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  • The Sao Paulo-Rio Airbridge




    Review by Benjamin van Soldt. There are airports in the world that appeal to everybody’s imagination. Sint Maarten would be one of them: a tight landing over that beach will even have aircraft haters go “wow” when a KLM Boeing 747 flies over them so low that you can almost touch the wheels (if you wish to lose your hands, that is).


    There are other airports that don’t have that effect. To be more precise, these airports only appeal to aviation enthusiasts. Why? Because they are scary to land at for one or more reasons. People that hate planes will curse the day they land at one of these airports.


    One such airport is Hong Kong’s old international airport: Kai Tak. In the AVSIM community, this airport has had the reputation of “hard to land at”, but I must say this airport isn’t necessarily hard to land at, it’s just spectacular. To fly low and (relatively) slow over downtown Hong Kong is simply “something else”. But if I had to point out a difficult-to-land-at airport, I’d much rather point at Toncontin International airport, Tegucigalpa, Honduras. THAT is difficult to land at. At the last moment you make a 90-degree turn while flying low over a hill, you slam down on the runway as soon as you can and brake like a madman in order not to fly straight into the shopping mall that was conveniently built on the other end of the runway.


    Further south there is another airport that is just as amazing and combines the Kai Tak experience with the short runway of Toncontin. The airport I’m talking about is Rio de Janeiro’s Santos Dumont, SBRJ. This amazing little airport sits in the body of water that splits Rio into two and allows access to the Guanabara Bay. As you come into either one of the two runway 35’s, your eyes are greeted with the beautiful, white-as-chalk buildings of Rio, with the iconic hills scattered around like clutches of grass scarred around a snowy field. But when you get down there, make sure to engage those brakes, otherwise your plane will transform itself magically into a boat as you run out of pavement and find yourself submerged in Guanabara bay.


    In order to fly to Rio though, you need a departure airport. One of the most famous routes in Brazil must be the Sao Paulo-Rio de Janeiro air bridge: a busy, commercial route between two of the largest and busiest cities of the country. And fortunately, we have both cities at our disposal in FSX thanks to Paulo Ricardo. That is what this review is all about: The Sao Paulo-Rio air bridge, using the sceneries created by Paulo Ricardo.


    What this review is and what it is not


    First, a word of warning. In the history of Avsim, a multitude of scenery reviews have already been published. I wouldn’t be myself, however, if I wasn’t a bit of a rebel, and as such I will do things differently in this review. Straight-on reviews that show every nook and cranny of a scenery are of course highly valuable due to them being packed with information, but in the end, most users will not see the detail on the gas station when 5km from the runway. Experiencing scenery, however new age that sounds, is much more important, in my opinion.


    With this review I will do pretty much what I have done for OrbX airports in other reviews where I combine the sceneries and flights, thus experiencing the sceneries while reviewing them. What this review is therefore, is more of a story then a traditional review. As such, this review is NOT a full, in-depth account of every detail you can find in the scenery.


    I sincerely hope that I will succeed in providing you with the info on details that all of you probably want to read, but in the context of an actual flight that utilizes the scenery rather than picks it apart to reveal every possible flaw. As a result, do not expect close-up shots of the famous statue of ******* on one of the Rio hills. You will get to see it, but from the distance at which we are actually flying. Because THAT is what experiencing the scenery is all about in my opinion.


    With all that in mind, I hope you will enjoy reading this review as much as I enjoyed writing it.


    Installation and Documentation


    Even if this review will be story-driven, some facets of a review can’t be transformed, such as this one. Documentation is there, but it’s minimal. There is a very rough description of what to download and how to install it, but that’s pretty much it. It would have been nice if some approach charts and such would have been included, but it’s not that necessary. You can get those in other ways, such as Navigraph’s services. Alternatively, you can try to get them by simply Googling them or seeking out the Brazilian VATSIM branch.


    The documentation is written in English that is understandable, but it isn’t that good. For those whose English is not their first language, it might be an obstacle, but I had no trouble with it. Even if the documentation is not that good, Paulo Ricardo himself is easy to contact and you will find that he is rather responsive to emails. Of course it might take a day or two for him to respond, depending on where you live, but that’s nothing out of the ordinary. I didn’t strictly need his help to install everything though, but when I had questions regarding the sceneries and their coverage, he was quick to offer help.


    Starting up in Sao Paulo


    Time to get into that cockpit! Today’s flight will take us from Sao Paulo to Rio de Janeiro in the PMDG NGX 737-700 variant, in GOL livery. We find our aircraft in the cold and dark state at the gate at Sao Paulo’s Congonhas airport. This airport is part of the Sao Paulo scenery, and fits it very well: it’s in the middle of the city, so when you look around the plane, you see the buildings of Sao Paulo. From the ground it certainly is a nice view, and you get the feeling you are in a big, sprawling city.


