Introduction

I am one of those flight simulator enthusiasts that looks forward to bringing up the Avsim Online page each morning to see what has been released overnight for me to enjoy.  I only use FSX but that may be changing soon as I see many of my online friends are getting excited about Prepar3D and X-Plane.

Not long ago, we were excited just to have an audio enabled pushback feature or being able to pull into a properly numbered gate at a major airport and then FS2Crew came along with a copilot to keep us company and let the gear up for us.  Then Orbx released the Pacific Northwest scenery package to use with Tim’s REX.  AI Traffic made some outstanding releases when several of the developers consolidated their works and then before you knew what was happening, Intel dropped the prices on their processors and all the pieces started coming together.  The default scenery has always been the weakest link in FSX for me.

I am disappointed that ACES, the original FSX development team was disbanded by Microsoft a couple of years ago.  We must be approaching their original vision.  Fast, fairly inexpensive computers, high definition wide screen monitors, a new graphics card a month club, cheap memory, feature rich add-on aircraft, a gazillion free repaints, unbelievable details in the airport add-ons, clouds, weather, moving maps, monthly updates to charts of the world, online ATC, upgraded avionics and navigation add-ons, virtual cockpits mimic real cockpits with dust, dirt and worn areas.  We can change frequencies, set the auto pilot, and update our flight plan on our smart phone or IPAD.  We can monitor our overseas flight status on an iPhone while eating dinner and our wives think we are checking our email.  Just on and on.  This is most definitely the best of times for flight simulation.

As our friend, Captain Mike Ray likes to say, we continually seek total immersion as we approach simulated reality.  We are living in a very interesting and exciting period were technological breakthroughs, innovation, and near instant information dissemination is the norm.  One can create or modify a file and have it in the hands of users around the world in a matter of minutes.  Some of these developers seem to never sleep or maybe they just take their laptops to bed with them.  Online chats, blogs and forums must be putting a serious dent in the postage stamp business.  Just look at the meteoric rise in Facebook popularity.

FTX/Orbx continues to amaze me with each new product release somehow outdoing the last and the release wait-time is getting shorter and shorter.  The sounds and visual cues that are being introduced bring so much more joy to the simulation. SimSavvy is on a tear releasing 50 cm based photo scenery for the entire United States and the almost weekly introduction of new major airports with stunningly accurate and realistic detail is amazing.  Take a look at Flight Beam’s KSFO, FS DreamTeam’s KDFW or KLAX, or UK2000’s astonishing new EGLL.

Last year we got the first true FSX Airbus delivered by Aerosoft and more recently PMDG finally brought the long awaited 737NGX to market.  We didn’t have any recent 737s and now it seems every developer has one and some are nipping at PMDG’s heels.  Fortunately, Boeing has enough models to go around.  We have highly realistic military jets thoroughly FSX tested by real pilots and civilian executive jets with working FMCs and retro aircraft galore to entertain us.  I hope to get back to the retros soon.  A2A Simulations is going bananas with their Wings of Silver line.  I can hardly believe that enormous B377 Stratocruiser.  I could Captain that Ship.

The trend seems to be a constant stream of new simulator add-ons and each one seems to introduce previously unheard of features.  Our only limitation may be the time we can give to our hobby and the amount of money we have or maybe our credit card limit.  Fortunately, one of the real world physical barriers to flying is totally absent in flight simulation.  It is just as easy to start a flight in a 747 from Heathrow or Sydney or Hong Kong as it is to load up your favorite puddle jumper at a local grass strip. 

I was reading one of the Avsim commercial forum threads where real world airline pilots were discussing some of the individual company procedures and I was taken aback when one stated he was a Flight Officer and had just snapped a few photos with his iPhone and uploaded them to the forum.  We are literally talking about minutes here.  He was an active flight crew member flying right seat in a 737NG on approach in Africa and wanted to show how the instruments looked in a real NG.  He apologized for the blurry photos, saying the flight was a little bumpy.  Amazing.

Sorry, I tend to drift off course and ramble at times.  A little right rudder should bring me back on course or maybe I should just engage the LNAV.

Back to the topic.

I was browsing the Avsim Screenshots forum and one of those catchy titles pulled me into a delightful presentation of scenes taken from FSX.  From the avatar area I noticed the poster was from Jersey and the scenes were of Guernsey, Herm, and Sark, three of the Channel Islands near the French coast. At first glance I thought this must be some of Orbx’s work but it was in Europe, not Australia or the Pacific Northwest. These screenshots are absolutely ’knock your socks off ‘ visually stunning.  I mean something really special, even extraordinary, better than the best to date kind of scenery.

These sceneries are alive with water like you have never seen in FSX, animations that will keep you looking out the window, sounds that turn your head, and a host of other little things that will instantly put a smile on your face and tweak your senses to the degree that you pose the question – Is it real or is it Memorex?

Within minutes, thanks to my new Uverse high speed internet connection, I am learning for the first time about Darren and Vikki Vincent’s dreams and passion to put fantastic visual and sensory feasts upon our plates.  They are located in the UK, on the Isle of Wight, and are delivering on some grand ideas for simulator pilots.

A little Geography for us Yanks.

We all know that Great Britain uses the term UK nowadays and is an island nation located just Northwest of France in the Atlantic Ocean.

You have to be specific when you search for the Channel Islands.  Google might send you to Southern California and you hear someone humming ‘26 miles across the sea, Santa Catalina is waiting for me’. Wrong islands for this review.  Or, you may end up viewing the French Channel islands which is a collection of very small islands east of a line drawn in the water near Jersey and coming under French jurisdiction. This would be what is usually referred to as the Chausey Islands in the Gulf of St. Malo.

This is all important if you get excited about this FSX scenery because Jersey, expected to be the final chapter for the Channel Isles is nearing the beta stage of development along with the Isle of Man, a much larger island in the middle of the Irish Sea.

All this detail about the UK and the Islands has been good for me. You see, I grew up in a really poor country town in east central Mississippi where Jersey and Guernsey were milk cows.  Most families had a milk cow for daily personal use and these were ideal breeds.  They gave the most gallons of the sweetest milk. Of course, I had no idea they had to swim the Atlantic Ocean for us to have a prized cow.

Some of you older pilots will remember Elsie, the Borden’s cow.  She was a Jersey but looks for the life of me like a Guernsey. Go figure.

Also, I was introduced to girls and geography at about the same time. Geography came in second.

The Developer - Earth Simulations, Ltd.  Isle of Wight, Newport, UK   -  A World of Simulation - Air, Sea, Land & Beyond

ES, as they are known locally, has decided to zero in on smallish islands and island chains to show off their extreme talents at building scenery and animations for flight simulation.  Not just any scenery or animations as you will soon see, nor just any flight simulation package. Their base of operations is Newport, near the center of the Isle of Wight. This is yet another UK island just off the Southeast coast near Southampton and Portsmouth. Maybe that is why they like promoting islands.

This is a small Mom and Pop operation. With all their heart and soul poured into their work, they are producing some of the most innovative and visually stunning VFR scenery ever seen or heard while raising 5 kids. Darren’s background is primarily from the development of water masking and 3D development of the Horizon Simulations GenerationX series for the UK.  Vikki brings the artistic talent, organizational skills and good looks to the party.

Earth Simulations is out there on the leading edge with packages and services for Prepar3d, X Plane, ESP, Openflight and FSX simulators.  Similar products are also being provided for real world architects and game developers.  ES will build you a particular landmark or detailed 3D model for a fee.   Here is your chance to get your house or private airport built to your specs for your favorite flight simulator.

I wonder if I could convince ES that the Gulf of Mexico barrier islands are worthy of a photo scenery release?  Probably not, but it sure would be a great place for Darren to show off his water masking skills. Default FSX scenery is an embarrassment in the Mississippi Sound.

