AVSIM Commercial Scenery Review

Mallorca X

Product Information

Publishers:  Aerosoft

Description: Scenery Add-on.

Download Size:
3.8 GB

Format:
Download
Simulation Type:
FSX
Reviewed by: Jon Murchison AVSIM Staff Reviewer - October 3, 2009

Introduction

Palma de Mallorca Airport or as its referred to in native Spanish Aeropuerto de Palma de Mallorca (IATA: PMI, ICAO: LEPA) which I will now refer to simply as Palma is located approximately 8 km’s from the city of Palma de Mallorca, and it along with the entire island is the latest destination from Aerosoft’s growing stable of scenery releases for FSX and FS9 thought it is the FSX version I am reviewing here. Mallorca is located in the Balearic Islands group that sits off the Spanish coast being about equal distance from both Barcelona and Valencia in the Mediterranean sea. As an airport Palma began life in 1921 when the Aeromarítima Mallorquina company was awarded the Barcelona-Palma postal route and set up services in the fields of Son Sant Joan. Son Sant Joan spent many years as a military airfield before it was ‘re-opened’ in 1960 as an international and domestic airport. Its name changed to Palma de Mallorca and has grown ever since becoming a major European hub and third busiest airport in Spain.

Mallorca is a magnet for visitors during the summer months with its two runways 06L/24R and 06R/24L able to despatch and receive in excess of 12,000 passengers an hour. Four terminals host in excess of 20 million passengers a year with three of these (B,C and D) unsurprisingly being for international traffic and terminal A for domestic operations to the two smaller islands nearby as well as the Spanish mainland. Air Berlin use Mallorca as a hub due to the proportionally high number of German tourists, but when researching the airport as part of this review it was clear the popularity of Mallorca as a destination meant spotting at the airport would present those lucky enough to go there with a veritable smorgasbord of airlines and aircraft types.

Mallorca X is a little bit different to other releases from the Aerosoft stable in that while Palma de Mallorca is rendered, as is the smaller GA field of Son Bonet, it doesn’t stop there. To quote the Aerosoft Mallorca X page, this product comes as a “complete island in a breathtaking resolution of 0.5m/pixel” and when the DVD version is released Aerosoft say this will be extended to include the other two islands in the Balearic group.

Test System

Intel Quad Core 3.2
2 Gig DDR 3 Ram
8800 GTX Graphics
Windows Vista Home Premium

Flying Time:
30 hours

Download….download….download, Installation and Documentation

At 4 GB the Mallorca X download is not for the faint hearted nor the Broadband challenged. It took me several attempts and a number of dropped connections before I eventually gave up the click and save approach and installed download acceleration software to help. Reality dictates fast and reliable broadband to make this download viable, as it does for any large files. Aerosoft have made this a bit easier by splitting the files into two downloads, the upside of this was I had plenty of time to read the manual which can also be downloaded as a separate file.

The installation itself was a standard Aerosoft auto-installer that works once both downloads are complete and the contents unzipped into one folder so all the files are together. Given the install size is 4GB I was impressed that the install itself only took three minutes to complete and was finalized with the scenery config information being added automatically. The install creates an Aerosoft folder in the main FSX directory however because I have other Aerosoft products installed this already existed so I found a couple of new folders inside. One was for the island scenery that is 3.7GB and the other for Palma and Son Bonet airports taking up the remaining 300MB. A copy of the PDF manual is installed with the scenery along with a small utility I found in the Mallorca_SC folder called LEPATraffic. This allows the user to turn on or off additional traffic that will flow to the south, north and around the apron area and I am assuming this is a control to turn the included AESLite on and off. I say assuming because the manual doesn’t refer to this utility which I was surprised about given the additional traffic has the potential to impact performance.

