AVSIM Commercial FS9/FSX Scenery Review

Ft. Lauderdale Hollywood International Airport (KFLL)

Product Information

Publishers:  FSDreamTeam/Virtuali s.a.s

Description: High Detail Airport Scenery Add-on.

Download Size:
FS9 - 52.5 MB / FSX - 67.5 MB

Format:
Download
Simulation Type:
FS9 / FSX (reviewed in FSX)
Reviewed by: Mark Kolo AVSIM Staff Reviewer - November 29, 2009

Introduction

Ft. Lauderdale Hollywood International (KFLL) is located in one of the world’s busiest tourist and business areas, being only a few short miles from downtown Ft. Lauderdale, as well as Port Everglades, and is situated just over 20 miles north of Miami. Its location makes it a very important airport in that it handles much of the area’s domestic traffic as well as international traffic from Canada, the Caribbean as well as any spillover long hauls from nearby Miami International.

The land that would eventually become KFLL stated out as an abandoned golf course turned airfield in 1929. At the outbreak of WWII, it was commandeered by the US Navy for pilot training. Following the war, NAS Ft. Lauderdale was turned over to Broward County, becoming Broward International Airport. Commercial service started in 1953, with short flights to Nassau. 1958 saw the arrival of domestic service from legacy airlines such as Eastern, National, and Northeast, as well as a new name, Ft. Lauderdale Hollywood International.

As the population and popularity of Broward County grew, so did the passenger load at FLL, with 1969 being the first year of one million passengers, and with the boom of low cost airlines, in 1994 FLL saw the first year of ten million passengers transported. The airport is currently served by numerous airlines and is a hub for Spirit and Gulfstream International (Continental Connection), as well as a focus city for JetBlue, Southwest, Allegiant and AirTran. Other major players at FLL are Delta/Northwest and US Airways. Ft. Lauderdale International is a major charter and GA airport as well, with almost the entire north side and west side of the field being dedicated to FBOs, and is a popular destination for business jets of yacht owners whose pride and joy is docked in the nearby Port Everglades.

In addition to the commercial and GA traffic, Ft. Lauderdale is also a cargo hub, and it is not uncommon for 20 or so FedEx Caravans to be parked next to a DC-10 or two at the northwest corner of the airport. Due to the growth of commercial traffic at FLL, some of the business jet and GA traffic has transferred to the nearby Ft. Lauderdale Executive Airport (KFXE).

I have been fortunate enough to be a “customer” of Ft. Lauderdale Hollywood International numerous times, and have always had a soft spot for the airport. Now this may be due to the fact that every time I’ve been there it was escaping the cold Midwest winter for a week on a Royal Caribbean cruise ship, but there’s just something about the design and layout of the field, as well as the perfect spotting location for 27L/9R commercial arrivals between two of the terminals that has always been one of my favorite aviation destinations, be it in the simulator or in reality. Having evaluated FSDT’s O’Hare, I was extremely excited when I found out that they were re-creating FLL for the simulator, and I had high expectations, read on to see if they were met.

Installation and Documentation

As with all other FSDreamTeam releases, anyone can freely download and install the scenery for evaluation on their computer. The download comes as a standard EXE file that installs the scenery as a five minute, time limited demo which has full features for the five minutes with the buildings disappearing after that. Once installed, the scenery is purchased and activated through the Add-ons? Add-on Manager menu. The Add-on Manager allows you to purchase the scenery, or input your purchase information from an online purchase to activate it. The Add-on Manager also allows you to adjust things such as autogen scenery and day/night thresholds.

Test System

Alienware M17x Vista Home Premium 64Bit FSX SP2 (Acceleration) 2.53 gHz Dual Core 4 GB DDR3 Ram CH Yoke and Pedals

Flying Time:
22.5 hours

All FSDreamTeam products come with an installation guide, which is an 18 page PDF file that explains how to use the add-on manager to purchase the product, as well as how to back up the registration and purchase information (also through the Add-on manager) and eSellerate purchase client.

Additionally, every product has its own manual, a 42 page PDF file in the case of Ft. Lauderdale, which details everything specific to the product, as well as a brief redundant overview of installation. Things covered in the manual include the five minute trial option, installation of the Coutal Module. I won’t go into extreme detail here, other than to say that it runs an external programming code that allows interactive elements of the scenery to work properly. My guess is that it helps to overcome simulator limitations on things like the opening hangars and custom animated jetways.

