As I begin to write this review, it is raining just outside my window, pouring in fact. Visibility is low, winds are high and temperatures are low as well. The reason I’m starting to write today is because my flight lesson was cancelled for the day due to weather, and I couldn’t help but think that if I was a resident of Dutch Harbor, that the flying wouldn’t slow down a bit. After all, Dutch Harbor has an average of 250 rainy days a year, and being located on the southern edge of the inhospitable Bearing Sea, howling crosswinds and thick fog are often the rule rather than the exception.
Dutch Harbor is a relatively small fishing town located on the island of Amaknak in the volcanic Aleutian Island chain jutting out over 1000 miles into the Bearing Sea. Dutch Harbor is often described as one of the final frontiers in the US and as a boom town (the island’s year round population of 8,000 is often doubled during the days leading up to the opening of the next fishing season) due to its importance to the Alaskan fishing industry, particularly crab, and cod as documented on Discovery Channel’s Deadliest Catch. As an avid fan of the show, I was thrilled to learn that Aerosoft was covering not only the infamous Unalaska airport (which often takes travelers a week to reach due to poor weather), but the town of Dutch Harbor, in addition to a large portion of the Aleutian Islands. Small scenery bits and improvements are also provided for a few of the abandoned air bases as well as the fishing town of Akutan and its seaplane base is also covered.
Installation and Documentation
Installation of Dutch Harbor X is quick and easy thanks to the standard Aerosoft license key protected auto installer. Following purchase approval, the download is available on your Aerosoft account along with your license key. Provided you don’t decline the license agreement and copy down your activation code correctly, installation takes less than 2 minutes.
Following installation, the first thing you should do is go into the Dutch Harbor X folder (Under Programs->Aerosoft in the Start/Programs menu) and view the short and sweet, yet thorough 14 page full color PDF manual. The manual contains an introduction and background on the scenery and real world Dutch Harbor operations, system requirements (FSX SP2/Acceleration, XP/Vista/Windows 7 OS, 2.0 GHz Processor, 2GB RAM, 256MB Graphics Card), credits to developers, copyright information, uninstall instructions, support information, coverage information and map, missions, links to more information on Dutch Harbor (Much of which is footage from Deadliest Catch), explanation of the seasons tool, suggested settings, FAQs, and some of the included charts (others are found in a separate Charts.pdf file).
The small town nature of not only the city of Dutch Harbor, but Unalaska airport as well gives a different feel to the scenery, especially when compared to megahubs like Amsterdam. Just in the brief inspection of the airport and its immediate surroundings from the cockpit of my virtual Stationair, I began to realize why PenAir’s Saab 340 pilots are required to carry such a large fuel reserve, as the real world weather settings were rocking the wings with a stiff crosswind rivaled only by those of Kai Tak and would make any attempt at takeoff or landing sporty to say the least.
At the southeastern end of the airport, you will find all the buildings and facilities (except the NDB) as well as all the parking spaces. On the northern side of the runway you will find a few well detailed hangars, airfield snow clearing and construction equipment (which I would guess has more miles on it than any other vehicle in Unalaska!), a few other small buildings and some ruins from the Dutch Harbor Naval Installation era (more on this in the “City of Dutch Harbor” and “Other Scenery” sections).
One such building is the garage for the airport vehicles, which is not only fully 3D (the doors are actually recessed rather than just textured shadowing), but the large yellow objects between the doors to help with lineup and to prevent a vehicle from hitting the building are also modeled in 3D. Also on this side of the airport is a barbed wire topped perimeter fence, though for some reason a large gate is always open, defeating the purpose of the fence in my opinion. There is an issue with this fence, as the alpha channels are set up so that the fence becomes transparent when you are looking through it at any other sim object save for buildings (such as an aircraft or clouds) much like a prop blur or rotor that was ported from FS9 to FSX. Other than this small glitch, I could not find anything else wrong with the north side of the airport, though I do feel that the ramps are a bit too clean (no oil or fuel stains).
For anyone who is not familiar with operating an aircraft near the water, be prepared for a shock, as many flocks of birds are in the immediate vicinity of the airport as a product of not only the ocean, but also the free food scraps that are often discharged from the nearby seafood processing canneries.
After advising the traffic in the area that you are about to cross the beautifully textured (though also a bit too clean) runway (Dutch Harbor is not a towered airport, and all movements are announced on the Cold Bay CTAF), you can make the short trip to the “commercial” side of the airport where the terminal is located. By “terminal” I do not mean a building with a few sets of jetways, a ton of ground clutter and plenty of parking spaces, rather a small building with an Alaska Airways sign that has steps and a handicapped/rolling carry-on bag accessible ramp down to the parking apron.