The Earth Simulations’ website is one of the best I have visited.  They have a Comodo certification in the lower right corner and an available live chat box in the opposite corner.  You can spend days navigating around this site and enjoy every minute.  Lots and lots of depth and detail.

You can purchase everything from a truck or tractor simulator to a space shuttle. The FSX scenery software offerings include England and Wales, Scotland, Treescapes UK and UK airfields along with the Shawbury Fields Photo scenery that was developed for military training purposes.  The last few require the GenX  UK layer photoscenery.  There are some bundle deals and a ton of free software on their free pages by Tony, Paul, Trevor, Ted and Neil.

Evidently the Treescapes UK has been very well received as one of those leaps to better times in the UK sim market. The web banner proudly states:

“The biggest advance in UK scenery in years”.

The numbers in the description are staggering – literally millions of accurately placed trees, extremely dense autogen coverage with new high resolution replacement tree textures custom fit for the UK, with Seasonal changes for the entire kingdom.  Darren says it is their day in and day out bread and butter program.  I personally have not seen it but, have read about it and many of my European online friends rave about it as one of those ”can’t do without kind of programs”.  ES is putting the finishing touches on an expansion called Treescapes Scotland that will be available in 3 volumes to coincide with the release of the new GenX Scotland planned for a pre-Christmas release.  This one will probably be the biggie for Father Christmas for the UK sim community.

Much of their valuable time is spent mastering DVDs, developing and updating the Installer and operator manuals and such.  But, they still find the time to upgrade and enhance their working tools.  The lighting and shadowing techniques were developed in house and add that extra punch to the 3D objects, which are all hand-built using photographs, web shots, satellite images, etc.

Practically all the scenery packages are available as downloads and on DVD for slightly more.  Everything is sold at their online store and priced in pounds sterling.  (~£ 1.60 /$1.00).  Remember us Yanks do not have to pay their VAT or any tax for that matter.

I didn’t spend much time there but the ‘Other Tab’ is for a ‘Police Simulator’ and a ‘Surgery Simulator.’  I could not resist clicking on the Surgery Simulator tab. Yep, you guessed it, lives are in your hands as you assume the duties of the top surgeon at a busy hospital.  Can you imagine me with a sharp scalpel and a dull brain asking the nurse if the appendix is on the right or left side? Although, I bet I would look nifty in scrubs with a full face mask. Scalpel, please.

There is great depth and detail on each of the offered scenery packages on the ES website here. For instance you can fly around, zoom in and out, explore the seasons in the Channel Isles, view highly accurate iconic 3D landmarks, beautiful beaches, marinas, cliffs, forts, castles, lighthouses, airports, yes airports, etc.  You can even fly like a bird while doing so.  You will notice many of their offerings have ratings of 9.5/10 and 10/10.  Quite lofty stuff here.

Darren talks about Environment layers and Topography layers like I talk about cake and ice cream.  He is quick to point out that ES uses the highest specifications presently available in color balance, watermasks, night lighting development, etc, so there is no lack of detail or vibrancy when viewed in the simulation environment.  Unsurpassed clarity of scenery detail is always the goal and end result.

Until a couple of years ago we were stuck with whatever the season the original photographic imagery was taken when using FSX photo texture files.  This was usually spring or early summer which yields fairly good results but leaves one guessing at what late summer, autumn or winter would look like.  The 5th season is hard winter.

Among many other innovations, all the Channel Isles areas are presented as spring, summer, autumn, winter, hard winter and hand crafted night lighting using photographic real textures. These Isles are slated to be three separate issues. Alderney was first out, Gurnesey, Herm & Sark recently released, and Jersey will be the final chapter in this area maybe early next year. I would expect somewhere down the road they will be available as a 1-2-3 bundle, but that is only a guess. The specs vary slightly between the individual issues, but, each has a big, proud banner stating:

“Highest specification sceneries ever created”

An overview of the project specifications for Guernsey yields the following.

Channel Isles - Guernsey

TOPOGRAPHY LAYER

  • 30 cm Photographic Textures
  • 5 Seasonal Texture variations
  • hand created Night Lighting
  • high detail water masking
  • hand edited 1.2m Terrain mesh

ENVIRONMENT LAYER

  • Detailed local landmarks in 3D
  • Extemely Dense Advanced 3D Autogen
  • Detailed renditions of local airports
  • Moving animated scenery
  • and much more

The Channel Isles are a stunning subject for our debut product and perfectly suited to show off a new era in simulation technology.  Included are Alderney, Guernsey Herm & Sark, and Jersey (plus many other smaller Islands and offshore features within the channel Isle Boundaries)

With their unspoiled landscapes and unique blend of British and French influences, the Channel Isles really are a place where you can get away from it all to enjoy your simulation experience more than ever before.

Explore wonderfully rugged coastlines full of beautiful shallows and fine detail.  Fly in any weather, at any time of day and in any season you wish. Because the scenery is configured with a full set of seasonal and night time textures you will never lose that all important immersion that you are seeking from a scenery Package.

The Isles of Scilly

TOPOGRAPHY LAYER

  • 15 cm Photographic Textures
  • Outstanding performance
  • hand created Night Lighting
  • highest ever detailed water masking
  • Highest ever detailed 1.2m hand edited Terrain mesh

ENVIRONMENT LAYER

  • Detailed local landmarks in 3D
  • Extemely Dense Advanced 3D Autogen
  • Detailed renditions of local airports & Helipads
  • Moving animated scenery
  • Soundscapes
  • Over 40 time-tabled AI ships and boats
  • ES "freebirds" (flyable wildlife) and much more

“The Isles of Scilly has now overtaken Alderney as Earth Simulations proudest achievement.  It is the result of our wish to create the most realistic scenery experience possible using today's technology in Flight Simulator X. The Isles of Scilly form an archipelago off the south-western tip of the Cornish peninsula of Great Britain. The Islands have an almost tropical feel to them, comprising some of the most beautiful scenery to be found in this Island of Islands that we call Great Britain. The entire area has been modeled in the most painstaking of detail, and has been brought to life by the innovative design techniques employed here at Earth Simulations.

We sincerely hope you will be tempted to take a closer look at this scenery and that those of you that do will enjoy what we believe is the most advanced Flight Simulation scenery available today. We also think it’s a really very beautiful part of the world."

Not knowing exactly where to start exploring these magnificent looking small islands, I chose to start with the most detailed of the three packages – The Isles of Scilly, located about 30 miles from Lands End, the most Southern tip of the UK.  Scilly consists of 5 inhabited islands;  St. Mary's, Tresco, St. Martin's, Bryher and St Agnes, with a combined population of about 2,000, and many smaller uninhabited islands and rocky islets.  Depending on the source or maybe the definition of an island, there are up to 140 islands in the Scilly chain.

The name is pronounced "silly", with obvious jokes about living on silly islands. In order to combat this, they are often referred to as the Isles of Scilly.

Scilly has been inhabited since the stone-age and its history has been one of subsistence living until this century with people living from the land and the sea. Farming and fishing continues today, but the main industry now is tourism. 

Obviously the sea has always played a huge part in Scillonian history but it was in the nineteenth century that Scilly had its maritime heyday. Beaches which are now enjoyed by sunbathers were then factories for shipbuilding, the harbors now full of pleasure boats were once packed with local and visiting fishing and trading boats.

One of the travel brochures has a quote stating the Isles of Scilly is arguably the most exotic place in all of the British Isles.  The water color looks a lot like the Bahamas to me.  That tropical look where you can always see your feet in the water and all the drinks have little umbrellas and the big burly guys all say yes, mon.

St Mary's

St. Mary's is the largest of the islands at 2½ miles by 1¾ miles and is home to about three quarters of Scilly's population and the only airport in the Isles.

It has the Town Hall, hospital / health centre, banks and most of the shops and larger hotels. Hugh Town is the capital of the islands, situated on the sandbar which separates a Garrison from the rest of the island.

The island has a grand total of 9 miles of roads yet no traffic lights, pedestrian crossings or speed limits.