A complete set of instructions on the use of the YouControl module is included, as is a complete set of SID/STARS and approach plates. I feel that the manual is complete and fully adequate, and the only thing that I would have liked to see in this manual is a set of recommended settings or at least guidelines. With the large gap in computer performances though, I can understand why this wasn’t included, as a decent set of settings on some computers would bring others to their knees.

First Impression

I was extremely anxious to try out FSDT’s FLL as soon as I got it installed (back on the old computer) and was immediately impressed by not only the quality of the scenery, but also the relative frame rate friendliness and a few nice touches (Starting on the Active Runway actually puts you at the holdshort rather than spawning on the runway, and some animated vehicles going around the grounds).

As I took the active it was hard to miss the aerated concrete barrier at the threshold of the runway, the high detail taxiway signs, 3D grass around the edges, as well as thousands of 3D taxiway and runway lights. Unlike most airport sceneries, FSDreamTeam chose to do some selective modeling of some of the nearby off airport features that helps to identify FLL, and with my experience at the airport in reality, I actually paused midflight to download some ground vehicles in anticipation of some serious exploring later on. Before I give too much away though, let’s go into more detail about what so far is one of, if not the coolest sceneries I’ve ever installed!

Passenger Terminals

Having been to FLL about once a year since birth, I can say that I am pretty familiar with the layout of the terminals, as well as the details. I was immediately taken back to my last trip there (in February) seeing a small fleet of AirTran, and US Airways jets resting at terminal 3. The buildings are modeled as well as I have ever seen in FS, matching the real thing almost perfectly (including the front side on departures level). The textures on the buildings are also a perfect match for the style and feel of the FLL terminals, and really help to pull off the look of Ft. Lauderdale International.

The jetways (which are animated just as the default FSX ones are, despite being a custom detailed model) match the real ones as far as I remember, with the exception of the airline logos on a few of them being incorrect (US Airways does not have all of terminal 3, for example). The ramp around the gates is cluttered with all sorts of ground equipment ranging from baggage trucks and trailers, to catering vans and everything in between, some of this is animated, which I will discuss later. Even the jet blast deflectors near the Spirit terminal are present, which protect cars in a nearby lot.

On the other side of the fence, no detail has been spared on the terminals either. Not only are the front sides of the buildings modeled (Complete with the red “Welcome to Ft. Lauderdale Hollywood International Airport” awnings over the doorways), but the on-site parking garage and new rental car center are present as well. Not every floor is hardened, but I spent a fair amount of time looking for the Avis van we rented last time without any luck and was able to drive around a few of the floors. Unlike many other sceneries, the cars are not just textured on from a satellite picture; rather they are all modeled in 3D (albeit low polygon count to preserve performance, but still, hundreds of cars dot the parking garages and lots around the scenery).

Another pleasant surprise was the inclusion of pay booths at the exit of the on-site parking garage, though my primary exploration vehicle (Panther 8X8 airport fire engine) was a little too big to fit through. To further enhance realism, palm trees are all over the passenger side of the airport, all placed in locations that I remembered to have them. Trust me, landing in Ft. Lauderdale and exiting the terminal in an 80 degree night surrounded by palm trees is a great thing after dealing with 3 or 4 months of winter back home!

The only thing I really noticed that seemed out of place in the passenger terminal area was the canopy over the sidewalk between terminals two and three. I have spent many hours there spotting and looking over the nearest Delta gate to watch pre-flights in action, and have always enjoyed the warmth of the sun over there with no shade around and a perfect view of runway 27R. All of the terminals share this level of detail and realism, and thanks to an accurate AFCAD and some AI traffic packages, I literally spent a few hours doing some virtual spotting from the exact location I had done so seven months earlier (minus the helicopter just behind my viewpoint of course).

Accurate AFCAD! Note the US Airways signs erroneously placed on these jetways Custom Jetway and Gound Clutter Detail JetBlue terminal
  3 of my favourite spotting locations as depicted in the real world and the Sim.
Exceptional 3D modeling on the parking facilities Rental car center and frontside of the terminals, exactly as I remember it! The only thing missing is the Skycaps!
Rental Car Center Overview N602NW retouch Spirit Concourse without AI

North Side

Despite not being fortunate enough to ever have visited the north side of KFLL as a customer/passenger, I’ve driven by dozens of times on the way to and from the passenger terminal and hotel. That being the case, I decided to get my first impression by driving by on the freeway just to the north headed towards the terminal.

