NASA Kennedy Space Center is world famous. Famous for the Apollo rockets in the early 70’s, but what do you think about the fauna and flora on this wonderful island? The United States chose the area for its proximity to the ocean, allowing for over-the-water launches. Other factors included a climate conducive to year-round operation and the availability of sparsely populated land.
Following the Apollo program, the Saturn V facilities were modified to handle a new kind of launch system - one with reusable booster rockets and an orbiter that could return from space gliding to a runway touchdown and be refitted to fly again. The first Space Shuttle mission, with Robert Crippen and moonwalker John Young aboard the orbiter Columbia, thundered into space April 12, 1981. Since then, more than 75 Space Shuttle missions have begun from the Space Center’s two launch pads.
About the flora and fauna of the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge; it was established in 1963 and is owned by NASA itself to function as a buffer between the launching pads and main building and mainland. Approximately one-half of the refuge's 140,000 acres consists of brackish estuaries and marshes. The remaining lands consist of coastal dunes, scrub oaks, pine forests and flat wood, and palm and oak hammocks. During special NASA activities, a 30NM circle is drawn around, let’s say the main building. Any flight within this 30NM circle is strictly prohibited and elevates from AGL (Above Ground Level) to unlimited flight levels.
For this review, I tested the Cape CanaveralX scenery from Aerosoft under Windows Vista Ultimate and Windows XP Professional. It should not lead to extreme differences but FSX is specially designed to work in combination with Vista, so we will see. A very important item is the use and installation of FSX SP1 since this has a huge positive impact on the FPS.
So I say, please join me on this Cape Canaveral X flight!
After downloading the executable file, it’s more or less a piece of cake. The installation of the program itself is straightforward. It only asks you to confirm the location of FSX but that should be ok since it takes this information from the registry itself. Depending on your PC, the installation will probably take between 20 to 60 seconds. Added under "Programs" we find the Aerosoft directory with certain links. More important, under the directory “Cape CanaveralX”, we find the Acrobat manual.
Documentation and VFR Sectional Chart
You could ask yourself if documentation like this is necessary for add-on scenery. There is no control panel, it automatically installs itself in the scenery library and it’s just a layer of much more detailed information into FSX. Not really correct!
I think some documentation is needed which explains in depth what this add-on is offering, which area it covers, what special details to look for while flying over the island, and so on.
Pay special attention to page 7, where Aerosoft advises you to change certain FSX display settings related to the scenery. These settings are just an advice from Aerosoft to get the best and most out of this add-on scenery. Depending on your PC configuration, you could think of placing those sliders slightly back or higher, to get at least 20FPS.
Last, but not least, although official flying in the NASA area is strictly prohibited, a lot of charts have detailed airport information, STARs (Standard Arrival Route), GPS and TACAN (Tactical Air Navigation or in normal English, the military version of a VOR/DME station) approach charts. The offered charts are, when printed, of a high quality. A final word about the manual; great and sharp charts with a lot of detailed flight information, a good overview of the area which is covered and that’s it.
What I personally missed was the VFR sectional chart “Jacksonville” from this part of Florida. For those who want to have them, you can run to your local aviation shop or you download them for free via http://skyvector.com. Sectional charts do not give you any approach or STAR information, but this chart from Jacksonville shows you the total area, the restrictions and much more about the island, beacons, coastline, etc.
Starting with a good impression of this scenery brings me to the airport of KEVB (New Smyrna Beach). It’s located north of the NASA Kennedy Space Center along the coastline just below Daytona Beach, where we takeoff with a default FSX scenery. Within 10 minutes flying south, we reach the Aerosoft Cape Canaveral X scenery and let’s hope it’s overwhelming with all those swamps, swamps and even more swamps.
Flying along the coastline at an altitude of 2500 feet, we fly south where we reach R-2934 (R-Restricted) area. The first thing we notice is the smooth change from the default to the Aerosoft scenery.
On our AVSIM trip, we first pass the bridge on the most northern part of Merritt Island. This is not only the start of our Cape Canaveral tour but also where the Aerosoft scenery starts. Unfortunately, Microsoft has forgotten to draw the whole bridge, while in reality it’s really there!
Looking out of the window, we first see the Space Shuttle landing strip, KTTS and the huge Vehicle Assembly Building, located close to the strip. Wow, that looks like a long strip. Indeed it is, this runway is 15.000 feet long and for our Cessna 172 …. !
Once we leave the bridge behind us, we are flying above Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge park. Here we see that the Aerosoft's swamp (left hand) looks very close the real swamps (right hand). In real life there are also a lot of trees, but the majority is swamps and they actually have that strange green/blue color.
When passing at 500 feet over the landing strip, the ground textures are not that impressive as they where at a higher altitude, but instead we get more details from the many buildings. What I mentioned earlier, the amount of trees or green on the ground is very limited.