    T1.jpg     T2.jpg

    There are buildings all around the airport, making for a nice view when at the gate.


    The modeling and texturing of the airport itself is okay. It definitely gets the job done, but don’t expect over-the-top details such as in Fly Tampa’s and FSDT’s more recent offerings. Sao Paulo is already an older release, and it shows, plus the city itself is the main attraction of the scenery and not so much the airport.


    As such, I’m forgiving with regard to the graphical detail of the airport, and I must say the performance is very good. What’s also nice is the transparent windows in the jetways and terminal building. You can see people standing inside:



    People at the terminal.


    The ground imagery is okay, but the overall look of the parking stands is a bit blurry when at such a parking stand. From further away it looks fine, and I must say the taxiways look quite good. The runway is your standard FSX texture, though. Some ground equipment would probably have helped “fill up” the airport, to make it seem busier. Right now it seems rather empty.


    I raised similar points in correspondence with Paulo Ricardo, and he explained that at the time of making this scenery, computers were not the way they are now; since performance was his top priority, he couldn’t successfully add these objects without compromising the frame rate. Perhaps, though, Paulo will update the scenery with such features now that computers are quicker.


    As we are preparing the plane for takeoff, the luggage is being loaded on board and the first busses with passengers are arriving. I can hear them stumbling into the plane on this warm Brazilian day, small children chattering away as their mothers shove them into their seats and cabin crew assists an elderly man up the steps. The engine’s fan blades spin in a gentle breeze that makes the 25 degrees feel like 23 degrees.



    Passengers boarding.


    Our route will have us fly along the coast of Brazil soon after takeoff, up to Rio de Janeiro, where we shall fly a short while over sea until we will turn left and line-up with the runway at Santos Dumont: an airport located right in the heart of the city which should give us a really nice view when on final approach. But that’s for later. Right now we enter the route into the FMS, take care of the last formalities, and we’re off. Cabin crew gives us the go-ahead, and we ask ground crew to prepare for departure. And so they do. Soon, we are pushing back.





    Finally, we’re off. The engines have started successfully and are up and running, quietly humming at idle thrust. Quiet chattering comes from the cabin as people stare excitedly at the buildings moving past them outside. These buildings look quite nice, although the same general criticism that applies to the terminal applies to these buildings also. They tend to be a bit simplistic, but do a good job overall and the buildings are recognizable.


    Like at the terminal, more detail, in the form of cars, would have been appreciated. Perhaps an update that will transform Sao Paulo and make use of the much more powerful hardware that is available these days, will add all kinds of cars, ground equipment and other “life-giving” objects. Note the quality of the imagery for the taxiway and the grass: this is quite nice! I wasn’t a big fan of the parking stands, but this actually looks nice.


    T6.jpg     T7.jpg

    Buildings along the taxiway, and taxiing onto the runway.


    Two turns later and we’re on the runway. Sadly, the runway texture is a stock FSX texture instead of photoscenery (a stock REX texture, actually, but you get the gist: no photoscenery was used). That’s a pity, and it might be something to consider changing in a possible future update.


    We rev up the engines to takeoff thrust. The plane starts moving, slowly at first, but soon we are rolling down the runway at thundering speeds. As I pull on the yoke, the nose lifts up into the air, and soon we are airborne. The plane races into the sky and the city of Sao Paulo comes into view in its full glory: flats along the horizon in all directions. Truly, this airport IS in the center of the city. As we gain height and turn to the right per ATC’s commands, we start flying our route to Rio.




    T10.jpg      T11.jpg     T12.jpg


    T13.jpg      T14.jpg     T15.jpg

    Taking off and turning to the right over the city.


    What I noticed pretty much immediately, is that the reason that I see so many flats, is because it’s pretty much only flats that were placed in this scenery. There are many smaller houses, but these weren’t added. I asked Paulo Ricardo about it, and he said he couldn’t really add too many smaller buildings, autogen or not, without compromising performance. This is definitely a point to improve upon in a possible future update. Don’t get me wrong: the way it is, is already nice.


    The flats give the city a very business-like feel and where there are high concentrations, it does look stunning, but the gaps caused by the absence of smaller buildings do catch one’s eye when you first look at the scenery. One thing I think is really good is the overall quality of the photoscenery used through Sao Paulo. This looks quite stunning, and appears to be rather high-resolution.


