Rhein Main Flughafen (or Flughafen Frankfurt am Main) is better known to the uninitiated as Frankfurt Main Airport (EDDF). EDDF is the largest airport in Germany and is the second (or third depending on your data) largest airport in Europe, handling almost 52 million passengers a year, but EDDF did not start out that way.
Frankfurt Main, originally called Rhein Main Airport and Airship Base, and opened in 1936. The airport was originally the second largest airport in Germany with Berlin Tempelhof being the largest throughout World War II. At the end of the war, EDDF became the United States’ West German base of operations and was the launching pad for the Berlin Air Lift. Even so, EDDF remained just a minor international airport but housed major airlift operations as Rhein-Main airbase.
In 1972, however, that all began to change when its new passenger terminal, which is now Terminal 1, opened to the public. Expansion continued over the years with three concourses in the original terminal and eventually a second terminal opened in 1994 with two more concourses. If anyone has been to EDDF lately, one can’t help but notice that there is so much actual traffic that there are as many large transport airliners parked on the ramps as there are parked at the jetways! In 2005, Lufthansa opened its new first class only terminal and the remnants of the Rhein-Main airbase closed. EDDF’s expansion continues to this day in hopes of alleviating some of the congestion.
Current plans are to expand to the new Terminal 3 on the old airbase’s property along with a fourth runway. Modifications are also underway to accommodate the massive Airbus A380 with new airport space to house the second largest A380 fleet in the world consisting of fifteen aircraft. There is also an A380 maintenance facility in the works to maintain those new massive giants.
I first visited EDDF in 1992 while flying for Continental. I arrived on COA 50 from KEWR to EDDF which, in 1992, was serviced by a 747-200. COA 50 still flies daily to EDDF but has subsequently been upgraded to the venerable 777-200. My first impression of EDDF was cold, crowded and annoyingly ultramodern.
My last visit to EDDF was in August on my way to Bangalore, India (by way of Delhi) on United / Lufthansa flight 8816, 747-400 service. I can attest that flying as a space available non-rev for Continental versus flying Lufthansa First Class cannot be compared. Lufthansa now utilizes its luxuriously appointed first class only terminal for its first class passengers. As we arrive at our gate in Frankfurt we are met by a fleet of Mercedes Benz S500s and Porsche Cayennes which whisk us privileged few to the new terminal so that we can gorge ourselves on free food and drink with the rest of the first class snobs. When it was time for my final leg to Bangalore, our luxury automobiles appeared again to drive us to our awaiting 747-400 where the Schöne Frauen of Lufthansa met us with smiles and generous servings of champagne and caviar. Sure, EDDF is still cold, crowded and annoyingly ultramodern but after eight glasses of champagne and a fist full of caviar…who cares! But I digress.
I have always utilized Simflyer’s EDDF for my simulated flights to Frankfurt since it was the best EDDF airport scenery available. It was highly detailed and a credible representation of the airport. All of the terminals and buildings were in place but the cost of flying into EDDF was a frame rate drop that made my state-of-the-art computer do a very believable impression of a slide show projector circa 1973. Since EDDF has always been one of my favorite sim airports, I was very excited to have the opportunity to review Aerosoft’s new offering. So with the bitter taste of Simflyer’s low frame rates still in my mouth and the Aerosoft screenshots of resource sucking detail causing dread in my mind, I give you Aerosoft’s Mega Airport Frankfurt.
Installation and Documentation
The download of Aerosoft’s Mega Airport Frankfurt went very smoothly. Even though this was a highly anticipated title, Aerosoft did appropriate enough download bandwidth to accommodate everyone’s sense of instant gratification. With my high speed link I was able to download at speeds over 1.2Mbps.
The installation of the .exe file is straightforward and easy. The installation script automatically finds the FS directory and installs until completion with very little input requirements from the end user. After installation, you are given the option to customize the AI traffic to one’s current configuration requiring a mixture of static aircraft, AI traffic only and even the option to chose between AI traffic add-ons or default MSFS traffic. I chose to configure EDDF to accommodate my Ultimate Traffic aircraft and the installation was complete.
