Aerosoft’s Approaching Innsbruck X is, in this reviewer’s eyes at least, unique in that it does three things. 1 - It provides detailed scenery of Innsbruck Airport. 2 – It provides localized scenery of Innsbruck city itself and surrounds, and most importantly 3 – It provides flightsim enthusiasts with the opportunity to fly one of the most dynamic and exciting approaches and departures of any airport in the world.
On that basis I thought a lot about how I could best introduce this release. Normally I would provide some background and history on the airport and anything else I feel could be relevant for you, our readers, in regard to the real world location the scenery represents. In this case, and in line with the add-on’s title, I want to begin with the approach to Innsbruck itself because this is a unique airport.
Checking out the austro control website as part of my pre-install research, it was immediately clear that if you want to fly into Innsbruck you need to do some serious prep work and this includes getting permission to fly the non-standard approaches in the first place. I spent a fascinating hour going through the documentation available paying particular attention to one called Austrian AIP AD / LOWI 2-16. What was interesting here was the reference to expected weather conditions and in particular the sentence that read ‘severe turbulence associated with horizontal windshear and sever downdrafts have to be expected at various altitudes’. Nice!
I then spent a few hours on YouTube watching lots of spectacular videos of approaches and departures in to and out of Innsbruck from the cabin and flight deck. A common feature of these videos (search under Innsbruck Turbulence if you’re interested) was flapping wings due to the wind and subsequent turbulence on various Boeing and Airbus types as they descended, or ascended through the Inn Valley on their way in and out of Innsbruck Airport. Clearly Innsbruck held some challenges for this wannabe pilot, and if real world weather didn’t deliver them I’d make sure a few weather scenarios were created that would determine if I was indeed a man or merely a boy in the face of the Innsbruck Approach.
To finish this intro, here is a little about the airport itself. Innsbruck Kranebitten Airport (ICAO:LOWI, IATA:INN), locally known as Flughafen Innsbruck and affectionately referred to by some as Austria’s Kai Tak, is located in western Austria in the Inn Valley situated between mountains on either side that climb steeply up to around 9,000 feet. The airport itself, which started operations in 1925, sits at an elevation of 1900 feet and has a single 6500ft runway with arrivals and departures on runways 08 and 26. 11 major European carriers operating services into Innsbruck on either a regular or seasonal basis and Innsbruck. Being in the mountains, Innsbruck is a meca for winter sports and hosted the 1964 and 1976 Winter Olympics.
Installation and Documentation
Because I hadn’t flown in this part of the world before, I decided I would start off with a flight using default scenery. As it was, Innsbruck is reasonably impressive in default. The mountains are certainly foreboding and while the city is autogen based, the airport itself provide as good a representation to the real world equivalent as any FSX low detail default airport does. With my taste buds suitably wet I set about installing the scenery.
Approaching Innsbruck X is a 347MB download and by the time you read this the boxed version will most likely have been released. The install follows other Aerosoft releases requiring your unlock code and I was also presented with a choice at the front end of the process to install static cars or not. I said yes and 5 minutes later Approaching Innsbruck X was installed and I turned my attention to the install folder. The scenery uses just over 400MB of HD space and along with the scenery files, the manual and LOWITraffic.exe, that manages AES Lite, are included. As with other sceneries released that use AES lite, it’s a simple case of selecting what areas you want to see additional animated ground, and in this case rail traffic, to appear and click save.
The Approaching Innsbruck X manual is very comprehensive coming in at 40 pages but this is split evenly between both German and English versions. The documentation provides good background information on the Approaching Innsbruck project itself, the real world airport, its history and plenty of technical details. Charts are not included which was a bit of a surprise but links to online charts are and these took me to the same site I had found prior to installation and discussed in my intro. Scenery settings are outlined along with some recommendations on performance with particular attention on AI traffic and autogen settings. Compatibility with several other Austrian packages is also discussed. With the paperwork complete it was time to fire up FSX.
I had saved three flights when exploring the default Innsbruck scenery so I could get an immediate comparison between the two. I selected Approach 26 for my first post-install look. As you can see below the difference was immediately apparent with the greater detail and photo real scenery that is used as a base for everything to sit on. It was Approach 08 where I finally turned pause off and flew my first approach and with the weather benign, it gave me a good initial view of the scenery and how it performed.