On a summer’s evening there’s nothing better than picking up a 6 pack of ale and finding a secluded spot for the evening.  The sound of the water slapping against the floats will put the best of us sim pilots to sleep in no time.

With 10 miles of coastline plan to make at least two or three loops around the island to explore St Mary. Those who like to fly low, like me, needs to be alert for the highest point on Scilly - Telegraph Tower can trip you up if you are in the 250 feet range. The one manmade communications tower not very far away, stands almost 500 feet but is easy to spot.

If it’s real wilderness you’re after, hop over to Bryher, where Atlantic rollers batter Hell Bay on the northwest coast, creating great swirling clouds of spray. On the opposite side, the sheltered and secluded Rushy Bay, framed by dunes, forms a perfect white cove and is known for its excellent views towards the dozens of islets that make up Norrad Rocks.  This is where you may want to use something with floats.

East of Tresco you’ll find even brighter blue seas and even more dazzling white sandy beaches.

1. Puffins - Found on the uninhabited islands.  There were once 100,000 puffins in Scilly, now there are fewer than 100 pairs, which nest off the remote rocks and uninhabited islands between late March and July.

2. Basking sharks - Seen off St. Martins. The world’s second largest fish – they grow up to 11m (36ft) long! – and the totally harmless plankton feeder can be seen around the islands between April and June.

3. Seals - Found on the Eastern Isles. The outlying rocks are home to colonies of Atlantic grey seals. Head off to the Western Rocks to observe these large marine mammals sunning.

4. Dolphins - Found throughout the Isles.  You will most assuredly see them if flying low and slow.

In the simulator version of Isles of Scilly, dolphins can be found between the islands of St Marys and St Martins.  Seals are close to the Round Island Lighthouse at the north tip of St Martins and St Agnes, and there are some basking on the rocks and some swimming in the shallows.  Probably many other locations as well.

Here is a very large display of the Isles of Scilly map. This link is intended for potential cruise passengers. My guess is most everyone is a ‘potential’ cruise passenger. I have been on several cruises and recommend you consider ‘cruising’ for your next vacation or holiday. Meanwhile you can zoom in the area. The website has a nautical distance table for all the islands you may be interested in cruising, including all islands referenced in this review. It also has many Lat and Long navigational references that are useful should you have a GPS.

Most of the travel brochures with the photos of white sand beaches, bikinis, puffins, and sailboats usually start out with the 3 primary means of getting to the Isles. Ferry, commuter flight on Skybus, a light twin, or a helicopter for the well heeled.  I chose not to use any of those and to simply start FSX in free flight by selecting EGHE in good weather and daylight for the first look.  Something low and slow is a good bet.

  1. Who was the first person to fly an airplane?
  • A. Louis Bleriot
  • B. Santos-Dumont
  • C. Orville Wright
  • D. Wilbur Wright

Correct answer at end of review.

I have the A2ASimulations J-3 cub and can use 3 of the 4 footprints– regular tires, huge balloon tires, and floats, no use for snow skis here.  This is just about the perfect add-on for island hopping, airborne sightseeing and terrifying the sheep. I find the fun factor bouncing off 10 to fly just barely over the ground on and around the outlying islands.  Some of those farmer’s fields look like real wide grass runways to me.  The Cub has great visibility and the ‘systems’ are so simple that if you run out of gas then you deserve to run out of gas. The gas gauge is a floating wire lined up on your nose at eye level.

I read in the Accu-sim manual that A2A has included 390 sounds and could not do with any less.  Set up a flight with just enough power to hold about 55 mph at about 400 feet and you can hear many of them, along with the birds, crashing waves, bleating sheep, barking dogs and screaming farmers.

A little bit about the J-3 with Accu-sim.  In a few of words, this is just about as good as it gets for an add-on in FSX.  The little plane come with a 128 page easy to read manual and the accu-sim add-on comes with its own 48 page manual and uses words like physics, and torque and such.  Very serious stuff  here.  The fact is that real cub pilots can hear the wind and fly mostly by sounds and feel. Sensory feedback is the key to proper care and technique with this little one.

However, it is a very unforgiving if mistreated.  I handled it a little rough one day. While practicing 3-point landings in a pasture I touched down rather hard. I couldn’t figure out why I couldn’t climb out and give it another try until I finally used an external view and found the leftovers of the Sensenich wooden prop. I had evidently hit a rock or something and about two feet was gone off each end.  It looks so realistic. Reboot.

The Accu-Sim manual states all these sounds were recorded specifically for their Cub, using real-world cub sources.  Most are unique and will catch your attention when going slow, which it what the cub does best.  Read the excellent Avsim review by Jeff Shyluk.

My personal low altitude is around 500 feet in the populated islands.  It is hard to read anything other than thousands of feet on the Cub altimeter and not even easy to read 500. Remember you are flying from the rear seat and the altimeter is for the front seat. I need a large print Reader’s Digest version altimeter that goes from 0 – 1,000 feet. You can fly right down on the nap of the earth but then you can’t see very much. That is unless you are out scaring the sheep or making low passes over the farmer’s daughter or touch and goes in the outlying fields and pastures.

When I feel like something big and noisy, I load up my Aerosoft PBY Catalina, open that big old picture window on the pilot’s side, and set it up for an 80 knot cruise (2000 rpm, 20 IN MP) and float around between 500 and 1,000 feet.  I just love the deep, throaty sounds those 14 cylinder R-1830 radials make – that’s 1200 hp x 2. I have the flying boat version as well as the amphibian.

Let your imagination be your guide. St Mary’s runway will handle aircraft up to the fairly heavy twins and anything if you use the slew key (Y).

When I feel the need for speed then I pick my trusty IRIS Raytheon Texan T-6/A with its howling 4-bladed turboprop engine.  I can go from St Mary’s to Alderney to Guernsey and back in a flash, I just don’t get to enjoy all the great scenery. But, nothing is quite as much fun as a 200 knot turn around a point, with the point being one of the scheduled ferries or pleasure boats. There are 40 AI timed boats and ships in the Scilly package. Even a daily visit by an aircraft carrier with escorts. More on this a little later.

Aerosoft PBY Catalina
IRIS Raytheon Texan T-6/A

The Bishop’s Point lighthouse with the heliport on top also makes a great fixed point for making circles in the sky.  A little research reveals this is in the Guinness Book of Records as the smallest island in the world with a building on it. You will find it about 35 miles offshore and 6 ½  nm on 249 degrees magnetic from EGHE.

I personally enjoy watching the sailboat races.  These AI boats are really racing and it is mind boggling to see them heeled over, jockeying for position, and actually tacking into the stiff breeze. This ES team is really something.  Some, or maybe many of you, have nice eggbeaters which are excellent choice for seeing these islands.  I don’t own a really decent add-on helicopter so I am using the fixed wing stuff.  However, Soya has several and has taken many nice shots while at the controls.

Now if you want to get some bugs in your teeth (good protein I understand) you can always fall back on the FSX/Acceleration default powered hang glider or Ants freeware Tiger Moth.  These are seriously slow machines, fun to fly and free.

A real story about a real cub.

The reason I am so fond of the J-3 Cub is that I got my real world Single Engine Sea rating in one of the original 65 hp pure cubs on metal floats.  This was back before men walked on the moon and was a weekend affair at the now legendary Jack Brown’s Seaplane Base in Winter Haven, Florida.  This is the place, even today, to get your SES rating.  It just takes a little longer and costs a lot more.  Business is good, they sign off on more than 500 new seaplane ratings each year.

When I was there, Jack was the instructor and examiner.  In my case, after very little time on the water, he had a CFI observe one takeoff and landing by me, rush into the office, recommend me for a check ride and was off to church.  I looked a little bewildered and Mr. Avery simply stated “If Jack thinks you are ready, then you are ready”.  You see, Jack had 24,000 logged hours in seaplanes and I had 2. That folks, is a lot of Sperry topsiders.

