by Max Pyankov
Aerosoft – Alta X (Developer: Jo Erlend Sund & Simen Nygaard)
Next scenery to land on my desk for review is another package from Aerosoft, this time modeling Alta airport, which is located in the Alta municipality in the northern-most county of Norway, Finnmark.
I always like to fly in and out of airports further North. They, much like airports in the mountainous or otherwise challenging situations (i.e. nestled in the heart of the city), can offer a combination of adverse weather conditions and changing seasons; visual variability is always great fun to experience for a virtual pilot like myself. In addition to eye-candy, these geographic setups typically offer a good challenge to test your navigational and aircraft handling skills.
This package has a number of "standard" features that we often see in today's sceneries – the likes of highly detailed buildings, static aircraft, custom mesh, and configuration tools to dial up or down scenery features to accommodate your PC specs. Alta X, in addition to these, has other scenery features which we will dive into in my review:
Seasonal variations including 3D snow,
Custom windsock and flag animations depending on wind speed and direction,
Realistic night time effects,
Custom approach, runway and PAPI lights,
Circling lights for runway 29,
Animations bring the airport alive, including animated people.
Let us get started.
Purchase, Install, and Manual
The download file size for Alta X is quite large, even by today's standards. That is especially true considering that this airport is a fairly small one, as far as airports go, with a single 2,253-meter long runway. The download file comes at a whopping 1.9GB size, at a (current) price of $17 from Aerosoft website. The large file size is usually a good sign, as it often points to an extended area of scenery coverage, a very high level texture set, a number of various texture options, or to a combination thereof. Screenshots below present the before (left) and after (right) installation aerial views of the affected area.
As is evident from the screenshots, a large area of Alta municipality is represented in the package.
The installation process itself was a very straight forward Aerosoft flow. All that I had to do was provide my registration details (email address and product key), and select which product I was installing it for. This one package can be used for FSX, FSX SE, Prepar3D v2.x, and Prepar3D v3.x, which is a great plus given the single price you pay for all these options for those of you running multiple simulation platforms.
Once installation was completed, there was an "Aerosoft – Alta X – FSX" item added to my All Apps group (I am using Windows 10), and under it you will find a configuration tool, typical for Aerosoft, plus four PDF documents that include product manual, airport charts, and two documents explaining SODE (SimObject Display Engine) engine.
Configuration tool gives quite a bit of flexibility in allowing to tweak scenery settings to adjust to your PC specs.
Notice the "FTX Norway Installed" checkbox – seasonal changes in the simulator are altered by this FTX add-on, which also covers the Alta region. Checking this option will alter Alta X' season changes to match those of FTX Norway. "Specular Map Quality" is used to define a surface's shininess and highlights, while "Ambient Occlusion Quality" controls ambient shadows on large areas like terminal walls and terminal interior. Both of the above options control the graphic map sizes being loaded into simulator. As you can see, you have quite a few options to experiment with, although I was also expecting to see the fairly typical for Aerosoft option to control vehicles in and around the airport.
Product manual provides some interesting facts about the airport (for example, "due to rapidly rising terrain east of the airport, instrument approaches are only conducted to runway 11… arrivals to runway 29 are done either by visual or circling approaches"). It also explains all of the options available in the Configuration tool and reviews texture size setup (1024, 2048, and 4096). For the purpose of this review, I had started with the 4096 option ("Ultra"), but decided to switch to 2048 ("High") as it performed best on my PC.
Charts document has the standard SID, STAR, VOR and ILS charts. One unusual chart that it has in addition is the already mentioned circling lights for visual approach into runway 29. I will definitely have to try this approach.
SODE user guide is a four page document that explains what SODE is, what it does, and how to make sure it is installed and running on your system. SODE has found the ever expanding use, among scenery developers, over the last couple of years. As such, I already had my SODE installed and functioning.
Features and First Impressions
One different aspect of this scenery is the amount of daylight you get depending on the season you are flying in. In the summer the days are long and the nights are very short, and never fully pitch black. The setup is reverse in the winter months, with the very short days, and long, pitch black nights.
There is a lot to do with this scenery. You can fly in and out using general aviation or overall smaller jet planes, and you can also enjoy and explore the locale using scheduled Dash-8 or B737 flights out of Oslo, Tromsö, and a few other places. Because there is so much of the Alta municipality represented in this package, I found myself doing a lot of circling and exploring the area using the default Cessna Skyhawk, Mooney Bravo, and other MS default GA aircraft.
One of the very first features I wanted to explore were the runway 29 guiding lights, on the east side of the airport. These lights are not visible in the daylight. Besides, the terrain and location are such that in my multiple-weather/season-approaches to the airport, the east side of the airport (very hilly) were covered in low lying clouds and fog, making it practically impossible to execute a visual approach. There were only a handful of occasions where the clouds were high, and the weather conditions were good, and I was able to enjoy this guiding light approach into runway 29. The screenshots below attest to the various degrees of light visibility depending on the time of day. I did enhance these a little using Photoshop Elements to enhance visibility (much better visible in the real time sim, than in the screenshots afterwards), as well as used outlines to show you where the lights are.