My first impression was ‘wow, this is impressive’ and to be honest over the next 20 hours of flight and exploration time that impression didn’t change. Innsbruck Approach X is a winner in my view. On the approach it was immediately clear LOD is used to assist performance as buildings and other scenery objects came into view as I got closer to them. I had most settings close to max and found initial performance relatively smooth though I did note some texture stutter as buildings appeared in the distance and then were textured, however this was minor and relatively infrequent.
The overall level of detail is one of the outstanding features of the scenery with lots of custom built buildings and other scenery items that adds 3D context to the underlying photoreal base. Because there is so much to see, I’ll break the scenery down into several sections starting with the airport itself.
Innsbruck is made up of two main areas. The northern side where the main terminal, cargo, rescue helicopter facilities and maintenance areas are located and to the south, Gliding and GA. Rather than go through them in detail I’ll keep this fairly general because I really feel the screenshots say it all.
From a visual point of view Innsbruck Airport is very detailed. All of the buildings are well made with amazing levels of detail and where possible, appear to use modeling to define shape and look as opposed to textures. An example of this is walkways that are glass encased. These are actually modeled so when using slew you can go inside and look out through the glass and the detail is such that you can actually see the tint in the glass. Another good example was the inside of the tower where control boards are fully rendered.
Photos have been used for texturing, so the overall quality looks very crisp and in most cases the resolution is high enough for signs in the car park area and even the arrivals sign at the gates to be easily read. Naturally you do need to get up close to appreciate these details and its worth doing so. I was particularly impressed with the main terminal building and the car park behind this. In some instances it was difficult to distinguish this being a virtual representation of the airport as it seemed I was looking at photos. With the static vehicles installed, the ramp area is very busy and with AES Lite also activated I had plenty of trucks, vans and tugs trundling up and down. These are intelligent and will give way to you, particularly if your aircraft nose wheel nudges a little too far forward.
The ramp, taxiways and runway use what appear to be high resolution photos and are very clear with detail right down to manhole covers appearing in crisp detail. All taxiway and runway signs are present as are 3D lights on the taxiway and runway edges. The main runway itself uses 3D lights along either side and at the 26 end approach lights trail off towards the fence at the end of the runway.
On the GA or south side of the airport, the detail is the same quality. While there are fewer buildings, this is where the glider facilities and GA parks are located. A few default FSX scenery items such as a glider and a few vehicles can be found here. In the centre of the grass area, a special animated wind sock can be found alongside a T bar showing wind direction as well as navigation aids. Overall, this is a quality airport representation which I couldn’t fault.
I noted on the Aerosoft forum some customers were commenting about the lack of AI at LOWi. This wasn’t something I personally had an issue with as some of the screenshots show, however traffic was fairly minimal and limited mostly to Austrian Arrow flights. The AFCAD file supplied doesn’t have any gates as such, as they are all GA parks. Even after changing a few of these to gates, I didn’t see any additional traffic so this may be an issue depending on what AI you use. The official Aerosoft screenshots show a diverse variety of traffic which suggests the AFACD is not the issue.
When Night Falls
Where Innsbruck Airport and surrounds excel in my view is when the sun sets and the lights come on. I have never seen such clarity in textures as those featured on the main terminal windows, the effect achieved is as real as it gets. All of the lighting across the airport works well with what I feel is the right level of intensity, particularly where light splash from the terminal on the ramp and from pole lights in the car park and other areas is concerned.
Taxiway and runway lighting works well with the 3D lighting illuminated. The three hold short points also have lighting that uses proximity activation to change from red to green as you get close to them. A fully working PAPI system is installed at each end of Innsbruck but it is the 26 approach that also features approach lights and an animated lead in or what I call pulse light. These can be seen at most major US airports when a pulse of light runs along to the threshold.
In Innsbruck these lights are mounted on fully modeled poles that start about 5 kms west of the airport. The light pulse itself only takes a few seconds to reach the threshold and is a great help in lower visibility conditions. Beyond the airport boundary, the city and mountainous areas of Innsbruck await.