Unfortunately, we lost Jack in a fatal crash when the elevator failed on a Seabee he was ferrying. His two sons, both FAA examiners, now run the business along with a bevy of part-time airline pilots that like to get their feet wet.

I looked up the registration number on the cub that I flew and it was built the week I was born.  It has since been put out to pasture, but was either the exact plane used in Mitchell Glicksman’s story about “The 747 Captain Who Forgot How to Fly” or her sister ship.  This was a standard product of the Piper Aircraft Company in Lock Haven, PA and left the factory on November 14, 1945.  Small world.

Here is a one minute video of the current Cub on floats at Jack Brown’s. Great engine sounds. Used with permission.

While doing my research, I stumbled onto the Fiddlers Green website.  These guys specialize in paper models but the site has a full  library of old photos and nice long articles and stories about Cubs with some free downloads. You can find it here.

I think it is time to check out some of the screenshots in and around the Isles of Scilly.  I am using a mix of a few of my screenshots and mostly Soya’s screenies. He is one of the near locals that likes to post his FSX screenshots and has given me explicit permission to use them here. If they are really good, they are his. Several he made specifically for this review.

Isles of Scilly – selected screenshots.  Please click each image to zoom.

More of Isles of Scilly.

Bonus Section

This is a special bonus section of the review intended for those that are completely bored with it all and are looking for something really crazy and different to try.  This is not for the faint of heart or those who think they need a long, wide runway to get going. Calling all Naval Aviators, others try at your own risk.

This probably should be filed under ‘Stupid Dog Tricks’ or something similar, except there are no dogs involved.

A little background  . . .

I had the idea to see where I would end up if I started at St Mary’s airport, EGHE, and flew a direct course to the Bishop’s Point lighthouse but just held the course and continued flying until I found land, kind of like a modern day Columbus.  A direct line finds a small Portuguese Island named Corvo over 1,200 miles away.  Totally useless information, but while I was looking down at the helipad and had maybe a 25 Knot ground speed and my old, weak mind start imaging that I could land the A2A cub on the helipad in a really stiff breeze.  You can, with a bit of practice and it is not that hard. The difficult part is keeping the heel brakes on so you don’t get blown downwind back over the side after your landing. That big wing works against you while on the ground.

 Here comes the fun part – forget the landing.  I’m sitting there looking at the islands about 6 miles away and I get this even crazier idea to see if I can takeoff from the helipad.  I mean after all, I am a couple of hundred feet in the air already and I have a nice breeze on my nose, (using real weather) and heck, why not. Fly the A2A Cub with the door and windows open, low enough, slow enough, and long enough and you too will start to think of stupid things to try.

The end result is that with a few attempts and really paying attention to the details it is easy peasy.  There are few things to consider – like where is the wind and how much, remember you are a cub pilot for this exercise, and you have Accu-sim so it is as real as it gets.  The skinny tires are actually better for this than the big tundra tires as they have less drag and the cub will have a lower stall speed without the fun fat tires. Adding Tundra tires to a cub is a bit involved as you are required to beef up the brakes and all the performance numbers suffer. Stall speed increases, climb and cruise performance decreases, useful load decreases about 25 pounds. Everything negative except it is loads of fun and handy in certain situations. But us seasoned macho cub drivers just seem to like the balloon tires so that it what I used for this takeoff.  I now have this as a saved flight and a good starting place for those early morning escapes.

The A2A Accu-sim has good brakes, but only heel brakes, no parking brake in a cub. You need to setup into the wind, 320 degrees is good, watch for those metal beams used for the base of the anemometer and satellite dish. Try 214 feet for the elevation. Do your normal engine and systems checks and a proper warm up. Maybe for these first attempts you should open the right side door and window, click the handle or Shift +E, these custom sounds and animations are just great, and crack open the left side window by clicking on the top frame.  This is just in case you go swimming. It will give you an extra minute or so to get out and on top of the wing before the rescue boats arrives.

Oh, you might want to pick a livery with a local British registration, you wouldn’t want all those locals and tourists in those boats down there to know you are a crazy Yank, just in case you don’t pull it off.

Check your cockpit environment and make sure the elevator trim is set for takeoff, oil temp is above 40 degrees, primer locked, carb heat off, and the engine is running smoothly. Hold the brakes and add just enough, I mean just barely enough power to bring the tail wheel up to slightly below level flight attitude. The slightest forward pressure on the stick may be required.  Just a hair too much and you will witness that very short propeller syndrome and the sounds of sudden engine stoppage as the Cub flips over on it nose and the wooden prop chews into the metal plating.
Release the brakes and give the cub full power – you do not want to over boost the little 65 hp engine as gravity pulls you toward those curious sharks that have started circling the lighthouse.  As soon as the nose drops set your attitude for a normal glide, ease the throttle back to around 2,000 rpm but keep your hand on the throttle, this is a takeoff.

Use the wind noise or lack of wind noise for clues and when you think the sounds are correct, ease the nose up ever so slightly and slowly bring the engine back to climb power.  Be gentle, now.  You have ground effect, well, technically you have water effect that will be your friend if you are slow to react.  You should not feel rushed as you have plenty of time to achieve minimum flying speed.  After a few tries you can convince yourself this is just another short field takeoff technique and will probably not drop more than 50 feet as you wait for that big ole yellow wing to start doing it’s job.

I did this all wrong initially and about half way to the islands I start to see some ugly colored smoke and hear some sick sounding coughing, little vibrations that shouldn’t be there and witnessed a dancing or surging rpm indicator.  The mechanic would call over boosting an engine pilot error, pilots call it mechanical failure, and he would use one of those pistons with the big hole burned in it is as a paper weight. In the Accu-sim, you just click Shift+7, another click  and you have overhauled the engine. This also gives you a new prop you are good to go for 300 hours or another dumb mistake, whichever comes first.  It is quite easy to over boost the little A65 engine and once you do, you will most likely get wet.

Did you know you can water ski with the tundra tires on the cub.

OK, that will be a whole other exercise. Bottom line is you can make exciting, safe (sic) takeoffs from an elevated helipad and is just about as much fun as you can have with your boots on.  You also start to appreciate how good the Earth Simulations 3d lighthouse and helipad really are and what you can do with FSX and the A2A Cub with Accu-sim and a weird imagination.  It is really something quite extraordinary.

OK, back to the scenery review.

The only Scilly airport is EGHE, the 10th busiest in the UK, and it has a little something for everyone. A nice wide asphalt runway for those that like asphalt.  A nice short  and narrow grass runway and a long and wide grass runway, a couple of heliports, and yet another really short paved runway (more like half a runway). Lights, tower, FBO, homing beacon, free tea and a bar and buffet.  Just about all a pilot could ask. Charts.

A public footpath passes a few feet from the southern end of the runway and is closed by warning lights and bells a few minutes before a take-off or landing is due.

In and around the St. Mary’s airport.

While listening to the airport sounds, and looking up at the rotating radar antenna – it has be going counter-clockwise if it is British. I was pleasantly surprised to see an animated man talking on a cell phone.  By his actions it looks like he may to talking to tech support in India about a problem with his PC.  But, he could have been chatting with one of the two animated air traffic controllers. One looks like he is also on the phone, the other sitting at times, standing at times and doing whatever tower guys do.

The shocker was when a suntanned dude wearing a Hawaiian shirt and Banana Republic shorts comes walking past the Cub with his shadow properly following him.  What is going on here, this is neat scenery and we have people walking around the airport and animated workers?  Watch out, here comes a small airport tractor pulling a luggage cart with animations and sounds up the wahzoo.  I expected a flashing light, but puffs of smoke from the diesel engine, wheels throwing up dust, rolling tire sounds –all very plausible visuals. The vest wearing driver looks alert and then stops, waits for the automatic gate to open and proceeds to follow the Hawaiian shirt dude around the corner.