Cover Contents

The Mallorca X manual covers installation instructions and provides advice on how to maximize performance with suggested settings for AI and texture resolution. At a resolution of 0.5m/pixel in FSX it’s advised to increase your resolution settings to maximize this and I duly completed these changes when I loaded FSX. FSX specific features such as moving jetways are discussed as are the minimum specs required to run Mallorca X effectively. Aerosoft state a 2.8 GHz machine, ideally dual core with 1 GB ram and a 256mb video card. They emphasize these are minimum specs so once you start adding AI and potentially more autogen you’ll probably want to be running more than this for a smooth flight. Overall the manual covered what I needed to know, the only obvious omission was a few charts that would have been handy, however the Mallorca X product page on the Aerosoft website provided a link ( www.aena.es) where charts could be downloaded after free registration. Being a product for both FSX and FS9 install instructions are included for both, as is a native German language section as well as English.

Spanish Beauty

For this review I will split Mallorca X into two sections. One – Palma and Son Bon Airports and Two – Mallorca Island. I’ll throw AESLite into the mix as well, talk about night effects and textures and then discuss performance at the end. What I share in the paragraphs that follow will be a taste of what this package offers. From first load it was clear to me that Mallorca X was no typical scenery. When it’s just an airport it’s easier to appreciate what the scenery has to offer, but this has two airports and an island, and not a small island at that. Exploring all Mallorca X has to offer was simply not possible if this review was going to be published before Christmas. On that note let’s kick the tyres and light the fires….or at least put on shades and sun cream because Mallorca X, here we come!

The Airports - Palma De Mallorca

Palma De Mallorca has four areas of operation with the international terminal being the larger area of the four taking up what is effectively two sides of the main terminal space. Here visiting aircraft are served by single air bridge equipped gates and terminal buildings that have plenty of glass in them providing virtual passengers great views of the ramp operations. Being a fully FSX SDK compliant scenery the glass is reflective creating a highly realistic effect especially where the air bridge’s connect to the terminal. Here a large glass frontage looks out over the ramp. The effect that has been achieved made me look several times to check if it was actually transparent material with objects inside. It wasn’t, so the illusion created was complete. The air bridge’s themselves are highly detailed and emblazoned with airberlin.com. The textures on these were very clear and crisp as they were for the majority of the buildings. A good portion of the domestic terminal sits on stilts so airport traffic such as push back trucks, buses and catering trucks are clearly visible running under the buildings and in and out of the ramp areas and this is supplied by AES Lite which I will cover a little later.

Sheeps Head parking.
Ramp detail AES 2.03 Terminal Detail
Double Gates Gate Detail Reflective Detail
Across the Roof Ramp Detail Looking west

Past the International terminal is plenty of open ramp parking and a freight area and around the corner from this is the domestic terminal. Here heavy operators will find double gates and if you run AES 2.03 and fly in on a heavy you will be able to utilize both bridges when you dock, for other users just the single bridge will move into place as they do for all the gates at Mallorca. Once again the terminal textures were detailed with plenty to see on top of the buildings, around them and at the gates themselves. I don’t think I have ever said this before but with scenery settings on max there may actually be too much around the place, if that’s possible. Further along various support facilities including the fire station, a number of tall antennae, catering and freight forwarders have facilities and these are presented in excellent detail. This end of the ramp is also where maintenance is located, Iberia’s presence here is obvious with hangars bearing there logo.

Sitting in the middle of the organized chaos that is the Palma ramp is the primary terminal frontage with check-in. Approaching Mallorca by car you enter on the right and the road will take you to three possible locations. The first is parking which is a huge multi story building with quite an unusually shape, it reminded me of a sheep’s head for some reason. This joins via a walkway to the main check-in area. This is the second destination you reach if you don’t take the parking turn-off. This is a long promenade for drop-off’s and pick-ups and plenty of cars, vans and buses can be seen moving through this area continuously. In between the parking building and main terminal is a bus park. I have never seen so many buses in one place sitting amongst lush green palm trees before. The frontage of both buildings uses glass extensively so expect more reflective surfaces wherever you look. The third possible route will take you airside and through the labyrinth of roads that travel underneath the International terminals. When I was driving around the airport I was a little disappointed I couldn’t follow the road all the way as the surfaces aren’t solid. It was mighty fun driving through the area particularly under the terminals and seeing the activity close-up. The very tall control tower is situated in this area with its animated rotating radar on top a silent witness to all going on below. A large area for staff parking and storage runs further east meeting the ramp between the domestic and international terminals.

