by Ray Marshall
Avsim review of KCGX Meigs Field airport scenery add on for FSX: Steam Edition by Ray Marshall
This is the latest iteration of bringing the Merrill C. Meigs Field, KCGX, general aviation airport back to life in FSX. However, this is the first edition for FSX: Steam Edition. This one is somewhat special in the sense that there is only one other Orbx airport scenery package for FSX: Steam Edition and the only one East of the Mississippi River in the USA. This scenery package is a joint venture between Orbx and Dovetail Games.
Right up front, it may be important to know that the dynamic duo of Alex Goff and Tim Harris, with dozen of projects and over a decade of combined flight sim development experience are the primary authors.
Merrill C. Meigs stands out in flight simulation as one of the most well-known and frequently visited destinations for the more experienced or old time virtual pilots. Before its tragic demise, the airport served as the default starting location, and for many years the only location, for the Microsoft Flight Simulator series up until Flight Simulator X.
According to Alex Goff, they used every resource available including on-site visits to gather the needed information for constructing this latest rendition of Meigs Field and it has been recreated with the utmost degree of historical accuracy. From the terminal’s historic architecture and glass curtain walls to the challenging approaches, every effort has been made to capture the look and feel of Meigs Field as it stood on its final day in March 2003.
Where this Orbx version stands out above the crowd may be the accuracy and details of the surrounding parks district. This neighboring area has been updated to its current, modern, look and heavily enhanced. Surrounding points of interest include the Adler Planetarium, Shedd Aquarium, Field Museum of Natural History, Soldier Field, Navy Pier, and the Art Institute of Chicago.
Although the fictitious FAA procedures expressly prohibit ‘touch and go’ or circuit flying at KCGX, you will want to spend some quality time making slow approaches, and maybe even pause your flight at times, to take in the beauty of these areas. They are absolutely packed with quality scenes.
Meigs Field has a single asphalt runway measuring 3899ft by 150ft. Traffic at the time of closure was an average of 132 aircraft movements per day. The traffic was 90% transient general aviation, 5% air taxi, 5% local general aviation, and an occasional visit by military traffic.
Named after the Chicago Herald and Examiner newspaper publisher, Merrill C. Meigs and opened in 1948 on the Northerly Island peninsula, Meigs Field Airport was the country’s busiest single-strip airport by 1955. I think that may now be Lindberg in San Diego, CA. Take a look at the mix of heavy twins and fast singles in this early photo taken at the Southwest corner of the airport.
Meigs Field also saw commuter air service between the 1960’s and 1980’s, typically with small twin engine aircraft. The largest aircraft to service Meigs Field was a Hawker Siddeley HS 748 operated by Air Illinois. I do remember reading about a Boeing 727 making a landing at Meigs. Here is a link to watch a tottering and bouncy touchdown of a United 727 at Meigsin 1992. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NV4tgjSPgks
Easy to install, easy to configure.
TheseOrbx scenery add ons for FSX: Steam Edition are unique in a couple of ways:
KCGX is only the second ever Orbx scenery add on for FSX: Steam Edition, and 2) installation requires nothing more than adding it to your steam account and activating it in FSX: SE.
An Orbx Control Panel enables the user to disable or enable scenery features with your specific PC hardware. By default all features are enabled by the installer. You can take advantage of some of the Orbx global features like the PNW tree textures and the Orbx ground detail textures that enhances the close up views of ground textures. Unique to KCGX, you can enable/disable the refueling area using the Control Panel.
The Control Panel is opened on the DLC Steam Library page. Look for the ‘FSX Orbx Configuration Tool”
The Scenery Coverage Area
Whether you are landing to the North on runway 36 with the Chicago Skyline almost completely filling the windshield or to the South with your approach over the Navy Pier and the Adler Planetarium, you will be distracted with the beauty of this location. It is such a shame that we had to wait this long for an Orbx expanded airport this far East of the Pacific Northwest.
Using my handy Google maps and distance calculator, the improved area for flight simulation is approximately 4 miles North/South and 1.5 miles East/West. This comes to about 6 square miles of enhanced scenery for Meigs Field and surrounding area. See graphics.
Should you be one of those travelers that sticks a state flag decal on the side of your fuselage for every state you visit, you can garner a handful in short order here. When approaching Meigs Field from the North you will only be about 40 miles from the Wisconsin state line to touchdown. From the East you will be a hair over 20 miles from the Michigan state line in the lower center of Lake Michigan. Approaching from the South you are practically in the traffic pattern, a scant 5 miles, from the Indiana state line.
Should you be coming from Illinois you will be looking for a large cluster of high rise buildings and a ton of heavy jet traffic near a big body of water. The buildings are the city of Chicago and the blue water is the Southwestern tip of one of the Great Lakes, Lake Michigan. The heavy jet traffic could be coming or going from the Midway or O’hareinternational airports.