This being a small Alaskan airport there is no tug for towing a long baggage train to and from the aircraft, rather a flatbed wagon complete with a towing handle. Small amounts of baggage is scattered around the front of the terminal, obviously awaiting the next PenAir flight out of Dutch. To either side of the terminal are a few static FSX default airport vehicles including a single tug, fuel truck, forklift, baggage loader, and a few other vehicles I do not recognize, as well as some custom cars and trucks both on the ramp and in the nearby parking lot.
The south side also has another open barbed wire fence, as well as the adjacent WWII Historical Area visitor’s center. Though I am not sure, I believe the other airport on the southern side of the airport to be a cargo handling facility, which would be a major asset to the island’s fishing industry, making it possible to ship fresh seafood by air to larger airports for transport to eager consumers worldwide.
On the field itself there are a few interesting things that I have yet to find in the lower 48 states (or anywhere else in the world for that matter). The one thing that struck me was having two separate VASI/PAPI type glide slope indicators for the two different target landing points. My guess is that one is for large jet class aircraft (the 737s, and possibly the Saabs as well) and the other is for the smaller GA aircraft and is located a short distance further down the runway. I may be incorrect about this, but in my experience in both sims and the real world, I have never seen a VASI where the lights did not change from red to white at the same time. Each of the visual landing aids only has two light units (of three 3D lights sitting about 5 feet above the runway adjacent to the piano keys) complete with manufacturers information on the back, rather than the traditional four light setup of a VASI or PAPI.
At the 12 end of the runway, there is a small rock breakwater that slopes down from the end of the runway, which is situated roughly 30 feet ASL. Since much of this scenery is created using a shell type setup that covers the default, it is no surprise that this is an altitude discrepancy of between 2 and 8 feet when compared to the provided charts (as well as some 3rd party charts I have courtesy of having family in the airline industry). Also located on the field are the NDB and three default windsocks, but a custom wind direction indicator ring, as well as runway direction indicator are added around them to enhance the look.
At the 30 end of the runway is a St. Maarten-esque road which runs mere feet away from the end of the runway, though the signage is slightly different with “Aircraft has right of way” signs rather than the famous “Jet blast can injure or kill”. Traveling a bit further down the road you see an open fence on one side and a ramp down to the water on the other.
Dutch Harbor’s somewhat sheltered waters allow for a seaplane base to be located just across the street from the airport, and for amphibious aircraft the ability to taxi up the ramp, across the street and park in a hangar or just on the ramp. Since seaplanes are just as common, if not more so, than landplanes in Alaska, this capability is great for any airport to have, and I’m happy it was implemented in Dutch Harbor X. Even with the simulator limitations on sloped surfaces, the ramp is still easy to taxi up and down provided the right power or brake settings are used.
City of Dutch Harbor
Being such a small city, it takes less than 10 seconds after takeoff (provided the crosswinds aren’t too high) to be over the city of Unalaska, or the port of Dutch Harbor. There is no doubt that this is a fishing town, with docks and port facilities scattered around the town, stacks of crab pots being stored, as well as stacks of shipping containers fresh off the container ships docked in the port. If you purchased this add-on to see the Deadliest Catch boats, you’ll be disappointed, as all the vessels are of the default variety. In fact, there aren’t even any crabbers present in the scenery at all!
The larger part of the port is populated with a WWII era Liberty Ship as well as a few container ships, an oceangoing tug, and a small cruise ship. Other areas are home to commercial fishing vessels of the long lining and trawling variety, as well as some pleasure vessels (Who in their right mind would use the Bearing Sea for a pleasure cruise?). All things considered, unless you are a commercial fisherman yourself, live in a fishing town, or are some sort of enthusiast, you will probably not know the difference, and see all the docked vessels and not realize that they are not the same type that you would see in Dutch.
On shore near the vessels is appropriate clutter, such as cranes, containers, boxes of provisions, lines, fishing gear, etc. A texture issue with the containers is common in the scenery, with every face of some containers being covered by the texture that would only be on one of the sides, and some containers even have different company logos from the top to side of the same unit! The docks are well done as well, though I would have preferred to have open space beneath them rather than the more solid (and non transparent) model that the developer used.
Moving ashore, hundreds of custom 3D objects are present from gas stations, to stores, to Russian Orthodox churches, all of Dutch Harbor’s landmarks are present. Great low poly models of cars and trucks populate the city as well, though unfortunately they are static. A few texture issues are present in the city too, with some signs being displayed backwards, but overall quality is high, and unless you are looking very closely you probably will not notice. The photoreal ground textures are a bit blurry when compared to many other types of scenery on the market today, though this is explained on the Aerosoft support forum as high resolution textures for Alaska are not practical to obtain for a simulator.