Documentation is more than sufficient to glean all the features from the scenery. The documentation includes the necessary and expected instructions and maps and is written in a user friendly, clear and concise manner.
On To Frankfurt
As anxious as I was to explore Mega Airport Frankfurt, I resisted the urge to start MSFS right into the airport. Instead, I setup UAL flight 916 from KIAD to EDDF and flew it in real time. I find that experiencing a new and highly detailed airport for the first time on final approach usually sets the stage for how well the airport feels like its real world counterpart.
A short seven hour hop across the Atlantic and soon it was time to make our final approach to EDDF. The weather was decidedly IFR and the snow covered hills of the Rhein Valley was obscured. Visibility was down to less than ¼ mile in freezing rain. As I turned to final, I engaged all three autopilots on my Precision Manuals 747-400 and sat the flight attendants down for a full CAT III auto land.
At about one mile from touchdown we were still in the clouds and I was becoming disappointed that I would not be able to get a good view of the airport as we made our approach. Suddenly as we descended though 500 feet we broke out of the dense cloud cover. I saw that we were precariously over a very dense tree line that surrounds the airport. As we rapidly closed on the airport and passed the tree line, my pupils widened to the fact that traffic on the A5 highway, which takes one from EDDF to downtown Frankfurt, was bad this morning! Cars and trucks were streaming at typical rush hour, coffee induced highway speeds as my gleaming 747-400 thundered overhead to a solid landing on runway 25R. I had the solid sense that the occupants of the virtual cars on the A5 were in awe of the whale coming in from its transatlantic flight this morning. It was at that point that I became aware that my brain had unmistakably connected the simulation to real world experience and the holy grail of simulation, suspension of disbelief, had been achieved.
As I slowed to the next turnoff, I also became aware that there was nothing to destroy my suspension of disbelief. Being so engrossed with the hyper-realistic view of the approach, I failed to notice that my frame rates never really dropped! There was no jerking and sputtering as is the norm in regard to the other highly detailed EDDF offering. This was true even as 100% AI and dynamic scenery came into view.
Taxiing to gate D5 in Terminal 2, I became instantly aware that Mega Airport Frankfurt was ALIVE! Transatlantic flights were lined up like a string of “heavy” pearls, aircraft ground traffic was everywhere feeding the incoming passenger traffic to other destinations in Germany and throughout Europe, but that was not the astonishing thing at all. The astonishing thing was that ground service vehicles were bustling everywhere. From catering trucks to pushback trucks, and from administrative cars to emergency service vehicles, the airport was alive to the likes I’ve yet to experience in FS2004.
The auto-park system at gate D5 guided UAL Flight 916 the last few feet and I was smiling broadly. Shutting down the PW 4056 turbofans, I had arrived at Rhein Main Flughafen. What I am trying to convey is that I didn’t feel as if I had arrived at a FS 2004 version of EDDF, instead, I felt as if I had arrived at EDDF! Every sliver of glass, oil spot, electrical cable, baggage cart, terminal nuance, billboard, and airport building was there in stunningly splendid photorealistic detail. To be sure, Mega Airport Frankfurt is no artist’s rendering or reasonable facsimile. Mega Airport Frankfurt is a photograph of EDDF magically transformed into an interactive three dimensional image that flows seamlessly like a sparkling river.
I am of the firm opinion that someone at Aerosoft sold their soul to the devil and in return was given the forbidden dark magic of rendering massive static and dynamic detail with little frame rate toll. Surely, no mere mortal can possess this ability without supernatural intervention!
Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to Frankfurt Main Airport.
Alice Steps Into The Looking Glass
For the sake of this review, I will commit the ultimate hard core simmer’s sacrilege; I am not going to explore Mega Airport Frankfurt from the flight deck of an aircraft or from the air. Instead, I am going to review the airport from the seat of a Lufthansa airport bus! Please, before you burn me in effigy and rioting breaks out in the streets, I know that FS 2004 is not an airport simulator or a bus simulator. However, Mega Airport Frankfurt is so detailed and so wonderfully dynamic it begs for every nook and cranny to be explored from ground level. For this review, I will trade in my captain’s epaulets for ground crew overalls and get down and dirty with EDDF.
