Antarctica. Cold. Barren. Desolate…. Well, it’s still cold but thanks to Aerosoft’s new title, Antarctica X, the continent is hardly barren or desolate anymore. Okay, it is pretty barren but keep reading.
When I first heard about this project’s release I was very excited. I think anyone who enjoys flight simming understands when I say that having the opportunity to fly in a mysterious and challenging environment gets the blood going! What could be better than testing your skills while sightseeing in this vast wilderness?
Given the allure, I always wondered why scenery developers shied away from this area. It was only after reading the Aerosoft forums and the included manual that I got a true sense of how difficult working in this area can be in FSX. We’ll touch more on that later but suffice it to say that what has been accomplished is worthy of your time.
I’m assuming you’ve never been to this winter wonderland so a few facts may be in order. The continent is comprised of some 14 million square kilometers which is roughly one and a half times the size of the United States. The terrain is composed of about 98% continental ice and 2% rock. Seven countries have laid some type of territorial claim but are not recognized by all countries. The Antarctic Treaty, signed in 1959 and further ratified in 2010, sets aside Antarctica as a scientific preserve, establishes freedom of scientific investigation and bans military activity on that Continent.
There are no indigenous people in Antarctica and no one lives there full time. Most people are there in the summer months only, which lasts from November to April, with even fewer staying on through the winter. The settlements you will find in Antarctica are all scientific bases with the largest of these being the US base at McMurdo. You’ll find up to 1,000 people there during the peak times.
In general, as you move closer to the pole, the continent experiences daylight 24 hours a day in the summer, and 24 hours of darkness in the winter. This is represented fairly well in FSX.
Installation and Documentation
Installing the product is fairly simple and follows a familiar routine used by most developers. After purchasing it from the Aerosoft website you will be given an opportunity to download the massive 7.35GB file and also given a key. You’ll double-click on the executable and follow the on-screen directions.
Interestingly, you are told on the screen that your files are personally customized to you so if they leak out onto the internet they can be easily sourced. Vendors have to become much cleverer in combating online piracy. The Aerosoft launcher will also be installed and this tool allows you to activate your product over the internet so you will need to be connected.
The documentation is some of the best I have ever seen with an add-on to Flight Simulator. The Antarctica X manual is a whopping 65 pages full of information about the product and the region in general. The manual begins with a detailed expose on flying in the Antarctic by a real pilot, D. Hardie, who we are told flew Twin Otters there for a few seasons. Mr. Hardie goes into detail about everything from dealing with weather, communications, phraseology, and many other aspects of flying here. It is a very entertaining and informative read and does a lot to put you in the mindset of flying on this continent. I also found the section on usual routes flown and their operators interesting; it’s a much busier place than I initially thought.
Of course, Aerosoft has included information about the specific product and you will find everything you need to know about installation, the included airfields, flightplans, known issues, and more. Of particular note is a table towards the end of the manual listing the included bases, some geographical information, and how much detail Aerosoft has built into each research station: high, medium, and low.
There is one more manual included and that is for the Aerosoft DHC-6 Twin Otter (Antarctic Edition). Included in the Antarctica X package is this wonderful little aircraft that you can use to make the VFR rounds in. This 25 page manual is complete with everything you need to get started flying your ski-equipped Twotter.
You’re also going to find two KMZ files: one shows coverage of the product and the other British Antarctic Survey (BAS) ferry trips from Canada. That ferry trip looks like a barn burner and would be incredibly fun to try. I am excited to see it comes through my area!
You can see from the attached image, the whole of the continent has been modeled. It may be difficult to fathom from the image, and because we do not tend to think of Antarctica very much, but the continent is massive, especially in terms of an FSX add-on.
The vast majority of the scenery consists of an epic scale Christmas scene punctuated by detailed, lifelike mountain ranges, and dotted with small areas of civilization. This add-on is similar to other extreme-quality products like ORBX in that the bar for realism is significantly raised but also dissimilar in several ways.
First, as already mentioned, the scope and size of this scenery are far beyond what we have seen from other developers before. The sheer size of Antarctica is huge. Second, the eye candy is not what you’re used to seeing…Antarctica is, in many ways, a very barren landscape with scant vegetation or man-made objects. That is not to say that the view outside your cockpit isn’t beautiful or very well done because it most certainly is both.
Aerosoft uses a customized landclass in combination with Landsat satellite imagery and high definition terrain mesh to create a very realistic landscape. The vendor claims to have used many different geographical databases in the creation of this product and that a more accurate depiction of the scenery does not exist, even in government circles.
One of the reasons developers have stayed away from the Antarctic is the very real challenges imposed by FSX. First, the FSX world is modeled by a series of squares which get smaller as you get to the poles. The impact of this is that the south pole itself cannot be modeled, as everything is squeezed together. Trying to place scenery or add mesh simply cannot work due to the FSX constraints. The good news is that there is nothing really interesting here, anyway, so you’re not missing much.
Next, this same limitation “compresses” the cloud textures as you get closer and closer to the pole which, of course, does not make for a realistic sky. It does take something away but there is no getting around it but after awhile, you just tend to accept and not think about it.
There are scores of research stations on the continent, from different countries, and many of these have been modeled in the package. Seven of these stations are listed as highly detailed and we’ll look at each of these in turn.
