FSX introduced moving jetways, animated pushback trucks, baggage services and fuel trucks ‘out of the box’ and as a result changed simmers experience at airports quite dramatically compared to earlier versions. This said, the interaction between the user and the vehicles and scenery is limited and relies on the user’s settings being sufficiently high to see them. For most, the reality is the majority of airports in FSX, whether they are default, freeware or payware, are fairly static places with the fuel truck really being the one thing you can call on at will if it’s available at an airport.
Fortunately a number of FSX scenery designers are beginning to work with the FSX SDK and we see purpose built animated jetways and other interactive features beginning to appear, but overall the bit between flights is typically the time we get another cup of coffee and eat a sandwich, so any baggage or refuel action that may take place is out of our control to a greater extent. Now enter AES from Aerosoft developed by Oliver Pabst.
I was first introduced to Oliver’s work back in the days of FS2002/2004 when I discovered his Bremen scenery. At the time I was amazed by the detail he had included and became a fan on the spot. What was unique about Bremen was the inclusion of ADS - Aircraft and Destination Utility that allowed you to set up any aircraft in your FS2004 hangar to interact with objects in the scenery such as follow-me car’s, a surprisingly accurate 2D animated marshaller at each gate, animated jetways, air-stairs, detailed fuel and the catering trucks and buses that would visit your aircraft when you ‘call’ them through NAV and COMM freq’s or be triggered through proximity. With the inclusion of a departure board in the terminal visible in VC view that you could set departure time and destination on, the immersive experience was complete. At that time I spent more time in the airport than I did flying as it was such a cool feature.
Before I embarked on exploring AES in FSX, which has been a very successful product in FS2004 receiving an AVSIM Gold Award, I revisited ADS at Bremen in FS9 to take the screenshots below and reacquaint myself with its features. Seeing it all again reminded me just how cutting edge Bremen was, especially given it’s a freeware project. Personally I haven’t seen anything that comes close to it even now, the big shame is it won’t work in FSX (yes I tried) but the spirit of ADS is now alive and well in the form of AES.
I had no previous experience with AES in FS2004 so I went into this experience fresh; however the question on my mind was how much further does AES go beyond what FSX does already at no additional cost, and would it be worth it? Let’s find out.
Install, Documentation & Aircraft Set-up
AES is a try before you buy add-on. Product demo’s are the best, it means a developer can’t make claims the product won’t live up before you part with your hard earned cash and you get to see how it performs on your PC, which is an important point for many FSX users. Visit the Aerosoft site to start downloading AES while you read the rest of this review.
AES is currently at version 2.02 with EDDT fully unlocked, and all the other airports where it has been added can be tried for 5 minutes before the feature will stop working. Installing is simple enough with a standard self installer taking a few minutes to complete the process. No unlock keys or codes are required to complete a full install. AES will take up just over 81MB HD space and installs a series of folders relating to textures, scenery, sounds and other bits and pieces and will automatically add the required details in the FSX config file to allow you to see the additions.
The documentation, which can be found in the main AES folder in FSX or downloaded from the Aerosoft AES product page, is a 22 page PDF file. I found it to be an easy read being clear and concise and explaining what AES will and won’t do. It provides ample detail on what the user can expect to see in FSX once they are at an AES capable airport and the applications you use to activate these features. The manual uses lots of diagrams and is pitched nicely for both newbie’s and more experienced users alike.
Setting up AES compatible airports itself is a two part process. While EDDT is fully unlocked, if you want to unlock other add-on sceneries you will need to buy credit’s to do so. The number of credits required to unlock airports vary depending on their size. For this review I received the standard 10 credit pack and while this comes with a download link for the latest version of AES you don’t actually need to do this if you have it installed, the code provided with your purchase is all that is required. AES is being updated on a regular basis with airports being added all the time, at time of writing 36 FSX add-on airports had received the AES treatment but I suggest you check out the list to see if airports you have are available.
