AVSIM Commercial FSX Scenery Review

Ft Lauderdale X Revisited

Product Information

Publishers: Flight Sim Designs

Description: Hi Res Scenery.

Download Size:
4.2 GB

Format:
Download
Simulation Type:
FSX
Reviewed by: Ray Marshall AVSIM Contibuting Reviewer - August 5, 2011

So what is this stuff?

This is add-on scenery for FSX.  Not just any old scenery, this is the most up-to-date satellite imagery with a little lower level (8,000 ft) professional aviation photography edited in to make sure there are no clouds, no haze, no fog, etc.  This replaces your FSX default scenery for a specific area and should make flying in this area much more enjoyable.  This is considered photo-real scenery and has many benefits.

The quality or resolution of photo-real scenery is usually expressed in centimeters per pixel.  This package uses professional level commercial 15 cm – 30 cm/pixel source ortho-imagery. To my knowledge there is nothing better that is currently available for flight simulation. For instance, it is great that the fictitious neighborhoods, streets and canals of FSX are replaced with real identifiable neighborhoods, streets and canals, however, any buildings or structures are still portrayed as FSX objects.

You can now fly over your house, vacation rental or neighborhood and recognize objects using your favorite add-on aircraft.  This has previously not been possible in any version of Flight Simulator. Photo-real scenery also brings vibrant, bright colors to the observed scenery.

Test System

Computer Specs

Quadcore Intel CPU i7-870 2.93 GHz, 1TB SATA-II HD
Windows7 – 64 bit OS, 8 GB RAM
nVidia GTX-460 / 1 GB, Dell 24” LCD/Dell 18” LCD
Realtek HD Audio, Logitech Z-5500 5.1 speakers,
Grado SR-60 Headphones, Logitech 3D Pro Joystick
CH Products USB Flight Yoke and Pro Pedals
FSX/Acceleration

Flight Test Time:

30 hours

Is there really a Fort at Fort Lauderdale? 

A very brief history. The original settlers first showed up about 4,000 years ago.  Most recent history had various Indian tribes living in and around what was known as New River for some time.  In 1836 or so, the settlers built a stockade for protection from the Seminole Indians.  A guy from Tennessee named Billy Lauderdale spent a month there before the Indians burned it to the ground.  Guess where the city name came from?

Modern day Fort Lauderdale is a preferred destination for many international flights, both real and simulated.  Sometimes known as the ‘Venice of America’ because of it expansive and intricate canal system.  It is a major yachting center with 42,000 resident yachts and 100 marinas and boatyards.  It is also known for its 4,000+ restaurants and 120+ nightclubs.

It is a major port for cruise ships headed for the Caribbean and a regional hub for several commuter and charter airline companies. Southwest, Spirit, Allegiant Air, JetBlue, Caribbean, Delta and many more have a major presence here.

Like many major airports, the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport is not located in either Fort Lauderdale or Hollywood. Duh!  But, rather in an unincorporated area of Broward County.

And who is doing it?

Flight Sim Designs is a two year old company that was started specifically to provide high quality photo-real scenery for flight simulator pilots.  They are off to a great start and are about to complete their 10th package.  A few products ago, Andrew Block, CEO and Development Head, began using EHD, Enhanced High Definition.

This is a process used to enhance quality to yet an even higher level.  This technology helps to prevent "blurries," allows faster scenery loading times, creates better resolution that produces a better visual experience.  You can expect very friendly frame rates according to the text at their website.

We strive to be a customer service company, answering most requests within the same day. We are also one of the few scenery    companies and even software companies, to have a toll free telephone number, as well as an international one, to assist customers as quick and helpful as possible.  We try to be polite, courteous, and  caring, on the phone and email, when dealing with all simmers, because we are simmers/customers/users too,  and know what we expect from a Flight Sim Development Company.     Andrew Block, CEO

Here is a quote from the top. Flight Sim Designs stands out in the field of FS developers in that they are most likely the only developer with a published toll free phone number for support.  Both for here in the USA and the international audience.  Neat.  I don’t remember ever associating a telephone and FS support.  I guess I just automatically think of email and waiting for a response, not a real person to help me solve my problem.  Of course, they still have email and support ticket type assistance.

