In early 2004, an FS unknown named Stéphane Lepage hit the flight simulation scene with a freeware scenery of the small regional airport near historic St-Malo in Brittany, France. Named after the airport modeled, LFRD2004 was a surprising departure from previous add-on sceneries. This scenery blended in so well with the surrounding textures as to be unnoticeable from a distance, yet offered an amazing level of realism the closer you flew and did it without having a noticeable detriment on frame rates. It left many simmers wondering just how he did it?
Stéphane Lepage, aka Vauchez in FlightScenery’s support forum, came to us with a background in 3D design working for various companies. An aviation enthusiast since he was a child, he earned his private pilot’s license in 1992 and upon discovering Microsoft’s Flight Simulator, was disappointed in the lack of quality of the airport sceneries. They just didn’t look real when you fly around them. By combining photoreal ground coverage that blended seamlessly with surrounding textures, creating Gmax buildings and scenery objects with progressive levels of detail (LOD) and using the latest Microsoft compilers, he found that he could create an environment that was visually stunning, yet created very little change in the computer’s workload compared to the default scenery.
If you have dabbled in scenery add-ons you know that some are really good, some are really bad and many will bring your frame rates to a stuttering crawl. What was so surprising about LFRD2004 was that it covered a 200 sq km area around the airport, didn’t stand out like discolored oddly shaped objects from a distance and just kept looking better and better the closer you got to it. Flying the pattern, you could look down and see realistic looking runway and taxiways complete with weathered markings, the grass looked like… well, grass. Not some evenly colored green palette and the buildings looked like you were looking at photographs, not cartoon images.
Less than a year later, FlightScenery released its first payware scenery FlightZone 01 KPVD. It included three highly detailed airports, a sloped grass strip and 2,000 sq km of seasonal phototextures, mesh, landclass, waterclass, reworked coastlines and VFR landmarks. Sam Needs reviewed it just a little over a year ago and said “take my advice: Get this as soon as you can! It’s an awesome package.” I will echo Sam’s remarks because you haven’t experienced “suspension of disbelief” in FS2004 till you’ve flown over one of Vauchez’s sceneries.
It took almost another full year to get the final release of FlightZone 02 KPDX out on the market. There were some personal issues that came up in Stéphane’s life, as they can in any of our lives, that put this project on the back burner till he could once again, commit his all to its completion. While some ranting happened on various forums by the terminally impatient that wanted it NOW, it should be clear to all that the wait was well worth it. If you already have FZ02, you knew this before I wrote it, if you’ve been on the fence about getting this and are reading this review to help make your mind up, let me give you a suggestion. Minimize this review right now… open another webpage and navigate to FlightScenery’s site and start downloading FZ02 now. Depending on your download speed, when you have finished reading this review and have looked at the screenshots, you can run the Flight1 wrapper, purchase the product and install it. Then go flying in it for yourself.
Installation and Documentation
While it’s true, I already told you how to get this package above in the introduction, I am happy to say that it is available via the Flight1 software e-commerce wrapper. Of all the systems I have used for software purchase that requires some kind of validation to prevent piracy, this is certainly the most user friendly… it is almost pinhead proof. I say almost because I also frequent Flight1’s forum as a Certified Professional giving free help and most of the time that entails directing the customer to the manual or instructions they already had but didn’t read or know how to find.
You might also notice while perusing FlightScenery’s site, that both of their payware offerings have a 30 day money back guarantee from date of purchase. This is like most all other Flight1 offerings and another reason why I like this system. I don’t suspect you would want to return either of their sceneries though, once you have flown in them.
After installation, you will find a new entry in your start menu for Flightscenery and under it FlightZone 02, in which you will find the PDF manual called “FZ02 Documentation.” This manual covers the area included in the scenery, then covers the phases of flight and what you will see out the window with this package. This is very much geared toward the pilot, as these are the things that you notice when really flying and are labeled enroute, descent, approach, touchdown, and taxi.
