Two years ago, I reviewed “Switzerland Professional X.” This is a premium scenery product, based on photographic ground textures, for the Confoederatio Helvetica. It’s expensive but very well done, with natural-looking colors, autogen everywhere, night lighting, snow textures in winter, and smooth shorelines.
The two products under review here, “Small Airfields Switzerland: Part 3” and “Small Airfields Switzerland: Part 5” are from the same developer, Jeffrey Stähli. They don’t have quite the same premium feel, but they’re less expensive (unless you buy the whole series), and they make the photo scenery even more attractive.
Installation and Documentation
Installation is the same as for any Aerosoft product: there’s a registration key, which you get at purchase time, but there’s not a burdensome series of checks. (I recently had to reinstall another vendor’s product and the process, which involved several steps, did not engender good will, even when it worked.)
I did have some trouble with Part 3. The scenery installed fine, but not the texture switcher for different seasons. All of the airfields are based on photographic ground textures. When you’re flying in winter, there’s a little program to detect that, and it swaps in the appropriate textures for ground cover and trees. It’s a nice feature, but only if it works, and only if it doesn’t conflict with someone else’s program that uses the same start-up file (exe.xml, which is in the same folder as FSX.cfg).
It didn’t work, it did rewrite exe.xml in such a way as to prevent AICarriers from running, and it was fixable -- if you knew what you were looking at and where to find it -- using a text editor such as Notepad. I’m guessing it has something to do with the different language versions of FSX, but it’s a bug and it can be maddening.
The other (much smaller) problem with Part 3 is documentation; you can download a user manual from the product web page, but so far as I can tell, it doesn’t install with the scenery. I flew for a week without the manual before I found it on the website.
Pt. 5, on the other hand, uses a different texture switcher, and installs the user manual automatically. The manuals aren’t long, but they are helpful. For each airfield, there’s a paragraph or two about the field’s history, and for Pt. 3, some tips on how to approach.
For each field, there’s also a Google Earth screenshot with the approach pattern superimposed. Google Earth is a great tool, but it’s not great for printing. Still, it’s more interesting if you know what the restrictions are and hold yourself to them; and the Google Earth charts make that possible.
Something that would be welcome is a map of all the fields in a given product; that would be helpful for planning hops between fields. I made one for most of the airfields in Parts 3 and 5, using a scanned chart from a different product (which means, unfortunately, that I can’t distribute the result). This is something that every user will want, and that I hope the developer will provide in future releases. If nothing else, it will look good on the product web pages.
What Do You Get?
Each package comes with five airfields.
Part 3 is more geographically concentrated, and includes mostly
airports from the east:
Part 5 is more
spread out, but Switzerland is so small that nothing is very
far, and three of its five airfields are within 12 nm of
Part 3’s Amlikon (LSPA), and no more than 42 nm of each other:
I’ve already mentioned that all of the fields have photographic ground textures that adjust to the seasons. What sort of objects will you see? It varies from field to field (which is part of the fun, of course). All fields have static aircraft, depending on which kind the real field is host to. For example, Lommis (LSZT) has Pipers, Sitterdorf (LSZV) has a Pilatus Porter for para-jumping, and Locarno (LSZL) has a fleet of military trainers. Most of the fields have gliders, but there is more than one model of glider. And, of course, where there are gliders, there are glider cases for wheeled transport.
Many of the fields seem to be recreational centers for the community; that’s something I’ve noticed in Germany as well. Amlikon (LSPA) has tents and campers, and the main building has a colorful mural. All of the fields are populated with static human figures, sitting at a restaurant, stretching for a run, or playing at a playground. At a couple fields, there are livestock grazing in nearby pastures. Thun, I noticed, is adjacent to three soccer fields: there were goals at each end, and fences around the perimeter, but no players on the pitch.
The architecture is varied as well. There are hangars, of course, but each one seems to have a unique design or roofline. There are some generic signs (which don’t, however, appear in the default scenery) but most of the signage is unique as well, naming fields or stating elevations. A few days ago, I was exploring the fields using Google Earth, and clicked on some of the user-contributed photos; thanks to these products, everything looked familiar.
Some of the fields here have night lighting and others don’t; that’s how it is in the real world too. Where there is lighting, there is always a 3D object to make it, even if it’s low to the ground; that’s usually not true of the default scenery, even for detailed airports like Las Vegas or De Gaulle. There’s also fencing of various types and, at a couple of fields, Locarno (LSZL) and Samedan (LSZS), 3D grass around the runways and taxiways.
