AVSIM Commercial FSX Scenery Review

7S3 Stark’s Twin Oaks Airport

Product Information

Publishers:  Orbx

Description: Stark’s Twin Oaks airport and surrounding area.

Download Size:
365 MB

Format:
Download
Simulation Type:
FSX & Acceleration
Reviewed by: Philip Wilson AVSIM Staff Reviewer - March 18, 2010

Introduction

We have finally come to the end of our Orbx Pacific Northwest journey. Not to worry, Orbx has several more beautiful airports coming your way soon, and many more in the queue covering this region. It just wouldn’t be fair to the other Avsim review staff for me to continue receiving these amazing scenery packages so I will kindly step down and allow other reviewers much more talented than me the opportunity to review the upcoming Orbx products.

I’ve had a lot of fun reviewing the three recent Orbx Pacific Northwest products, and based on the experience will definitely own every product they release.

You may have noticed the Avsim Gold Star above, and those who have read all my Orbx reviews know each product received the Gold Star. These were not earned easily as each product brought something to the proverbial table which set it apart from comparable products available. Each new product had a much higher level of excellence. In this case it is literally a groundbreaking advancement in modeling. Something never seen before, but I assure you it will soon become the standard which all future scenery packages are measured.

I’ll give you a hint, but you must read the entire review to fully understand the importance here.

-Hint: It takes a lot of power to make it to the active runway.

Many flight simmers will know the name Bill Womack. In addition to being an accomplished writer, he is also a student pilot and talented scenery designer. His website is full of interesting information, a great blog, and some fantastic flight simulation videos.

-Bills quick bio:

Bill Womack is an FS developer, graphic designer, and writer. He lives in Portland, Oregon in the beautiful Pacific Northwest of the US. Bill's first FS scenery was a small bush airstrip for FS2002, released in 2003.

Since that time, he has built freeware of the Reading Regional Airport for MAAM-SIM, and payware projects such as airports for FSAddon's Misty Fjords, Tongass Fjords, and sceneries included with RealAir's Scout and Spitfire aircraft, and objects for FSCargo. His FSX releases are Aerosoft's "Hawaii Dillingham X" and FSAddon's "100 Dollar Burger: Plum Island", "Tongass Fjords X", "Stark's Twin Oaks Airpark" for Orbx FTX, and the upcoming "Emma Field X".

Bill's specialty is building small airports with character. The hallmarks of his work are close attention to the smallest details and a cohesive graphical style that lend his virtual locations a strong sense of place. He has one guiding principle in every project he chooses: no matter the airport, it must have a unique and memorable personality.

I mention Mr. Womack because the Stark’s Twin Oaks scenery package is his project. Yes, it is officially an Orbx product, but the majority of the work going into the scenery package was done by Bill.

The 7S3 manual states: "7S3 is the debut Orbx scenery by renowned developer Bill Womack, who has wanted to make a realistic rendition of this airport close to his home (and heart) for many years. With the advent of FSX and Orbx's FTX Pacific Northwest, Bill was able to realize his dream and produce something which I'm sure will delight your senses and provide many years of sim enjoyment!"

With a project as complex as Twin Oaks, having a highly qualified team of developers such as the Orbx group to assist when needed not only saves time in the design cycle, but also helps in polishing off an already great package.

For a brief history of the airport we turn to the Twin Oaks manual.

Small, family-run airports are vanishing almost as rapidly as small farms in the rural US. Fortunately, you can still find both on the outskirts of Portland, Oregon. Nestled into the rolling hills south of suburban Hillsboro, between a hazelnut orchard and an alpaca farm, lays Stark’s Twin Oaks Airpark.

Pilot Herb Stark discovered the property, a former dairy farm, on a drive one day in the 1970’s, and immediately recognized its potential as an airport. In 1980, his son Bob and Bob’s new wife Betty took over operation of the field and began improving the land to make a stable base for a runway. Since then, they’ve worked tirelessly, adding hangar after hangar (the first few built with their own hands), building up the facility into one of the most welcoming small airports in western Oregon.

Weekdays are quiet at Twin Oaks, with only a handful of operations—mostly student pilots taking instruction from one of the several CFI’s based here. But on weekends when the weather cooperates, the place is alive with the buzz of aircraft engines as hordes of weekend pilots flock to the field.

For pilots looking to explore the Pacific Northwest, Twin Oaks is an ideal base. The rocky Oregon coast lies just beyond the mountains to the west. Eastward, past Portland, is the entrance to the Columbia Gorge, where the broad Columbia river cuts a gash through the Cascades. Mt. Hood is nearby, as is the humped dome of Mt. St. Helens. Even in a slow plane, there’s a wide variety of stunning vistas within reach of the airport.