Markings & Lights Aerials Roof Detail
Ramp gates Tower Traffic Flow
Signage Bus Stop Helipad
Military Presence Primary Fire Station Taxiway Fire Station
South Side Tank Farm Military Tower

On the eastern side of the main ramp a military presence can be found as well as a very special aircraft sitting in storage, more on that shortly. Palma is still an active military airbase and a quick search with Google maps revealed an Orion and what looks to be three Tornado jet fighters sitting on the ramp. In the scenery itself the textures on the hangars in this area reveal work being conducted on several helicopters within and the area west of the military tower which is situated in an art deco building has several heli pads. All of the buildings in this area are rendered to match their real world counterparts as are the trees that provide some natural cover for the operations that take place along. A number of stock FSX military trucks are placed around the area to complete the effect and several hundred metres further south can be found a reinforced concrete hangar, most likely for those visiting Tornado’s. For the history buffs this area of the airport also has various remains of buildings from earlier civilizations that settled these parts but have since become dust on the winds of time. I also found a number of the distinctive Mallorca Windmills in this area but these can be found all around the airport and surrounds. Around the perimeter of the airport are numerous buildings, fuel farms and on the southern side a large radome near an industrial complex.

To the south of the military ramp is a rather sad looking Convair CV-990-30A-5 Coronado, registered EC-BZO. This stately lady of yesteryear wears its original Spantax livery but to the elements since being parked here in the late 80’s is clearly taking it’s toll on the fuselage. The real world aircraft has been in storage at Mallorca for 22 years and is currently the focus of a group that would like to restore the aircraft to display condition. Fingers crossed the team is successful given the Coronado’s place in both global and Spanish aviation history.

Busy Highway
Footbridge Takeoff 24L Takeoff 24R
Across the Ramp Radar Ruins on Airport Grounds
Coronado EC-BZO Line Up Night Approach

Mallorca has a fairly unique approach on runway 06R with a large man made hill sitting at the end of the runway. This provides protection for the housing development beyond it but does make for an interesting approach when the wind is coming from the right direction. The area beyond the airport boundary but still close to the airport itself continues to have the same level of detail and attention to be found at the airport. The busy highway from Mallorca to the airport and beyond has several over bridges and raised roads and traffic flows over and under these. In one area near the 06R approach a very detailed walkway can be found which provides great spotting for both the traffic flows and aircraft. Just beyond this area back on airport property an additional fuel farm can be found along with various buildings that support the large private and charter jet trade at the airport.

The runways and taxiways all appear to use high resolution textures with individual pavement stones clearly visible. The detail in the taxiway ground markings is excellent making it relatively easy to find where you want to go as long as you have a ground chart for the airport, at least until you become familiar with the gate locations. The ramp itself has grease markings around parking positions adding to the realism of the scenery. 3D lights surround the taxiways as do signs indicating taxiways, turnoffs and runways. Three of the four approaches have elevated approach lights with 06R being slightly different by having towers with red lights to warn of the hill. Of the other three I did note the pylons disappear at night, but more on the night lighting a little later.

The AFCAD file for Palma is excellent with AI traffic utilizing all of the gates depending on your density settings, and both runways are operational with one for arrivals and the other departures. My only observation of things not being 100% right in this area was when I was taxiing when I noted several times that dirt was being kicked up from my aircraft tyres, even thought I was on the ramp itself.