Just out the right window of my Panther airport fire truck, I found the FedEx ramp to be buzzing with activity, with Caravans and DC-10s all over the place (courtesy of the accurate AFCAD and WOAI) surrounded by cargo handling equipment and other airport vehicles (and clutter). A bit further down (headed east on the freeway) I began to peer over the concrete barrier and was once again taken back to my last trip to FLL. All the buildings are accurately placed, and look just like the real thing.

Once again, FSDT took the time to place cars in the parking lots, and unlike on the passenger side, some of them are on the ramp near parking spaces reserved for business jets. A few of the hangars caught my eye immediately, one being the Embraer hangar, which is one of the finest examples of modeling I have ever seen, as well as the extremely large hangar that is owned/rented by Miami Dolphins/Florida Panthers/Florida Marlins and Waste Management/Blockbuster owner Wayne Huizinga Jr., whose private 737 and Bell 430 provided the backdrop for many of my shots last time I spotted at FLL. Even more exciting was the fact that these (and a few other) hangars around the field could be opened and closed by “YouControl” to really put the finishing touch on a business jet flight into Ft. Lauderdale, more on this later.

The ground clutter is not quite as predominant in this area, but a little further to the east; dozens of cargo/baggage trailers are modeled and fit in well with the rest of the scenery. Upon closer inspection, I noticed that the cargo pods were all labeled according to the area they were placed (FedEx pods on the FedEx ramp and DHL Pods a bit further to the east). The ground textures on this part of the field are decent, with what seems to be every imperfection in the concrete and asphalt being textured on. The actual surface could be a bit sharper, but every painted line, slash and boundary is crisp. When driving around this area, I found a well defined apron (area of the ramp for airport vehicles to drive on) that provided for two lanes of travel between all the north side ramps, as well as access to other areas of the airport via the perimeter road.

Following the apron to the east to the end of runway 9L, you will find the perimeter fence, which is in itself a great piece of modeling and texturing topped with barbed wire of course. The ramps and hangars are surrounded by high power lighting for when night falls, with every tower being modeled in glorious 3D. Of course with scenery this detailed the taxiway lights will also be modeled in 3D. This effect is even cooler at night with a subtle glow surrounding each bulb as well as a splash of light directly surrounding the fixture.

The transition from pavement to grass is well done too, though maybe a touch too soft. The only thing I remember that isn’t modeled is the train tracks, which are present in the ground texture, but I feel could have been added as a 3D object with little difficulty. All in all, the north side is extremely well done, with only a few extremely minor flaws.

Northeast corner of the field Cargo City clutter
A rare calm day on the FedEx ramp

Midfield/West Side

On the west side of the field sits a few distinctive features of Ft. Lauderdale International, Signature Flight Support’s FBO with its famous red LearJet sign, and the unique tripod control tower. Nothing has ever really said welcome to Ft. Lauderdale (to me anyways) like a landing on the relatively short runway 13/31 and seeing hundreds of millions of dollars worth of business jets and helicopters sitting in front of a massive hangar labeled simply as “Learjet”.

Just like the rest of this amazing scenery, the western edge of the airport is accurately modeled and textured, with the one exception - the Lear sign is missing! It is still there in real life, and was really the only omission I found with the scenery. In any case, both the front and air sides of the buildings are modeled (yes Signature and SheltAir’s drop off loop canopy is there!) and look incredible. Palm trees are located in believable locations here as well, and really assist in placing the scenery in the world. Once again, the parking lots are populated with 3D cars covering most of their 2D satellite image cousins.

The control tower is modeled extremely accurately, right down to a rotating radar (presumably for ground control) on the roof, to match the animated radar on a mast in between runway 27L/9R and 13/31. Another spectacular piece of scenery is the VOR antennae north of the Signature ramp and control tower. It is a prime example of FSDT going the extra mile, sparing no detail on the 3D modeling and textures, right down to a bit of rust running down the sides of the bowling pin near the seams and fasteners!

