A Visit to Hawaii
When I agreed to take a look at the Realscenery Enhanced Island of Oahu for X-Plane the first thing that popped into my head was my love-hate relationship with Hawaii…and Oahu.
I had personally never been to Hawaii until 2006 when my work sent me there on a last minute trip (4 hours notice as I recall) involving a Delta (ick) coach flight from Gatwick to Atlanta (double-ick) with an immediate coach connection to Honolulu on another stuffed aircraft for a grand total of 18 odd hours in the air (triple-ick) chasing the sun to a supposed paradise in the Pacific.
Not to mention stumbling around Honolulu in a travel induced fugue and finally waking up in my overpriced hotel room to discover black mold on the ceiling. And the ridiculous traffic I encountered from Honolulu to Wheeler AAB was the icing on the cake!
Yeah, yeah, it’s the destination not the journey right? In all fairness once I recovered from travel shock, swapped hotels for something lovely on Waikiki beach with a great sushi bar, and had a lovely sunset catamaran trip around Diamond Head I started to appreciate just how beautiful Oahu actually is. And after getting the job I was there to do well in hand I had the opportunity to explore the island properly including a memorable visit to Pearl Harbor and driving route 63 over the mountains to the east coast and following the ocean along route 83 to the North Shore eventually returning to Honolulu via the Kamehameha Highway that cuts the island in two.
Along the way are some of the most stunning and diverse landscapes I have ever encountered. I spent hours walking through the Waimea Valley Audubon Center and burned through a couple of memory cards worth of images all over the island. I even had a memorable shack-side shrimp feast served from a trailer near Kawela Bay that’s making me hungry as I type this!
Alright so that’s my travel report. From a flight simulator perspective my only virtual experience of flying in the Hawaiian Islands would be attempting (poorly at the time) the extreme Kona crosswind approach exercises as detailed in the “FSX for Pilots-Real World Training” book.
Oahu seems to be a great choice for a scenery enhancement aimed towards pleasurable VFR flight and judging from the number of real-world flight tour companies running on the island the place must look great from the air. With diverse terrain, great weather, and being flight-time friendly in terms of getting around quickly in an X-Plane GA aircraft, the folks at RealScenery may be on to something here. Having never used photorealistic (actually orthophoto as the imagery is corrected for uniform scale) scenery before this should be an interesting experience….the proof is in the flying. Buckle in and let’s check things out.
The Enhanced Island Of Oahu
RealScenery is published under the X-Aviation flag and Oahu is the second in the lineup of enhanced scenery products alongside Reno/Cason City.
Installation is simple via the RealScenery download wrapper. After following the easy instructions (and while being something close to 3GB in size the download is fast) 4 folders including the scenery and an uninstaller appear in the X-Plane custom scenery folder. A user guide including a settings tuning section is found in one of the folders. An index chart of the Oahu airspace is also included.
A Picture Is Worth A Thousand Words
In order to explore and visualize the transformation from the default X-Plane Oahu terrain to the RealScenery Enhanced version we are going to essentially replicate my favorite drive around the island from the air.
Today’s VFR flight plan (Navaids included free):
-Depart PHNL RWY 08L climbing turn over Honolulu to FL035 at 114° towards Diamond Head.
I am pretty sure you will be able to tell which shots are stock and which are RS Oahu! Sit back and enjoy the views and commentary.
**Note**I have performed no re-touching of these images beyond making them a sensible size for quick loading.
As this is my first serious experience with this sort of scenery expansion I was not sure what to expect. I had already done a couple of familiarization flights around the island with the X-Plane default scenery and it looked pretty drab - but I could still make my way around VFR without any hassles. It certainly did not match my memories of the place. Lining up with the RealScenery package installed I could see some dramatic color and terrain differences but still the same sterile X-Plane airport environment.
Once I got airborne, my jaw started to drop as the ground fell away. I tend to fly “within the cockpit” as it were and what I was seeing as the aircraft gained height was frankly astonishing. Enroute to Diamond Head I could make out the hotel where I stayed, the break at Waikiki Beach I surfed (longboard of course!), and Diamond Head itself looked just like I remembered from taking a catamaran trip. Not to mention I could see the roads and landmarks needed for VFR flight.
As I reached my initial cruise altitude of FL035 I believe I was into the “sweet spot” as it were for enjoying the sheer beauty of the terrain unfolding beneath the aircraft. The definition of mountains and valleys continually drew my eyes out of the cockpit. It was actually somewhat difficult at times lining up the “before/after” shots for this review as I struggled to recognize the amorphous terrain blobs of the default terrain with that of RealScenery’s pin-sharp presentation.
As I flew north towards Kaneohe Bay, I flew quite close to the mountains and saw no appreciable drop-off in the detail. The terrain drop here is quite dramatic to the plain below towards the bay - a definite “ooo-ahhh” moment! I could easily make out Route 83 along the coast and made for easy VFR reference. Not that following the coastline in Oahu is hard; but the immersion factor of what is viewed from the cockpit is hugely enhanced.
One of the more subtle details I noticed is the perfect blending of the ocean. That deep blue Pacific water is fixed in my mind from visiting Hawaii (and living in Southern California for many years) and this scenery makes it look real.
Making our way up the coast to the Turtle Bay Hilton we encounter the famed North Shore of Oahu. This is where I had tons of trouble reconciling the default images with the enhanced screen shots taken as I flew along. It’s almost ridiculous how good it looks!
Just prior to turning left over the North Shore I climbed to FL050 and the world started looking even better.
I was concerned at how this scenery package would run on my modest system. I was pleasantly surprised to see no impact on the sim and frame rates whatsoever. This is as advertised by the developers and they fully deserve credit for living up to the expectations in this department.
The RealScenery package also includes improved night lighting features. As I already quite like the default X-Plane lighting and my preferred areas to fly look pretty good already, I was very interested to see how they could be improved. Not to mention seeing how the night lighting integrated within the photo scenery itself.
As you can see from the comparison shots, the improvement in night lighting is dramatic. The default X-Plane night lighting does not do so well at low altitude. It is very difficult to see from the screenshots but the vehicular traffic is following the road network and the entire night scene viewed from the air looks that much more realistic.
As mentioned earlier, I experienced no performance slowdowns using this product on my modest system. A couple of the settings within X-Plane were kept dialed slightly lower than what is recommended for optimum viewing by the developers; however, it sure didn’t seem to matter. Those pilots able to easily handle the “Extreme” setting for resolution will most likely see even more detail.
This is a spectacular scenery package for X-Plane. For anyone who enjoys flying VFR (or wants to learn to do so in a beautiful environment), this will add immersion to your sim flights with easily identified roads to follow, accurate terrain enhancement and placement, and improved night lighting for flight. Even tube pilots will enjoy seeing Oahu come to life as they approach after the long over water flight.
My only minor gripe would be the sterile airfields. It would have been nice to see the airfields at least populated with some terminal buildings; however, the contrast between the photo scenery and rendered objects on the ground would be glaring and out of place contrasted with the rest of the package. It’s not a “ground simulator” after all and the runway/taxiways have been corrected to match the imagery.
RealScenery have done a terrific job here. If you are looking to try photoreal scenery for the first time or love the thought of flying around Oahu and honing those VFR skills in a compact yet gorgeous flying environment, you will not go wrong here.
What I Like About Enhanced Oahu
What I Don't Like About Enhanced Oahu
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