AES’s initial FSX compatible release was 2.0 and we are now up to 2.02 in the space of a month so it does pay to make sure you have the latest version installed to take full advantage of bug fixes and new airports that have been added.
The primary set-up tool to allow aircraft to interact with AES is called AESHELP and this does a number of things. First, it acts as a go between for AES and FSX so FSX needs to be running to use it. Once a successful connection between AESHELP and FSX has been established there are 5 functions that can be completed. The first, even though it is the third button down, is to add new credits. This is as easy as copying and pasting the code you will receive once you purchase a credit pack.
Once done, your credits reflect your purchase and if you have bought more than one pack you can then repeat this process. AES rewards you if you purchase multiple credit packs. If you buy 3 (30 credits) you receive an additional 3 credits per pack giving you 39, if you buy 15 (150 credits) or more packs you get 4 additional credits per pack giving you a total of 210 credits all up. I think this is a good idea as it’s almost like a bulk buy discount.
Once your credits are added its then time to activate some airports. As I mentioned earlier, the credits required for each airport vary so depending on how many credits you have, you will need to choose carefully because once credits are assigned that’s it, you can’t assign credits and then change your mind later. I had four possible airports I could activate with my 10 credits, 3 of them being FSDreamteam’s Zurich, Geneva and McCarran and the remaining one Aerosoft’s Hannover. Hannover and Zurich fell into the medium size airport category and required 3 credits a piece so I selected them, leaving me with 4 credits left. McCarran being a large airport used 4 credits. So with a final click my 10 credits were gone and I had 4 airports fully unlocked for the AES experience as EDDT is already fully functional.
The next step was to set myself up at Zurich and configure some aircraft using the AESConfig tool. I loaded the default 737 and had a look at the configuration tool that allows you to set nose wheel, passenger and cargo door placement in FSX using a colorful 3D interface. I discovered the default FSX Jet’s such as the 737, 747 and A321 have been pre configured as part of the install process which was a bit of a relief to be honest but it was interesting to see how it was done and learn from them.
The 3D location markers are selected with the click of the mouse at the relevant exit and I could also specify what doors were relevant for each aircraft type I looked at, as the heavies typically use more than one exit. I loaded a freeware A330 and AES advised me the aircraft was not compatible with AES because it was not configured. I spent about 15 minutes selecting and adjusting each aircraft exit, specifying the nose wheel location and also where the base of the cargo doors were as well as their centre point and with a click, the file was saved and I was ready to get my first taste of AES in action.
I identified a couple of limitations with this process. The first was the inability to use my mouse wheel to adjust settings. I had to keep clicking the up and down arrows but if the mouse wheel could have been used then it would have saved time and my poor little clicking finger. The other thing is the settings for props are limited. I planned to use the Flight1 ATR and found that I couldn’t set the front cargo door on the left hand side because the interface simply doesn’t allow you to do this. On the Aerosoft forum Oliver does acknowledge this limitation but has said this may be addressed in a future release. If you’re a predominantly prop user you’ll need to consider this.
Overall, I was really impressed with the AESConfig interface. Being graphic based and in FSX itself, makes it easy to see exactly where each marker is located and once set-up you don’t need to do this again for an aircraft unless you want to tweak the settings. The final aspect of the AESConfig tool allows you to adjust the timing of when events will happen in FSX and once they start how long you want them to last, so events such as catering can be set to be longer or shorter. I really liked this ability to adjust timings because after using AES for some time, I wanted my turn-arounds to be a bit quicker.
Follow Me for Fun, and then get told where to go!
AES uses a simple interface you call up using <CTRL>+<SHIFT>+<W>. Sometimes this menu contracts by itself for some reason so you have to grab the base and open the window so you can see all the options. Once you land or are ready to park, you first specify what gate or ramp location you want, so for larger airports you will want a gate map or you might end up somewhere you were not expecting. Once selected you can then request the follow-me car.
