AVSIM Commercial Scenery Review

Charlotte Douglas International Airport

Product Information
Publisher: Imaginesim
Description:  High Fidelity Airport Add-on scenery.
Download Size:
20 MB
Format:
Download
Simulation Type:
FS 2004
Reviewed by: Michael "Mike T" Toussaint AVSIM Staff Reviewer - Oct 15, 2006

Introduction

Charlotte, North Carolina is the 20th largest city in the Unites States. Known as the “Queen City” (a name it shares with Cincinnati, Ohio), Charlotte is named for Queen Charlotte who was the wife of King George III of England. Charlotte is the “county seat” for Mecklenburg County, North Carolina which is enjoying tremendous growth and is one of the major backing centers for the United States with many US Banks having headquarter locations there.

Charlotte is a beautiful and modern city that is located only 200 miles from Atlanta and 80 miles from Greensboro, North Carolina. The city is also located only a few miles from the South Carolina border. Located just south of the Piedmont Triad (Greensboro, High Point, Winston-Salem), KCLT is also accessible to the booming North Carolina Tobacco and Furniture industrial hubs as well as the new Piedmont Triad Research Park which is fast becoming a high-tech Mecca.

To serve a sprawling and progressive metropolis such as Charlotte, Charlotte-Douglas International Airport (KCLT) is located a few miles from the city’s center. Established in 1937 as Charlotte Municipal Airport, KCLT was originally serviced by Eastern Airlines with regular passenger flights beginning in 1938.

In 1954, a new 70,000 square foot terminal was built and the airport was renamed Douglas Municipal Airport in honor of Mayor Ben Albert Douglas, Sr. The need for a larger terminal area was a testament to the steady growth within the area and Delta Air Lines soon began regular service to KCLT in 1956.

Major expansion at KCLT continued through the years but it wasn’t until airline deregulation between 1978 and 1980 that the airport enjoyed its largest growth spurt. During this period new 10,000 ft parallel runways were installed along with a new control tower to handle the growth in air traffic. The new Piedmont Airlines soon declared KCLT as its hub and facilitated a new 325,000 square foot terminal in 1982. In 1989 Piedmont was merged into US Air and KCLT became one of the major hubs for what became known as US Airways. Today, US Airways flies to many international and domestic destinations from its hub in Charlotte and an array of aircraft from narrow body and wide body aircraft can be seen serving the airport.

KCLT has five concourses (Concourse A thru E) and is served by all major US airlines along with some European airlines such as Lufthansa. Charlotte-Douglas is a modern airport with all the world-class amenities for shopping and food with efficient ground transportation links that today’s frequent flyer has come to expect.

In 2005 KCLT was the 16th busiest airport in overall nationwide flight operations (19th for Passengers and 35th for Cargo) and served 25.5 million passengers with non-stop service to 125 cities from a terminal area that now exceeds 1.7 million square feet.

Interestingly enough, an accurate representation of KCLT has never been released for the Flight Simulator franchise until Imaginesim decided to tackle the task. Having lived in the High Point, North Carolina area briefly, the region is near and dear to my heart and I was pleased to see a developer take on this major airport that had no real representation in MSFS.

The Charlotte-Douglas International Airport is the fifth airport add-on release from Imaginesim and they have established a niche for themselves within the airport scenery add-on market by releasing airports that others have not. Imaginesim’s Denver, New Orleans, Detroit and Newark Airports are all welcome offerings to otherwise scarcely available airport sceneries, albeit released to mixed reviews.

With the bar for the “state-of-the-art” in airport sceneries set by companies such as Cloud 9, Aerosoft and, of course, FlyTampa, let’s see how Imaginesim compares with their KCLT offering and if they can set any bars of their own!

Test System

Windows Vista RC1 (MSDN)
AMD Dual Core 5000+ @ 6GHz
Asus A8R32MVP w/X-Fire
2 GB Corsair PC3200 DDR
2x X1900XTX in X-Fire
Dual WD Raptors in Raid 0
Creative X-Fi Platinum Sound
Dell 26” 16:9 LCD
Logitech 5.1 THX Speakers
ATI Vista RC1 Drivers
Phase Change Cooling @ -15C

Flying Time:
9 hours

Installation, Requirements and Documentation

Download of all sceneries released by Imaginesim is available directly on their website. Bandwidth always seems to be in abundance and I had no problem at all getting the KCLT scenery to my hard drive.

From an e-commerce standpoint, Imaginesim offers a choice of utilizing the venerable Flight1 E-commerce Wrapper or purchasing the scenery directly from Simmarket. Given a choice, I choose to go with the Flight1 Wrapper each and every time due to its ease of use especially in the event that the purchase is lost and must be restored. Also, Flight1 never charges a fee, unlike Simmarket, in the event the software must be reinstalled after a certain period of time.

Once installed, KCLT will occupy 95.8MB of hard drive real estate which is inclusive of a manual in .pdf format along with a scenery configuration tool that will allow the user to switch between having static and no static aircraft within the scenery along with the appropriate airport AFACD file.

Flying Into KCLT

Continental Express has a 11:00 am flight into KCLT from KIAH, so I chose to mimic this flight for my introduction to Imaginesim’s representation of Charlotte-Douglas International Airport. Continental Express uses ERJ-145’s to service the airport from Houston so I took to the skies in the Feelthere ERJ-145 PIC.

After an uneventful 2 hour and 23 minute flight, I made my approach to KCLT Runway 5. ATC lined my ERJ up at 19 miles for the final approach and I turned the little Embrarer to the final approach course. Using GE Pro and Ultimate Terrain, the Charlotte suburbs made for a beautiful approach and I could see the downtown Charlotte skyline in the distance. What struck me was the fact that as I transferred from IFR to VFR, I had a hard time making out the KCLT airport property. It wasn’t until I was about five miles out and cleared for landing that I made out the VASI and runway. This is GOOD!