    T16.jpg     T17.jpg

    Saying goodbye to Sao Paulo.


    The plane keeps climbing, and we say goodbye to Sao Paulo for now. My impression of the Sao Paulo scenery is quite favorable, but it’s also clear that it’s an older product. Still, worth the money if it’s a regular destination of yours, and the performance is really good. As you can see at the top-left of all screenshots, FPS was at 23 all the time, out of the 23FPS at which the frame rate is locked.


    The flying was smooth; all the more reason for an update to add all kinds of extra objects, to enhance the experience! I hope Paulo Ricardo will find time to do such a thing, as I’m sure it will be welcomed.


    On the way to Rio


    As we leave Sao Paulo behind, we enter another scenery add-on. In this area we find photoscenery that goes all the way to Rio, and there are even some small towns with modeled buildings.


    We reach cruise altitude, and spend the next 40 minutes or so just looking around. The vistas are quite beautiful. The beautiful blue ocean on one side, and very nice, green hills and mountain rolling on the other side. The closer we get to Rio, the more mountainous and hilly the coastline gets, too, but it’s always a beautiful topaz-green hue which works really well with the dark-blue waters (which is a REX setting, by the way).


    T18.jpg     T19.jpg

    Climbing out of the urban areas surroundings Sao Paulo.


    T20.jpg     T21.jpg

    Admiring the view.



    Notice how much crisper everything is from wing view.


    I wouldn’t go as far as saying that the photoscenery is perfect, though. It is blurry if you’re not flying that high, and it’s noticeably hazy. That’s something that probably should work in favor of realism, but I’d rather have saturated, in focus imagery all the way. I should add that once I did get to cruise altitude (which is not the case in the first few shots), and the closer I got to Rio, the better the overall look of the photoscenery was.


    I should also make note of the fact that, as always, shots from the VC and the wing views are noticeable much better than those from spot view. I was told this has to do with the zooming in the view system of FSX. I don’t know the technical details, but the result is that shots from the wing views look a lot better. And indeed, you can see the difference in the shots above. As such, in the shots from spot view, the photoscenery is blurrier than those from wing view. Consequently, the shots from wing view look quite stunning, and those from spot view less so.


    T23.jpg     T24.jpg


    T25.jpg     T26.jpg

    Getting closer to Rio.


    As we get closer to Rio, we are told to deviate from our planned route and head over the ocean instead. The hilly, topaz-green shores are swapped with endless amounts of dark blue water. From the distance, we see how we are slowly departing from the shoreline, giving us a very nice view of the Brazil coastline.


    The photoscenery looks really nice, and adds to the overall feel. I’m quite happy Paulo Ricardo decided to make this; it truly adds to the overall experience of flying the air bridge. The overall quality is good and is a welcome bonus!


    Arrival in Rio


    As I said, arrival in Rio starts out with a flight over the ocean. Fortunately it doesn’t take that long, as ATC directs us to turn to the left and align with Santos Dumont’s runway for a final, visual approach into the airport. This is one of those approaches that an FS enthusiast probably should do at least once in his life.


    Flying in from the ocean, you are first presented with a spectacular view as you see the city rolling out over the hills and mountains, with characteristic hills in the city like huge, natural skyscrapers. And as you get closer, dropping flaps and limiting your speed in order not to overshoot Santos Dumont’s really short runway, you are amazed by the urban sprawl along the coastline, which is filled by beautiful, stark-white flats. It truly is an amazing feast for the eye and this add-on really does do Rio justice. Take a look:


    T27.jpg    T28.jpg     T29.jpg

    First views of Rio: huge amounts of white flats tightly built along the coast with green hills almost twice as high as the many flats.


    We fly ever closer and closer. From afar, FSX really doesn’t do the city justice, what with its limited rendering, but the closer we get, the more detail is introduced. The full resolution of the mesh is rendered and the textures become crisper and crisper. And that’s when the fun starts: I must say that the textures, for sure the ones on the approach path, are really high quality. And not just the streets either; the hills, filled with trees and little paths, look just as good as all the boulevards. See for yourself:


    T30.jpg     T31.jpg

    Beautiful textures and high resolution mesh make getting closer to Rio a wonderful experience.


    It’s not entirely without problems, though. I noticed that the water mask acts up a bit at the beach. While it doesn’t reduce the Wow-factor at all for me personally, it would of course have been nicer if it wouldn’t have been present. See below.


    On the other hand, the textures of the flats are so good, and the dense housing makes everything look so realistic, that I can easily forgive the water mask. Again, notice the high-resolution ground imagery.



    Over the Rio beaches.


