In FSX, the default scenery for Scotland is not bad. All of the (major) airports are represented and there is good terrain mesh; in Glasgow and Edinburgh, there are numerous landmarks. What’s still missing are the smaller airfields, a detailed road network, accurate landclass, accurate shorelines, and rural landmarks (such as castles, wind farms, and broadcast towers). Scotflight: Version 2 addresses most of these shortcomings and then animates the landscape with moving traffic.
Version 1 of this product, subtitled “Highlands and Islands,” took care of the shorelines, but its airfield coverage stopped north of the Great Glen. Version 2, reviewed here, extends the coverage, both of airfields and of landmarks, down to the English border.
My review will be divided into four parts: installation and documentation, terrain features, landmarks, and airfields.
Installation and Documentation
The download requires a key code, which I pasted into the installer and watched while it copied files over. (An uninstaller promises to do the same thing in reverse if ever that is called for.) That was easy.
Documentation is slim: four pages that list airfields, landmarks, and other features of the scenery. At one level, this means that the package is easy to use. There are, however, two things that I wish were included.
One is a printable map, with the airfield names labeled. On the website, there is an interactive map, but to get the labels you have to click on each location one by one. The developer reports that he is working to make one available. A directory of airfields would also be useful. It needn’t be detailed, but runway lengths, runway surfaces, and navigational frequencies (where available) would help with flight planning.
The landscape of Scotland is famous the world over. The terrain mesh that ships with FSX captures the shape of the mountains well enough (although for sharp peaks, I find that nothing equals a photographic overlay). Where the default scenery can really be faulted, though, is in two areas.
First, the default landclass (short for “land classification”) is coarse, with large areas of terrain classified as one type (e.g., “Grass”) when in fact they are a mix of several types (e.g., “Grass,” “Grass Crops,” “Dry Woody Scrub,” and “Forest and Field”). Fortunately, the landclass system is flexible; it just needs more precise data.
The second shortcoming of the default scenery is also a data problem: the riverbanks, roads, and coastlines are too angular, and all but the widest rivers are one width (narrow). Also, many of the roads have no traffic assigned to them.
There is at least one product that addresses these issues for the whole continent of Europe: Ultimate Terrain (UT), which I reviewed here a couple of years ago. In what follows, I will be comparing Scotflight with UT as well as with the default scenery.
One of the Scotflight’s advertised features is “increased landclass cover with emphasis around featured airfields.” How much the coverage is increased can be seen from this diagram. The areas with improved landclass are indicated by light earth tones. You can see that lots of attention has been paid to the Shetland Islands, the west coast, and the southern Grampians (around Glasgow). The Great Glen has been filled in, but coverage in the east is sporadic.
What this means in practice can be seen better in the comparison screenshots below. These will also give us a chance to look at the product’s shorelines, which are visible on the diagram we just looked at, as blue and green lines. As you can see, coverage of these is much more even, and extends to all parts of the country.
Three areas were selected for comparison, all of them near custom airfields and all of them near water. For each area, I have included two perspectives: one looking straight down, giving a broader but more schematic view of the scenery, and one in spot plane view, showing what the scenery looks like in flight.
We begin with Scatsa in the Shetland Islands. Comparing the overhead views, you can see, first, that the default landclass is quite uniform: the whole island seems to be made of the same patchwork, except up in the north. The Scotflight and UT screenshots show more variation; in particular, the area around the airfield is quite bare. I checked this on Google Earth and, as I expected, Scotflight and UT are more accurate. The other thing you can see, if you look closely, is that the layout of the airfield (EGPM) is more detailed in the Scotflight slide, and that the Scotflight slide has docks projecting into the bay.
Now let’s look at the same area in spot plane view. At first, the default scenery looks more interesting, but this is an illusion: the default landclass “thinks” that the whole island has this kind of tree cover, but the Scotflight landclass “knows” that, in fact, the area around the airfield has no ground cover whatsoever. Looking closer, you can also see that Scotflight and UT both include a road on the extreme right hand side that is missing from the default. Now look at the airfield: the Scotflight version has more buildings and a more intricate layout of taxiways and aprons; it also has a fence. Finally, look at the shorelines. The Scotflight and UT shorelines are both less angular than the default, but the Scotflight shoreline has beaches. Finally, notice the power plant in the background, which is missing from both the UT and default screenshots.