Speaking of taxiways and runways: the asphalt ones have more detail here than we’re used to in the default scenery, including more cracks but also more text: e.g., “Nose Here,” “Engine Stop,” and parking space numbers.
There’s some animation but not a lot. There is moving traffic on the local roads, but no moving service vehicles on the field grounds proper. (There are, however, lots of static vehicles, including passenger cars, fire trucks, and fuel trucks). Several airports having working clocks -- made by Breitling, of course, since this is Switzerland -- but what’s more useful are the working windsocks (which are a sight better looking than the default windsocks in FSX), wind Ts, and tetrahedron pointers. Every field has at least one, and many have more than one. If you’re getting ready to join the pattern, and you don’t know which direction to land, just look at the wind T.
Of course, in the real world, there would probably be other planes, either in the pattern or taxiing for take-off. The only field where I saw moving air traffic was Locarno (LSZL). This is something we’d like to see more of; glider traffic would be even better (though it’s trickier to program), because it stays closer to the field. The other feature we’d like to have is ambient sound. This is well within reach -- there are good implementations in similar products, such as “German Airfields 9” and “Raw Grit: PNG Bush Pilot” -- and it contributes noticeably to a field’s atmosphere.
Part of that atmosphere -- and it’s something that this package does a good job of capturing -- is situation. Switzerland being Switzerland, most of these fields are in valleys. In good weather, that makes for dramatic views, especially on the ground. In the air, though, mountains impose limits, both on how you climb out and where you approach. To help with the approaches, there are various landmarks: at one field, it’s a house at the end of a runway; at Amlikon, it’s a castle ruin. There aren’t a lot of these (compared, say, with the “German Airfields” series), but enough to stay oriented.
The other challenge with these fields is finding them from the air. If you don’t have “Switzerland Professional,” this will be less of a problem, because the photographic ground textures will stand out from the default background. But if you do have the photo scenery, you will need to keep your eyes peeled. The fields are all there in the GPS (and in FSDiscover!, which gets its information from the same database). But even when you know where to look, the smaller fields aren’t immediately visible. That’s by design, because in real life, they blend in with the landscape. I found this was true even for fields that I’d already flown into a couple of times. I knew where to look, but it still took me a minute to spot the runway.
Of course, once you land, the airfield environment is rich with lots of objects, and you wonder how you could have missed it.
On my rig, described at the side, I had good frame rates at all of the fields except Locarno (LSZL), which covers the largest area and features the most objects.
Each of the packages under review here sells for about 30 Euros. That includes VAT, so if you don’t live in Europe, the price drops by about 19 percent. How do they compare with similar products in the same price range?
As of this writing, I think Orbx sets the standard for GA fields rendered in extreme detail -- keeping in mind, though, that they’re just doing one field at a time. The Swiss airfields that we’ve just been looking at here are less detailed, and there’s considerably less effort to model the surrounding area; you’ll get some VFR landmarks, but not a whole township. On the other hand, you get five airports instead of one, frame rates are noticeably higher, and they’re in Switzerland.
Aerosoft also publishes a line of GA products, the “German Airfields” series that I reviewed packages from in 2008. The level of detail is similar, and so is the price. The German products are better at modeling objects off-field, and you get more airfields in a package (at least a dozen). But the Swiss fields are better on frame rates (though not by as big a margin this time) and, again, they’re in Switzerland.
Compared with the Orbx products, “Small Airfields Switzerland” isn’t boldly going where no scenery developer has gone before. Most of what you see here (except for the more detailed ground textures) was already possible in the previous version of Flight Simulator; and, in fact, the airports in this product look very much like the “Scenery Germany” series for FS2004.
I reviewed a couple of those, too, and if they worked in FSX, I would still be flying them. The technology moves on, but the local details are still engrossing. I like the Swiss airfields just as much, and for much the same reasons: they’re somewhat exotic (to American eyes); they’re grouped close enough for short hops; and while I’m there, I don’t worry about framerates. Also, they’re in Switzerland.
What I Like About Small Airfields Switzerland: Parts 3 and 5
What I Don't Like About Small Airfields Switzerland: Parts 3 and 5
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