One thing that should be noted as what many people may see as a glitch or inaccuracy is the enhance taxiway centerline that is located near entrances to runways. It consists of a black and yellow striped border for a distance leading up to the runway to help warn pilots they are approaching an entrance and to make sure they have crossing clearance, and don’t accidentally taxi onto the active causing an incursion or incident. In my limited real world flight experience, one of the things I noticed was how much you focus on the taxiway centerline, not allowing as much situational awareness as I had expected. Probably a lot less than you should have when directing an aircraft around an active airfield. According to FAA data, the enhanced centerline has helped cut down on incursions, and I was glad to see it included in the scenery. It is well executed, and provides even more realism to an already incredible scenery package.

Also located in the midfield area is the fire station. It is well done, and includes a few animated trucks that drive around the apron, returning to the station periodically. While we are on the topic of objects out on the field, I have to point out a neat feature I’ve never seen before in FS. Incorrectly regarded as a goof on the FSDT forums soon after release, the tiered ramp like structures at the ends of runway 09L/27R are in fact EMAS (Engineered Material Arresting System) barriers.

In the real world EMAS is made of blocks of a special type of concrete that easily crushes to absorb the impact of say, an airliner without brakes going off the end of the runway or an RTO gone wrong. Basically the barrier helps an aircraft to slow down much faster than if it was on concrete, but in a rapid enough deceleration to keep it within the fence while minimizing passenger injuries. In reality the EMAS is not quite as tall as it appears in the scenery, but despite a bit of inaccuracy it is still a cool feature. Unfortunately the EMAS doesn’t work quite as it would in reality (crushing to decelerate the aircraft faster) which looks incredible, but instead uses the shape of the object to help slow the plane down thanks to it’s upward slope.

I simply had to test this, and it did slow the aircraft down faster then brakes alone. The texturing on the EMAS is not as good as I had hoped, and actually appears a bit blurry, but it could be partially due to the angle of the object in relation to the viewpoint. Even though it is not 100% accurate (Who can really complain about 99.9% accuracy anyway) the midfield and west side of KFLL is done so well that it really helps to pull everything else together to make an extremely accurate scenery.

Control tower and SheltAir frontside
Control tower and Signature Flight Support Enhanced taxiway centerline EMAS and runway end detail with port facilities and ships visible in the background
I just can't get enough of those taxiway lights Night textures, note the glow around each lit ground object, freeway directory sign, and the Embraer hangar sign The most detailed VOR I have ever seen in FSX

Animations/YouControl

Having covered all the static objects on the field, I’d like to move on to the animated objects and FSDreamTeam’s YouControl features. YouControl is a “custom action manager” that is part of the Coutal engine mentioned earlier. It has been implemented in FSDreamTeam packages in the past, though this is the first I have used it. Three of the GA hangars have it, as well as the Signature Flight Support, Embraer, and Sheltair FBO hangars.

YouControl

YouControl comes up as a window controlled by a hotkey (Control+F12 is default). Through the menu, you select the hangar you want to open by hitting the corresponding number on the menu. Rather than the usual tuning the Nav 2 radio and having the door disappear (or be poorly animated), opening a hangar with YouControl reveals a door animation that equals the level of detail of the rest of the scenery. Thanks to features like the custom animated jetways and opening hangars, I am now one of the Coutal engine’s biggest fans, and can’t wait to see what else can be done with this new technology.

Other than the hangars, you can find a few other animations in the scenery that help enhance realism. One of the most noticeable is the airport vehicles that drive around the aprons. Between the AI aircraft, default FSX ground equipment, and the custom fuel and fire trucks, FLL is very busy, just like in real life. As previously mentioned, there are other animations in the package including the radar on top of the tower, as well as the air control dish on a structure south of the midfield ramp area. One thing I was very happy to see was the default FSX ground traffic was driving around on the roads around the terminals, which adds even more to this incredible scenery package, though to be honest it made it a bit difficult to drive around on the roads during a few of my exploring trips in trucks and cars. Let’s just say that 100% traffic makes a one lane freeway under construction at rush hour look like nothing.