The Follow-me car will appear immediately and respond audibly with a chap acknowledging your request when its called and will then drive all the way to the gate or ramp location you have selected. The Follow-me car acts as a replacement for the guiding arrows you can request through the ATC window and has a couple of variants depending on where you are in the world.
In Europe it was a VW van and in the states a Mitsubishi utility vehicle. The Follow-Me car is pretty cool as it follows the runway centrelines and as it travels it has flashing lights on the top and will even use indicators to show if its going to turn left or right making following it very easy. The cars are speed sensitive so if you slow down it will stop and wait for you to catch-up, but will always keep a suitable distance ahead.
Depending on the scenery, you will then be directed to your parking spot via either the safe dock system or a 3D marshaller. I found the marshaller to be very accurate and was fun to watch as he waves his arms left, right and back and forwards as I maneuvered into position on the centerline and taxied forward. When I got close to the stop point he would slow his arm movements down and then signal a stop and engine shut-down. At this point the follow-me car would depart, its role now complete. The next phase of AES relies on your engines being shut-down and parking brake set, so with both done I was ready for the de-boarding phase.
Ground Servicing AES Style – Variation is the name of the game
Once parked, the marshaller will walk forward and position himself to the left of the aircraft’s nose wheel and depending on where you are parked either an animated Jetway that has been added by AES to replace static ones, which was the case at Hannover, or the animated jetways that come with the scenery, in this case FSDreamteam Zurich and McCarran, will move into position against your aircraft, complete with warning beep and flashing orange lights at its base.
This was one area I was a little worried about as I didn’t want the FSDreamteam jetways replaced. As it was, my concern was baseless as this doesn’t happen. Open stairs arrive at the rear door of aircraft parking at jetway enabled gates or covered stairs at aircraft at open ramp parking move into position automatically and are animated as they rise up to meet the door they are assigned to. The number of these varied with the A321 parked at ramp parking having 3 roll up to cover all 3 port doors, the 737 only had 2, which is exactly how it should be.
Cargo unloading vehicles also move into position at the same time and all of this happens within a few moments of you engaging the aircraft’s parking brakes. The exception to this is prop aircraft where only the cargo loader will come alongside. What impressed me was the variation of equipment that is used for the different aircraft categories at each parking location. The types used are determined in the AESHELP as AES will base the equipment on the height of cargo and exit doors meaning you’ll never get a conveyor cargo unloader at a 747, just as you won’t get a pallet unloader at a 737 or prop aircraft.
Once settled at the gate the AES menu opened up a number of new options. Keys F1 through F8 provide different events that I could trigger at will as long as I followed a logical order. I began with F1 which started the deboarding process. At the gate nothing really happened as you would expect given my passengers were leaving via the jetway, but when I was parked on the ramp buses appeared to take my passengers to the terminal. When I was in the ATR, one bus turned up but in the A321 2 did, this is quite realistic given the different passenger loads. Some other stuff happens as well which I will talk about when I get to the sound aspect of AES.
Once successfully de-boarded, I was then free to call up catering, cleaning and refueling. As soon as I hit the appropriate keyboard key for catering two trucks arrived individually and settled themselves against the starboard front and rear doors of my 737 and A321 aircraft. For the wide body A330 and 747 they utilized the second and last doors. Like their real world counterparts, these trucks have orange warning lights flashing as 4 animated stabilizers first move down into position and then the rear cabin rises up to meet the door height. With catering underway but de-boarding still happening I called for fuel.
Once again depending where you are parked will determine if a small fuel truck that will connect with a localized fuel outlet arrives or a large tanker that carries all your fuel on board. At Jetways, the smaller truck arrived off my port wing and an animated fuel line moved out connecting to the unseen local tank and it proceeded to pump fuel into my tanks, not literally like the default FSX tanker that allows you to determine fuel uptake, but it looked cool even without this more interactive aspect to it. For ramp parking a full tanker arrived at my A321. Unlike ADS at Bremen where a fuel line ran from the tanker to the aircraft and a small ladder could be seen under the wing, the tanker doesn’t have any animated parts or additions which I was a little disappointed with given what Oliver has achieved with ADS.