    Soon we find ourselves close to Santos Dumont. After having cleared some hills that are immediately on the approach path, we can now safely and steadily get this plane down. Meanwhile, I keep admiring the city, both to the left and right.


    The extent of the coverage is really good. Looking at how everything is modeled, I think this is the second true Kai Tak-esque scenery pack we have for FSX. To the left we see more and more flats, all with really nice textures. Also all kinds of boats and yachts are lying around in the marina. There’s also some car traffic on the bigger roads.



    On final approach.


    T34.jpg     T35.jpg

    Flats and skyscraper on the left side of the plane.


    The actual landing is thrilling and exciting. Santos Dumont has a very short runway, shorter than Kai Tak. It starts at the water, and ends at the water, so there really is no room for mistakes here. As such, you want to get your plane down soon and slow down quickly. Fortunately the landing went rather smoothly, and I felt satisfied as I taxied off the runway and contacted ground for a parking place.


    T36.jpg     T37.jpg     T38.jpg

    Landing at Santos Dumont.


    In the middle of the above three shots you might notice the cableway between two hills. This cableway is actually animated and is a very nice landmark to look at during your approach. In the third shot, you will notice that the distant hills also have photoscenery coverage. I wasn’t kidding when I said that coverage in this add-on is extensive!


    T39.jpg     T40.jpg


    T41.jpg     T42.jpg

    Taxiing around Santos Dumont.


    The scenery for Santos Dumont is generally better looking than that for Sao Paulo Congonhas. The buildings look better, even if the textures aren’t as crisp as they could have been. At least, that’s the situation for non-terminal buildings: the terminal looks nice. The textures are crisp, and the building looks quite detail. At least it’s obvious that more effort was put into the terminal than surrounding buildings.


    The ground textures look okay. They are crisp enough for the purpose they serve, but I would have really valued an additional detail layer to add things like oil stains, cracks and the like. This seems to be a standard addition for airports produced these days, so as such I would have hoped that they might be added in an update.


    Now don’t get me wrong: as the shots show you, such detail layer does exist to some degree. You will have noticed that parking spots feature an extra layer that introduces “tile” textures, so that it all looks like the parking stands are made up out of concrete tiles. So the detail is definitely there, but it seems restricted to the parking spots. It would have been nice to have a similar thing for the taxiways, for instance.



    Parking the plane.


    FSDT’s GSX helps me park my plane and unload all the baggage as busses come to pick up the passengers. This might surprise you: there are jetways, aren’t there? They do exist, but they aren’t animated. As a result, GSX doesn’t recognize them and brings me stairs and busses.


    It’s a pity the jetways weren’t animated. I believe that in this day and age, it should be standard procedure to make sure of such FSX default technologies. I don’t think it’s a “big” problem by any means, mind you, but I think it has missed the chance to make a great product even better.


    T44.jpg     T45.jpg

    Parked at Santos Dumont.


    So there we are: at Rio Santos Dumont, waiting for the plane to be prepped and ready to fly back to Sao Paulo. I look around the plane in spot view and notice the famous statue on the hilltop, the flats all over the place, etc.


    The Sao Paulo Rio air bridge is a very nice flight to do. It’s relatively short, gets you in and out of two big, important cities, let’s you fly over some stunning terrain and challenges you with some interesting approaches. And the Rio scenery makes it all much more spectacular.


    Flying back at night


    I will not give full coverage of the way back, but I wanted to give an idea of what these cities look like at night, or at least, how their night versions are portrayed in this scenery package.


    Overall I was quite happy with how it all looked. It is clear that Rio is a newer development, given the quality of the night lighting, which is not to say Sao Paulo doesn’t look good. I found Rio to be really quite beautiful at night; Sao Paulo less so. At least, it was less exciting than Rio was.


    Sao Paulo’s night lighting does look quite impressive. Especially when approaching the city, and seeing the white and golden horizon, lit-up by all the buildings in the distance, is a thrilling time. That Rio is newer can also be seen when considering the airports. The 3D lighting effects at Santus Dumont look really nice and it’s a pity Congonhas doesn’t have them.


    Below I’ve included screenshots from the night flight back to Sao Paulo. There is no extensive commentary, as it is meant to give you an idea of the night scenery only. Where there are special things to note, I did put in some text.


    T46.jpg  - Santos Dumont has beautiful 3D night light effects
    T47.jpg  - Prepping the aircraft
    T48.jpg  - Passengers boarding, courtesy of GSX


    T49.jpg  - Pushback
    T50.jpg  - Notice the cone-shaped lights, lighting the terminal area
    T51.jpg  - Another view of the night-time terminal with the cone-shaped lights. Strangely, it seems like they are placed too high?