Though it is not an animation, I feel that it is important to talk about level of detail here. Basically level of detail helps to preserve high frame rates despite the extreme amount of animations and 3D modeling. Level of detail allows the area around you within a radius or field of view to have full detail with all objects, animations and highest resolution. Moving a bit further away (say taxiing to the end of a runway), smaller details disappear (such as edge lights at the far end of the airport or ground clutter two terminals over) while some other things get less detailed (jetways switch to a lower poly count model, and some of the cars from the garage and rental car center disappear). Thanks to the level of detail programming, people with lower end computers can still enjoy this spectacular scenery at high enough detail settings than would be possible without level of detail.

Out for a drive on the local freeway Even the Hilton is modeled
Harassing the AI, note the port facilities to the left of the center pillar and EMAS beneath the FedEx DC-10 Overpass leading up to the access road
Where else can you see classic 737s in service Rush hour FSDT Style

Other Goodies (Off Airport Scenery)

One of the most interesting parts of this rendition, especially since I’ve been there, is the fact that some off airport things are modeled. The biggest one being the highway network on the north and east sides of the field. While the lanes are not textured, a believable concrete texture is present as well as all the highway signs (which are accurate to the best of my knowledge) which point the way to Ft. Lauderdale, Dania Beach, and of course the airport.

Following the sign to the terminals, you are directed to the proper terminal for your airline or the rental car center and parking garage. Stay to the left, or else you’ll end up on the non-modeled arrivals level outside of the baggage claim areas. Further back, the freeway is fully hardened and can be driven on (or landed on) and is inhabited by hundreds of cars during a settings induced rush hour. Some of the slopes of the ramps are a bit problematic, allowing cars to fall through due to the extreme angle. However, this is an FSX issue rather than an FSDT issue. Some of the freeways end up as ground textures, and don’t look quite that good; however the road is still clearly defined.

On the west side of the airport, the Hilton is modeled as well as a few of the small overpasses. One of the other landmarks of Ft. Lauderdale is Port Everglades, with the cooling towers of one of the facilities being easily visible from the airport (which is well modeled of course) and the ever present cruise ships. Now to be honest, the ships are just the default FSX AI ships placed as scenery, but at least two of them are not in places where docks are available in the real world. Unfortunately the facilities are not modeled any more than default.

I’d have liked to see the port modeled a bit better, maybe with stacks of containers or at the very least not having the piers covered in non-native foliage and autogen houses. To be fair though, they did not intend to model the port, but I feel that adding just that little bit of extra detail would have put the scenery even further into the zone of realism. Either way the ships are a cool and memorable sight when flying out of FLL for real, and I was glad to see them out of the left side wingview during departure.

One Last Thing

I’m sure by now everyone’s wondering about frame rate performance and with this much detail you have every reason to be concerned. On my machine, this scenery runs noticeably slower than default at the same settings, but that is to be expected. Before you go running to the Review Feedback forum to point out this omission, hear me out.

Rather than telling you what I had for frames with one set of thousands of computer-setting combinations, I suggest you go to the FSDreamTeam website and download FLL for yourself. You can run the scenery unrestricted for five minutes, after which the buildings disappear. This will give you a chance to see how well it will perform on YOUR system with YOUR settings rather than what I got on mine. I highly doubt my computer represents the average for simmers anyway. If you absolutely have to know, I was running it in the upper teens and even got into the low 20s a few times with AI turned down.

Summary / Closing Remarks

All in all, I have to say this is definitely one of my favorite scenery packages of all time and is right up there with FlyTampa St. Maarten in realism and fun. Between all the custom animations allowed by the Coutal engine and the extremely detailed 3D and texture aspects of the scenery I never failed to be amazed, finding something impressive around every corner, with every control input to my exploration vehicles. Despite modeling or texturing applied to just about every detail on and near airport grounds, FSDreamTeam was able to keep frames relatively high with use of variable level of detail.

Overall, I found this scenery to be extremely accurate and fun to explore, which didn’t end at the perimeter fence like most other sceneries. I felt right at home having visited the real airport, and it took me back to my last vacation in the same way that only one other package has been able to do. I can’t say enough about the detail and accuracy of this scenery and I highly suggest downloading the demo to see it for yourself. I give FLL a full 10/10!

 

What I Like About Ft Lauderdale (KFLL)

  • Extremely High Detail
  • Accuracy
  • Custom Jetways
  • Animations and AI Vehicles
  • Inclusion of some surrounding features
  • YouControl
  • Coutal Engine

 

What I Don't Like About Ft Lauderdale (KFLL)

  • Nothing

 

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