Once deboarding was complete I could then call up the cleaning crew. I could actually do this at any time but they won’t arrive until deboarding is complete, hence my earlier comment about following a logical order. In this case a small water truck arrives, at least that’s what Aerosoft refers to it as being, but it looked a lot like a toilet drain truck to me, and parks itself directly under the rear fuselage of all the aircraft facing out. This is fine for a larger jet but it looked a pretty tight squeeze under my ATR. A small white van joins this truck carrying the cleaners for inside the aircraft and this pulls up next to the rear stairs. How long this process takes is determined by the user in the AESConfig settings, typically I had them cleaning for around 5 minutes. Once the cleaners depart catering will do the same and I was then free to board my new passengers and start thinking about departure. I selected prepare aircraft for departure and the cargo loader’s moved back as did any stairs or Jetways connected to the aircraft with the appropriate engine noises and warning horns and I was ready to depart….almost.
During winter you can call for deicing and this is an added option only available at that time of the year. De-icing is part of the preparations for pushback process and is selected in the same way any other AES feature is. If you want de-icing, two trucks will arrive; their booms will extend and then animated hose pipes will start directing a solid beam of de-icing fluid across the wings, rear fuselage and tail. Given FSX’s ability to work with effects I think this aspect could have been done better. The de-icing streams are not realistic and while it’s clear what is happening I do feel it’s an area that could be improved in future updates.
Ready for Pushback
I had three options for departure, push back to either the left or right (that was left or right from the push truck driver’s perspective not me the pilot) or simply ask for clearance which was handy at ramp parking locations. I always selected push simply because its fun and I really liked the way AES handles this process. Once I had selected left or right, a push back truck appeared and was one of three types depending on my aircraft. A large flat truck type is used for wide-bodied aircraft like the A330 and 747, a smaller tractor type for props and aircraft with nose gear close to the fuselage and the final type is the tow-bar-less type that lift the nose wheel to move the aircraft.
Once I released my parking brake as instructed by the ground crew, the push-back started and the truck followed the taxi lines perfectly as it moved me away from the gate. At Hannover the pushback from the gate seemed to go on for ages as it took me past the ramp area to the first major taxi line. From the parking gates it was a much shorter distance, as it was in both Zurich and McCarran as major taxi ways are located close to the gates. I was really impressed with the pushback as the truck turned to follow the line and the little dude looking after comms walked along close by, all fully animated which looked very impressive. As we pushed I was advised all was clear on both sides and was cleared to start my engines.
With push complete I was instructed to once again apply the parking brake, the tug was disconnected and returned to its starting location at the gate and I received my final instructions from the little dude as he clearly didn’t want to get sucked into my engines as he told me quite clearly not to release my brakes until he gave me the signal once he was clear. At that point he walked some distance from the aircraft, turned to make eye contact and raised his arm signaling all was well. At that I released my brakes and applied power, he waved a final farewell and then proceeded to walk all the way back to the gate before both he and the pushback truck disappeared.
At Hannover I had to laugh because we had pushed back so far I could see him still walking as I was nearly at the hold short for take-off. I have to say the push-back aspect of AES is very smooth and incredibly well implemented. Having the little dude fully animated is great and adds a sense of atmosphere and realism that I haven’t come across before. Watching the little dude from external view certainly gave me a sense of scale, this was really obvious when I was in the 747 at McCarran when he started to walk back to the gate as he was dwarfed by the 744. I did encounter one odd experience during push back with the A330 where it literally bounced its way through the entire push back process which was disconcerting to say the least. A quick visit to the Aerosoft forum gave me the answer I needed to fix it and after some fiddling with the A330 config file things were right.