Rothera (United Kingdom)
Rothera is one of the most visually appealing bases included in Antarctica X. This British Antarctic Survey (BAS) outpost is manned year round and is the main logistical support center for field science (BAS, 2007). It has a 900 meter crushed rock runway and is probably the most “normal” runway you will find on the continent. Access to the base is via BAS Dash 7 or by boat in the nearby Biscoe Wharf. It is a ton of fun making an approach over the cold water and landing on the diminutive airstrip.
The base itself is highly detailed but very workmanlike in its function. It isn’t pretty but it’s not supposed to be in such a harsh environment. Aerosoft has done a great job in bringing this place to life.
Neumayer III (Germany)
This German research station reminds me of a cheap hotel on stilts. Built upon sixteen columns, 6 meters in the air, this station operates year round with a crew of nine people (Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research). The building is modeled to exact specifications and looks just like published pictures. You can find many images on the internet of the staff releasing balloons, as pictured below.
Sky Blu (United Kingdom)
This is a forward-operating base for BAS in an area known for its blue ice. Blue ice is very hard and dense ice that allows for wheeled aircraft to take off and land. Sky Blu is staffed by 2-3 people; how lonely can you get?! As you can see from the pictures below, the camp is about as big as your family reunion camp out. You probably don’t get airplanes landing at your campout, though.
Located in the Windmill Islands, Casey is only 3,880 KM due south of Perth, and managed by the Australian Antarctic Division. Significant to flight simulator is the 2.5 mile long Wilkins Aerodrome runway, built in 2008, some 40 miles from Casey. This runway sees weekly flights from Hobart by an Airbus A319.
Scott Base (New Zealand)
Located 838 miles from the South Pole and a mile from McMurdo, Scott Base is managed by the New Zealand Antarctic Institute. In residence since 1959, the base is made of many lime green buildings which are accurately depicted in the scenery.
Sanae IV (South Africa)
The base is staffed year round with scientists and support personnel. Typically, less than ten people from the South African National Antarctic Expedition conduct research in the physical, earth, life, and oceanographic sciences.
McMurdo Station (USA)
The largest and primary research station for the United States, McMurdo boasts three airfields and a harbor. Established in 1955, the community boasts over 85 buildings, which range from small shacks to three story buildings. As you can see in the included photos, the buildings are well modeled and represented.
Other stations have been given a bit of a makeover and many have not been modeled. You can see that what has been done looks nice. Some nation’s research stations are not represented at all; in particular the Russians. We can hope for an update one day.
Trawling the waters around the Antarctic continent are the beautifully modeled RV Polarstern, US Coast Guard Cutter Healy, and a fictitious icebreaker, MS LimeSim. All of these ships have working helicopter pads and make for a fun platform to start your sightseeing trip via helicopter. They even have engine sounds to complete the fantasy. You can find a schedule of their appearances in the manual under “Animated Icebreakers”.
I will say that these ships are highly detailed and when they arrive in port you may see a slight degradation in your FPS.
I noticed little performance hit with this package, except as noted above. At some of the main bases like Scott, you will see a degradation of FPS but at no time did it drop down below the 20s. This is not reflected in the test system specs but I have all sliders in FSX to the right. At odd times I did have some stuttering at high altitudes. This may have been due to the clouds and draw distance though. I have seen this before in other locations throughout Flight Simulator X so it may be a coincidence. I could not repeat the incident.
Even having installed many of the commercial and freeware AI aircraft packages available, you will see little AI traffic in this region (compared to what you are used to seeing). Given the sparseness of…well, everything in the area…you wouldn’t expect much of an impact on your system.
With a title as large as Antarctica X, I know I am going to leave some things out. Let me touch on a couple of things you may be interested in here. Included in the download is a scenery tool that allows you to select from various options. When it comes to seasons, you’ll have the option to choose from early summer or late summer. Choosing either one closes and opens some runways as the ice moves.
The static option is self explanatory. You can either turn them off or on. I found some of the static aircraft very well done and others a bit primitive. I think you are either a static person or you like to fill your ramps with AI aircraft so choose which ever you like. The other two options deal with LOD radius and the approach lighting at McMurdo.
You almost never fly at night in Antarctica. It is simply too dangerous. Night lighting is present in this scenery but there hasn’t been a great deal of detail put into it. McMurdo has some approach lights and these can be turned off and on with the tool above. These are really only used in bad weather.
As I mentioned before, you get the Aerosoft Twin Otter with this scenery, but only the ski version. Those of you who previously purchased the “Twotter” will get a discount on Antarctica X. I certainly don’t want to try and do a review of the aircraft but it’s a blast to fly and obviously appropriate to the region. You can use this plane to fly many of the included flight plans, but not all. The Twotter’s range is limited.
I was really excited to see this project come to fruition and I was not disappointed in its execution. The continent is beautifully rendered in every facet. The VFR flying experience is challenging and very different from other available options.
The Antarctic continent is a very remote, distant land and even though the scenery does not change much, this package offers so much for the flight simulator enthusiast. The limitations imposed by FSX are dealt with in a reasonable manner and do not detract much from an exhilarating experience.
What I Like About Antarctic X
What I Don't Like About Antarctic X
Tell A Friend About this Review!
All Rights Reserved