Not that much support is really needed. Once you purchase the product, you receive a folder with a few files by email – one being an 8 page pdf manual that explains the Activation Rules and installation process and a couple of *.exe files.  You click on the one with the name of the package you purchased and it then checks with the home base for any updates to your version.  Click the OK box and you are off and running for a quick download.  Of course, that depends on your internet connection.  I have the new (new to Biloxi) U-verse high speed connection so I was eager to see how it performs compared to my old reliable cable connection.  It was faster, but didn’t set any records.

During this review, the installer was updated to a new v 2.0. All the stores have the new 2.0 zip file, so there is no longer a need for the download manager. The customer just unzips the file, activates it and it installs. One caution – carefully copy your unique serial number from your email to the requested screen at the appropriate time.  I copied a trailing space on my first try and the checker initially rejected my s/n.

The Fort Lauderdale X Revisited package is 6 bgl files that weigh in at 4.2 GB with the largest single file being 1.4 GB. You can surf the web while it installs your scenery. You will be notified with a friendly popup box when the download and installation is complete. My total download time was just over an hour and that should be acceptable to most folks – especially if you are having dinner at the same time.  I understand they will have a boxed DVD version real soon and are looking into 8 GB thumb drives for delivery options.

Not only are Flight Sim Designs keen on easy access support and quality products, but they are truly interested in what you think about their products and ask for suggestions for future areas to develop.  Let’s see, how about my backyard, Grand Bahamas, New Orleans . . . You get the drift.  Actually,  I think East Central Florida  - Daytona Beach to Melbourne would be a wonderful place to zero in on – that is my old stomping grounds and where I learned to fly.  It would also fit in nicely with their Orlando/Disneyworld and Palm Beach packages.

A little birdie told me Las Vegas was near the top of the list for new releases.  I did spend some time on the phone with the developer and it sounds to me like an equal priority is to bring their entire inventory of products up to the X Revisited level.

The installation process is actually very simple.  You sit back and watch as the custom installer places 6 new bgl files in your FSX/Add-on Scenery/Scenery folder.  You start FSX as you normally would and when you go to the Fort Lauderdale area you will notice the large, new photo-real scenery area.  I was very surprised at how large the coverage area is.  I would suggest Flight Sim Designs add a screenshot of the coverage area in the installation manual.  Just so you can anticipate it being installed and also for you to cross check that you did indeed receive all the files. I was curious as to the total photo-real area and a simple search turned up an area calculator for Google maps.

Who does all this stuff, anyway?  Turns out to be 1,142 km2 based on my thick thumb and forefinger.  This is roughly 20 nm N –S and 17 nm E – W at the longer points. I made the little graphic for this review. Should you compare the enhanced area to your typical add-on airport then it is huge and then some.  It makes you really appreciate how much work goes into those full or total state packages.  Wow.

I like the fact that this scenery has four quality airports in the photo-real enhanced area.

  • Pompano Beach , KPMP
  • Fort Lauderdale Executive, KFXE
  • Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International, KFLL
  • North Perry/Hollywood – KHWO

Just outside the North boundary is Boca Raton, KBCT and a couple of miles South is the busy Opa Locka, KOPF airports. A few miles further South is Miami International and Homestead AFB.

A quick story about these airports.  A long, long, time ago . . . I was flying into Opa Locka to buy my first airplane – a very used but totally spiffy Cessna 150 – from the training center located on site.  At that time they probably had 30 or more C-150s in the air with Iranian or Middle Eastern students.  As you might suspect, a few would be on their first solo or returning from solo cross country flights.

Well, that particular day about a half dozen were so excited they had reverted back to their native language and were chatting with each other on the tower and approach control frequencies and this made for some exciting times on the airways along the very busy Fort Lauderdale to Miami corridor.  The FAA insists the controllers only use English for any air traffic control conversations.  A few corporate or airline pilots would chime in from time to time in their native language trying to clear the air of these highly excited student pilots.

It turns out that the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International airport has almost the same runway layout as Opa Locka and the airports are less than 20 miles apart. You only have to be off a few degrees when flying from Tampa or Orlando like most probably were to zero in on the wrong one.  About half the disoriented returning student pilots were in the Fort Lauderdale traffic pattern but talking to the Opa Locka control tower and vice versa.

There was a lot of ‘rock your wings’ and ‘turn on or off your landing lights’ and ‘what color is your airplane?’ requests coming from both towers, approach and departure control.  It was a real circus and we were right in the middle of it flying – yep – a Cessna 150.