So what happened to Meigs Field?
The short version is the Mayor of Chicago had an urge to close this downtown airport, and turn the area into a park and name it after his wife. He tried a couple of legal maneuvers for several years but the general public, especially the citizens of the Chicago region,and the area pilots were firmly against his plan.
Using a thinly veiled motive of making the Chicago Central Business District safe from an airborne terrorist attack, similar to 911 in New York City, he ordered city workers armed with bulldozers and large backhoes to rip up the concrete runway during the dark of night with absolutely no notice to anyone. There were some heated discussions about this illegal action, some lead by AOPA, Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, but not much came of it. The FAA fined Mayor Daly a pittance for failure to provide 30 days’ notice for an airport closing. A group of concerned citizens named the ‘Friends of Meigs Field’ was formed and carried the flag for recovery and reopening of the little airport, but it was not to be.
The life of Meigs spanned from opening day December 10, 1948 to the rude awaking on a Monday morning,March 31, 2003, to find huge chunks of the runway gouged out in a series of Xs. The control tower that is portrayed in this Orbx version was built in 1952 and the passenger terminal was dedicated in 1961.
Internet searches will return hundreds of pages and photos of the before, during, and after of the real world Meigs Field. A couple of sites to get you started are:
Photos of the dastardly deed by Mayor Daly
Just after destruction
Big X and rubble
These photos clearly show the proximity of Meigs Field to downtown Chicago. The photos do not do justice to the beauty of the surrounding area.
The flight sim guys and girls that may have learned to fly in the early flight sim here at Meigs,will probablyconsider this a reunion of sorts. For those of us that did not grow up with the early versions of MSFS and are not Chicago Bears fans, we have to learn the landscape from scratch.
I suggest you take the Area Coverage Map and get oriented to the locations of the major structures, stadium, McCormick Center, Grant Park, Millennium Park, Navy Pier and the attractions at water’s edge. The most confusing part for me when I made my first couple of passes is the large harbor marina only has a minimal number of sailboats and motor crafts. I have my boat settings at 100% and I can’t get anything nearthe density shown in the photos.
Ready for a photo tour of the modern surroundings for the Orbx edition of Meigs Field, KCGX, for FSX: Steam Edition?Be sure to click on the small icons for some spectacular full screen images. These are what you will be seeing on your approaches to KCGX in the flight sim. It might be a good idea to grab one of your flight sim choppers and just hover around the area until you are familiar enough with the sights to pick out landmarks.
Alex and Tim have cleverly blended their best guess at the airport area (using onsite photos) among the existing Navy Pier, planetarium, aquarium, museums, football stadium, harbor marina, parks, convention center, hotels, and the South Shore area.
What you might see on an aerial tour around Northerly Island and flying the pattern atMeigs Field. This has to be one of most scenic small airport areas in all the world.
I think the photographabove with the water and the mounding has been doctored, but I’m not sure what is real and what is photo-shopped.An existing proposal for Northerly Island ismodified land use with ecosystems and wetlands.It sure looks real enough to me.
I also thought I would dedicate a page to the Navy Pier. All South runway approaches and all North runway climb outs will overfly the Navy Pier and you will see something slightly different on each flight.
I suppose the decision was made not to be able to fill the marina with high density leisure boats in order to keep the frame rates in check. - Photo taken in December, 2013. - The screenshots with the Shrike on final show the sparely populated marina in FSX: SE with slider full right. Note: I was later told the FSX slider for Leisure boats has been disabled for this scenery package.Bummer. Maybe a photo-real image could be placed in the marina area to bring it to life, visually. There certainly are enough high quality photographs online.
Meigs Field sequence from ‘One Six Right’ (Terwilliger Productions, now on Blu-ray)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VqwQbAxhVxs 2:09 720 HD
Exploring the 12 page KCGX User Guide.
The important information is the explanation of the KCGX Control Panel. By default, all scenery options are enabled by the installer. Should you have a low to mid-range PC it is recommended you try disabling some settings. As a bonus, the Orbx PNW tree textures are included. Also, the Orbx ground detail textures enables much greater clarity when viewing ground textures up close.
The following quick reference table is included for Simulator Settings. The manual states that these settings will run well on most PCs and take particular advantage of the custom mesh and photo-real imagery used in the scenery area.
Simulator Slider Settings
Dragging all your sliders to the right even with today’s modern hardware, will for most people result in very poor visuals and performance. We suggest that you begin your exploration of KCGX using the slider settings shown below, and then if you find performance to be acceptable, you can move certain sliders to the right, although we recommend you only move one slider at a time to gauge the effect.