To be fair, Scotflight isn’t this detailed everywhere; that’s why I showed the landclass diagram above. What you will see everywhere are improved shorelines and road vectors; and around the airports, you can expect more VFR landmarks and more accurate landclass.
Our second comparison is of Inverness, near EGPE. Again, the overhead view shows that the default landclass is extremely uniform: inaccurate, and also boring. Notice also that the default bays are too narrow, compared with the same bays in UT and Scotflight.
This is immediately noticeable in spot plane view, where the land seems to jump back in the UT and Scotflight slides -- in fact, it’s just going back to its proper boundaries. Notice also that the default scenery is missing a highway here, which UT and Scotflight both restore -- although they differ about the color of the beach here, whether it should be grey or white. Finally, look in the upper-left-hand corner, where Scotflight has a group of sailboats anchored, which are missing from the other two.
Our last comparison will be of West Freugh, where Piltanton Burn flows into Luce Bay. Looking first at the overhead views, notice again the uniformity of the default landclass, compared with UT and Scotflight. Notice also the complete absence of the EGOY airfield in both the default and the UT screenshots.
Now look at the same area in spot plane view. First, the default river is just a brown-green ribbon whereas, in Scotflight and UT, it broadens and narrows, and is filled with reflective water. Looking very closely, you can see that there is a small road on the right-hand side that only UT knows about. But the most striking difference is what happens to the river as it winds inland. Eventually, the Scotflight river becomes a ribbon, just like the default. In fact, the ribbon starts at the coast and is superimposed on the water river, so that it looks like a double shoreline.
The locations for comparison were selected before I visited them. If I were writing an ad, instead of a review, I would obviously omit the third comparison and find something more flattering. The important questions are (a) what’s typical and (b) how does the developer deal with errors when they are reported? Answers: (a) in two weeks of concentrated flying, I noticed exactly four terrain bugs. (b) Within two days of me reporting the bugs, the developer wrote back to say they had been fixed, and that existing customers would be notified of an update by email.
Let me conclude this section with four generalizations. First, the landclass coverage of UT is much broader than Scotflight’s: it covers all of Scotland (and all of Europe), not just the areas around custom airfields. But the Scotflight landclass, for the areas the areas that it does cover, is hand-tuned. Second, the shorelines in UT are both less angular and more accurate than the shorelines in Scotflight -- and both are much improved compared with the default (as you can see from the screenshots). Third, UT and Scotflight both have more roads, and more road traffic, than the default scenery -- though again, UT has slightly more of both. Finally, Scotflight has something that UT doesn’t even attempt, which is more traffic on the waterways, with boats on three different lochs and ferries running between the islands; the ferry ports are modeled as well.
Fortunately, both Scotflight and UT are modular, so if you have both products you can combine the best features of each.
A list of new or enhanced landmarks is available on the product web page. By my count there are 15 wind farms, 8 broadcast towers, 11 major bridges, 2 oil terminals, 2 canals, 10 forts or castles, 3 new or refurbished structures at Glasgow, 14 ferry ports, 2 marinas, and 4 larger sites that I can’t classify: the Old Man of Hoy formation, the Cairngorm Mountain Railway, the ruins on Iona, and the Knockhill racetrack.
Except for some monuments missing on Calton Hill, Edinburgh was already pretty well cared-for in the default scenery, so the extra details at Glasgow are welcome. Another landmark feature, the ferry ports, vary in both size and design.
The bridges are all unique, and connect with the road network to carry moving traffic. Each of the castles is unique as well. The royal castle at Balmoral is the most detailed, since it includes not only the castle proper but also buildings that are part of the castle complex, and even a parking lot (which is itself connected with the rest of the complex by a road).
