A review by AVSIM Staff Reviewer Roger Curtiss
I have said it before…I love airports…always have. I find them to be fascinating places full of movement and various forms of lighting and of course…airplanes.
Flight Simulator X (FSX) does a great job of allowing us to visit thousands of airports all over the world but this diversity of locations comes at a price-rendering so many airports results in locations that are populated by generic infrastructure. This limitation has provided an opportunity for third party developers to create custom sceneries of airports that reflect the individual character and nuances of each location aimed to satisfy those who want real-life accuracy and/or an upgrade from the generic default airports.
However, such detail and accuracy come at a price. Developing an airport scenery requires meticulous attention to detail from researching and photographing the airport to reproducing those images in a format usable by flight sim pilots. As a result, collecting a hangar of airport upgrades can quickly eat up a considerable amount of cash for a feature that is, without question, an important part of the flight experience, but also an aspect that time-wise only occupies a small portion of the duration of any particular flight.
But REX Studios, with a well-deserved reputation for enhancing the weather experience in flight sim, are now utilizing their technical prowess to also make the airports in your simulator a lot more enjoyable and realistic and for considerably less expense than purchasing individual airport treatments.
The product, released in November 2016, is Worldwide Airports HD (WAHD) and its goal and purpose is to replace the structures, vehicles, and environmental aspects of EVERY default airport in FSX, FSX:Steam, and Prepar3D with, as the company states, “an extensive photoreal global airport graphics package created from real-world airport structures and supporting environments.”
The array of choices to customize the airport environment is impressive and can be implemented as what are termed ‘themes’. Each theme is created by the user by selecting from multiple texture sets in eleven different categories. This provides for a broad array of choices with just this caveat-a theme being applied is universal-it will be displayed at all of the airports. In other words, in any given flight simulator session one cannot choose to have a particular theme at one airport and another at a different airport. While multiple themes can be created, they can only be displayed one at a time. But seeing as the purpose of this product is to enhance the default airports that limitation is a minor one.
Further, while each theme will change the appearance of all default airports the program does not have any effect on any custom airport sceneries installed. So, if you have a third-party airport the texture sets from WAHD will not be shown at that location.
Before the more detailed analysis of what is offered, let us dispense with the somewhat obligatory recitation of the installation process. The version I installed was the latest available at the time- Build 5.1 2016.1220A. It is available only as a download-size 3GB-and downloads rather quickly. The installation instructions both in PDF and on-screen box admonish the user NOT to install into the Program Files folder but to use the default path of
and not in the flight simulator folders, and finally, that UAC be set to ‘Never Notify’. No particular reason is given for these but none is actually needed-I trust that REX knows what is best.
Once the download has been unwrapped, an on-screen box instructs to ‘Select Prerequisites to be Installed’. The menu list below this was blank so I moved on to the next install sequence screen with no ill effect. I did send an inquiry to REX aski9ng to what this referred and received only a non-specific response that if there had been prerequisites needed to complete the install they would have shown up in the menu but since it was blank there were no prerequisites needed. There was no explanation as to what these prerequisites could be potentially…so if you have entries in this menu I would be curious to know what they are.
Having followed the instructions, it is now time to make some airport magic by creating a theme. Each theme consists of 11 separate category elements each of which is selected by the user and each element in turn offers a variety of texture sets from which to choose. The elements and number of texture sets are as follows:
Main Terminal (15 texture sets)
This is essentially the second floor of the terminal at the gate level. Twelve of the choices are six different window treatments with the option of with or without a Safedock guidance system. Unfortunately, the guidance systems are strictly eye candy and non-operational so including them in a theme is strictly for aesthetics.
Buildings & Facilities 1 (3 texture sets)
Features the ground floor of the terminal with entrances to offices and baggage handling.
Buildings & Facilities 2 (3 texture sets)
Features more first floor choices.
Small Hangars (4 texture sets)
Features three different window styles and one with no windows
Medium Hangars (30 texture sets)
Four sets of standard hangars and 26 with branded airline names and logos on the hangar door (one airline per each theme).