Hold on a minute, who is that guy over by the door who looks like a bouncer.  Broad shoulders, black suit, shined shoes, shuffling his feet and looking at the sky, he has to be a limo driver.  There is yet another guy wearing a red shirt and suit coat looking out a mezzanine window, near the interior rotating ceiling fans.  So let me count. Two in the tower, tractor driver, limo driver, Hawaiian dude checking out his new Nike pedometer, the guy on the cell phone to India and the one looking out the mezzanine window. That is 7 animated characters that I can see from the back seat of the Cub.

I heard some fire engine sounds on takeoff.  Bird sounds, waves crashing, nice stuff.  One of those ingenious little things to make you really appreciate the level of detail – I set the weather to partially crappy, just to get a few dark clouds and some lightning in the sky.  Do that and you will hear rolling thunder sounds along with the bird chirps and waves breaking on the beach.  I’m sure we will be discovering these veiled sounds and animations for a long time.

Didn’t I just read a day or so ago about another scenery company getting the 2011 AVSIM Readers Choice award for People Flow around an airport.  What is wrong with this picture? Ok, I suppose there is a difference between taking credit for something and earning credit for something. Maybe we need a Retro Readers Choice award for this or maybe we just need better informed readers.

2.  Name the first FSX payware scenery package that included animated people (walking and waving) as part of the scenery.

  1. FTX/Orbx – AU YBUD Bundaberg  Airport, Dec 11, 2010
  2. FSDreamTeam,  Greystone , Ocala, FL airport,  April 12, 2008
  3. Just Flight - Real Scenery Airfields – White Waltham - FSX, June 2, 2008
  4. Earth Simulations – St. Mary’s Airport, March, 25, 2010

Answers at end of review.

Red sails leading the race at night.

Here is something I have not seen before. For an entry in a competition, Soya has searched airliners.net for various photos, then matched them almost perfectly with upgraded photoreal enhanced scenery and then compared those two with the default scenery or a closely matched default aircraft. Wow.  Zoom this one. I’ll take the middle one of each every time. This is very time consuming work.

These 3 are located here in the Isles of Scilly.
The photo is on the left in each the frames.  The ES Photoscenery is in the middle, and the FSX default scenery in on the right of each frame. There are several more of these comparisons at various UK airports and using other scenery

It is certainly easy to see how this ES scenery delivers on the reality factor, and how weak the default FSX scenery is.

Top – BN-2 Islander on short final to EGHE, St. Mary’s, Isles of Scilly
Middle – Runway view on approach at EGHE, St. Mary’s, Isles of Scilly
Bottom –FBO/terminal building at EGHE, St. Mary’s, Isles of Scilly

"Any you boys seen an aircraft carrier around here?" (Maverick in the movie Top Gun.)

The good news is the developer has included a fully land able aircraft carrier that visits the Isles of Scilly every day on a fixed schedule.  The two escort warships each have a land able helipad. Now if I can only find it, let me see, they are usually big and grey . . .

I found this local AA charter to help me find the carrier group. We found this one big guy but he appears to just be passing through at full steam.

Surely this is not the carrier that comes with the scenery.  This looks a lot like CVN 68 and that is the Nimitz.  He must just be on a projected power mission or hopefully a peace and goodwill tour.   I’ll keep looking for the AI daily visit carrier group, I understand it is smaller than the Nimitz.  But, then there are many towns smaller than the Nimitz.

I’m sure all those carrier landing fans will be adding their own carrier group to the mix.  It is big ocean and can handle several carriers.  Most of the larger AI ships included in the Isles of Scilly have working helipads.

You can load up a flight around the docks on St. Mary’s a few minutes past 8:00 am local time and watch the Scillilion III ferry pull into the dock bringing the daily visitors.  She seems to always be on time.  Those side thrusters sure stir up the water but, she turns on a dime.

Channel Isles – Adlerney, Guernsey, Sark and Herm (directly out of the manuals)

“FSX Alderney   “Earth Simulations Ltd. is proud to present FSX Alderney for your enjoyment. The culmination of many years of work by a flight simulation fanatic to get to a point where we are able to faithfully recreate Alderney in such stunning realism. FSX Alderney showcases the best of what home flight simulation technology can currently attain and is quite possibly the highest specification photographic scenery ever created for a flight simulator.”

“FSX Alderney requires a considerable amount of disk space to install. It is recommended that you perform a full defragmentation of your hard disk before you install the scenery. This will ensure that the scenery files are placed on the hard disk in the most efficient manner during installation and may significantly impact the performance of this software in use.

30 cm Photographic Textures  (from manual)
The photographic textures supplied in this product are all at a staggering 30cm per pixel resolution. Which means you will see an incredible amount of detail on the landscape and you can fly as low as you like and still be able to make out all the features of the scenery in crisp, sharp, vivid colour. Each original source tile has been colour balanced so that there are no unsightly seams or colour issues. Put simply... It’s quite beautiful.

Decide What You Want to Install: The product is designed to give you two installation options, depending on your system’s specifications and the amount of hard disk space that you have available or would like to use for this product.

FSX Alderney can be installed either with or without 3D objects. Either way you are in for a treat as both photography and 3D are stunning.

Guernsey  “Earth Simulations Ltd. is proud to present the second in it’s series of Channel Islands Sceneries, FSX Guernsey for your enjoyment. The culmination of many months of work to get to a point where we are able to faithfully recreate Guernsey in such stunning realism.
FSX Guernsey showcases the best of what home flight simulation technology can currently attain. Each separate aspect of the scenery design has been produced to the highest specifications possible.

With each new release of Earth Simulations sceneries we endeavour to bring new innovations. FSX Guernsey includes many innovative aspects to the scenery that you won’t find available anywhere else and certainly never in a single package.”

For this review, I have everything installed and tweaked according to the manual.

5 seasonal Texture variations

FSX Guernsey is (like its predecessor Alderney) quality photographic scenery supplied in all 5 seasonal variations. It had long been considered just a fact of life that if you wanted to enjoy the pleasures of flying over a real location by the use of photographic scenery add-ons, (rather than Microsoft's generic texture system) that you just had to put up with being permanently stuck in whatever season the original photography was acquired in.  Each with its own unique feel perfectly representing the season it is designed to reflect.

Never successfully implemented before Alderney,  Earth Simulations has created wholly believable seasons using proprietary techniques to attain subtle but clear distinctions over the course of the year.

All of these items represent groundbreaking or new levels of achievement so I simply copied and pasted them from the pdf manuals.

Detailed Local Landmarks in 3D

FSX Guernsey takes landmark 3D modeling to a new level with the introduction of innovative real lighting and shadowing techniques. 3D models blend seamlessly with the photographic textures and capture exactly the lighting and shadowing conditions that existed when the aerial images were acquired by the survey aircraft.

Great Performance

The performance of our scenery matters a great deal to us. While you will be stunned by the clarity and quality we have managed to attain you will still get the comparable performance of much less detailed sceneries. This is because we have been able to optimize our scenery using all the knowledge gained while working on previous projects. FSX Guernsey is the culmination of years of work dedicated to the advancement of flight simulation.

Soundscapes

(High end systems) This option will install many different sound effects as you move around the scenery such as birds, church bells, farm noises etc.  The rest is for you to discover yourselves but they are many and varied and cover the entire landscape.

Hand Edited Terrain

Guernsey, Herm and Sark are world famous for their dramatic coastlines. To recreate this as faithfully as possible the Earth Simulations Team have spent literally hundreds of hours painstakingly hand editing the terrain to bring out every detail at the maximum resolution possible. 1.2 m terrain mesh is only available in FSX Guernsey and FSX Isles of Scilly and is up to sixteen times more detailed than the best commercially available 5m terrain mesh used in comparable products.