Welcome Aboard - The Sounds and Extras of AES
AES is not just about adding an animated environment, it also adds sounds as part of the experience. All of the vehicles have appropriate engine noises as they arrive, sit at the aircraft and then depart. Jetways have a warning horn when they move and the little dude during pushback tells you exactly what you need to do to advance through each stage.
De-boarding and boarding add yet another layer of realism because once you give the go ahead to de-board on arrival you can hear passengers leaving and the flight attendants wishing passengers a good day, thanking them for flying with us etc. Behind this are ambient airport noises with several jet and prop aircraft types clearly distinguishable in the background. Depending how long you have set deboarding to take will determine how long these sound loops repeats.
These sounds can only be heard if you are in the cockpit, however once de-boarding is complete the flight attendant will tell you and this is audible in both the cockpit and external views. Because you can’t board until cleaning is finished you are also told when this process has been completed and you are free to begin boarding. Boarding is very similar but obviously a different set of phrases is used such as welcome aboard, this way sir, hello and enjoy your flight. Once again as boarding concludes the flight attendant will tell you.
AES doesn’t stop there in terms of spicing up the sound and visual environment. Once lined up on the runway and you begin your take-off roll AES had added the sound aircraft make when they run over the centre lights on the runway. Anyone who has been in a cockpit of a 737 during the takeoff roll can confirm that as the nose wheel runs over these lights it can make quite a lot of noise. AES duplicates this sound but only if you are on the centerline, if you hear nothing you know your off to one side or the other which may or may not be a bad thing.
On top of this are additional textures that AES capable airports have had added and sit just above the runway in both snow and wet conditions. Both create the illusion of their respective environment with rain textures creating what I thought was a particularly good oily effect. Both compliment the reflective nature of wet ground in FSX.
My final comments before I move on to the summary relates to performance in FSX. To be honest I didn’t notice any difference at any of the airports I had unlocked and I would suggest if you have advanced animations in FSX turned on and your airport traffic settings set to high the effect is the same, if anything you might want to turn them off and you may end up improving performance by a FPS or two. McCarran was always going to be the test given its size and detail but AES didn’t register in my FPS count. I would expect this given the models used for the different vehicles are modest in detail yet effective and you do spend most of the time you are interacting sitting on the ramp. Push-back is no different to what FSX does as default, so overall AES appeared to have no impact at all.
I have a confession to make. When I first saw this product was available for FSX, I was rather cynical about it. It took me some time to get past why would I pay for stuff that FSX actually does out of the box already? At that time I hadn’t spent a lot of time using the package but after a solid few hours at EDDT, I started to look at AES differently and when the opportunity came along to review the product I jumped at it. I’m really pleased I did.
Comparing AES with ADS, it’s clear Oliver’s original idea has evolved dramatically. I really enjoyed this product and found the level of interactivity to bring a new dimension to my experience at the airports I had unlocked, which leaves all the others somewhat empty and boring. All aspects of AES is implemented really well. From the way aircraft are set-up to receive the vehicles at the gate or ramp, the follow-me car, gate marshals’ and the activities I can select to do throughout the arrival, preparation and departure phase of my flights immersed me in a complete flight experience.
Other than the bouncy A330, I had no issues at either of the FSDreamteam airports or Aerosoft’s Hannover. I do think it’s a shame the red gates at Hannover were replaced by the stock AES gate but it’s a small price to pay for having them fully animated. AES certainly adds immersion to the FSX experience, but I’m sure Oliver can squeeze a bit more detail out of it yet.
As a concept, I love AES and will watch closely as it evolves as a product. I do encourage you to give the trial a go and see what it can do. If you already have sceneries it’s compatible with and you decide to invest in a credit pack or two, you won’t be disappointed with the final result in FSX.
What I Like About AES
What I Don't Like About AES
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