FSDreamTeam Houston George Bush Intercontinental Airport
A review by Maxim Pyanokov
The developers at FSDreamTeam, the company which brought us such great products as KDFW, KJFK, KORD (Dallas-Ft. Worth, John F. Kennedy, Chicago O'Hare) and others, have this summer released KIAH - Houston George Bush Intercontinental airport. According to a Wikipedia article on this airport, it is "the 7th largest international passenger gateway in the US and the 7th busiest airport in the world for total aircraft movements" (one total movement is defined as a landing or a takeoff of an aircraft). KIAH ranks fourth in the US for non-stop domestic and international service, with a little over 180 destinations. Priced at €22.90, this product has huge potential and promises.
Purchase, Install, and Manual
This product is compatible with FSX (plus SP2 or Acceleration Pack) or P3D, version 1.4 or later. In addition, this scenery supports DirectX 10 (which is how I tested it--more on this later).
You can demo this product first, which will perform "in full for 5-6 minutes at time." Personally, I did not run this product in the demo mode; this review is based on a fully registered product.
The download consists of a very reasonable 128MB file. Once the product is purchased, the activation key is emailed to you. I am well familiar with the installation process for the FSDT products, and prior to installing this airport; I disabled my Antivirus so it wouldn't conflict with the installation and registration. Setup is handled by an installation wizard and is carefree, and registration can be completed via the Add-ons >> Addon Manager menu.
Once the installation is complete, there is going to be a KIAH folder placed within you FSX main installation, within the fsdreamteam subfolder. In it you will find the manual for the product, in PDF format.
The manual is a 72 page document, 62 pages of which are dedicated to the airport diagrams and departure and approach plates, with detailed SID and STAR procedures. Another three pages are dedicated to the detailed terminal maps, which I, for one, found very useful (and I wish more developers would include those), enabling me to start and end my flights at the appropriate gates without having to spend time researching which terminals/gates serve which airlines.
The remaining few pages offer instructions on the installation and activation of the product, with half a page dedicated to a brief explanation of the Couatl Engine, required to be granted trust permissions for full product features. It is worth at least skimming the manual.
Prior to the install, this is what KIAH and surrounding areas looked like in my sim.
After the install, this is what the same areas look like.
As you can see, the developers provided quite a bit of surrounding areas, which is always a huge plus and great to see.
Airport Features and First Impressions
Certain developer names, including FSDreamTeam, evoke the expectation for high quality and meticulous attention to detail in all of their sceneries. KIAH is no exception. From the very first look around this scenery you get a resounding feeling of quality and hard work put into this package.
Houston airport, which I recently had a privilege of actually traveling through, has a unique and unusual (at least, for me) set of jetways, which I hadn't seen anywhere else. These, of course, have been reproduced in all of their beauty and glory in this package.
You can find these jetways at various terminals (for example, B), and they are fully operational and can be attached/detached using the default FSX jetways command Ctrl + J.
Speaking of terminals, there are five terminals spanning about 1.5 miles from Terminal A to Terminal D. Terminal E is the KIAH's newest terminal and it handles United's operations. This airport, by the way, is a United hub, carrying over 16 million United passengers annually.
The terminals, all of which have parking garages on the roof, look great. I have noticed that more and more developers pay extra attention to the parking lots in and around the airport sceneries. The KIAH developers did not have a choice not to, simply due to the layout of the airport and their own high standards. As you can see below, they did a great job modeling a half-full parking lot with vehicles of various shapes, sizes, and colors parked there. You can even make out individual auto makers!
This is not a driving simulator, so back to the tarmac we go. There you will find multiple objects all throughout the airport, which always add to the immersion into the airport atmosphere. There are safety cones, ladders, trash cans, airport service vehicles, dollies, and other miscellaneous objects found throughout the airport. The level of the detail of these objects is so great that you can see the handle on the trash can lids; the text on the fire extinguishers, by the service entrance into the terminal building, is almost legible; the identification and tracking numbers, on the cargo crates and boxes, are legible, look worn, and realistic. You can even see a paper manifest attached to the cargo crate!
The tarmac textures look great. You can easily spot the individual cracks and the signs of wear and tear. I do, however, have a couple of points to call out. First - the oil and other liquid spills - some of the gates have very excessive signs of oil and fuel leakage! Indeed, it is so excessive that I, as a passenger, would have serious questions to ask both the aircraft makers, as well as of the ground maintenance crews, as to why quite so much liquids leaked (and haven't been cleaned up!) from the aircraft! Don't get me wrong - in one of my other reviews I marked a product down specifically for the lack of any signs of oil or other liquid seepage. In this case, however, some of the gates have too much of it.
