Aerosoft has been making German scenery add-ons for some time now. I’ve reviewed several over the last two years, and have yet to be disappointed with any of them. With FSX, the strategy for covering Germany has changed somewhat, with the base layers formed by large-scale photosceneries; I reviewed the first installment last year, VFR Germany 1. The job of that product was to cover a big swathe of western Germany in photographic ground textures, and to increase the number of VFR landmarks
It did not upgrade the airports. That task is now assigned to two other product lines, German Airports and German Airfields. What’s the difference? Each of the German Airports products addresses one large airport, such as Frankfurt or Hannover, whereas each of the German Airfields products (there will eventually be twelve of them) features about fifteen local and regional airports, plus their immediate environs. The product under review here is German Airfields 3: Lower Saxony.
Installation and Documentation
Installation is straightforward and automatic. This particular product overlaps with the coverage area of VFR Germany 1 and 2, so if you have either of those, the installer will detect it and make accommodations; the same is true if you have German Landmarks (in which case, the Landmarks objects will be turned off in favor of the ones from this product). There’s not much for the user to do.
Documentation is in the form of two PDF files. One, a user manual, is about 25 pages long in German and another 25 in English. It provides an overview of the product, lists the airports covered, and gives suggestions for how to set your scenery sliders in FSX. Unfortunately, it does not include a good map of where the airports are; there’s a KML file, which can be used to construct a map using Google Earth, but the resulting map doesn’t print well.
Much better looking and more usable are the airport charts, which not only show the layout for each airfield but also indicate its traffic pattern with reference to local landmarks.
I do think that the F.A.Q. part of the manual, which discusses some limitations of the product, should be on the product web page, where customers can read it before they buy. On the plus side, there is a clear discussion of the product’s folder structure; this is useful if you have other scenery products for the same area and want to tinker. What’s not covered in detail is how files are named but, in fairness, most of the file names are self-explanatory.
Two FSX missions are included. One, which involves chasing an escaped zoo animal, is more goal-oriented than the other, which is a guided tour of Lüneburg. The voices are in German, so if you don’t know the language, this part of the package won’t be of much use to you. But that shouldn’t put anyone off: while the missions are a nice introduction to the scenery, I don’t see myself reflying them.
What You Get
In this package there are fifteen airfields:
EDVE - Brunswick-Wolfsburg
The first of these -- Brunswick in English, Braunschweig in German -- is a regional airport, and larger than the rest. In addition to the normal airport buildings -- storage hangars, maintenance hangars, and passenger terminals -- it includes local offices for the DLR (which is the German equivalent of NASA). Luggage trucks can be seen near the terminals, and all of the lighting structures, vehicles, and outbuildings that one would expect to find at a regional airport.
There are humans, too, and while they don’t move they do make the place seem more alive.
The smaller airfields don’t usually have passenger terminals, but they are all detailed and all different. One has a wall of noise shields, another is surrounded by trees. Many of them have playgrounds. (Do children really play at local airfields? In Germany, they must.) There are parked aircraft, parked cars, and parking lots. There are lamp posts, control towers (in some places), windsock carts, lots of gliders, glider cases, and signals squares (although the signals don’t get updated). Most of the airfields seem to some sort of eatery or outdoor café, and several have flight schools or repair hangars. Few of the fields, except Brunswick, have ILS facilities, or even PAPI and VASI lights. For on-site buildings, there is night lighting provided, but often not for runways, many of which are grass anyway; it depends on whether the real airfield is used at night, and many small ones are not.
Like Brunswick, all of the fields are populated: some people are reading, others are having coffee, conversing, or just watching the planes take off. There are even pets.
All of the airports have parking spaces (which hasn’t always been the case with these products), but so far as I noticed, none of the hangars could be parked in. A more serious problem, though hardly a dealbreaker, has to do with the custom windsock objects that are used throughout: they show wind speed, but not wind direction. According to the manual, this is a limitation in FSX, but in that case I’m not sure it wouldn’t have been better to use the default windsocks; they wouldn’t have looked as good, but they would be more functional.
