by Marlon Carter
Aspen Pitkin County Airport is an airport that can either strike fear or excitement into the heart of any seasoned pilot. Located at 7,280ft, this airport gives the illusion that high altitude performance may be the only issue to consider when landing or departing. However, when we factor in the high terrain surrounding the airport and the unpredictable weather patterns, things can easily “go south” if you are not well prepared. To fully appreciate the dangers associated with flying into this airport, one simply has to glance at a few accident reports with the most recent being in January of 2014 when a Challenger 600 crash landed due to poor weather conditions.
Despite the challenge of getting there, Aspen is well known as a hot spot for the wealthy and this is quite evident from the fact that the traffic mostly seen at this airport consists of Learjets, G5’s and other private jets. It is perhaps for this reason that Aerosoft decided to create this airport for the FSX platform a few years ago. Since then however, much of the technology used to develop scenery products have changed significantly and the development team decided that this intriguing airport truly deserved a makeover. What can we expect from the newest Aspen Extended product? Well here is a list of some of the features and improvements that have been made.
Up-to-date rendering of Aspen Pitkin County Airport (KASE), including extended runway and new taxiways, Fire Station (with Oshkosh Striker 1500), Fixed-Base Operator, Terminal and hangars.
Fully baked high resolution textures with ambient occlusion shadows and light maps for all airport and town models.
100 square kilometers of high resolution photo scenery (30cm, LOD17) covering the Aspen Valley, with full seasonal and night variations.
5 meter (LOD13) mesh covering 2400 square kilometers of the Rocky Mountains around Aspen.
Tarmac and runway markings with realistic wet weather and specular effects.
All current VFR and IFR approaches.
Detailed rendering of the Aspen Valley Hospital and emergency helipad (CO50).
Dozens of custom local landmarks, including Aspen High School, Aspen Chapel, Aspen Recreation Center, Hotel Jerome and Benedict Music Tent.
Animated `Silver Queen` gondola to Ajax.
Extremely dense custom Aspen-style autogen houses and mansions.
Static CRJ-700s in United Express and Delta liveries.
Realistic new runway and street lighting system.
Compatible with Vero-FS `Heart of Colorado` photo scenery.
With such an “extended” list of features, it’s quite clear to see why this product had been in development for quite some time. Also, a most welcome feature to this product is that it includes not only the immediate area around the airport, but it also included residential and other areas that are well known in Aspen. Let’s dig a bit deeper to see just how good this product really is and whether you should serious consider adding it to your scenery library.
The documentation provided with this product was well written and it provided a wealth of information that will assist you in properly installing the product and adjusting your simulator settings to achieve the best visual experience. Also included is information on the airport itself that virtual pilots will find useful. Information on landing, takeoff, density altitude and a link to airport charts is provided and if you are not familiar with this airport, it’s important that you read this manual before flying in or out of KASE. If you are familiar with the procedures of flying to this airport, the information will serve as a valuable reference when in doubt. For P3D or DX10users, information is also provided that will assist you in getting the most out of this product. Overall, Aerosoft did a fine job at keeping the documentation concise.
As noted earlier, flying into Aspen can be a fun but challenging experience due to the high terrain surrounding the airport. From the look of the terrain and textures with optional seasonal textures, it’s quite clear that attention to detail was a major focus with this product in order to have an authentic experience.
As we look at the airport itself, we see a great rendition of the main terminal, GA parking areas and hangars. Also included are the extended runway, new taxiway, fire station and static aircraft. All of these details nicely blend together to create an intriguing airport environment that give you the impressing that you really are at KASE.
While the terminal building isn’t very large, it does have a unique design that stands out. Aerosoft did a fine job at modeling the terminal and it is a drastic improvement over the previous version with a much more convincing stone and wood texture used on the building. Perhaps the only shortcoming of the terminal is that the interior wasn’t modelled and uses of high quality window textures offer you a glimpse of the interior of the terminal. Nonetheless, the terminal looks great and while some of us would have liked the added detail of interior modelling, quite frankly at the end of the day it hardly matters when your main goal is flying.
Moving now to the ground textures, here we can see some very detailed textures used for the taxiways, runways and airport surrounds. While some of the textures seen seem to be custom textures, others are quite clearly high quality photo real textures that significantly improve the look and accuracy of the ground detail. At night, the airport and its surroundings take on a beautiful appears with the use of high quality textures and new runway and street lighting. Here are a few screenshots that nicely showcase the texture work and modelling detail.
As we move away from the airport itself, the level of detail contained in this product is clearly seen with the custom autogen that features locally accurate buildings, mansions and some popular landmarks. An interesting feature of this product is that it contains the animated Silver Queen lift which is a popular attraction that offers tourist and locals to view this city from the highest perspective. Other landmarks include the Aspen High School, Aspen Chapel, Aspen Recreation Center, Hotel Jerome and Benedict Music Tent. As an added bonus to you helicopter pilots, you will be happy to note that the Aspen Hospital also included a usable helipad. With so much detail, it is no wonder that Aerosoft saw it fit to label this product as Aspen Extended since it has extended the level of quality and detail in every respect that is expected by FS users. Here are a few more screenshots.
When it comes to performance, given the level of detail contained in this product, the performance is remarkably good with stable, high frame rates being experienced even with bad weather (as tested with FSX STEAM). This is an impressive feat given the level of detail and added features. Unfortunately, I’ve never had the opportunity to try the previous version of this product to draw a comparison, but I can confidently say that 95% of all users will thoroughly enjoy this product to the full with little to no impact to your PC performance. Throughout the years there have been many improvements in scenery modelling and there is no doubt that the developers have implemented many of these improvements to deliver stunning visuals and excellent performance.
In conclusion, Aspen Extended is a product that I would highly recommend if you are constantly looking for a challenge to your flying abilities. In comparison to the previous version, a screenshot comparison alone can clearly show that Aspen Extended is far superior in quality and overall coverage. What also makes this product outstanding is that it offers seasonal textures in an effort to also have a visually authentic experience. In addition, this product not only covers the airport itself, but it also extends to popular landmarks, attractions and residential areas of this popular destination.
The challenge of managing the performance of your aircraft at high altitudes coupled with the sometimes harsh weather conditions at this airport is the ultimate thrill for a virtual pilot and Aspen Extended offers just that. For the price of $21.31 USD, this product is quite a bargain considering that it covers 2400 sq km of the Rocky Mountains, 100 square kilometers of high resolution photo scenery (30cm, LOD17) covering the Aspen Valley and is also compatible with Compatible with Vero-FS Heart of Colorado photo scenery. For users of GEX or FTX Global this product blends in quite well with minimal textural differences. Either way you are guaranteed to have an enjoyable experience flying in or out of this unique airport.
NOTAM:The version reviewed in this article was v1.0. After this review was completed, v1.1 was released. Here is a link to some of the updates in version 1.1.
Thanks to Mathijs of Aerosoft and the development team for contributing this fantastic product for review. If you want to find out more about Aspen Extended, click HERE
Thanks to Carenado for contributing a copy of their PC-12 which is a common aircraft seen at KASE. If you are interested in the PC-12 you can find out more HERE