I made an effort to try to come up with some means of expressing size or least relative size of the areas.  If you would like to know more details than I have here, Google is your friend.  Be careful with the numbers, the text that I found is a mixture of kilometers, miles, English Acres, and square kilometers or maybe just square meters and it gets a little confusing.  Some even in the same paragraph. 

These are very scenic and well managed bailiwicks that enjoy their independence and intentionally make an effort not to be too much like their neighboring island or bailiwick.  These are things that should not have any affect on a sightseeing aircraft in FSX.

A rough calculation of the coverage areas.  I used a free Google Area Calculator and drew the areas as if I would be flying that route or that distance from the shore line.  This is not to be taken to literally, but should give you some comparisons.  I know the areas seems plenty large enough once you spend some quality time checking out the sights and sounds.   Obviously the relative placement of the two Isles is not to scale.

Springtime in Alderney.

The patriotic cub’s paint job is just in time for Veteran’s Day.  Alderney, at first glance appears as a rather small and isolated island.  It is actually quite large with plenty of sights and sounds if you are visiting in a low and slow mover like the A2A cub shown.  The airport , EGJA, is located at the far end (right) in this screenshot.  Is that water gorgeous or what?

Autumn

Hard Winter

Spring

Summer

Here is a comparison of the visuals of the seasonal changes.  Notice the subtle color changes in the fields from green to yellow in the Spring and Summer.  Even the water color changes with the seasons as it should.

This is a view of the seasonal changes from the opposite end of Alderney.  Check out those elevation changes.

Alderney is one gorgeous island.

While searching for a free map of the islands, I came across a website that specializes in surfing locations in Europe. Turns out the Channel Isles have several identified surfing spots – many around Guernsey. This caught my eye as I was one of Ron Jon’s original customers for a custom surfboard in Cocoa Beach, Florida when his total business establishment was a thatched hut behind one of the el cheapo hotels.  I was more correctly a 25% owner in the board, as my 3 partners, all submarine buddies, were rather poor back then.

I haven’t found any animated surfers yet, but, I have been writing rather than flying.  I’ll be watching.

This is how the seasonal changes look when approaching the larger island of Guernsey.  Notice that not only the colors in the fields change, even the appearance of the water changes with the seasons.  Just like the real thing.  Click to compare these striking views.

Summer

Spring

Autumn

Winter

Because we can control the wind and weather, we should.  You will notice the many subtle color changes with the seasonal changes.  One huge advantage of these three scenery package is the water is real water, well as real as the simulation.  In all of the previous photoreal  sceneries that I have reviewed ,  a common theme  was the water was not properly masked to enable boats and seaplanes to enjoy the scenery.  That is not the case here, the water masking is far superior to anything I have seen to date in any of those add-ons.

This is the fifth season and the most dramatic change in appearance.  Guernsey in Hard winter looks to be a good time for reading reviews and sitting by the fire.  Brrrrr.

 

 

Around Guernsey.

This is a zoomed area on Guernsey to show how detailed and varied the fields and pastures are presented.  I don’t think there is a single duplicate in the entire image.  This is one of the reasons the scenery appears to be so realistic.

The razor-edged isthmus joining the main island to Little Sark, is the most spectacular sight in the Channel Islands.  Before 1900 when protective railings were erected, children walking from Little Sark, had to crawl on their hands and knees to avoid being blown over the edge.

Sark and Little Sark Islands

Sark Island

Sark Island has many wonderful scenes to view from the choppers.
Each field or pasture appears to be different than the adjacent one, just like in the real world.  How many different green fields can you see in this image?  You can fly as close to the ground as you wish with this scenery.  No blurries, no worries.
The Super Connie climbing out at EGJB, Guernsey.  This just has to be the best screenshot I have ever seen. My oh my, look at the clarity.  Thanks Soya.

3.   Name the Company to first offer FSX photographic terrain textures for 5 seasonal variations?

  1. FTX/Orbx – Pacific Northwest Scenery – Seattle area
  2. Ground Environment X – North America (DVD)
  3. Earth Simulations – Channel  Isles - Alderney
  4. FlightZone – Rhode Island (Flight1)

Answer at end of the review.

Castle Cornet

Guernsey’s stunning ancient royal fortress has stood guard over the town and harbor of St. Peter Port for nearly eight centuries. The Castle model is a fantastic example of a new lighting and shadow techniques and is probably the most complex single model Earth Simulations have produced to date. Skilled helicopter pilots can enjoy trying to land inside the castle walls.

Setting sun on Guernsey.  Checkout the custom hand placed street lights beginning to come on.
What a panorama.  Wow.
Hang on, more to come.

True night time in and around Guernsey.  This makes me want to do more night flying.
  The terminal building is very large and a ultra modern design.
Very selective lighting, detail is almost unbelievable.
Everyone wants the window seat.

Guernsey Airport – EGJB

Guernsey is home to a full service airport with scheduled air service and jet traffic.  Of course, there is always  room for Cessnas and cubs.
Guernsey’s new Airport Terminal was opened in April 2004. The new terminal was designed to handle about 1.25 million passengers per year. It has been modeled in great detail.

Well folks, I have shown you a lot of screenshots and rambled on at times, but once you actually see this add-on you too will most likely be in awe.  There is so much more that I didn’t even mention that contributes to the total fun and enjoyment:  the seals only appear during mating season near Alderney, or the rabbit staring down the big Coast Guard helicopter or the horse in the sand pit. It just goes on and on.  Not that you necessarily have to see, hear, or experience it, it is just there should you come across it.

I was even more impressed when it was brought to my attention that the 5 individual seasons in the FSX photo scenery were in fact invented, and brought to market by Earth Simulations almost a full year before I first saw it in a competitor’s package.  The good thing for us simulator pilots is each time the bar is raised another rung, we are the beneficiaries.

Some of the visual changes in seasons are subtle, like going from Spring to Summer, from 500+feet altitude there are small changes in the landscape (as there are in real life),but, the fields change color as they are getting ready for either planting seeds in the Spring or growing or harvesting during Summer or Fall. The changes are more obvious when Autumn sets in; the darker colors come into play, the landscape changes from the lush green to a more brownish tint. The most impressive seasonal change in visual terms must be Hard Winter. Here things really look desolate, bleak and there is a very cold tone to the whole landscape. One big advantage to the seasonal changes is that simulator pilots only have to select the date or time to enjoy it, with no other changes required.

I don’t know if there are any one or two items that stand out above the others as there are so many unique and  distinctive little things merged or melded into the sights and sounds.  But, one thing is for sure.  I will never be happy just looking at beautiful scenery in FSX.  Now it has to be alive with animations, sounds, vibrant colors and maybe seasonal changes and at the same time reflect reality.  No more standard autogen for me.  I will be looking for unique 3d objects that I recognize or that I can Google to read about.  I’m still checking on the sailboat race – I’m betting on the red sails.

Flying around this area is as close to taking a real vacation as is humanly possible today.  I feel like I have been there and done that.  I just don’t have the golf hat and t-shirt to show for it.  But then again, my credit card statement also thanks me for only taking the virtual vacation.

Digressing slightly, don’t overlook the slick ES installer.  Even though the files are huge by any standard, the installer will deliver them to the proper slot at the proper time and you can sit back and watch, or better yet, watch a movie or spend time with the puppy or spouse.  When completed, you are ready to load FSX and go flying.  No more adding complicated scenery library updates, and individual scenery folders, or check marks – it is all done for you and if you don’t like it, you can change your setup quite easily.

Each package has a comprehensive pdf manual with a wealth of background material and suggestions for smooth, scenic flights. All the slider recommendations are there along with why and why nots, when appropriate.  The developer’s website and forum are equipped with an online chat box that is monitored. The first two words in each of the manuals are ‘Thank You’, nice touch.  I’m not going to take you through the details of the 31 pages for Alderney  or Scilly or the 41 pages for Guernsey but I would like to point out that the manuals have no fluff, they  are packed with easy to read recommendations and necessary tables and charts.