The most critical slider is the Autogen Density slider. With the way KCGX has been designed, it has the single most critical performance effect in the simulator. We’ll discuss the best setting for this slider later.
So before you begin your first flight, you are recommended to change your simulator sliders to what is shown on the following pages. You may think the settings are too low at first, but these the base settings which are the recommended settings for medium spec PCs.
Navy Pier directly underneath the Carenado Phenom 300 and the Jardine water filtration plant just aft.This one plant processes nearly one billion gallons of water on an average day to serve the 5 million consumers in Chicago and suburbs. Wow.
Short final on right, followed by taxi to gate, and arrival.
This shows most of the enhanced scenery area.
This shows the quality of the detailed custom scenery.
This one shows the night lighting in the buildings.
This one shows the general quality of the scenery.
A ton of creative work went into building these custom structures. Checkout the inside of the terminal building. I understand the colored wall tiles are an exact match to the real one that is still standing, although unused.
One of the advantages of using the Steam Edition is that your scenery is stored in your Steam Library which gives you constant access regardless of the platform you may choose to access your Steam Account. So how does the Orbx enhanced scenery with the new default replacement trees, the animated figures, custom buildings and custom terrain mesh compare to the FSX-SE default scenery – no real comparison.
I called up the Meigs Field area in P3Dv2.5 just to see how it compares to this new Orbx KCGX for FSX: SE. You be the judge, I think there is no comparison at the actual airport location. P3D does have a much improved marina and the major landmark structures aren’t as detailed but, yet they are very identifiable and properly located. Now if I could just move the P3D marina over to the Orbx version. Just kidding.
Sales and special pricing at FSXInsider.com
I seldom mention the purchase price of an add-on in my reviews, however, when I see what I consider an outstanding value, I feel obligated to say something about it. I was browsing the FSX: SE home site last night and discovered this product is on sale for 50% in all three currencies. It is hard to believe that you can buy this much improvement for less than $10 or the equivalent euros or pound sterling. I’m sure this in for a very limited time, so jump over and check it out. https://fsxinsider.com/shop/meigs-field-kcgx-add-on/
Conclusion and Recommendation
This newest Meigs Field should be an instant classic for FSX: SE users. The untimely destruction of this one of a kind airport in 2003 for personal and misplaced political reasons can no longer be corrected; however, the Orbx scenery package brings it back to simulation big time.
I can’t imagine anyone not wishing to have an operating airport like Meigs Field up and running again, if only in our flight simulators. The one extra wide runway should make it especially easy for those using Meigsto learn to fly, as our forerunners did for so many years. The exceptionally well done, ramp, terminal, control tower and refueling areas all contribute to the immersion and simulated reality.
The staggering beauty of the South Shore area of Chicago and Lake Michigan is captured at a very high level. Grab one of your choppers or maybe BOB and go exploring. The expansive parks and Soldier Field stadium, along with the McCormick Center (also world’s largest convention center) are approaching real world levels.
Walk or fly down to the water’s edge just past the displaced threshold for runway 18 and browse around the Adler Planetarium (first planetarium in America)then cross over to the Shedd Aquarium (largest in the world, at one time) with 5 million gallons of water and 32,000 animals. Then, a short trek up to the Field Museum (named after Marshall Field) of Natural History (National Register of Historic Places) and yep, one of the largest such museums in the world.
See if you can figure out whyCloud Gatein Millennium Park is called ‘the bean’. Maybe go throw a few pennies into Buckingham Fountain pool. Or how about a few touch and go circuits using runway 18 and flying directly over downtown in a hang glider.
First, to do any or all of these recommendations, you will be to visit FSXInsider.com and purchase Meigs Field for FSX: SE.
I highly recommend that you do exactly that. This one is just too good to pass up.
Bonus Screenshots – high resolution scenes around Meigs Field.
Ray Marshall is a seasoned reviewer for Avsim.com and holds a Commercial pilots license, multi-engine land, instrument, single engine sea rating, and a couple of type ratings.
Thanks to Dovetail Games for providing the add on for review.
Special thanks to Alex Goff for answering my questions and providing background information about the project.
Special thanks to Brian J.Terwilliger for the 2 minute Meigs segment from his One Six Right: The Romance of Flying DVD.
Photos and Screenshot credits
Photo of Northerly Island – Photo by Nick Ulivieri Photography. Many other grand scenery shots, Name on photos, lower right.
Jeff Lewis, ChicagoPhotoShop.com for large aerial photo with marina near the center, looking Southeast.
I’m not sure who snapped the ‘getting dark’ screenshots, but they appeared in my screenshots folder. They are not my work, because they are far superior in quality. Thanks to whomever you are. A guess would be AirDailyX.net Andre.