As you can see, this airport is truly what rural American airports are all about. Bill took some great photos of this beautiful airport and with permission I’m going to add them below.

I started flying in the early eighties and fondly remember friendly airports like this one scattered all over the region. A place where you could go and talk airplanes for hours with the resident “old timers” who flew during an era the rest of us only read about. Pilots welcomed the questions and loved to share their stories. Almost immediately you were a friend and many lifelong friendships were started this way.

Since 9-11-01 everything changed and most small and large airports alike aren’t friendly anymore. It’s difficult to just walk into the FBO, grab a cup of coffee and strike up conservation with anyone because if you don’t fly out of that airport, people will treat you like an unwelcome stranger.

As an aside, I was invited to fly with one fine “older” gentleman who owned a Falco. A few short minutes after becoming airborne the engine quit. The Falco is a very high performance kit plane and doesn’t have the greatest glide ratio in the world. It was an eerie quiet with only the sound of the wind in our ears and my cheerful host looks at me and says “I sure do hate it when that happens”. He keyed the mic and announced our (his) intention to return to the airport.

Falco image Courtesy of Seqair.com

You don’t have to read a lot of accident reports to see a probable outcome here but with an expert hand on the stick we touched down like a feather, directly on centerline, and coasted off the active at the nearest intersection. We were too low to attempt an engine restart in the air, and that sucker had to be disassembled to locate the problem.

Over coffee later that day I learned he was a former fighter pilot, Air Force Test Pilot School graduate, and retired airline pilot. He had flown just about everything from the P-51 to the F-4 Phantom II and a ton of Boeing products. With 20,000+ hours in his logbook, an engine out in a high performance aircraft was nothing more than an inconvenience.

I told you that story because you just never know what these “old timers” accomplished before we ever came along.

The Stark’s Twin Oaks scenery package takes you to a place where the coffee and friendship is always warm (OK, I’m not sure about the coffee but then they might have a microwave oven) and the flying is for fun.

Purchase & Download

Stark’s Twin Oaks Virtual Tour

As with my recent Orbx Darrington review, much of the purchase experience is the same so I will edit only the differences.

From the Stark’s Twin Oaks product page you can check out numerous screenshots and videos for this scenery package, download the user guide, and read what others have said about this product. In addition to all the above, Orbx now offers a 360 degree virtual tour. That, by the way, is probably one of the best uses of the virtual tour utility I’ve seen yet. This title is available in both download and boxed versions which can be purchased from FlightSimStore.com, PC Aviator or SimWare.

Purchase price comes in at $37USD and tips the scale at a little over 357MB. To add the DVD service to your order, it will increase the cost by $5.55USD. Benefits of the DVD service include:

• Professionally crafted full DVD case
• No Wrapper or Encryption
• No Online Activation
• Quick off-line reinstallation of the product
• Bonus HD FTX Video

As I mentioned in my Darrington review, anyone who has had to reinstall a product through the typical online encryption/activation route can tell you the ease of reinstallation alone is worth $5.55.

My download was done from my FlightSimStore.com account page and offers you several different managed and direct download methods.

Your activation information is emailed to you and after successfully installing the product you will notice a few new icons on your desktop which we will go over in a bit.

I don’t have any experience with the PC Aviator or SimWare stores and cannot comment on their support or download/purchase process.

Now for the “What you get” section. From the FlightSimStore.com website we see the following description.

Nestled in the rolling farmland of the fertile Willamette Valley near Portland, Oregon, Stark's Twin Oaks Airpark is ideally located for sightseeing in the Pacific Northwest. The rural location makes for less traffic and a relaxed atmosphere, while providing an easy jumping-off point for flights to either the coast to the west, or the rugged peaks of the Cascade range to the east. The scenery includes a large area of 30cm/pixel aerial photoreal terrain, featuring the various orchards, Alpaca ranches, and small farms in the area. One special point of interest in the area is the massive Glacier rock quarry, located a few miles to the southeast of the field. And what is possibly a first for an FS airport: multiple elevations.

Twin Oaks is carved from the side of a gentle slope, and as a result, the Starks' house, garage, and two of the hangars are on a hill overlooking the rest of the field. Lead developer Bill Womack has obsessively researched and photographed the airport over the last few years, with the enthusiastic support of owners Bob and Betty Stark. We're proud to offer the definitive sim rendition of one of Oregon's aviation jewels.