AES LITE

As mentioned earlier Mallorca X comes with AES Lite. In its simplest form this adds a myriad of traffic both on the major roads around the airport but also ramp side buses, catering trucks, push-back trucks etc. Pretty much anything you would expect to find at a major airport can be seen following pre-defined loops. The traffic is reasonably intelligent in relation to aircraft movements so it will give way to your aircraft but you do need to watch for the random driver that will happily drive through you. Overall the traffic AESLite unleashes adds heaps of depth to the scenery and enlivens it in a way the default FSX traffic simply can’t do. The thing that blew me away was the sheer volume of traffic which in itself can be turned on and off using the small utility called LEPA Traffic I referred to earlier. A simple click of the mouse will turn traffic flows on and off for the three areas of the scenery this covers.

The advantage of using the traffic is it boosts the ‘aliveness’ of both the airport and surrounding areas, the potential downside for some is going to be the impact this has on performance. The ability to turn it on and off is an excellent idea so users can then adjust the settings to suit their own system. Personally I didn’t note a major hit but lower end machines could pick up a few FPS by turning it off. The only observation on the traffic is at times I felt there was simply too much (how often do you hear a developer has given us too much in their scenery?) so some form of slider that also allows traffic volume to be adjusted would be handy. At the end of the day AES Lite is a welcome feature in my opinion, and to be perfectly honest throughout all my time at Mallorca I didn’t turn the traffic off.

LEPA Traffic Ramp Traffic
Busy Ramp Windmills Surrounding Roads

The Airports - Son Bonet

Son Bonet (LESB) is a sleepy little airport that lies about 4 or 5 km’s north of Palma and as a result is closer to the city centre and is primarily used for general aviation. Four large hangars with either fully or partially open doors dominate the ramp area and sit in front a series of workshops and other facilities. I don’t know a great deal about the work that happens at Son Bonet however it looks like several aviation workshops and industries are based at the airport and this is reflected in signage on some of the buildings. All of the scenery items in this area are very well constructed with excellent levels of detail and textures. Cars and trees also populate this area making it quite dense scenery wise.

With its one runway Son Bonet is ideal for daylight operations however it lacks runway lighting making night time flying from it more challenging, even though the area has some particularly nice spill lighting coming from the hangars. The taxiways and parking areas are also devoid of markings that indicate taxiway numbers (to be fair with one taxiway its rather difficult to get lost) and parking slot numbers. Given how many parking locations there are this would have been useful, though I fancy they don’t exist at the real Son Bonet either or they would have been included. The single runway itself operates in the same 06 and 24 directions as Palma but is considerably shorter and thinner. The business jet jockeys will enjoy the additional challenge it offers.

Alongside the large parking area west of the hangars is a small 2 engine fire station, fuel tanks and other structures, and further along from these at the end of a taxiway turn-off is a very detailed and what I felt attractive building. Details on this were hard to come by so I’m guessing it is used for private charters as it has its own small ramp area. Architecturally it’s a very interesting building and looks to have some history about it, and from a scenery point of view is very well built.

Cars and Trees
Mystery Building Son Bonet Fire Station Unique Wind Sock
Night Lighting LESB style LESB from 06 Ramp and Structures
LESB Hangars Aviation Workshops Wide Open Spaces

Night Descends & Seasons Change

The night lighting at both Palma and Son Bonet is very effective. The ramp areas have a nice glow about them and the buildings themselves are suitably lit where windows exist, which is in most of them. Buildings you would expect lighting such as hangars have either internal lighting or spotlights highlighting company names and logo’s. I particularly liked the glow effect Aerosoft have used on the tall spot lights that cast their light across the ramp areas, with the overall effect across Palma being highly effective. Taxiway lights and the various signs along them all light up and at the hold short positions you can expect flashing indicator lights advising you to hold short or proceed. Son Bonet’s lighting is more subdued as can be expected given its size and the fact night operations are not encouraged due to the lack of runway lights, but once again the lighting effects are effective and appropriate.