Outside of the airfields proper, for about 2 km in every direction, there are also VFR landmarks such as would be marked on a real-world chart. (In fact, many of these objects are visible on the airfield charts that are included with the package.) What counts as a VFR landmark? Examples are factory buildings, observation saucers, radio antennae, smoking chimneys, wind generators, and church towers. All of the airfields, even the rural ones, have some such landmarks, but Lüneburg (EDHG) seems particularly thick with them, and gets my vote for jewel of the region.
For the full effect, Aerosoft recommends that you also get VFR Germany 1 and 2, which will fill all the intervening spaces between airfields with glorious aerial photography and custom-placed autogen. I’ve also had good results with UTX: Europe; Aerosoft won’t guarantee that it’s compatible, but I had it turned on for all of my testing, and never encountered any problems.
What’s New for FSX?
All of the airports are built on top of aerial photographs, which have then been overlaid with matching runways, taxiways, and aprons. To my eye, the effect is seamless. What’s more, all of the tiles have matching autogen: that’s unusual with photoscenery, because all of the placement usually has to be done by hand; the result, is most cases, is that autogen has to be turned off altogether. With its current generation of scenery products, Aerosoft has found a technique to automate the placement of autogen, and the result is more 3D realism close to the ground (which is where you notice autogen anyway).
Another feature worth noting is seasons. Most photoscenery (including VFR Germany) has only one season, spring or summer, because more seasons would consume too much disk space. In this case, however, the total coverage area is small enough that a second season, winter, can be included without breaking the disk bank. The result: airfields blend in with the surrounding default ground textures even in winter.
Compared with the default textures, some of the aerial photographs look undersaturated, but the level of detail they contain is very high: twice as high as the FSX defaults, and ten times as high as photoscenery for FS2004. Does the extra detail really make a difference? For a scenery product of this type, where most of your flying is at or close to pattern altitude, it certainly does. At cruise altitude, you can get away with coarser photographs, but for operations at a local airfield, you want the finest grain that you can get, and by Flight Simulator standards this is very fine: approximately twice the resolution of the VFR Germany products that cover a larger area.
Apart from the new, high-resolution ground textures, there’s not much in this scenery that you couldn’t have seen in its FS2004 predecessor, Scenery Germany 2. Within the airfield precincts, there are scores of ground vehicles but, except for pushback tugs, all of them seem to be static. And where are the birds? With the current version of Flight Simulator, flying birds can be summoned up by a scenery designer with relatively little effort. (If you want an example, try searching for "edtf+readmea.zip" by Konrad Ellsässer in the AVSIM file library; his Freiburg scenery has animated birds and even animated people, all done using default objects.) On the other hand, all of the airports have custom AI traffic (including some airplanes doing touch-and-go practice); this isn’t a new feature in FSX, but it does make the airfields more lively.
More 3D objects generally means lower framerates, but on my rig (described at the side) there was only one airfield where the lag was distracting; that was Hodenhagen (EDVH), and I suspect it was due to very large textures being loaded rather than complex polygons. A lot depends, also, on the weather and what aircraft you are flying. In the Digital Aviation Do-27, which Aerosoft also publishes, I found that the scenery was usable but not smooth; but that aircraft has never produced good framerates, at least in FSX.
When I switched to a different model (such as the Aerosoft Beaver, the RealAir SF.260, the Lionheart Bestmann, or even the Flight Replicas Bf-109, which in FSX is somewhat harder on the framerates than I would like), the experience was very satisfying.
The download version of German Airfields 3, which I reviewed here, retails for about 24 euros (28 with VAT). The question that I think many readers will be asking is, “Should I bother with it if I don’t live in Lower Saxony?” I’ve never set foot there (yet), but I’ve had a wonderful time flying there.
With fifteen detailed airfields, there’s a lot of variety, but the airfields are closely enough spaced that flights between them can be short -- if that’s what you want. It’s also possible, at GA speeds, to make longer flights, but often we don’t have time for a long flight, and for occasions like that, this type of package is ideal.
What I Like About German Airfields 3
What I Don't Like About German Airfields 3
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