There are also countless (or at least, uncounted by me) objects that appear in the scenery but which aren’t mentioned in the official inventory: the neighborhoods of trailers and houses that are modeled next to some of the airfields; a golf course near Castle Kennedy; ploughed fields in various states and patterns; the distinctive low buildings that are south of Knockhill racetrack, but not actually part of it (are those left over from the old railway?); smaller buildings on the shore of Crail airfield; a fish farm in the Outer Skerries; lighthouses.
Version 1 of this scenery, “Highlands & Islands,” had 27 enhanced airfields. Version 2 has 52. Apart from Inverness, most of these are regional-size or smaller. I.e., not Glasgow or Edinburgh: the big airports can be improved, but that’s not the kind of flying this product was made for. In this regard, Scotflight is similar to the German Airfields and Raw Grit: PNG Bush Pilot sceneries that I’ve reviewed in months past -- the main difference being that Scotflight includes more than airfields.
So what are the Scotflight airfields like? Again, there is a great deal of variety, which I’ve tried to reflect in the screenshots. If there’s a formula, I haven’t figured it out. Again, though, let me offer some generalizations. First, the runway, taxiway, and aprons are noticeably more detailed than their default counterparts (where they exist; several of the airfields included in this package were left out of the default scenery). Second, the scenery is intended to be flown over -- meaning, details begin to blur when viewed on the ground up close.
Third, there is a blend of custom and default objects. Fourth (and this is, in large part, a consequence of numbers two and three), the airfields are frame rate friendly. Fifth, most of the airfields have an environmental context: it might be a town, a harbor, or (if it’s in the country), a large farm or castle. Sixth, night lighting is implemented throughout. Seventh, now that I have toured all of the airfields I want to go back and start over.
Something we’re starting to get in similar products is the use of ambient sounds, such as birds, waves, or banging tools (if there’s a repair hangar nearby). So far Scotland is silent. There’s some use of animated birds, but not at most fields. On the other hand -- and this is probably more important -- almost all of the enhanced airfields have AI traffic going in and out. If I have to choose between sounds and traffic, I’ll take the traffic.
Caledonia, stern and wild…
That is how Sir Walter Scott described the country I have been flying over. Microsoft has already done a good job with the mountain (terrain mesh), leaving Scotflight to work on the flood (water features) and brown heath (land classification). Of course, there were no airports when Scott was writing, but those have been enhanced too -- or, where they were missing altogether, conjured up out of the shaggy wood.
The first part of this review, terrain, is longer than the other two, landmarks and airfields, not because it’s more important, but because it’s more complicated to evaluate. Terrain is the only feature of this product for which it’s possible to make a direct comparison with another add-on. But that should not be allowed to distort the total picture. “More complicated” does not always mean “more interesting.” After I finished with my terrain comparisons, I shared them with one of the developers. He explained to me that the terrain enhancements were “intended to correct the worst errors of [the default scenery]. E.g., in FSX, my own Dundee airport is inland -- but in reality it's nearly in the sea!” In the genesis of the product, it was the airfields that came first; and the terrain enhancements grew up around them.
Scotflight: Version 2 sells for 25 pounds. If you have Version 1, the upgrade is 10 pounds. It is an ambitious product: not just airfields, but airfields plus traffic plus landmarks plus terrain. In this reviewer’s opinion, it is the combination of elements that distinguishes this product from others in the same category. This is true on the airfield level as well.
In isolation, none of the custom objects is going to win a modeling tournament. But that is not how they were meant to be viewed. Arranged in lines, they also form layers. Signage and hangars make an airport; houses make a town; docks and boats make a harbor; rivers form valleys; and roads connect them.
The other phrase that came to mind during my travels here was “visionary dreariness,” from one of Scott’s contemporaries, William Wordsworth. As you can see from my screenshots, the weather over Scotland can be a trial (if you’re flying). But it’s also a mood: what Wordsworth, in a different poem, called “an obscure sense of possible sublimity.” The clouds hide -- but also enchant -- the landscape.
What I Like About Scotflight: Version 2
What I Don't Like About Scotflight: Version 2
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