North Perry/Hollywood got into the act by trying to talk some the students into landing at their airport just to help clear the skies.  Their layout is super simple – 4 runways – all exactly North South East West.  Heck, they could even teach the Air Force guys to land there.  Just kidding.

I had a commercial license with the ink still wet and my original flight instructor in the right seat, so I wasn’t much different than the other student pilots.  At the time, Opa Locka was using a now closed, very short runway that was somewhat aligned with my flight path and the tower asked if I could make a very rapid descent and a short field landing for an immediate straight in approach.  I glanced over at my instructor and he was just itching to take over the controls. I relented and he did one of those high-speed, cross-controlled, Top Gun type slips from about 2,500 ft to the ground and I didn’t even see the runway we landed on until the wheels touched.
History Lesson.  Aviation pioneer Glenn Curtiss retired from aircraft development in the 1920s and became a real estate developer in Florida. In 1926 he founded the City of Opa-locka, naming it Opa-tisha-woka-locka (quickly shortened to Opa-locka), a Native American name that translates into the high land north of the little river on which there is a camping place.

For the world, it looked like we were on final for the middle of an East runway but actually flying Southeast – almost sideways.  What was interesting was when we responded in the affirmative to take the straight in/short approach so did another 3 or 4 other pilots wishing to get out of the air and on the ground – with a “hey, I can do that, I can do that”.  It all got sorted out later on that day. A few students arrived in vans with CFI’s bringing the planes back to the correct airport. They were so excited – they were going to fly for the Shah.  Ok, back to the scenery review.

So we have an area to fly around and checkout the swimming pools, I mean canals, and terra cotta tile roofs with a quality airport within gliding distance at any given time.  I really enjoy just making a small circuit. I find it enjoyable to leave the ATC turned off and just try to avoid getting run over by one of those international flights bringing those Europeans in for their holiday.  You can be on the 27R approach into KFLL and will be stacked about 5 or 6 deep just about any time you choose to arrive.  But, you also need to avoid the departure stream of 737s and other commuters climbing out.

For a really good view of the full package, let’s take my 4 airport hop, starting from the North, we take off from just outside the scenery area at Boca Raton – KBCT - using runway 23.  Here I am firing up the Goose, make sure you are not standing downwind.

This is a big 6,300 x 150 ft runway that will handle most any plane you happen to be flying.  Make a slow climbing left turn and when you reach about 2,000 feet, glance over at your 11 o’clock position and you will be looking at Pompano Beach Airpark – KPMP – runway 15.  This is only 4,400 x 150 feet so don’t take your new iFly 737-600 into this one.

A straight in, low approach will do nicely with the big guys and a touch and go for us small fry. Pompano Beach Airpark is one of only four Goodyear blimp bases in the world. Keep an eye out the ‘Stars and Stripes’.  I wonder what the difference is between an airpark and an airport?

Airport  vs. Airpark  - What makes an airport an airpark is the co-location of homes with the intended purpose of providing access to the airport. There are many airports around the country with homes adjacent, but without official, legal access to the airport. These are not airparks.

An airpark is always also an airport, but an airport isn’t necessarily an airpark.

Make your low approach or touch-and-go and as you are climbing out from Pompano you will be on Right Base for Fort Lauderdale Executive – KFXE.  Here we can make a full stop landing with most any aircraft we choose as we have a 6,000 x 100 foot runway assuming you line up on runway 26.  Lot of nice airplanes parked here and great scenery views on the long final.

Make a full stop landing and taxi back and take off on the same runway and fly straight out West over the edge of the new scenery coverage area.  You will be looking at the Everglades National Park and a lot of protected bog. Here you will see the almost seamless transition to the FSX default scenery.  It is even better on the North and South boundaries. You probably missed the North transition as it was directly under you on takeoff and climb out.

The developer recommends a cruising altitude of 3,500 feet so let’s stay in that neighborhood for our sightseeing.  If we continue on our western track we will spot a major highway intersection at our 10 o’clock position.  This is the NW boundary of our photo-real area and where I-75, Alligator Alley Parkway, crosses Florida 27, a main North -South connector running from Disneyworld to Miami.

Let’s continue due South but keep Highway 27 in gliding distance just in case we have a forced landing. Those alligators just love unprepared flight simulator pilots.  After a few miles start a slow left turn and you will be on a long final for North Perry/Hollywood. Here we have 4 almost identical runways aligned with the cardinal headings.  Pick either 9L or 9R for a bounce and blow as they are 3,250 x 100 feet.