Loading passengers in my Lufthansa bus at gate D5, the unfamiliar perspective of scale is quite apparent. Only minutes earlier I was at the helm of the largest (operational) passenger aircraft in the world and three stories off of the ground. Now, at ground level, I am appreciative of the size of the aircraft and terminal buildings around me. This is the perspective from which most of us are intimately familiar and, I dare say, from which makes the brain feel most comfortable.
With all passengers loaded, I reversed back from Terminal 2 and the shear accuracy and rendered beauty of the terminus becomes apparent. There are no hand drawn textures anywhere, simply sharp, photorealistic representations that kept its sharpness even when viewed up close. This is in opposition to many other airport scenery offerings whose terminal textures become blurry when viewed from the perspective of being parked at the gate.
As an aside, Mega Airport Frankfurt DEMANDS a good AI traffic pack to ensure that the suspension of disbelief is unbroken. Because the scenery is so highly accomplished having less-than-par AI traffic parked at the gates adds a decidedly cartoon-like flavor to this work of art. For my tastes, I had long ago replaced many of the models in Flight1’s Ultimate Traffic with more detailed models from AI Aardvark, CDAI and FSPainter and the effect was pleasing. Recently, however, I installed Adobe’s Traffic Pack 4.4 which replaces all models with more realistic ones from the aforementioned freeware developers and I can say unequivocally that the effect takes Mega Airport Frankfurt over the top. I am also using no static aircraft what-so-ever, but static traffic is offered in the package.
Turning my Lufthansa bus to proceed along the ground traffic road adjacent to the taxiway, the busy nature of the airport is even more apparent. It takes a minute or two of having to yield the right-of-way to the dynamic traffic before I can proceed because the dynamic traffic will not yield for you. This does lead to a bit of a problem, however. Watching the AI aircraft pushing back and taxiing around the airport, one will notice many collisions between ground traffic and AI aircraft. There is no adverse effect to these collisions and the ground traffic, as well as the AI aircraft, continue along their merry way. However, I have no doubt that this may indeed bother some simmers out there. This is undoubtedly the tradeoff for the dynamic nature of this airport. And while the dynamic traffic can be lessened or indeed turned off all together, I felt that the ground traffic added so much to the feel of the airport that I resolved to live with this little drawback.
Having been to EDDF quite a few times, Mega Airport Frankfurt was instantly familiar to me. Directly across from Terminal 2 is a row of parking spots equipped to service heavy aircraft. I was instantly able to pick out the exact spot where UAL 8816 parked on my last trip through Frankfurt and it was rendered true to life with the tall light poles and airport administration building not too far away. From there, an airport bus takes passengers to the main terminal building entrance behind the D gates for connection to other flights or clearing customs. Without a map I was able to retrace this short drive and the look and feel, again, was totally accurate and believable. As a matter of fact, I was even able to find the exact window in the boarding area where I waited for my connecting flight to Delhi. I watched in awe as our 747-400 taxied into the congested alley area between Terminal 1 and 2 as she was led to our gate.
Mega Airport Frankfurt is built on a photorealistic map base with three-dimensional scenery built on top. Integration and blending with the map base is deftly accomplished. The surrounding highway and overpasses are rendered crisply and added to the credibility of the title. Of course all the gratuitous navigational aids relative to the airport are there and 91 out of 185 gates are equipped with AGNIS (Azimuth Guidance For Nose In Stands). Unfortunately, if you are a fan of movable docking bridges, EDDF doesn’t include them at this time. Additionally there are no ground vehicles that respond to the user’s aircraft when parked at the gate (ala Simflyers).