Each of these phases of flight bring you progressively closer to the ground and closer to the airport, and are the transition points when more and more of the incredible airport detail will become apparent. Each of the detailed airports include new parking assignments and taxiway information in the form of AFCAD files. There is a short explanation of each detailed airport which even includes gate information for KPDX and some history for KHIO and KVOU.
FlightScenery has gone as far as to explain what new folders are created by the installation process and what files are changed from your default installation, and also details of how to uninstall if for some reason you would want to. There are recommended display settings that I personally find work very well and recommend you try, if you haven’t already.
If this is your first add-on scenery, congratulations and welcome to a more realistic flight simulation world. FZ02 should work very well out of the box. If you want to have the Douglas DC-3 that sits outside of the Pearson Field Air Museum (as seen in their screenshots) it is a separate download which uses the default DC-3 and an Eastern Airlines repaint. If you also own the AI Cessna package from HTAI, Vauchez made a set of AI traffic files you can download that place them at the various airports in the scenery.
If you have already installed a previous KPDX scenery you will need to uninstall it… all of it, as it will interfere with this product. If you already have Holger Sandmann’s freeware Columbia Gorge scenery installed you will need to download and install a patch designed to allow FZ02 to work with Holger’s wonderful Gorge scenery, they complement each other very well. If you already own Ultimate Terrain USA there is a patch to work with it also. And finally… if you own UT USA and have Holger’s Columbia Gorge scenery, there is a patch designed for both but you have to go to the FlightScenery support forum to find it.
Let me briefly say that when the scenery was introduced, none of these patches were available and it was only when flying to the outer edges of the scenery, and in some cases many miles beyond, that the anomalies caused by various flattening and revised river files became apparent and Flightscenery was quite quick to respond with workarounds and finally, full patches.
So How Does It Look?
I have already alluded to just how incredible the artistry of FlightScenery’s packages transforms FS2004. If you have all three packages, you can see the progression of scenery skills as each new release added features not present in the last. FZ02 adds some animations that I found very well done. These include road traffic around the main airports, animated marshals and wing walkers at KPDX and wig wags. Now what the heck are wig wags? Wig wags are the alternating flashing yellow lights that are placed at the hold short point on a taxiway where an intersection with a runway is.
The road traffic looks better than FSX’s road traffic and moves more realistically. The headlight beams visible at night from this traffic also lends to a sense of realism. The highways and roads close by the airport have correct signage, the intersections have traffic lights, and there are poles for street lights. All of these things are kind of subtle, they don’t jump out at you but as you’re landing, you notice them to the sides and as you pass over them. The illusion is set for your mind to take in.
You only have traffic around the airport in areas that you would normally notice when flying a VFR traffic pattern, on final approach, and when landing and taxiing around the airport. I found it a very nice touch that really adds to the sense of flying short final and getting a sense of other objects moving relative to you as you get closer to the ground. While we are talking about flying that short final, I want to say the scenery done by FlightScenery is the first I have simmed with that really goes that extra mile to give a sense of the visual cues that you actually see when flying a real aircraft. Crossing the perimeter fence, the way the grass looks real, the taxiway lights and other structures that can be found close to the runway, all lend to pulling your visual senses into the experience and giving you the cues that are used in reality in those last seconds before touching the main wheels down on the runway.
While you are on the ground, you can take a virtual tour of each of the four highly detailed airports. The buildings you will see are painted correctly, the signs you see are what’s really there, the stains on the asphalt are even there. I’ve taxied up to Hillsboro Aviation, past the signature mushroom gas station and expected to see my friend Larry Day come walking out to meet me!
I have MyTraffic2006 installed on my computer, so the AI traffic generated by my computer has all the airlines, most types of aircraft (including military) represented so a place like KPDX can really get filled up with an interesting variety of planes just to watch. The AFCAD for KPDX does not have all the represented parking spaces connected to taxiways leading to a runway. This was intentional, not a mistake. There are some areas of the airport that tend to have traffic that just sits there and were the nodes connected, your flight simulator would automatically try to get things moving. By leaving them orphaned, you get the visual treat of seeing the aircraft without having to deal with adding them into the traffic mix.