One of my biggest pet peeves with airport scenery designers is when the scenery is surrounded by a large green square! Imaginesim instead decided to place a photorealistic base to the airport scenery that blends in seamlessly with GE Pro’s photorealistic generic textures. The final effect is an airport that is beautifully integrated into the surrounding area rather than sticking out like a sore thumb. Real pilots will attest to the fact that flying into airports situated in heavily populated areas can be quite interesting because many times it is indeed hard to pick out the airport property from the surrounding area. Imaginesim mimics this effect very accurately.

As we crossed the threshold I liked what I saw. The runways, taxiways and ground sceneries are all photorealistic and the effect is very convincing. Flying into Imaginesim’s KCLT is a very believable experience and there is nothing to diminish from the suspension of disbelief. All the taxiways are properly marked with the appropriate signs and markings and I turned off at the last high speed taxiway and held for clearance to gate A10 which the real world Jetlink 2793 would also be arriving.

As we made our way towards the A Concourse, I was pleased overall with the accuracy of the terminal textures. The real world KCLT buildings are all light colored giving the airport a very “clean” look and feel. As we approached the A Concourse it was apparent that almost all of the real world gates were represented and gate A10 was open and ready for my arrival. It was also a welcome sight to see other Continental Express ERJs parked at the A concourse, one of which just pushed back from occupying my gate.

Imaginesim made it a point to stock most gates with either a marshaller or an automatic aircraft parking system. Additionally, some jetways at the airport are equipped with animation but this is a hit-and-miss affair. Depending on the type of aircraft, one can have the jetway properly meet the aircraft. However, not all gates work with all aircraft and one has to refer to the manual to ascertain which gate matches which aircraft. I would most certainly would have liked to see the ability to park any aircraft at any of the animated jetways, rather than having to limit oneself to restricted parking depending on the aircraft one is flying.

Despite this shortcoming, the overall first impression of KCLT is pleasing.

Imaginesim’s KCLT is a very busy place because there is abundant dynamic ground traffic bustling around the airport. All of the ground traffic follows the vehicle road markings on the ramp and taxiways and have a random sense of purpose to them. One has to be careful when taxiing around the airport so as not to run into these vehicles because, unlike their real world counterparts, they will not yield for your aircraft! Dynamic ground traffic is a must have for the overall feel for any large airport and Imaginesim did not disappoint in this category.

Graphics, Textures & AFCAD

Despite having photorealistic ground textures, Imaginesim decided to go with a mixture of hand drawn and photorealistic texturing for the terminals. In general, the effect is not “bad” but still leaves room for improvement. My gripe with most hand drawn texturing is that it can look a bit “cartoonish” and tends to contrast with the photorealistic textures. In this case, Imaginesim did a credible job but I would have liked to have seen a fully photorealistic texture base on all of the terminals which would have really pushed this scenery over the top.

Imaginesim did their homework in regards to the overall look and feel of the airport and all terminal building shapes, sizes and positions. They are what anyone who is familiar with the real airport would expect to see.

Frame rates at KCLT are superb and I noticed no hiccups either on the approach or while taxiing around the airport. All textures remained crisp and legible and all of the gates are clearly marked.

Similarly, Imaginesim did a good job with the AFAD file and all aircraft were parked at their real world gates and concourses. Even the cargo area was populated with AI UPS and DHL aircraft of the right size and in the right places.

Bear in mind that I always turn off all static aircraft within my sceneries because I have invested countless hours customizing my Ultimate Traffic fleet to provide the most realistic AI aircraft experience. In my case, I want only AI aircraft parked at the gates (the more the merrier). However, in the case that one must turn down their AI density due to performance issues, one always has the options within the KCLT scenery to keep the static aircraft and have a few AI aircraft parked around them. The option to keep the static aircraft within the scenery is on by default.

Night lighting is very well done and offers a soft warm glow, blended nicely into ground and terminal textures. Taxiway and runway lighting are faithfully representative of the real world KCLT and flying into and out of KCLT at night feels realistic. As with the day textures, night textures exact no perceptible frame rate or visual penalties.

Product Support

Imaginesim does not have a support forum and all technical questions must be directed to support@imaginesim.com. I cannot comment on how effective or how quick support via email is, since I have not had the need to contact Imaginesim in regard to any scenery issues. I do know that some of the Imaginesim titles are extremely popular, such as; KEWR, KDEN, etc and I have not seen any adverse comments in regards to their support paradigm in any of the online forums.

Conclusion

Imaginesim’s fifth scenery release is simply solid. The Charlotte-Douglas Airport scenery does not break any new ground nor does it raise the bar in scenery design, so at the end of the day, there is nothing “new” brought to the table. With that said, Imaginesim has released a good scenery that provides great integration into the surrounding scenery area, is very representative of the real world airport and exacts no frame rate penalty for its use.

I would like to see Imaginesim push the scenery design envelope a little because it is obvious that they have significant talent on their team. I am of the opinion that Imaginesim has the inherent capability to raise to the levels that Cloud9, FlyTampa and Aerosoft have set in their flagship releases. As it stands now, Imaginesim’s KCLT is not far off the mark, but just needs that extra “something” to push it and the company, to the top of the pile. I am also happy to see Imaginesim releasing airports that have not been done ten times before which helps to expand the list of detailed airports available to all of us.

Do I recommend this scenery? Absolutely, yes! If you are a US Airways virtual pilot then this hub is a “must have”. For the rest of us, it is a welcome addition to the list of high fidelity airports to which we can fly.

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Charlotte Douglas Int'l Airport

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