Earth Simulations has conveniently built sub-packages to accommodate the full range of hardware with specific recommendations for Low, Medium, High and Ultra High end systems and how to achieve the maximum satisfaction of each with their software. You can pick and choose the level of immersion that your hardware will handle.  The really high end systems are needed for the Hyper Detail and Extra Lights.  The recommended FSX settings discussion is so comprehensive that  you would think you were reading the FSX manual that never existed.  Practically each and every setting, slider, check box or value is not only discussed but explained.

Many of the major landmarks you may encounter are shown and named so you don’t just have to refer to the Casquets Lighthouse or the Alderney Lighthouse as the red and white one or the black and white one.   That’s not just any church steeple, it’s St. Anne’s church.  There really are hundreds of different objects and seasonally changing scenes for you to explore.   Darren made the comment that he spent an entire month building the castle.  Which castle, you ask. Please see the sidebar.

The ES Team describes the performance as ‘great  or outstanding ‘.  This is one of the items of which Darren and Vikki are the most proud.  Even though you will be stunned by the clarity and quality you will still get superior performance, similar to that of much less detailed sceneries.  The end results are wholly believable, seemly random, but fully planned changes in the scenery as the seasons change or even as the time of day changes.   Autogen is probably not the proper term for what you will experience, but, let’s just say the advanced 3d autogen is denser with more variety that you have ever experienced before.

Castle Cornet
Guernsey’s stunning ancient royal fortress has stood guard over the town and harbor of St. Peter Port for nearly eight centuries. The Castle model is a fantastic example of a new lighting and shadow techniques and is probably the most complex single model Earth Simulations have produced to date. Skilled helicopter pilots can enjoy trying to land inside the castle walls.

Before wrapping things up I want to highlight the ES Installer - ESI.  This is the way I like to handle usually complicated issues.  A better term might be a Product Manager.

  • One time set up, as simple as logging in activates all purchased products  from opening ESI to having an activated,  installed product, ready to enjoy with as few as four clicks.
  • Automatic notifications of  new products and product updates.
  • Easy disaster recovery via 24/7 access to downloads for life, plus ability to make personalized ESI-Packs for backups or for offline machine transfers.
  •  Intuitive interface seamlessly integrated with ES website/forums/store (browse, buy, install, create ESI packs for backups, get instant support, participate in ES forum discussions and more all from within the ESI interface)

The minimum Systems Spec is just that but the recommended spec is just what you might expect for any recent add-on.  Anything less than this is probably not a good idea.  Windows7 with an i5 or i7 or equivalent processor with 4 GB  or more memory and one of the newer generation graphics cards with a GB onboard memory is ideal and is probably considered the standard nowadays.

'Soya started a FSX thread about a year ago at the overclockers.uk forum which now contains a wealth of informational tweaks, useful links and suggestions for getting the best balance between performance and clarity.  You may learn to take screenshots like him.

I hope this catches on and becomes one of those de facto standards.  This take all the headaches out of installs, updates, repairs, re-installs for new PCs, etc.  You won’t be treated like an unknown entity when requesting help or have to prove that you own the software in order to start a conversation.  The ESI is basically a one stop, does all interface between you and Earth Simulations, Ltd.

Conclusions

OK, time to wrap it up.  What do I like about this Earth Simulations, Ltd, scenery?   I was overwhelmed with it all, and I found no weaknesses or negatives whatsoever.  Is there room for improvement?  Perhaps.  Let’s just see what the next release brings.

This is one of those cases where the images speak for themselves, literally.  I hesitate to refer to the add-on as a VFR Scenery Package because it is so very much more than that.  But there is no doubt in my mind there is nothing better, bar none.  When looking at what has been packed into these downloads I am utterly amazed.  It is like Jodie Foster stammered in the movie Contact –“ I had no idea” 

This time I am not going to make a list of all the reasons I am recommending this scenery add-on as it would be far too long and I might forget something.  Nor, am I going to make a list of what I didn’t like as that would be a list of nothing.

I hope you clicked on the smaller images to reveal the much larger, full sized, near life sized, scenes in many cases.  Soya is a true master at capturing the essence of our hobby.  Even if you don’t experience this wonderful scenery, sounds and animations in your own FSX experiences, you will have at least witnessed some of the most spectacular scenes available.  Thanks for taking to time to read the review.

Recommendations

Make one or more of these scenery packages your next purchase.  It really doesn’t matter in which order you choose one.  If you like a lot of outlying, uninhabited islands then the Isles of Scilly would be your choice.  Otherwise Guernsey, Herm and Sark give you 3 separate islands with something special on each, the namesake, Guernsey is my current favorite.  Alderney is smaller but is packed with features and has the 5 seasons, very nice airport, town, neighborhoods, fields, cliffs, harbor and out islands.  The daily visit by the functional aircraft carrier with escorts is included with the Isles of Scilly, along with 40 scheduled AI water traffic items. The outstanding animations and sounds are throughout.  I think this one is also my personal favorite.  The good thing is I don’t have to choose, I have all three and I enjoy each one for many of the same reasons and they are just different enough to keep things interesting.

This is the first photoreal scenery package that has it all. You can fly low and slow and convince yourself you are really cruising the islands or you can fly high and fast still enjoy the crisp, vibrant colors and razor sharp images.  All the water is real, so get that SES rating, a new pair of boat shoes, some old cut offs, a picnic basket or bucket of chicken and takeoff.  If the ingenious animations don’t amaze you then the soundscapes will.

If you want to see this area the way I did and would like to have a unique aircraft in your virtual hangar, then the A2A Simulations J-3 Cub with Accu-sim is your easy choice.  Remember, no two flights are ever the same with Accu-sim.   Practically all the forums have a review of the A2A Cub, and all gave it their highest marks.  I agree with every one of them.  The bundle makes an easy one-line entry on your wish list.

I have to go check on that sailboat race, my guy was in second place the last time I checked, but was gaining.

I just got a nice email from Darren and Vikki.  They are getting into the Christmas spirit a little early and are offering a special discount for you AVSIM review readers.  This will apply to all items in their online store.  Use this discount code within the next 90 days for a 15% discount on any and all purchases.  Avsim2011

For those who just can’t make the decision on whether to add this scenery to their FSX fun, you will be able to download and install a full working version of the Isle of Sark.  This will enable you to see the installer at work and how smoothly the system works.  The end result is you will be able to fly around and on Little and Big Sark for absolutely no cost.  Should you fly something like the A2A J-3 Cub you can land in some of those larger pastures and if not, just buzz the sheep.  This should be a real eye opener for the helicopter pilots as the elevation changes are truly astonishing – real and simulated. This will take a while to set up so plan on it being available around mid December.  There really are true rewards for Avsim review readers.

The Future

I found myself lazily floating around in the clouds, doing a lot of daydreaming and going nowhere in particular – no flight plan needed here. The images  and views of the water are burned into my brain and have most likely spoiled me forever.  I will expect all high end scenery to meet these standards, which probably sets me up for some disappointments.  The good news is Earth Simulations has more new releases in the pipeline.  The closest neighbor and largest island in the Channel Isles is Jersey and we should start to see some sneak previews by the beta team early next year.

My best guess is the Isle of Man will beat Jersey to market and the entire island will be built using 15 and 30 cm photographic textures.  Isle of Man is much larger in physical size than any of these islands (10x).  The primary airport, EGNS, will handle our airliners with ease and makes a great destination.  Hello Easyjet and Flybe repaints.  I believe there will be two additional general aviation airports and a grass strip included.  You can expect this one to be the most efficient of all as each one gets better than its predecessor, but in this case the island is not as densely populated and the hand placed autogen objects will be spread out a little more.  If the existing ones  ‘great peformance’ then this one must be something to really look forward to. Provided Earth Simulations continues to add new and innovative items into these scenery packages then by all accounts, the Isle of Man will most likely be their crown jewel.