Better than pictures, you can review this approach, both in the night and the day, in this video. Following the guiding lights and successfully arrival at the end of runway 29 is both exciting and rewarding. I am looking forward to executing this approach both in a Dash-8 and in a PMDG Boeing 737.
The surrounding areas are picturesque both on approach and on departure, when weather allows to see it. On occasions when it doesn't, and you depart into low hanging clouds that appear to crawl along the shore, it is still a very immersive experience.
The modeled municipality of Alta, straight south of the airport over a hill ridge, is modeled using a mix of high-resolution pictures, custom buildings, and auto-gen.
The high-res pictures look good. Notice the realistic looking roadway in the screenshot above. The trees, strategically placed throughout, look great and relay a sense of town nestled in the woods. The level of detail is such that you can observe bails of straw on your final approach. In addition to land enhancements, the water too has been updated and betrays the shallows near the shore which looks both very realistic, and very good.
This airport modeling, in my opinion, is as good, as it gets. The level of detail is stunning, and the quality of textures (screenshots below taken with the 2048 resolution) if of the highest grade. The buildings are so well modeled that you can read bus stop signage, almost can see the nail tops in the wood paneling, and can see the worn out cement blocks.
The number of miscellaneous objects in and around the airport, from bent out of shape warning cones, to trash cans, to wooden crates, is astounding.
Overall, the airport looks very well taken care, form maintenance point of view. There are, however, signs of wear and tear which, with certainty, continue to add to the realism of the package. Notice the well worn out cement block in the below screenshot, left, and the worn out stand sign on the right.
This high level of modeling extends into the interior of the main terminal, and of the tower. The level of internal detailing is surprisingly high level, given that it is internals of the airport building in a flight simulator. Nevertheless, I found myself wondering the airport building hallways, from the main entrance hall, to the flight/luggage check-in counters, to the two luggage carousels, to the security control and, finally, to the gates!
Tower looks great.
Tarmac, in my opinion, looks just fine. It has well defined, fairly freshly painted taxiway and stand signage. There are some asphalt cracks here and there, and a few more on the runway itself. The aircraft stands look pretty clean – I would have expected a few more oil or liquid stains.
Overall, the quality of modeling in and around the airport is superb. This high standard extends both to the quality of textures, as well as to the level of detail throughout the scenery. If I were to improve anything, it would be to add more wear and tear (and liquid stains) signs to the airport tarmac.
Night Light and Seasons
The city looks great within the model boundaries. From further afar, the city lights are bright, sharp, and well defined. On approach, weather permitting, the only runway is well lit and visible.
The airport itself continues to look stunning in the night hours, even with the 2048 resolution textures, which I switched to midway through my review. The light fixtures look vibrant and volumetric – both the stand-alone light posts and the light fixtures attached to airport buildings.
The inside of the terminal looks great and realistic. Interior models can be turned on or off, using the configuration tool, according to your preferences.
With the airport situated where it is, geographically speaking, the seasons play a great deal in the look and feel of the scenery. Seasonality is well modeled.
Snow is actually modeled stacked against the building. This looks very natural.
Snow and ice modeling even extends to the snow covered cars, as well as ice rocks floating right around the retaining wall of the runway.
To summarize this section – the summer and winter seasons are well represented, with the winter bringing realistic looking snow throughout the airport. Night lights look good.
The overall performance was very good, and it got even better when I switched my setup from 4096 to 2048 resolution. 4096 ("Ultra") was running well, but the sim did, occasionally, drop into high-teens/low-20s zone FPS-wise, especially on approaches through cloudy/stormy weather. I did not experience the same drop with the 2048 ("High") resolution textures. Even with the 4096 resolution setup the stutters and hiccups were only occasional and occurred during real time video recording (using Fraps), and/or during a final approach through a lot of weather.
This airport is an absolute gem. For the price that it is offered at you get more than just the airport – you get quite a bit of the surrounding area as well. Location of the scenery offers a great variety of approaches, including following guiding lights on a clear day, and executing ILS landing during bad weather which, I think, happens quite often.
You will enjoy this scenery whether you like to fly GA aircraft, or if you are a Dash-8 or a Boeing 737 pilot.
The quality of textures used for the airport buildings is astonishing. This level of quality extends to the level of detail as well, resulting in well visible door hinges on the airport buildings, trash cans, fire extinguishers, and other miscellaneous objects that you will find in any airport.
Based on this review and the score, this scenery earns AVSIM Gold Award and is a highly recommended add-on for a variety of virtual pilots.
What I Liked
Area of coverage.
Level of detail.
Quality of textures.
Numerous configuration options.
Locale of the scenery, which creates opportunity for scenic/challenging approaches.
Areas for Improvement
Tarmac could have looked more realistic.
There could be more traffic in and around the airport, both on the highways, and on water.
(On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being superb, and 1 being very poor)
Airport Traffic and Objects
Night and Seasons
System Specs Reviewed On
Intel® Core i7-4770K @ 3.5 GHz, Overclocked to 4.4 GHz
Installed RAM: 8 GB
NVIDIA GeForce GTX 780
Running on Windows 10 Home Premium