Michael, PNG is come alive again, with more fields, more objects, and sound. No one field has as much detail as, say, Bill Womack’s version of Plum Island. Instead what Michael has created, almost single handedly, is a system of fields, a series of combinations that opens up a whole environment to exploration.
What I Like About Raw Grit: PNG Bushpilot
What I Don't Like About Raw Grit: PNG Bushpilot
Tell A Friend About this Review!
All Rights Reserved