Approach Lights
Across the Roofs LEPA Ramp Dusk Traffic
Runway Lighting Terminal Lighting LEPA at Night
Iberia Hangars Gate Lighting LESB at Night

The island itself being photoreal used a different approach to night lighting and uses what I call blobs of light. I thought this approach worked quite well and the final effect is pleasant enough. From what I have observed during real world night flights the effect is indicative of the way light spreads when viewed at altitude, though I did note a number of quirks with this approach. Random light blobs were located in what I felt were strange places where it was hard to imagine any light splash would be, as the location of the blob didn’t relate to the scenery below it. This aside I felt the overall effect was quite cool.

Light Blobs LEPA from a distance
Night lit battlements Harbour Inlet lit

Seasons are a different story as the changes that take place are not reflected in the photoreal textures in Mallorca X, so I did have to rely on watching the autogen trees change their colours to note the shift to autumn or winter. Given its location this is probably a reasonably accurate reflection of real life, but I am guessing file size is probably more the reason behind this approach and if that is the case then in my view its a sensible reason for not including them.

Island Explorer

Past the airport is the island of Mallorca and the photoreal that covers it. My initial reaction on first load of Mallorca X was confusion. Using my typical ‘bull in a china shop’ approach I hadn’t read the full details of the photoreal coverage before first load and even though I had read ‘Mallorca island’ on the Aerosoft website, it hadn’t really sunk in. So starting at Son Bonet Airport first and having a look around had me saying to myself ‘hold on a second here, this looks like photoreal scenery everywhere’. And that’s what it is, hi resolution 5m/pixel coverage as far as the eye can see and it was stunning!

Mallorca X is in my view a destination that caters for pretty much any form of flying one might care to partake in. Topographically speaking Mallorca varies from steep mountains protecting its northern coastline to the sweeping fields that roll into the ocean to the south. Farmland, vineyards, desert and holiday retreats dot the shorelines and hinterland making this a VFR feast for those who like it low and slow. Both helicopter and GA pilots will appreciate the resolution of the photoreal textures as the island unfolds beneath them. For those who want an even more intimate experience get in a car and follow the roads and tracks clearly discernable across the island.

Radome in the hills
Across the Valleys Off-Roading Mountain cruise
Rugged Mountains The Plains, the plains.. Summer Retreat
Coastal Waters Wanna Swim? Busy Palma

The depth of detail in the photoreal textures is quite extraordinary with hotels and resorts clearly visible below making cruising at or below 2000 feet well worth while. Much of the island is dry and at first glance appears barren, however I discovered that this was not the case when I got down low and explored. The coastal regions were some of my favourites with the land textures meeting seamlessly with the ocean. The terrain under water is clearly visible and this enhances the effect at the multitude of sandy beaches. The mountain region to the north was particularly interesting as there are numerous small lakes and landmarks that make the topography quite fascinating. Flying through the area I was reminded of the Tatra mountains I had the opportunity to explore as one of my first reviews with AVSIM. Like Tatra Mallorca X’s high resolution textures bring this type of area to life in what I felt was real beauty and certainly made exploring the valleys around the area worth while. The default FSX Ultralight was ideal for this but I also found using a car was at times even better and heaps of fun, as some of the panoramic views the scenery provided as I made my way up and down the dirt tracks were extraordinary.

The mountain area and particularly the northern cliffs was where I noted the only glitch in the photoreal. In a few areas it looks like some of the satellite imagery has been dulled and as a result the colour has a washed out appearance. The following is a selection of screenshots from across the various regions in Mallorca but by no means represents the full experience of the island. Some are shot from an aircraft but many are from the ground as I drove around with the last few rows depicting my approach to the airport in my BMW and the final 6 images my departure back to the mainland from Son Bonet airport which provide a few higher altitude shots. The overall colours of the textures were spot on to my eye and managed to avoid the trap of over saturation and capture this sun drenched island very well.