As I was exploring the airport property, I deviated into the nooks of the airport where the average simmer would hardly go and there too I was pleasantly surprised. The attention to detail really does extend to every square inch of the airport. Additionally, the scenery extends past the airport perimeter to the adjacent hotels and buildings serving EDDF. If all this weren’t enough, Mega Airport Frankfurt actually includes downtown Frankfurt where you will find that the major landmark buildings are rendered in accurate photorealistic detail. If that weren’t enough, the autogen trees around the airport are upgraded to more accurately reflect the dense wooded area surrounding the airport.
With the sun setting on Mega Airport Frankfurt the lights flickered to life and I simply had to stand and applaud. Gone is the surrealistic orange glow of the ramp area as portrayed in other offerings. Actually, I’m not sure how the orange airport lighting actually became en vogue since I’ve actually never really seen orange glowing lights on the ramp. In any respect, Mega Airport Frankfurt becomes bathed in a believable whitish lighting that is very close to its real world counterpart. The lighting also blends more closely with the AI aircraft. As the airport comes to life at night, all appropriate static and dynamic objects lend to the believability of EDDF.
A final comment about the dynamic highway traffic. On the day that I flew into the airport, the A5 was packed with rush hour traffic but as the day progressed, the traffic subsided. As night fell, the traffic picked up on A5 again for the commute home. Yes, Mega Airport Frankfurt includes dynamic traffic that is dependent on the time of day for its density and if that is not a first I’ll eat my hat!
Alice’s Looking Glass Gets A Little Chipped
Ah, only if life were perfect! Even the perfect scenery has a few flaws. There are reports of ground scenery texture flickering and while I did not experience them with my current set up, more than a handful of users are. Aerosoft has released Service Pack 1 for the scenery which “should” address this issue. The service pack also fixes an incorrect virus trigger if one were to uninstall the product.
I did install the service pack to ascertain any differences from the original installation and really did not find any differences at all. The textures did look a bit crisper but, short of this, my system yielded no more information.
Another issue that has been reported can be a show stopper for some, and that the frame rate toll Mega Airport Frankfurt exerts on some systems. Admittedly, my system is very fast and performance issues are usually not a problem except with Simflyers’ scenery. Still, users should be warned that Aerosoft advises that there will be a performance hit on the “average system”. To me, that means that some will have to compromise by turning down scenery detail to maintain smoothness. Unfortunately, performance degradation for highly detailed scenery for this magnitude should be no surprise for the average simmer; it is the price that we pay for ultra realistic scenery and aircraft. On my system I consistently got no less than 14 FPS with 100% AI, very dense dynamic scenery, full overcast and rain. Even so, it was smooth and did not detract from my enjoyment.
While writing this review I took the time to scan the Aerosoft support forum and much to my surprise, the list of problems was relatively restricted to the ones that I pointed out above.
Scenery development for FS 2004 never ceases to amaze me and companies such as Fly Tampa, Imagine Simulations, Cloud 9 and Aerosoft are constantly pushing the envelope in regard to what is possible in MSFS. Mega Airport Frankfurt has been eagerly anticipated by many in the flight simulator community, including me, and at the end of the day Aerosoft did not fail to deliver.
As I close this review, I think that some may be disappointed by the lack of moving docking bridges but I suspect most will not care. I also suspect that more than a handful will have to scale back Mega Airport Frankfurt from its full dynamic grandeur as a trade-off for performance. Still, Mega Airport Frankfurt is a stunning offering from Aerosoft and, in no uncertain terms, raises the “scenery development bar” in FS 2004.
Without fail this title is a must have. It is as revolutionary as it is beautiful. No, it is not perfect but it is the new state-of-the art as far as I am concerned. With that said, Mega Airport Frankfurt does make my job as a reviewer harder because Aerosoft has reinvented what is possible in FS 2004. Mega Airport Frankfurt it is now THE yardstick by which all others will be measured in my book.
Well done Aerosoft, WELL DONE!
|What I Like About Mega Airport Frankfurt|
|What I Don't Like About Mega Airport Frankfurt|
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