    T52.jpg  - Ready for Takeoff
    T53.jpg  - Flying over Rio. Notice the palette of golden and silver lights. This mix makes Rio look much more alive than if it were just one color lighting
    T54.jpg  - The ******* statue, with a beautiful moon-lit ocean in the background


    T55.jpg  - At this height, you don’t really see that the photoscenery isn’t high-res. That’s smart use of Level Of Detail (LOD) thinking
    T56.jpg  - Leaving behind Rio
    T57.jpg  - Watching the urban areas to our right


    T58.jpg  - Almost at cruise altitude
    T59.jpg  - Flying against a moon-lit background
    T60.jpg  - And again, different position


    T61.jpg  - Over Sao Paulo suburbs, turning towards the runway
    T62.jpg  - A highway intersection in the distance with nice night lighting. Does make you wonder if the real thing also only has lights at the actual intersection, and not beyond that it
    T63.jpg  - See the silverfish stuff way in the distance? That’s the Sao Paulo skyline


    T64.jpg  - Lining up with the runway. This view truly makes you appreciate how the city envelops Congonhas airport
    T65.jpg  - A highway intersection in the distance with nice night lighting. Does make you wonder if the real thing also only has lights at the actual intersection, and not beyond that it
    T66.jpg  - Sao Paulo suburbs. The photoscenery could have been a bit higher res I suppose, but I think it looks just fine


    T67.jpg  - Good view of Sao Paulo, with Congonhas to the left. Final approach
    T68.jpg  - Nearly there…
    T69.jpg  - Passenger view


    T70.jpg  - And we are down
    T71.jpg  - The colours of the taxiway are really wacky in the taxi/landing lights of the PMDG 737NGX. Don’t know why that is, but it’s something I have seen at a lot of airports
    T72.jpg  - Overview of the airport


    T73.jpg  - It’s quite amazing how close we are to all these buildings. Makes you wonder what happens when a plane doesn’t stop in time when landing…
    T74.jpg  - Taxiing to the gate. Something seems to be wrong with the taxiway textures in proximity of the plane; it’s all black
    T75.jpg  - Parked, ready for a new load of passengers and cargo




    What about performance? I already dropped a hint about it previously, but in short, performance is great. At Sao Paulo, enroute and finally at Rio, FPS were always high. My FPS was locked at 23, and not once did it go below that. The result was a very pleasant and smooth flight that I really enjoyed.


    In my correspondence with Paulo Ricardo, he noted multiple times how he tried to make performance a top priority; I think he succeeded! Note that of course mileage may vary.


    Summary / Closing Remarks


    Test System
    iMac featuring:
    • Intel i5 Quad @ 2,8gHz
    • ATI Radeon 5750HD 1GB
    • 12GB DDR3 RAM
    • 1TB 7200RPM HDD

    Screenshots enhanced with
    MyTraffic X, REX

    Test Time: 9 hours

    In this review I flew from Sao Paulo to Rio. The add-ons cover Sao Paulo, Rio and the route in-between, thus you never leave a photoscenery-covered area. Performance was great along the entire route, even though I was using an FPS-heavy aircraft: the PMDG 737NGX.


    I enjoyed this flight greatly and I think that anybody who flies regularly into these cities, or likes doing this flight, really should seriously consider buying these sceneries. The packages are quite pricey: Sao Paulo comes in about 30 Euros, and can be bought from Paulo Ricardo directly.


    The Rio pack, which includes the photoscenery and an additional city (Natal RN, as well as its airport, not featured in this review), is about 42 Euros at SimMarket. Although the price is perhaps a bit high, what you get is top-notch scenery. Such dense scenery, with such high-res textures and such good performance, can be expected to cost a bit. I believe it is worth it.


    This truly is two-of-a-kind scenery. Two-of-a-kind: the other being Fly Tampa’s Kai Tak. Both are similar sceneries in what they portray: amazing approaches into popular, widely known sceneries. The result is an amazing experience. I absolutely recommend the sceneries featured in this review for every Brazilian flyer, and those that frequent this city often.


    What I Like About The Sao Paulo-Rio Airbridge

    • Great performance.
    • Packed with detail.
    • Rio’s ground textures look good due to their high resolution. Sao Paulo a bit less so, but still good.
    • Continuous photoscenery coverage from city to city.
    • Inclusion of important airports (SBSP, SBRJ).

    What I Don’t Like About The Sao Paulo-Rio Airbridge

    • Lack of autogen in Sao Paulo creates flat “gaps”.

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