For years Ronald Reagan (formerly Washington National) KDCA has been the gateway for Senators, Congressman, and Dignitaries alike to the United States Capitol area. Recent world events have reduced the amount of general aviation traffic seen here due to flight restrictions. Thanks to the efforts of Cloud 9 Flight Simulations you can now once again experience the grandeur of this airport without the fear of FAA reprisals.
Installation and Documentation
Installation was involved, as is to be expected with a download of this size and complexity. The supporting documentation provided by the vendor was above average and eased the process significantly. The verification software for licensing and purchase was quite easy to follow and left little chance for a double charge to the credit card.
The documentation for the Washington DCA package also contained several useful approach charts and detailed instructions on the jet-way features included with the scenery. Although time consuming, the overall installation and set-up was fairly painless.
Let me begin by informing the reader that I am not a professional reviewer. This is the only “official” review I have performed, so bear with my rambling if you will. I have been simming since the FS4 days and have witnessed the evolution, revolution, and continued development of Microsoft Flight Simulator into areas I thought impossible. Probably the most amazing of these advances to witness has been the genesis of the scenery. How many of you recall landing on grass strips that were supposed to be Chicago O’Hare?? I remember it vividly, although to say it does date me just a bit.
Companies such as Cloud 9 continue to amaze us with detail that not only pleases the eye, but works within the environment of the simulator without locking up your computer. Now for those new kids on the block, that may not seem so amazing. For us “more seasoned” folks who remember the NY area add-ons for FS5 it is truly magic.
With that said, let’s get on with the meat and potatoes of this thing. First the recommended hardware. Cloud 9 says you need at least a 2 GHz CPU; 512 MB RAM; 150 MB of free space on the hard drive; Sound card; Microsoft Flight Simulator 2004 (FS); and Microsoft Windows XP Operating System. In addition they “highly recommend” a video card with 128 MB of onboard RAM and a CPU > 2 GHz.
Let’s start with textures. The ground and building textures Cloud 9 has utilized with this package are HIGHLY detailed. They are not for the faint of heart, or slight of processor. You will see everything from tire marks on all the paved surfaces to pock marks in the concrete portions of the ramp. Presenting an overall realistic “feel” to the scenery with these details adds nicely to the experience. Also of note within the textures is a very complex set of buildings, bordering on photo-realistic that the user will find easy to navigate and not too hard on the frame rates. These buildings include some nice “eye candy” that I will cover later in the review. Night textures are very well produced with amazing shadowing and layers to please the eyes on approach.
The surrounding land class is somewhat touchy when approaching in good visibility. I found consistently through the testing that the base land class texture had two tendencies at about the 10-12 nm range. First, it over-rode the detailed textures until the 5-6 nm range, completely in some cases. Second, it had a consistent flicker once it began to generate in the view. This flicker persisted through approach, but other than being distracting, it did not seem to affect simulator performance. Runways were visually accurate, although the distance at which the runway detail generated seemed to vary, but without any discernable pattern. This tendency was most pronounced during daylight hours and was not observed in night operations.
Frame rates with my original FS9 scenery settings were a consistent 15-18 fps. Previous scenery packages attained much higher rates, generally in the solid 25 fps range. Using the settings recommended in the literature from Cloud 9, I was able to achieve 20-24 fps until the addition of the AI traffic. AI traffic in this package greatly hampers the frame rates. This can, of course, be said for any scenery package. However, this package has some highly detailed ground aircraft and ramp vehicles that, with a slower computer, may cause significant performance problems. I recommend testing the scenery at various levels of AI traffic, with the Cloud 9 recommended FS9 scenery settings to attain the combination best suited to your particular hardware.
Several “eye candy” items have been included by Cloud 9 with this package. First and foremost is the Jetway and Aircraft Marshalling System. I have seen many attempts to create an easy to use and versatile jetway system. Cloud 9 has incorporated one of the best I have seen into the DCA scenery. The system automatically recognizes a variety of the most popular 3rd party aircraft on the market and places realistic jetways and ground vehicles beside them once parked at the appropriate gate. Certain gates recognize certain aircraft, but there is an easy to follow chart in the literature for this feature. The pilot will also notice a ground director (marshal) at each of the equipped gates, complete with funny vest and cones to guide you right on the spot for parking.
Another nice feature is the “active hanger” configuration you will find down on the general aviation ramp. As you approach the hangars, the doors will open for you. Additionally, you can enter the hangars and park your fleet as you see fit. Although not as impressive as the jetway and marshalling feature, the active hangers add something for the general aviation community pilots who might otherwise shy away from larger airport sceneries.
In summary, I have to say that Cloud 9 has done a very good job reproducing both the look and feel of Ronald Reagan Airport. The artistry in the textures and the complexity of the layering truly give you the sense of being there. Despite some minor annoyances, like the land class flickers, the scenery is kind to frame rates on higher end computers and meshes well with the surrounding default scenery.
|What I Like About Ronald Reagan Airport|
|What I Don't Like About Ronald Reagan Airport|
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