In the 1920's and 1930's, Londoners going on a day trip to Brighton on the South Coast of England would travel on one of the new electric trains, the “Brighton Belle” being the most famous of these. After its descent from the chalk hills of the North Downs, and just before the climb up and over the South Downs, the train would rattle at speed past a station known as “Gatwick Racecourse”. On race days and public holidays, the train would stop at this station. Its prime purpose being to bring spectators to the oval-shaped steeplechase racecourse with its 29 jumps.
Fast forward seventy years. A small nearby airfield has long since bought this neighbouring racecourse, and through decades of continuous growth, has become London's second largest airport with 32 million passengers in 2000. The oval course of the race track is now covered by the North Terminal, the South Terminal, and the monorail that joins the two.
The railway station is still there, much enlarged and modernized, and provides an important link for passengers coming from London. There are two runways, although they are too close together for dual operation, so the northerly one is only for backup. It is the busiest single-runway airport in the world. Two years ago I reviewed the version of this airport by Online Simulation Solutions. This current review is of UK2000 Gatwick Pro, from the same stable as the UK2000 series of airport sceneries that cover most of England and Wales.
Installation and Documentation
You can either order the CD, or alternatively, get the 35MB download from the UK2000 Scenery website. Payment is via PayPal. However, if you go for the download version, there is a "try before you buy" option. Installation of the scenery is straightforward. The installation routine provides a choice of destination folder, so you can put it where you choose, and not where the supplier prefers. The routine also asks you to make a couple of choices:
- How far away
you want scenery details to "pop up".
Apart from that, everything else is done automatically, including installing an AFCAD file to regulate ground movement and making the scenery active from within FS9. The only slight complication is converting the demo version into a full version. Sending off the Product ID from the Sales Receipt results in the return of an activation code to your email address, which is then input to make the scenery fully active. This process works OK, but is not as slick as the Flight 1 wrapper system which is now becoming virtually an industry standard.
The documentation supplied is a straightforward 18-page manual which explains the installation process, and outlines the main features within the scenery. It doesn't have any airport or runway diagrams, but provides the link to the UK's excellent CAA site which always has the up-to-date version. There is also a User Forum on the FS Nordic site, where the one-man developer, Gary Summons, is very much in evidence with news of upcoming developments but there seems to be a very low level of actual problems with this or other sceneries.
As an airport scenery, I find Gatwick Pro to be pleasing overall, although it is not perfect in every respect.
As you would expect from an airport of this size and importance, there is a great deal of detail and complexity that needs to be modelled. Gatwick is not only busy with air traffic, it is at the hub of rail and road traffic also, and these forms of transport are also well-represented. On approach from the East, we see trains entering and leaving the airport station, and vehicles passing along the roads surrounding the airport, as well as the monorail that passes between the two terminals. As one lands and taxis around the airport, there is sufficient volume of detail to convince the virtual pilot that he is surrounded by a substantial and busy operation.
I always think that an important part of an airport scenery is the surfaces, not only the runways, but also taxiways and the grassy areas surrounding them. These are well-represented in the scenery, and I particularly like the strips left on the grass by the mower. This gives a very convincing feel of depth and proximity as one is about to flare and land. Similarly, random asphalt repairs on the taxiways give a very realistic sensation during taxiing. Little details like the RVR (Runway Visual Range) sensors also add to the overall impression.
What I do not like, however, is the size of the various ground-level lights, such as those for the landing systems and markers for "stop" lines. The light "corona" is just too large and bright. The whole thing looks like a large technicolor mound, and for me, spoils much of the general effect of the scenery. It's something I've noticed with other UK2000 sceneries over the years and had hoped that they might have been improved by this time.
One of the important things with any airport is how it appears as you taxi up to the terminal, and this is where Gatwick Pro scores well. There is a convincing amount of "furniture" around in the form of luggage trains and service vehicles, and other service vehicles move around if you have "Dynamic scenery" set on. If you use certain specific gates, then there are working Precision Docking Lights and Docking Boards to guide you to your final parking place. Once you park, a variety of service and luggage vehicles appear and park themselves at various points next to your plane. If you then flip the Nav1 frequency, the pier will extend and dock itself with your aircraft.
Once you've parked and shut down, if you're one of those people who like to wander around the airfield, there's a lot of "buzz" going on. Service vehicles are always to-ing and fro-ing, passengers can be seen walking along in the terminal, there are trains continually in and out of the station, and plenty of traffic on the roads. If you are used to some very high-definition airport sceneries, then you may find that the the detail on the various terminal buildings is not as sharp. However, there is always a trade-off with performance and this is a scenery that does perform well.
The night-time effects also work well. The apron lighting is suitably subdued, and gradually merges into the darkness with no sudden sharp gradations.
With my set-up, I have all the sliders to the right and 100% Ultimate Traffic AI. I found that this airport scenery performed well compared to other sceneries for this airport, and I found that I was getting 20 - 22 fps under most conditions.
I have commented in previous reviews that life is getting more and more difficult for the designers of airport scenery. Unlike other areas of the flight simulation world, where there is still plenty of room for improvement, it's increasingly difficult for the top-end airport sceneries to get better and better.
However this is not one of those sceneries that is pushing the technical barrier. You won't see, for example, fleets of service vehicles emerging and surrounding the AI planes, as you will do elsewhere. You also won't see very high-definition terminal buildings. It does have rail traffic, because that's more or less mandatory for anyone modelling Gatwick. But this is a scenery designed for performance rather than for total effect, and in that respect it is completely successful, and is better than any other scenery I have seen for this airport.
For anyone who wants to operate in and out of the busiest single-runway
airport in the world, I would certainly recommend UK2000 Gatwick
|What I Like About UK2000 Gatwick Pro|
|What I Don't Like About UK2000 Gatwick Pro|
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