My other complaint is that the tarmac markings do not have the additional notations which indicate where different types of aircraft stop (B717, B737, A320, etc.). This has been a mainstream feature in most commercial sceneries for awhile, and I am surprised that it is lacking here. If this is how it is in real life, then please leave a comment and let me know.
The jetways are modeled superbly. The gears they sit on (the wheels) are immaculate. The metal sleeves display signs of rust. They look great.
The textures of the terminal roofs (the ones which are not parking lots) are okay at best. I have definitely seen better, and I was surprised by the lack of texture sharpness. I re-opened the Addon Manager to make sure that I was running my textures in a 4096X4096 mode. To be sure, the developers did place the appropriate 3D objects on the roofs - the likes of air conditioning units, light fixtures, antennas. So, definitely not a show stopper, just a minor detail.
As mentioned above, the airport terminal buildings are stretched over about 1.5 miles. There is an above ground train (TerminaLink), which runs along these terminals, and allows people to make terminal changes without having to leave and re-enter through security. The TerminaLink is well modeled and can be seen, zipping back and forth, at no FPS cost. It is a fairly simple object, but it adds greatly to the environment factor.
In the middle of the airport there is a Marriott hotel, which has been modeled nicely here as well. Nothing really special about it, other than that the model is sharp, not busy, and looks great from the cockpits of the aircraft parked at gates C24-27 or C29-33.
I would not be just if I didn't mention additional airport details, peppered throughout the scenery. For example, the development team reproduced and placed Light Spikes (screenshot below) which, according to Wikipedia, "was created for the 1990 G7 Summit when it was hosted by President George H. W. Bush in Houston..."
The United hangars have also been nicely modeled, with a (what looks like?) 757 United clearly being worked in one of them. Perhaps, that's one of the planes that spilt so much oil on the tarmac, mentioned above?
Runway textures look good. There are plenty of rubber skid marks, cracks, fresh paint, and overall feel of the well used tarmac. Not all of the runways have PAPI lights, which is reflective of the true infrastructure setup at the airport (according to the FSDT forums). In any case, to those inquiring, there are a lot of good discussions going on, about this particular scenery, at the FSDT forums (http://www.fsdreamteam.com/forum/index.php). In my opinion, the PAPI lights were not bright enough from far out. I am not sure how bright or dull they appear in real life, but in this scenery they are not bright enough and were hard to spot on a couple of my approaches.
I would like to mention one more thing, before I move on. I experience this issue in my FSDT KDFW and KORD sceneries as well - which is the issue of the tug trucks without the wheels! Now, truth be told - there are numerous conversations on the FSDT forums about the tugs without the wheels at various FSDT airports. Apparently, it is a radius or an LOD setting somewhere in the configuration files. However, in my personal experience with the KDFW scenery, after countless attempts I have not been able to configure it so that it always (or more often than not) displays the wheels on the (further away) tug trucks. So, some time ago I made a decision to accept the wheel-less tugs, in the FSDT sceneries, on my machine with my hardware and software as part of the FSDT territory. Unfortunately, the KIAH scenery continues this tradition and, while it may be a big distraction for some of you, I have learned to live with it.
Night Light and Seasons
Generally speaking, the airport, enveloped in the night lighting, looks good.
Getting a couple of points out of the way. Remember the huge oil spills I mentioned above? Well, they stand out even more in the night lighting. Personally, I think the developers need to address this issue as it is, visually, a little extreme. To be clear - not a technical issue, but a visual one.
My other complaint with the night lighting is, perhaps, a personal preference. Some of you may like this implementation; nor have I seen how these lights look in real life, in Houston, at night; but, for my liking, the intense projection of the light, cutting through the night air, is again a bit too extreme. Now, I like the idea of what the developers did here, I just don't like the level they took it to. I think they should have made the contrast, between the dark area, and the light coming off of the light fixture, softer. Quite a bit softer. But like I mentioned above - this is not a defect, but rather a personal preference.
The parking lot lights, on the other hand, are a nice touch. It is commendable that the developers put in the extra effort to place lights where none would be seen from any normal point in the airport other than in the middle of the parking lot!
Other than the aforementioned complaints, the airport looks great both at dusk and in the dead of the night. The gates, taxiways, and runways are well lit.