• Ground imagery at 30cm per pixel
• Crafted by master developer Bill Womack
• Full of 'little details' that make it charming
• Superb HD 5m terrain mesh for super clarity
• Includes a large coverage of photoreal area
• Lush rural valley with farms, crops and more
• World first - multiple elevation airfield
• Made with full support of owners, the Starks
• Includes custom GA AI Traffic movements
• Made from thousands of on-site photos
• Superbly detailed models of all buildings
• Several years in the making!
• Orbx TextureFlow optimized models

Remember the hint I gave you earlier? This scenery is the world’s first multiple elevation airfield for FS.

Any real pilot will tell you all airports are not flat as Microsoft would have you believe. Some are extreme enough to require a higher skill level to fly into or out of.

Taxiing to the active runway at Stark’s Twin Oaks involves an uphill climb and believe me, it truly adds to the realism here.

Installation & Documentation

Installation was easy and simple. Just run the EXE, add the registration info from your confirmation email and away you go. At the time of this review there was one 4.5MB patch available for this scenery.

Once installed you will find desktop icons for the 7S3 Control Panel and User’s Guide. Additionally, if you don’t have the Darrington scenery installed you will also find an icon for FTX Aero. (Reviewers Note: FTX Aero comes with both Darrington and Twin Oaks scenery packages so either way it will be installed.)

FTX Aero is an airport environment texture modifying application. FTX Aero allows you to install optional airport environment textures which will work for any airport globally. The manual states:

It’s very simple to use. FTX Aero replaces three global FSX textures when you apply the choices from its interface. These are:

-Detail Bump Map – This is an overlay texture which is designed to add “noise” and remove smoothness from ground textures. FSX comes with its own detail1.bmp file which is very generic and does not really enhance airport ground environments. The FTX Aero version creates three different styles of bump mapping for asphalt or concrete surfaces.

-Runway 18 Texture – Orbx GA airfields will generally have runway18.dds encoded in their APX files.
This is a runway used predominately at smaller airports. The FTX Aero version has The FTX Aero version has much better detail than the FSX default. You can choose from 1024x1024 or 2048x2048 resolution.

-Taxiway Markings – Again, Aero will provide two variants, the first being a yellow faded line suitable for asphalt, the second being a yellow/black line suited to concrete.

Just make your choice and the texture appearance will be shown in the preview window. FTX Aero will automatically make a backup of whatever textures you currently have installed. You can go back to your default installed texture at any time by just selecting ‘Your Default’ as the choice.

TEXTURE_MAX_LOAD Settings in fsx.CFG

FTX Aero is quite clever in that it will automatically set your TEXTURE_MAX_LOAD= (TML) parameter in fsx.CFG for you to allow the higher resolution 2048x2048 runway18.dds to be properly seen. Additionally, if you prefer to use a TML of 1024, 2048 or 4096 (for add-ons like REX or a HD aircraft repaint), simply select the TML menu option where you can choose to lock your TML setting to one of those values. Alternatively, you can also choose to have Aero revert back to a TML of 1024 whenever you’re not using a higher resolution texture.”

One note about FTX Aero - even though it's included with 7S3 Twin Oaks, the features that Aero provides are not used on the aprons and runways at 1S2, since Bill has created a custom gmax polygon surface. However, the grass and other ground areas DO use the Aero bump mapping. The bonus is that Aero works on all the other 450 airports provided as part of FTX Pacific Northwest!

The control panel allows the user to select what is loaded with the scenery based on performance. This is great for users who would like to sacrifice some of the eye candy for FPS while not making any global changes to FSX.

The control panel items include:
• Alpacas
• Filler Objects
• Orchard Trees
• 3D Grass
• Vehicles
• AI Traffic

7S3 Control Panel FSX Settings User Guide

You also have the ability to change the custom ground and tree scenery objects within this package from spring/summer to fall and winter. I should note any season changes need to be made through the control panel as they don’t change automatically with FSX.

The User Guide is a high quality 6.7MB 26 page PDF and contains everything you could ever want to know about both the Stark’s Twin Oaks airfield and the scenery product itself. The User Guide has several pages dedicated to performance outlining what slider does what and why. It also has recommended settings for FSX users based on a few generalized computer specifications. For example, an entry level system would be a Core2 Duo 2.5Ghz and a 512MB GPU, where an extreme system would be an Intel i7 9xx 4Ghz (OC) and 1-2GB GPU. They have recommended settings for entry level, mid range, high end and extreme systems.