...And How Do You Like Flying In It?
My first flights with FZ02 were ones I really make between Hillsboro and Troutdale and back. Both the Northern and Southern routings under and through the class C KPDX airspace. Then a few into Pearson, where the weather usually has me landing on runway 26. So the I-5 bridge, Fort Vancouver and the Pearson Air Museum were always in view… a neat little place I’ll have to fly into sometime for real.
I then recreated the demo flight I made in a Cirrus SR22 from Flightcraft at KPDX. FZ02 has the GA terminal I walked through recreated perfectly and I was able to place Eaglesoft’s SR22 right where I started my real flight from. After landing back at PDX, I taxied right up to the hanger that Chris Eichman keeps his SR22. Let’s just say all of the flights were impressive.
Still A Trouble Spot For Me
OK… all the detailed airports are pretty neat to fly out of. How about the others? There are four other airports that the scenery area covers, Fly for Fun (W56), Evergreen (59S), Grove (1W1) and Green Mountain Stolport (WA67). There are no associated buildings with these airfields, but the ground textures and surrounding area are far superior to the default offerings FS2004 had. I certainly encourage anyone dabbling with scenery enhancements to add some more life to these little fields, they are magical places in real life. Evergreen will exist virtually forever here, but in real life it succumbed to the developers on July 18, 2006. It was truly a cute little airfield that will be missed by many.
Now that I’ve been flying all over the land airports, I got to thinking; "I sure have seen a lot of amphibian aircraft when I’ve been out on the Williamette or Columbia in my neighbor’s boat." I don’t have my Seaplane ticket punched but have always wanted to. South of Portland, in Lake Oswego, is Wiley’s Seaplane Port (2OG3). So I decided to start a flight there with Carenado’s Stationair Amphibian.
Now, Dave Wiley was 1999’s national “Seaplane Pilot of the Year” and you won’t meet a more knowledgeable, approachable and affable seaplane instructor. FZ02 was not designed with seaplanes in mind. The river’s coastline, routing and elevations are all well done but if you place yourself at his seaport, you’ll find yourself floating out in the river without a hint of any port. Here’s another perfect place for someone to use RWY12 and bring this place to life.
I took off anyway and headed North, flying low above the Williamette River headed towards Portland City Center. As I approached Ross Island, I noticed that the Marquam Bridge was missing… what? Now, for most flight operations into and out of the detailed airports, this is just not a factor but if you’re gonna start river running or helicoptor flights, ya do have to have this bridge. FlightScenery actually has a very good reason for not including this bridge in the normal scenery offering… it totally messes up the autogen buildings on both sides of the river and the difference is surprising. They did answer the demand for this though, by uploading the bridge to their website. So if you just gotta have it, you can find it on their support forum and put it back in. Actually, I would like to have a .bat file that allowed me to toggle it on or off, depending on what kind of flying I wanted to do.
OK… now with the Marquam bridge in place, I went back and restarted my flight up the Williamette River. Man, this was neat flying at about 1,000’ AGL following the river’s course right through downtown Portland, with accurate tall buildings and all those bridges that are signature to Portland then up to the Columbia and flying East past PDX and Troutdale, then turning back and flying West out past FZ02’s boundaries. I’ve been on this river enough times in a boat to recognize many of the areas, they look pretty good from the air too.
Now there comes a time in simming when pretty much everyone gets tired of the rules. What do I mean? Alright… if you are someone that has never flown under a bridge or between two closely spaced tall buildings in the sim, you can stop reading now. First off, you’re a dud and second I’m about to offend your sensibilities.