Having never been to Dutch Harbor in person, I cannot confirm the accuracy of many of the buildings, though they all feel right and seem to fit the area, the town, and with the other buildings I can confirm accuracy of. Many small bridges are present in Dutch Harbor as well, spanning small gaps of water. Their low height and tight gaps can provide hours of enjoyment for crazy Cessna float pilots like me, but only after mastering the art of landing in stiff crosswinds after a curving approach dodging the mountains in low visibility. Speaking of water, beautiful 3D buoys are present in a few areas of the harbor, though not nearly as many as there are in real life according to a marine chart of the area.
Other Scenery (Akutan, Old Military Bases, Volcanoes)
Dutch Harbor X covers a large part of the Aleutian Island chain, and includes not only landclass for many islands surrounding Amaknak, but also some enhanced scenery for two seaplane bases and the small towns they are located in, as well as improvements in scenery for many other small gravel airstrips in the area. Furthermore, relics from the World War II era including Quonset huts, revetments, blockhouses, and a ship are also included in Dutch Harbor X.
Being a Deadliest Catch fan(atic), my first flight away from the immediate Unalaska area was to the nearby seaplane base at Akutan, which is the winter home of the Northwestern. After a short flight, I splashed down in the sheltered harbor at Akutan, and after a minute of taxiing, I was at the seaplane ramp, which is adjacent to the town’s church. With an extra bit of throttle, my 206 climbed the steep ramp to the parking area where I found some cargo freshly unloaded from the previous flight in.
A short ways to the west is Akutan’s main port, which is populated with fishing boats, stored crab pots, a crane, and numerous stacks of containers. Also in this area are the port offices and buildings, which match their real world counterparts as best as I could compare without flying to Akutan. To the east is the town, which much like Unalaska is dictated by the topography of the island and is pressed up against the sea by large mountains. Another small dock for fishing vessels is located to the east, and has the same kinds of dock clutter that I have seen both in Dutch and in the real world.
Also like Dutch, the buildings seem to fit and match the general architecture that I know works in the area, though I cannot confirm if the buildings are 100% accurate to the real world. The city of Akutan is surrounded by steep and inhospitable terrain, which is a vast improvement over what I remember from the area back when I was using the default scenery, which is the case for the entire area covered by Dutch Harbor X.
Another included seaplane base in the scenery is Chernofski Harbor, which is a much smaller base and town than Akutan and Dutch. A very detailed dock is included, and features oil drums and a gas pump. To the side of the dock is a Piper Cub on floats, which is beached yet still bobs around like it is in the water. A small handful of custom 3D buildings and objects are present in the extremely small town, which is obviously not the booming metropolis that most scenery packages are built for.
The Aleutian islands are a volcanic island chain, and though there hasn’t been an eruption in a long time, some of the dormant islands vent off steam from time to time, and this is modeled in the scenery. This is a custom effect that is activated on three days a month in certain locations. The volcanoes are all marked on the coverage map, and finding them shouldn’t be too tough, especially with a column of steam rising from the caldera.
Four other airfields are included in the scenery, though the coverage is more of small enhancements rather than actual scenery coverage. Rather than just a barren field with a gravel or old runway, there are small additions of cargo clutter on the ground, fuel pumps, or small sheds. Other enhancements are as simple as landclass updates. In the default FSX Scenery, Driftwood Bay was in a deep hole and was extremely difficult to reach with the majority of aircraft. This has been fixed with the custom landclass, which doesn’t make AK23 the easiest airport to land at, but it is at least possible.
The last scenery items that I want to touch on is the World War II relics around Unalaska. Dutch Harbor was attacked by the Japanese in 1942 because it was a small naval installation at the time. The Fort Mears Naval Installation is no longer present as far as I know (its location being occupied by a container ship dock), but some relics from the war including blockhouses on the mountains around Dutch Harbor are. While not modeled in exquisite detail, the simple act of including these elements in the scenery helps to really nail the theme of the location and represent Dutch Harbor as it really is.
The Seasons Tool is a small external application that you can run to help change the seasons. Due to the use of high resolution ground textures and custom autogen, it is easier for Aerosoft to change the feel and season of the scenery using an external application. Use of the tool is very simple, just scroll the picture to the season you plan on flying in, click the load current season button, and enjoy the eye candy of a chilly Alaskan summer, or a fiercely cold Dutch Harbor winter.