Textures & Scenery

Much like the recent Darrington scenery package I reviewed, Twin Oaks was developed to work seamlessly with the Orbx FTX PNW scenery package. The airport and immediate vicinity is highly detailed at 30cm and the surrounding area comes in at an impressive 1m.

Scenery and ground textures are fantastic as is the mesh which gives you the rolling hills and various elevations around the airfield. As I mentioned above, when taxiing to the active you are going uphill so it does take a bit of power to make the climb. While we are on the subject, you are limited to one runway for takeoff. While on the ground, when you call up the FSX ATC dialog box, your only option for takeoff is runway 20. This is also true at the real airport as runway 20 is downhill. I’m glad to see it was the same in FSX.

As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words so I’ll add some great screenshots here for your viewing pleasure. We will start with some images of the airport area followed by shots of the surrounding area and last but not least night images.

Fuel Tank Stark’s Home Round Hanger
Newer Hangers EAA Hanger Beautiful runway textures
FBO Nice example of elevation changes View from deck
Alpaca Farm Fall Colors Field Colors

Since I was using fall colors here I thought the paint scheme on the Carenado Mooney would match nicely so without further ado…

Mooney on ramp Ready to go
Taxiing out Taking the active Climbing Out

The only notable issue I could find was the textures of the quarry. They aren’t as crisp and defined as the surrounding areas but this probably is a direct result of available imagery. The textures are only as good as the source images you have. In addition, flat aerial imagery needs to be manipulated to fit in the “hole” created by the high quality mesh. I can only imagine the nightmare this part of the scenery was for Bill.

Quarry Textures

Finally we get to the night textures. I took low light screenshots as night is actually…well dark. Taking strictly night shots shows you light bulbs and glow. Not very interesting to look at. Low light gives you the ambiance of the airport in the wee hours which is what you really want.

There is one error here which is actually pretty funny. There is a burnt out floodlight on the EAA hanger. I emailed Bill and asked if he could send maintenance out to replace the bulb. He kindly explained why that particular light was out. You see, the complex modeling of the building where the glow would be presented a huge performance hit when the computer tried to render the light effect and night textures. You will notice the EAA hanger has a small but angular addition to the building directly below the floodlight. Having a “burnt out” light saved a lot in performance and that was an acceptable sacrifice I believe.

In all actuality, the missing floodlight adds to the scenery because floodlights do burn out and it makes the experience more believable.

Well there you have it boys and girls, the photo tour of the Stark’s Twin Oaks airfield.

Support

Support for all Orbx products is done through their support forum. Orbx has a very simple support policy: “No question unanswered”. Just register at the forum and their staff will have an answer to you in usually less than 12 hours, sometimes much sooner.

I didn’t have any problems with this product and all my questions were answered by the manual but it was great to know support was only a mouse click away.

Test System

Dell XPS720 DuoCore2.66MHz
Windows Vista Ultimate 64bit
4Gb RAM 667MHz
nVidia 9800GTX+512M
SB X-Fi Extreme Music
CH Fighterstick, Yoke, Throttles and Rudder
FEX, UTX, GEX MyTraffic2010

Flying Time:
30 hours

Performance

The Twin Oaks scenery did hit my system pretty hard at the recommended settings, but keep in mind my computer falls into the entry level category. In addition I’m running the resource draining Vista Ultimate 64 bit which doesn’t help the performance any. After backing my autogen slider to normal it was fine and completely acceptable.

It is clearly stated in the user guide, you MUST set your mesh resolution to 2m. This may also lower the FPS on some systems. The manual states: 2m is mandatory for this airport scenery to correctly display Bill's unique multi-elevation mesh at the airport. Setting it to 5m or higher will result in less defined slopes and elevations around the airport.

Summary / Closing Remarks

Bill Womack has exceeded my every expectation with this scenery package. The picturesque Stark’s Twin Oaks airport itself is fantastic, but when you combine the fact it’s also the worlds first multi-elevation airport, the package is simply amazing. Given that this airfield is only a short flight from the Oregon coast as well as Portland and numerous small airports, it makes the perfect base for all your virtual GA flights.

 

What I Like About Twin Oaks

  • Beautiful seasonal scenery textures
  • Multi-Level Elevation!!!
  • Many 3D custom objects
  • Each major building modeled and textured from actual photos
  • Price
  • Acceptable performance on entry level systems
  • Lots of autogen
  • Completely immersive experience
  • Great support forum

 

What I Don't Like About Twin Oaks

  • Quarry area a bit blurry

 

Printing

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Twin Oaks

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