This little community airport was selected as the ‘Florida General Aviation Airport of the Year’ a couple of years ago.  It hosts Five flight schools, two banner towers, several news helicopters, and two fixed based operators. So they should be friendly folks, wave as you climb out. Continue on the easterly heading to 3,000 feet cruise altitude, cross the coastline and check out the emerald colored waters’ edge.

About 5 miles out over the Atlantic Ocean start a lazy left turn to the North and set up for an ILS or visual to Fort Lauderdale International - KFLL – runway 27R. You will most likely have to get in line with a handful of commuter airlines but start your approach from about 6 nm out,  just East of the outer marker and no lower than 2,500 feet.  This is real eye candy even with the default airport scenery.  Even better with one of the add-on airport scenery packages.  If you can’t fly fast enough to keep up with the 737s and Airbuses’ on final, just use 27L instead for a visual.

Flying over the Atlantic Ocean and looking in any direction you should appreciate the work that has been accomplished with the water masking.  This is still being worked on in many of the existing photo-real add on scenery packages.

That is our little introduction trek. I had a little trouble deciding which plane to take on this trip.  I actually ended up with 3 - using the Carenado Bonanza with the HD paint upgrades from Butch at OZx (I submitted this burgundy color choice for the redux) and the new, well fairly new, Grumman Goose were my first choice.  This is a special G21A HP edition with updated HD paint and interior along with a new airfile.  You can find both at the OZx site with a list of Who’s Who that donated their work so I could use it to show off Fort Lauderdale X Revisited.  Thanks guys and girls.

As I was waiting for the download last night I was reading the AVSIM forums about the new Carenado Cessna 337.  So, I installed my version this morning and took it out for a short look around.  No close-up views of this one just yet.

I set my LOD distance to 6.5 in the fsx.cfg file and my PC redraws the distant view better and quicker. I also upgraded my graphics card in the middle of the review period so some of the screenshots may be a little better than others. I now have the GTX-460 w/ 1 GB GDDR5 onboard memory.  Your mileage may vary, but, I would recommend you start with the settings on the Left of the next graphic.

If all is well, then try the settings on the Right.  If that bogs you down, then choose somewhere in the middle.  You can also back off the Mesh sliders to 80% or so and probably gain a few frames/sec. If you have the horsepower, then keep pushing them to the Right until it hurts. Start with the settings on the Left and progress to those on the Right. Whatever setup you have, this photoscenery should be very good on the frames/sec.  I use the external limiter set at 30 FPS and it seems to do the trick for me.

One other item to consider is the date you select for your FSX flight. The source imagery was taken in the Spring and early Summer so you may want to select a date in that range to better match the transistion between the photo-real area and the FSX default.  South Florida does not have the typical 4 or 5 seasons that someone like ORBX is known for with their premium scenery add-ons but the color of the foliage does change somewhat throughout the year.

Here is the Goose out on a sightseeing tour. Those orange tile roofs are a dead giveaway that you are in South Florida. Check out that emerald green water color at the edge of the beach.

This is the Cessna 337 in a hard left to avoid the tube liners coming out of KFLL.  This looks as real as it gets. I keep pinching myself and asking if I believe I am flying the 337 in FSX looking at this scenery.  Oh my, just a lazy day cruising around the high rent district in South Florida in one of my all time favorite twins.

It is hard to believe how green the green is in this screenshot and this is unretouched from inside FSX.   Here is the re-creation and additional screenshots of the 4 airport sightseeing trip.  We took off from Boca Raton and made a lazy climbing left turn and lined up with runway 15 at Pompano Beach.  Check out that golf course view from 550 feet.

We make this a touch and go, climb out straight ahead to near the coastline then make a right turn and line up for a long final to runway 26 and Fort Lauderdale Executive. A  long straight in to Fort Lauderdale Executive runway 26 in the Goose. Check out how real the colors are and how sharp the objects appear. The Goose is at 1,600 ft.  The freeways in this package have moving traffic flow.  Just another plus to the added realism.

Here we make a full stop landing, taxi back past all those beautiful aircraft and line up on 26.  Climb straight out to 3,500 feet and cross the boundary line (FL 27). West bound at 3,500 feet the scenery is absolutely stunning from this altitude.  This place abounds with beautiful golf courses, canals, and large boats.