Houston is not a place where it snows. Or, if it does, then it does not stick to the ground. Trees and grass do turn gray and become colorless, during the winter months, but this is about as much of a seasonal change as you will notice in this scenery. In the three screenshots below you will see the scenery as it loads in the Summer (July), the Fall (November), and the Winter (February). While there is no difference between the Fall and the Winter, and not that much difference, to be honest, between the Fall and Winter and the Summer, I do think that the developers represented the seasons as they really are. They could have given us a little bit more greenery in the summer, and could have washed the colors a bit more for the Fall/Winter seasons. Generally speaking, though, I think it is representative of the Houston area seasonal changes.
On my very first inbound flight, coming in from Istanbul on a PMDG 772, as the scenery loaded (somewhere in the 11-19NM range), I received an Out Of Memory (OOM) error, followed by a crash to the desktop. Up to this point, and over the last many years, I have been running my flight sim in DX9 mode. Over the last 6-8 months, with the new sceneries on the block, I have been getting more and more OOM memories, especially when flying the PMDG 777. So, taken that, coupled with a lengthy research on DX10 options and problems, I decided to finally take the plunge and switch my sim into DX10 mode, hoping to mitigate my OOM issues. The DX9-to-DX10 switch alone took me a couple of solid evenings worth of sim testing.
Once I felt that my DX10 setup was somewhat stable, I repeated my Istanbul to Houston flight, and this time was able to fly in and land without any issues. The jury is still out on the DX10 setup, but over the last two weeks I have been flying in DX10 and, taken my experiences with the recent scenery releases from various developers, I think my only non-OOM option of running the sim (especially with the 777 from PMDG) is the DX10 route.
I have also done a couple of outbound and inbound flights. On one of the outbound flights, using PMDG 737, GSX, Radar Contact, FSCrew, REX, Electronic Flight Bag, and other scenery and texture add-ons, I had no issues at all starting from the 'turn-around-cockpit' state.
During the GSX activities (catering, baggage loading) and cockpit setup, I got excellent FPS rates in the very high 20's and hitting 30 (I capped mine at 30). During the taxi to the runway, take off, and climb-out I got excellent rates as well, in the same range as above. The airport looked fantastic from the air, looking from the 'passenger' seat. The custom trees, surrounding the airport, look great and add to the feel of realism tremendously.
On one of my inbound flights, arriving early in the morning, the airport was completely covered in fog. Generally speaking, I thought the airport navigational lights could be a bit brighter/more visible from the air, but I don't know whether this is a scenery characteristic, or whether my airport lights, from the air, appear dimmer due to me running in DX10 mode? I will have to research on the FSDT forums.
In any case, the airport was completely hidden from me until very late in the final approach phase, with less than 3NM to go. The tops of the trees, and certain buildings peaked out from under the fog, and it created a very realistic and immersive experience! Once on the ground, the runway and taxiways were easy to follow to my parking at Gate E17. During my descent and final approach phases, including the actual landing and taxiing to the gate, my rates stayed in the very high 20's, and the overall visual experience was very pleasant and fast.
This is an excellent product and it most definitely deserves the space on your hard-drive. The destination options alone, inbound and outbound are worth it! You can fly the small regional city hoppers, 737s of all configurations, Airbuses, and long haul 747s, 777s, and the like. The unique jetways are very cool. The airport looks great from the air. On the approach you really feel like you are coming into a very massive airport - great, overwhelming feeling. Sure, there are some issues and hoops you may have to jump through.. to make sure your tugs have the wheels (LOD configs), for example, or if you want to run this scenery in DX9 in conjunction with PMDG 777 (switch to DX10). Personally, I am not so sure about the intense-laser-like night lights beaming down from the light fixtures, but on the whole this is a high-quality product, with high quality textures, which will provide many hours of flight sim pleasure.
What I Liked
- Attention to detail
- Performance (once converted to DX10 mode)
- Surrounding area of coverage
- Unique jetways
- An overall feeling of operating in and out of a massive airport
What I Didn't Like
- Dim PAPI lights
- Wheel-less Tug Trucks
- Huge oil stains on the tarmac (especially in the night time)
- Intense light, at night, from the light fixtures
System Specs Reviewed On
- Time spent on the scenery: about 12 hours
- Intel® Core i7-4770K @ 3.5 GHz, Overclocked to 4.4 GHz
- Installed RAM: 8 GB
- NVIDIA GeForce GTX 780
- Running on Windows 7 Home Premium, Service Pack 1
- DirectX 10