At night a large portion of the main roads have 3D lighting, by this I mean the actual light poles are featured with an appropriate glow and light splash on the ground textures below. All of the primary scenery items that have been added also feature night lighting and effects where appropriate whether it is the stadium, railway station or ski jump. Overall, I think the effect is very realistic and adds a lot of depth to the flying experience at dawn, dusk and night without taking anything away from performance.
Innsbruck’s photo real textures cover all four seasons, however only two sets are supplied which cover spring and summer and then fall and winter. I thought this worked ok though I did need to remember to use the season utility before changing seasons to make sure trees at the airport itself reflected the season I had selected.
The resolution of the photo real base looks to be around 1 or 2 meters per pixel given the level of detail provided, with coverage across both approaches and well into the mountains on either side. This makes for some very impressive views as you climb out, particularly in a modern passenger jet aircraft allowing for some spectacular screenshots to mimic the best real world equivalents. The quality of the photo real is sufficient to make exploring the area in small aircraft or helicopters ideal and well worth the time.
On that note, there is plenty to see in and around Innsbruck with many landmark buildings featured in the city itself, the major road infrastructure, tunnels and the railway station etc. While the textures on some of these buildings (note some as many are superbly detailed with very high resolution textures) are not up to the same standard as the airport, they don’t need to be, given you fly over the top of them.
Some featured effects include smoke and at night, flashing lights to help prevent collisions. The road network is another impressive feature with amazing bridges spanning deep ravines and tunnels running through the mountains. Many of these surfaces are hard so it is possible to drive around much of the region if that’s your thing.
It’s important your mesh settings match those described in the product manual to maximize the effect of many of these structures, locations such as the ski slope and road bridges will look odd if the mesh doesn’t align with these objects.
As mentioned, Innsbruck Approach X also features AES Lite. While this adds airport traffic and also road traffic on the major arterial routes replacing the default FSX traffic in the process, it also adds a railway. Numerous passenger and freight train combinations can be seen running along the tracks to and from the city and seeing these is quite exciting the first time and the detail included with these is amazing.
I had to look twice the first time I saw the trains and nearly crashed because I thought I saw sparks coming off the lines as the train moved along. On closer inspection there are indeed sparks as all of the lines are electric and this includes the wires themselves also being modeled. I must have spent several hours simply train spotting and when I came across a fully functional line crossing with animated barrier arms and flashing red light, well that was it for me.
I didn’t need any further convincing that Innsbruck Approach X is a high quality product that delivers detail and interaction to a level this reviewer hadn’t come across before.
So far we have looked at the airport and surrounds but now it’s time to move on to the flying because after all, one of the draw cards of Innsbruck Approach X is funnily enough its approaches. Now I could go on about each approach and try and sound like I know what I am talking about but the reality was I learnt pretty quickly that I was a fish out of water trying to fly real world approaches in this environment.
I certainly came away with a real sense of admiration for the real-world pilots who fly into Innsbruck on a daily basis all year round and I understood exactly why you need permission to use these approaches in advance. It seems to me that the difference between success and disaster is very thin in places like Innsbruck given the terrain and weather conditions you encounter.
While you can fly any aircraft around in FSX happily enough if you went disregarding any level of realism, you might as well not bother flying in Innsbruck because the real depth that is present in this region is not so much the pretty scenery but the challenge of flying in it. I do encourage anyone considering this scenery to take a look at the charts and learn how to fly these approaches by the book. The Youtube videos and other resources you can find online about reading charts will help, and your experience of Innsbruck will change dramatically as a result.
The sense of satisfaction you gain from successfully completing an accurate approach is awesome. I’m still learning and was firmly put in my place with a good reminder that while this may be a simulator, its accuracy is quite extraordinary and rewards those who choose to take the time to explore what it has to offer. I did manage to complete a number of accurate approaches and with ongoing ‘sim time’, reckon I could get quite good. But throw in nasty weather and any confidence you might have, may be dented if your plane isn’t first.
I used three heavies to fly both approaches to test how they handled it from an automated and hand flown point of view, and also to further test performance of the scenery. I used the default FSX 737-800, the CLS 767-300 which has a basic FMC but also uses the FSX GPS, and the Captain Sim 767-200, which uses more complex nav data and FMC. I don’t have a lot of experience flying Airbus’s so I decided to leave that type out of things for these tests less I embarrass myself more than necessary.