Large Hangars (4 texture sets)
Choice of window styles or no windows.
Ground Environments (17 texture sets)
Texture sets consisting of asphalt or concrete runways, taxiways, jetway parking area, aircraft parking area, taxiway markings, runway and taxiway signs, and grass texture. Includes option to show runways with heavy or light use surface wear.
Main Jetways (16 texture sets)
Different treatments for the jetway walls-window styles or solid metal walls or a combination
Airport Lighting (16 texture sets)
Various runway and taxiway light choices from yellow or white runway lights and variations in brightness
Vehicle Models (3 texture sets-3 color choices each)
Tugs, service vehicles and baggage vehicles in choices of Blue, Chartreuse and White
Parking Garage (4 texture sets)
Varying facades and garage interior lighting.
Selecting a texture set for each feature adds it to the Current Theme bar at the bottom of the page. Once all eleven categories have been selected the theme is saved and you are prompted to give it a name. The program then asks if you would like that theme to be installed in Flight Simulator. Clicking OK initiates the process which completes in less than a minute and installation is then confirmed.
With all the possible choices, it is clear there are a multitude of potential configurations. What complicates the selection process is that the choices within a particular category do not have any distinguishing characteristic such as a name in order to differentiate them and the differences can be rather subtle as in, for example the runways: the 17 varieties of surface treatment may have minor shading, or texture shifts that are almost not apparent when clicking through the choices. I feel it would be easier to decide between textures with names such as “dark grey smooth” and “medium grey weathered” than to remember if you like texture 4 better than texture 7. Names would be especially helpful in choosing airport lighting themes which offer a range from clear and bright white or yellow lights to fuzzy versions and dim or bright taxiway lighting.
So, there is bound to be considerable trial and error involved in creating an airport environment exactly to your liking-although that may also be an attraction of the product. There are many variations that can be tried and it is relatively simple to do so. Themes once created can be named and saved and then recalled, edited and deleted.
In addition to the complex choices that can be created, REX also offers Enhanced Airport Packs. These are renderings of particular individual airports with no user selection of the texture sets and with application for only the airport in each pack. At the time of this review there was only one such pack, KSLC Salt Lake City International, however, KIAD is scheduled to be added with other as yet unspecified packs to follow.
The first texture set I installed utilized a main terminal with the docking system and I was a bit surprised when it appeared looking like this:
Subsequent use of this texture set showed the proper display of only one tier of docking guidance stations so this was an unexplained anomaly.
One interesting effect I noticed was with freeware sceneries of KDFW and KMSP that I had previously installed. Those sceneries made some changes to the default terminals but had very few jetways. After installing WAHD, I visited both airports and found that while the terminals had not changed the jetways and vehicles were depicted with the styles, detail and colors I had chosen for WAHD which I thought was a rather nifty way of incorporating some slight improvement to what was already present.
One of the reasons to install this product is for the taxiway signs. There is a subtle texture applied to them that makes them appear very clear and realistic. The universal nature of the product makes it easy to upgrade all your airport signs globally with practically no effort and this enhancement alone is almost worth the price.
I have included the two images below to demonstrate the appearance of the same scene in day and night rendering. While WAHD does nothing to illuminate the ramp area itself, it does make a big difference in the buildings and jetways.
I found that adding some color and style to an airport does make a big difference in the presentation and this product provides an easy way to add such a touch to every airport in the flight sim world with very little effort. Even so simple a detail as chartreuse service vehicles makes the gate area come alive.
The product does not offer all the enhancements that one would gain with a custom and dedicated airport rendering and to the developer’s credit they do not claim that it does. In fact, the product specifically does not make changes to custom airport sceneries you might have installed. In addition, the placement of some objects such as the docking guidance boxes is not always accurate as they are evenly spaced on the terminal building rather than being targeted to the exact position of each gate but again, absolute precision is not really necessary (especially since the boxes are merely for show) and having them present does improve the appearance of the terminal regardless. Originally priced at approximately $30.00 or so the WAHD product is currently being offered at $24.00 which is certainly not a bad price to add so much to so many airports.