I am certainly no source of information but I do know Jersey is the largest, most colorful, and most varied of the Channel Islands so it just has to be the something special to look forward to loading up in FSX.  It should be released directly on the heels of Isle of Man.  Remember, it is the home of Elsie, the Borden’s cow and Soya, our screenshot artist extraordinaire.

Of course, we have plenty to keep us occupied until then with Alderney, Guernsey and the Isles of Scilly.  I didn’t tell you, but, Guernsey also has an offshore lighthouse with a helipad that looks like Bishop Point’s little sister, it only sits 110 feet in the air so you better hone those Cub skills - these sharks speak French.

A few Final Words.

Recently it has been difficult for developers to easily deliver products worthy of the AVSIM Gold Star.  This is simply because the standards for earning that recognition are increasing, as they should, and therefore more difficult to attain.  As the quality of add-ons increases, so do the expectations of the users.   A break-through in one area usually enables similar advancements in other areas and that leads to new and remarkable upgrades or new releases.  So the products continue to improve.

True quality add-ons are quite easy to recognize and are actually becoming more routine.  Truly extraordinary add-ons, such as these, are rare and are usually welcomed by the sim community and the developer is rewarded by being recognized as the de facto standard for that product line.  These developers are those dedicated to our hobby, and work long, hard hours for our business.  They appreciate feedback and continue to reward us with even better products.  We reward them by purchasing their products.

By setting their standards and goals near the stratosphere, adhering  to good sound business practices and principles and developing the necessary leading edge tools, Earth Simulations, Ltd. has managed to deliver products that exudes excellence, innovation, and performance at previously unheard of levels.  Electing to wrap so much together in each of their individual releases is uncommon.   All the individual items could probably be found, but only in bits and pieces and not working as a sensible whole.  When you look at all the elements included in these ‘scenery’ add-ons , you find, in effect, many full packages wrapped into the software.  This includes the AI ships & boats with individual timed schedules, sounds and soundscapes, faithfully reproduced 3d historical landmarks, airports, terminal buildings, hand built, painted and placed autogen placed in the correct geographical location, all in addition to the outstanding photo scenery and hand built terrain mesh in one stand-alone package. 

This approach is in contrast to the prime competitors business model of releasing a small geographic area of scenery, then selling expanded areas in all directions and then releasing dozens of upgraded small town airports that cost almost as much as the original and expanded scenery packages.

The chosen specifications of 15 and 30 cm photo textures throughout, and 1.2 meter terrain mesh is astonishing.  Previously, only small areas such as individual airports, and even then only a small area of the add-on have been designed at such levels.  I just read today on the AVSIM announcement page where some European scenery was being released with 75 meter terrain mesh.  Previously 5 or 10 or even 17 m mesh was wonderful. The many ingenious animations and soundscapes are just added enjoyment.

Of course, as they break new ground with these creative innovations, they come at a hardware performance cost – the ever present FPS – Frames per Second.  Fully sensitive that the sim community has at least 4 general levels of systems – Low, Medium, High, and Real High end – ES has assembled sub-packages so we can pick and choose, if necessary, to adapt their scenery to our individual systems.  How to tune your individual system to attain the best balance between performance and visual acuity is explained in the manuals.  Fortunately, the performance factor keeps improving with new releases.

The end result is you can purchase the software, use the automated installer to do a full or partial install to match your system, start up FSX and go fly, all in a matter of a few hours.  Surprisingly inexpensive for what you get, and special pricing for you readers for 90 days.  Practically anyone that can load a modern aircraft in FSX can enjoy this scenery and all that comes with it.

It is with great pleasure that I recommend the Earth Simulations, Ltd., ESI, Channel Isles and Isles of Scilly VFR Scenery for the coveted AVSIM Gold Star Award.

Download retail prices as of review date, Alderney  £14.99,  Isles of Scilly £19.99,  Guernsey  £22.49.  All + VAT

Screenshot credit - Patrick van der Nat, aka Soya.  Screenshot Artist extraordinaire, resident of Jersey, UK Channel Islands.

Soya has produced a short video entitled ‘The Guernsey Harriers’ that showcases the ES Guernsey scenery, a loose formation of Harriers Jump Jets, deteriorating weather and daylight , and good music that culminates is one landing sideways at the passenger terminal at EGJB..  Quite enjoyable.

You can find several more of Soya’s videos that show off the sceneries.

The one on Alderney is something special, using hard winter as the backdrop it shows just how thorough and intricate the scenery is.  The water masking and unbelievable level  of detail really comes through with this one. 

Catchy titles like Shawbury  Fields Forever and  Leaving Las Vegas are also make some great viewing.

Soya’s FSX screenshot library. 

Ans  No. 1 -  C.  Orville Wright, Kitty Hawk, NC, The first manned flight in history: December 17, 1903. At 10:35 a.m. Orville Wright takes off into a 27 mph wind. The distance covered was 120 feet time aloft was 12 seconds.

Ans  No 2. C. Just Flight, Real Scenery Airfields – White Waltham FSX. Animated people, walking around, waving at aircraft and vehicles, Flocks of birds fly above the airfield, available since 6/2/2008..  FSDreamTeam Greystone Ocala FL Airport was freeware.

Ans  No 3. C.  Earth Simulations , Ltd.  Alderney For FSX. Alderney is quite possibly the highest specification photographic scenery ever created for a flight simulator. Including for the first time photographic terrain textures in FIVE ultra realistic seasonal variations all in hi-definition 30cm per pixel for unsurpassed clarity of detail. 4/6/2009

Photo credits.

Page 3, Screen capture, ©Google Earth, Map Link/tele Atlas.  Map data, directions, and related Content are provided for planning purposes only. 2010

Page 3, Elsie the Cow, Borden's celebrity spokescow in Lakeland, Fla. (PRNewsFoto/Borden Dairy Company) media use permission.

Page 4, 25. Channel Islands map, ©World Atlas, General reference only.  Available as a web download.  Copyright GraphicsMaps.com.

Page 7,8.  All photos and maps, ©Simpy Scilly 2008,Tourism website and/or electronic travel brochure, all reprints for non-commercial use. Click on ‘View our Brochure’ for some great travel info and photos.

Scaled map on Page 7 by Ray Marshall, no copyright, free to use by anyone.

Page 8, Puffins © Mike Brousseau

Page 8, The Bar linking St Agnes and Gugh. Photo: Pam Beresford-Smith, All rights reserved.

Page 11, PBY Catalina Flying Boat picture, www.military-aircraft.org.uk credited as the copyright holders.

Page 11, Raytheon Texan T-6/A Navy yellow retro paint. Military trainer from Pensacola NAS.  Photo by Ray Marshall, Keesler AFB airshow, 2011.

Page11, Bishop Point Lighthouse, Photo credit. © Copyright Peter Jordan and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

Page 12, Yellow Cub on floats. Jack Brown’s Seaplane Base.  2 Photos, Not copyrighted. Used with Permission.

Page 12, Link to one minute video of Cub on floats at Jack Brown’s Seaplane Base.  YouTube video by munggone.  Used with permission.

Page 18  Flipped Cub at waters edge.  Not copyrighted. Used with permission.

Page 20. Photos used by Soya for Aerosoft competition. © Airliners.net, all three photos, Individual photo credit follows

©Christian Waser, BN-2 Islander on approach, © Bernd Sturm, Runway view on approach to EGHE,   ©Peter Kesternich, Building at St. Mary’s airport.  ©Patrick van der Nat, all screenshots on this page.

Page 24, Photo Scillionian III Ferry, No photo copyright.

Page 30, Surfing in the Channel Islands.  Surfer image downloaded from site.

Link for the Real/Addon/FSX default contest.  Very interesting.

Reviewer's Note - You may be asked to verify the correct answer any of the three Quiz questions in order to receive the special discount and/or free download of Isle of Sark. This is to ensure that you did indeed read this review.

 

 

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