Wanna really have some fun with this scenery? I know I did, so I fired up my T-37, took off from KPDX, switched my radios off and headed West along the Columbia River to where it meets the Williamette and turned south. Keeping those little Continental J69 turbojets spooled up, I was hitting 280 indicated at around 50’ ARL (above river level!). Under the St. John’s bridge… whoosh, what a pretty site! Now under the Fremont bridge, then Broadway and quick up over the Steel bridge (too low to go under), a hard left turn and circle out over the Lloyd Center and aim back between the two towers of the Convention Center. Go between the towers and drop down under the Burnside then Morrison bridges, then up into a left turn knife edge through the towers of the Hawthorne bridge and back down under the Marquam. Now see, there’s a great reason to put that Marquam bridge in, who needs autogen when you’re flying like this anyway? What a hoot! I think I’ll do an immelman and go back through the other way. BTW, I think it’s a good idea to turn the crash detect off during this maneuver.
Recommended Scenery Add-ons
There are several free additional sceneries that I found work very well for flying in and around FZ02. First off, I already mentioned Holger Sandmann’s Columbia Gorge enhancement, and it’s pretty much a "must have", whether you’ve got FZ02 or not. If you’re into coptors, you probably already know about Hovercontrol. FZ02 actually has the helipads on top of the US Bancorp and World Trade Center buildings in downtown Portland.
You will find a whole slew of heliports, real and imaginary, which enhance Holger’s Gorge but Stephen Read’s Dixie is an actual airfield in the hills west of PDX and north of HIO which Stephen designed to go with FZ02. Now, if they would only do the OHSU Medical Center (with its new tram of course) that would really be cool.
Bob Bernstein has done some freeware airfields with surrounding photoreal textures for FS2002 that I found work very well without interfering with FZ02. So now I can virtually fly up to see my friends that live close to Bowerman, as well as Tacoma. John Loney, Jr, and David Marshall just released an enhanced McMinnville airport, which includes the buildings for the Evergreen Aviation Museum which houses Howard Hughes H1 Hercules (aka Spruce Goose although Hughes hated that nickname).
My friend Bill Womack and I met out at Stark’s Twin Oaks airpark in Hillsboro a few months ago for an EAA pancake breakfast. Stark’s is a really unique and neat little place with a sloped runway and a lot of homebuilt and antique aircraft about it. Bill’s had the idea of modeling it for the sim and I have been twisting his ear and tempting (as well as challenging) his skills to give it a go, so I’m gonna make mention of it here in the hopes that it will again spark that creative urge in Bill and he can work his magic on it and add even more simming enjoyment for the great Pacific Northwest.
If you are planning on flying up to SeaTac, you might notice that the flatten default airport now looks a bit different… the files associated with FZ02 really do extend that far north. If you are really into making this area look realistic, you can consider adding FlyTampa’s KSEA which is a very nicely done scenery. If you want to have a better flattening work around KSEA with the default KSEA scenery, Martin and George over at FlyTampa were kind enough to put together a file you can add to the FZ02 scenery folder that makes it look even better. A short search of FlightScenery’s forum will take you to them. Remember in the default KSEA, the gas tanks seen on approach will disappear at night thanks to a Microsoft mistake. Bill Browning did a replacement texture that restores these tanks in the night lighting so you can see they don’t just disappear at dusk and reappear after dawn.
I am a private pilot and this is the area I actually fly in and am familiar with. I awaited this scenery with baited breathe because I knew what Stéphane Lepage was capable of and the teaser screenshots and videos on FlightScenery’s website only fueled the anticipation.
As with anything you look forward to over a long time, you have to wonder if it is going to meet your expectations or be a terrible disappointment. I am overjoyed to report that this not only met my expectations, it managed to exceed them. You might find some comparisons of real world photos and screenshots taken with this scenery and have difficulty telling which one is which. I am of course partial because I am fortunate enough to actually live and fly in this region.
I hope we see more incredible scenery out of FlightScenery and that there is a way to port this without loosing the incredible airport detail over to FSX. Now, if I can just get someone to do KMOD, Columbia (O22) and the greater San Diego area (I hangered at KSEE for years).
|What I Like About FlightScenery FlightZone 02 Portland|
|What I Don't Like About FlightScenery FlightZone 02 Portland|
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