Captain Sim 762 – The detailed FMC helped tremendously with the 26 approach but because non-standard approaches are used, you can’t rely on it fully. Innsbruck does require some manual flying regardless but this goes a long way to get you in the right place at the right altitude before switching over on both approaches.
Performance wise, things slowed down quite a bit in the 762 and this was expected. Having said that things remained flyable, I did however adjust autogen and cloud settings, if you keep these quite high expect a performance hit that may well make things unflyable depending on your system specs.
Default FSX 737-800 – Approach 08 - This approach is less defined and more challenging particularly as there is a dogleg left hand turn on short final to align you with the runway. With mountains close in on both sides my approach needed to be higher, throw in limited visibility, turbulence and windshear and your adrenaline and concentration levels climb pretty quickly.
Using the GPS for 26 made things a little easier but autopilot management was very important to ensure I was at the right altitude at the right time. Mixing the approaches up by starting on 26 and then arriving on 08 was fun. It’s certainly scenic on nice days but a real challenge with limited visibility. I really recommend using an aircraft that has an FMC if possible, the default FSX GPS’s limitations are really shown up in this environment and is simply not set up to allow real world approaches into places like Innsbruck.
My experience in the CLS 767 was somewhat similar to the 737 as it’s also limited by the GPS but from a performance point of view, I was able to keep settings much higher than the Captain Sim aircraft and still get good fps. Perseverance was the name of the game and getting familiar with the various waypoints a must.
Of course Innsbruck isn’t just about the non standard procedures and heavy aircraft, or even fixed wing aircraft for that matter. Helicopter operations are well supported with a couple of helicopter pads available for use. The first is at Innsbruck airport itself where both Police and Rescue/Civilian operations are based in their own facilities behind the main terminal complex.
From here I flew a number of sorties in the FSX Acceleration EH-101. Because of their speed helicopters make ideal sightseeing platforms and as mentioned earlier, there is certainly plenty to explore outside of the airport grounds. Switching to a default FSX Bell Jet Ranger I also used the hospital as a base for several flights in winter conditions, tracking traffic flows and doing some mountain flying in various weather conditions. Some of it is quite challenging when the cloud descended. All up, if you like chopper flying this was a lot of fun, I particularly enjoyed train chasing.
And finally, last but by no means, we come to gliding. Having a grass runway specifically for gliding Innsbruck is a great place to take a glider up and search for thermals, and being in the mountains there is no short supply, hence why this is such a strong real world summer activity in the region. The built in FSX tug made for a lovely climb to altitude in my FSX default DG-808S with one handily supplied in an Austrian registration. Sadly I was so busy looking around that I managed to snap the cable early so wasn’t as high as I would have liked but this worked out ok as I managed to get to a thermal close by and begin the process of climbing.
The flights between thermals were a wonderful opportunity to really appreciate the photo real textures and the level of detail crammed into the scenery below. I forgot how much fun gliding could actually be when you have scenery below that’s worth looking at. The approach back to Innsbruck itself was exhilarating and all the more challenging as once I was committed, we were going to land regardless of circumstances. If you haven’t taken a glider up for awhile in FSX do it again soon, it’s well worth it. With a firm landing on the grass my glider came to a stop and my time at Innsbruck had come to an end, for today at least.
This is another quality product from Aerosoft. I enjoyed every moment flying in to, from and around Innsbruck and it’s one of those sceneries I’ll keep returning to because of the expanded opportunities for all types of flying it offers.
Heavy jet flying and learning the approaches can be a steep learning curve but a rewarding one, and then adding layers of difficulty via weather takes it to another level. Add chopper sorties and gliding and I feel you have a real destination for fun flying rather than just another airport on the way to somewhere else. The quality of the buildings and textures are stand-out for me and the night lighting, particularly in the main terminal, is second to none. Add AES Lite to this and you have a vibrant city waiting to be explored in either the warm days of summer or the frigid and potentially violent weather days of winter.
Either way all virtual pilot types will find something here they will enjoy.
What I Like About Approaching Innsbruck X
What I Don't Like About Approaching Innsbruck X
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