While reaching the end of runway 15 or if you like, the beginning of 33, we have a good look at all the hangars, cars, a space shuttle and on the left, the Vehicle Assembly Building. By the way, all those cars, buildings, hangars etc. are the same as they where already in the FS9 version. From this altitude – 500 feet - it gives you a nice detailed shot. See for yourself the differences between the Aerosoft and default FSX scenery textures.
While flying towards the Vehicle Assembly Building, we see something strange. It looks like that the main building is not completely fixed to the ground or is it a failure during the installation? It’s almost hanging free in space, except for the right hand part. Strange, but the Vehicle Assembly building looks very similar to the default FSX building.
Another thing which disappoints me is the lack of details of the Vehicle Assembly Building. The building looks grey while in reality it’s more or less white. Apart from the building, the details from the roads, platforms and parking places are also missing a lot of details. As you can see in the picture, taken on December 28th 2006, the building should be bright white or close to it, not grey!
Leaving the main building behind us, we fly to the coastline and from there to the second shuttle strip, KXMR. This last part of this island is rated average from 2500 feet due to the extreme green color of the ground textures. Compared to other add-on sceneries this could be at a higher simulated quality.
We leave Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (KXMR) behind us and turn to a heading of 340 towards KCOI. We fly over the city of Cape Canaveral and Port Canaveral. It offers cruise liners, cargo ships and others, a convenient place for recreation, like swimming on the white beaches etc.
After fly-over KXMR, we turn towards the direction of Merritt Island airport, KCOI. On our way, we take some nice pictures but the expected details are not as impressive as we hoped. One thing is well done and that’s scenery changing from Aerosoft back to default FSX. If you look closely, you can see it but it’s very difficult, so in other words, it’s well done.
After a 360 turn and climbing to 6000 feet, we have to time to take some extra pictures to show the difference between the default FSX and the add-on scenery from Aerosoft.
Don’t be shocked! These pictures are just to give you an impression of how the satellites in space see Merritt Island, Cape Canaveral and Kennedy Space Center.
Detailed look of Kennedy Space Center and KCOI.
This part covers the whole area related to landmarks and special items etc. ranging from the north up to and including the south of Merritt Island. When looking closely at some of the buildings like the AFS flight strip, it’s nice to see all those add-on items but I’ve seen more detailed airport sceneries from Aerosoft than can be found here. One thing already mentioned is the Vehicle Assembly Building, where the space shuttle, fuel tanks and rockets are mounted together.
The default FSX scenery shows these as well, but with fewer details. If you think those details are really necessary, I leave that judgement up to the reader. Probably none of the flight simmers will walk around the platform with an installed space shuttle, but rather fly over it at a safe altitude.
Compared to the FSX default mainland of Florida, which is not a part of the Aerosoft scenery, I’m wondering if this add-on scenery offers that much more then the default scenery. Ok, certain buildings on/or in the vicinity of the airport are added but is it worth the money! What Aerosoft has added, apart of the ground textures, are special landmarks, but are they numerous enough?
Several close-ups of the KCOI airport are not that spectacular. The airport itself has a regional function, so no complicated jetways or special designed buildings are there. In the default FSX, it’s missing some minor items but that’s it. See for yourself and judge based on the pictures from Merritt Island airport.
Summary / Closing Remarks
Looking at and analyzing all the things we have seen during our roundtrip over the island, the questions rise, is it worth buying this product? The download version costs you US$ 16.72.
For that you get digital photographic images of the green areas of the island, detailed buildings, launch platforms, other vehicles and much more. Unfortunately, those are not all ‘’very detailed” in my personal opinion. The scenery or green areas representing swamps and lakes are not that bad. The only limitation compared to the FS2004 version, is the level of detail and the performance on your PC. The three runways on the other hand are realistic when I compare these with actual pictures from Google Earth.
However, landmarks like special buildings, launching platforms, space shuttles, tourist center and others are still there as they where in the FS2004 version, but when looking at the roads, platforms and parking places, they are, in my opinion, far below the image level of what you might expect from Flight Simulator X. Although "FREE Flow Florida" scenery is not yet available for FSX, that software offers much more detail for FS9, especially looking at this area.
It could also be that it has to do with the impact that FSX has on your system. When you are able to set all the sliders in FS2004 to maximum, you aren’t able to do this in FSX and maintain normal FPS. This also means that I faced a frame rate drop of around 10FPS on my system when compared to FS9 .
One final note regarding the included Cape Canaveral flights. Aerosoft will offer customers 5 Cape Canaveral flights to find your way to Merritt Island. These will be available from their website.
I would like to close with these words, "it’s a nice add-on, but to me after comparing the Aerosoft FS2004 with the FSX version, it appears Aerosoft just transferred the old FS9 version into a FSX compatible one without any additional features and/or improvements. However, you have to keep in mind that it only covers Cape Canaveral." You have to ask yourself how often you think you’re going to use it, compared for example with Ultimate Terrain X, which is a scenery enhancer for the whole of North America.
What I Like About Cape Canaveral X
What I Don't Like About Cape Canaveral X
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