Arid Lands Great Detail Washed out
Picnic in the mountains The drive back Airport Approach
Follow that van Busy Highways Airside
Taxi to the active Line-up Farewell Palma
Climb out The City Northern Coast

The autogen across the island works well with much if not it all appearing to have been placed by hand to ensure accuracy. The beauty of this scenery is that autogen can be turned off if you wish, thus improving performance. This wasn’t something I needed to do as personally I like the trees etc and because I chose to drive a lot of the island I wanted that 3D component as part of my experience. The one area I did play with was detail distance settings. Around Palma I had this set at medium which had the effect of blurring much of the detail in the distance, but once in the country I set this to maximum and the crispness of the detail was able to come through.

Performance

Mallorca X performs very well in FSX. For my performance testing I selected the Aerosoft Catalina having already spent considerable time in the Aerosoft Twin Otter, Tom Ruth's A340 and A330 and the default 737-800. I felt the Catalina was a good choice to give a fair indication of how the scenery performs because it’s not the simplest model around and I felt was a fair representation of an add-on aircraft that is several notches above the default aircraft. For the purpose of the performance testing I set my scenery density to max, autogen to max, AI Traffic to 70%, water effects to mid-low and detail distance settings at max.

I conducted a number of flights from both Son Bonet and Palma over various parts of the island. In some of the screenshots below you will see both airports in the same shot and some of the city, in others it’s either one airport or the other. I have mixed up external views and those from the VC. In all of the screenshots I have kept the FPS counter visible and copied and then pasted a larger size image of the counter below this which was copied before I resized the image. You can see FPS ranged from a low of around 14 upwards to around 35, though at times I noted these spiking well into the 50’s.

20.8 FPS – LESB Departure
28.2 FPS – LESB Taxi 30.9 FPS – LESB Downwind 21.5 FPS – LESB/LEPA
17.8 FPS – Approach 26R 15.1 FPS – LEPA Flyover 1 17 FPS – LEPA Flyover 2
17.1 FPS – LEPA Flyover 3 14.9 FPS – Approach 06R 34.8 FPS – Town Flyover

Given the level of detail and the photoreal textures I was very pleased with the fly-ability of Mallorca X. The more I flew the more I appreciated this is VFR territory, there is simply too much to see to waste time at altitude so the excellent and mostly smooth performance made this a real pleasure. There were a few times where my hard drive had to catch-up and the sim stuttered as a result, but these were few and far between and tended to only be an issue when I got close to Palma itself and lasted only a moment. Like all detailed scenery in FSX you need to find the sweet spot that works for you. I also acknowledge you will most likely need to adjust settings depending on the aircraft you choose to fly. Something like the PMDG 747 is naturally going to effect the scenery, but overall this will only be at Palma and even then if you meet the specs Aerosoft state in the manual, you wont have too many issues and Mallorca will be a location that you’ll want to keep visiting.

Summary / Closing Remarks

There is very little if anything I don’t like about Mallorca X. The combination of high detail airports that sit on a complete island of hi resolution photoreal textures makes it in my view a complete destination for flying. The heavy boys can happily fly to and from the mainland, the city hoppers can fly regional jets and props to the closer islands (Ibiza beckons to the west and Aerosoft have said they may include the other islands in the DVD release) and the GA, Helicopter and leisure flyers that includes glider pilots can explore the island and everything it has to offer, or find and float on the thermals over the mountains. Even the boat and car enthusiasts can spend weeks exploring this scenery using there chosen mode of travel. Technically Mallorca takes scenery to a new level in FSX by combining both high quality and high detail airport sceneries with a large photoreal area. At this time with only a download option Mallorca X may not be as accessible to FSX flyers as it could be, but once the DVD becomes available this is one international location I can thoroughly recommend to all FS enthusiasts, whatever your flying passion may be.

 

What I Like About Mallorca X

  • Gorgeous Hi-Resolution photoreal over the entire island of Mallorca
  • Well built and detailed rendition of Palma Airport
  • Super hi detailed air bridge’s that are animated
  • Good performance in FSX
  • Great night lighting at LEPA and LESB
  • Great AI Aircraft spotting
  • AES Lite

 

What I Don't Like About Mallorca X

  • Download only option in the short term may limit access for some
  • Some of the night lighting ‘blobs’ are a bit out of place

 

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