Keep an eye on the big intersection at your 10 0’clock.  Here we are approaching the big highway intersection.  Check out the bog beneath the Goose.  I think Microsoft did their best work in this area.  This is like having the better of two worlds. Make a gradual turn to the south and keep the intersection of your left.  About 5 miles ahead we will make our left turn for North Perry/Hollywood airport. Fly South for a few miles and when you identify North Perry/Hollywood airport, turn East for a low approach or touch and go on either 9L or 9R.

Heading east looking for the airport.  I think I see the lights in the distance at 12 o’clock.  That would be the parallel East/West runways. Time to choose left or right.

This straight down screenshot shows how colorful this area really is.  This is a straight out of FSX screenshot – not doctored up.  Wow. Climb out on an easterly heading back to our 3,500 ft sightseeing altitude and fly about 5 miles due East over the ocean toward the Bahamas.

When you think you are far enough out make a turn to the North and set up for an ILS for 27R at Fort Lauderdale Intl – KFLL – or a visual for 27L if you are a slow mover.  Get your camera ready and snap of a few shots for your friends and neighbors of the approach. It is something to behold.

On the ILS for 27R at KFLL – Fort Lauderdale Intl.  That is the default airport scenery ahead.  Try not to be distracted by the girls on the beach towels.

The Bonanza approaching ‘feet dry’ on a visual for runway 27L. This is one of the few major airports in the United States that actually charges the private pilot a landing fee.  Minimum fee is $10.00.  Bonanzas are a bit higher.

Looks like that Airbus A320 is going to pull out in front of us. Good time for a go around.  We are not using ATC, he is. These two shots were while on final above.  If you zoom in and look close you will see the Goose on short final in both screenshots.  The colors on my monitor are breathtaking.  I don’t normally fly using the F12 key (straight down view) but the scenery is so very sharp and colorful that I seem to be doing exactly that a lot more often.

Here are a couple of night shots. I don’t fly much at night and many times almost forget to check the lights.  Nice clear night for the approach into KFLL 09L. The darkness in the background in the Atlantic Ocean.  Below – You can clearly see the shopping complex lights in this picture. That is Runway 9L dead ahead.  Nice clear night for approaches.

As I was wrapping up this review, I thought I should include a screenshot of the Goose landing in one of the many canals.  To my surprise, water is not FSX water in this photo-real scenery.  I flew out West and landed in one of the small canals in the Everglades then followed the same canal eastward inside the coverage area and landed.  Bingo, the landing gear pops out when I touched down in the photo-scenery canal water.  Just keep this in mind.

My suggestion for the developer is a nice improvement for future releases would be to make the emerald beach area water class and also maybe a few of the major canals and small lakes for the FSX seaplane crowd.

Well there you have it folks.  The only thing left is to decide how much you are willing to pay if you would like to be flying with this scenery in an hour or so.

Flight Sim Designs has authorized a very special promotion for AVSIM review readers for this FSX package.  This is their newest and best and I highly recommend it.  You must buy directly from their website store in order to get this special price – their retailers will not know anything about it.  You have from today until August 31, 2011 to buy this package for $ 8.99.  All you have to do is to mention this discount code and order the download version on or before 8/31/2011. That is almost a 60% discount for you on this premium package.

DISCOUNT CODE for Fort Lauderdale X Revisited – GOOSE

Conclusion.

This is most definitely a quality photo-real scenery package for FSX. This is also brought to market by a dedicated developer with a toll free telephone number and enjoys chewing the fat with anyone who calls. The screenshots speak for themselves, no special setup, sliders as shown, nothing retouched.  This is big step closer that next level we seem to always be seeking.

Predictions

Miami X Revisited should be available in a couple months and will have a match line with this package.  Sometime later, West Palm Beach will join the North match line.  Eventually, the scenery will creep up the East Coast of Florida and hopefully include Kennedy Space Center and Daytona Beach.  Look for high visibility locations like Las Vegas to be introduced shortly.

Insider Scoop.

Flight Sim Designs has a history of putting everything in the house on sale for $10.00 each about 4 times each year.  These sales are only directly from their website store and usually last about a month.  That puts this stuff on about the same level as a Starbuck’s grande latte with a pastry. Oh my.

Recommendations.

I love a sale.  I love photo-real scenery.  Depending on how much you like your Starbucks, or how much loose change you have – buy now or buy later, but buy this scenic area. It will change your outlook for sure. Pure enjoyment.

 

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