Flying to Dutch
As I have already discussed, Dutch Harbor’s airport is made up of a single relatively short runway situated at the base of a mountain. As if this didn’t make it hard enough to land there, the island is pummeled by high winds on a daily basis blowing in off of either the Pacific Ocean or Bearing Sea, and in addition to the mountain the airport is bordered by, there is more than enough high terrain to make any pilot a little uncomfortable. I made numerous flights to and from Dutch Harbor in my evaluation of the scenery, in aircraft ranging from an amphibious Cessna 206, to Twin Otters of the wheel and float variety, to both amphibious and land only Quest Kodiaks, and even a 757!
The flight in the 206 was mainly just an orientation and test flight to see how well the area was rendered. One thing you will quickly learn is that with real world weather turned on, flying any Cessna outside of the larger end of the Citation family is going to be difficult. After buzzing just about every building in Dutch Harbor, I had to resort to a water landing in the bay due to gusty crosswinds. I COULD have probably made a safe landing on the runway, but with the unforgiving nature of amphibious floats I decided to play it safe. After that flight I left Carenado’s 206 in the hangar on all but the calmest of Dutch Harbor days (which consist of light rain and winds in the 10-15 knot range) in favor of larger turboprops.
The aircraft I did most of my exploring in was the Quest Kodiak (By Lionheart) with the standard beefy undercarriage. The Kodiak’s larger size and large power reserve allowed me to fly in worse weather than the 206, though you wouldn’t want to be caught out in the types of winds that aren’t exactly uncommon in the Aleutian chain. The Kodiak served as a perfect bush plane to fly “missions” (Of my own creation) to the nearby fields included in the scenery, able to land on the unpaved runways, and also able to fly low and slow for aerial observation. The amphibious variant of the Kodiak also proved to be a perfect vehicle to explore the two included seaplane bases, providing a better platform to fly in the event that the weather gets nasty (which you can ALWAYS count on in Alaska).
Though I really enjoy checking out all the eye candy and pretending I was flying bush missions low and slow around the Aleutians, my most interesting flight was in the 757 (I did not, and still do not have a properly working 737, but given the headwind component I had no issues substituting the 757) on a typical “Real World Weather” Dutch Harbor day, with a 60 degree crosswind gusting to nearly 40 MPH!
I took off from Anchorage with a nearly full load of fuel, knowing that I would be battling a headwind component most of the way to Dutch in addition to the possibility of needing numerous landing attempts (and more than likely a diversion to Cold Bay). As I descended into Dutch, the METAR wasn’t pretty, and the view out the windscreen unfortunately matched. I started by flying a left hand pattern after getting down to about 2600 feet AGL to start getting a feel for the winds, and after two circuits I dropped the gear and put in the final notches of flaps and started to approach. Even though it was raining and there was an overcast layer, visibility would be the least of my issues, as crosswinds on this approach were coming in at 35 knots at a roughly 45 degree angle. As I started to stabilize, the winds dropped by 10 knots, causing me to lose enough lift to sink lower than I was comfortable with, triggering the first of many go-arounds. I attempted the left handed pattern 2 more times with no success. Knowing the winds were coming from the left though, making my final turn into the winds (even though it would put me closer to terrain and limit my view of the runway until I turned final) with a right hand pattern made more sense.
After a lap around the mountain and coming precariously close (though still retaining something that resembled a margin of safety) to the mountains, I was faced with yet another crazy approach, with a high crab angle. This time I kept my speed up to counter the possible drop of wind speed that had foiled two of my prior approaches, only to overshoot and go around yet again. For various reasons I missed the next two approaches. All this flying around with a dirty airframe low to the ground isn’t good on gas mileage, and I had enough fuel remaining for one more approach before a Cold Bay diversion became necessary.
As my personal scenario put it, the fisherman had worked hard to catch a planeload of crab to send to eager consumers in the lower 48 states, so I should do my absolute best to try and get on the ground to load up ASAP. Turning from downwind to base, the winds remained high, though the gusts had subsided. Holding a crab angle to minimize drift towards the mountains immediately to my left, I began to bank towards the runway for my last attempt. I rolled out, and immediately started crabbing the opposite direction to keep on centerline, a few gusty burst kicked up to try to foil my attempts to land, but I was quick enough on the power and yoke to wrestle the plane back onto the track and glide slope I wanted it on. Much to the delight of the local aircraft spotters (who are afforded a St. Maarten-esque view of landing planes), I was able to bring it in on target for a quick touchdown in the first PAPI box. Thanks to the headwind component, I could have easily given back half of the runway, though I rolled out to the end to make the 180 turn easier.
After getting my first glimpse of a dry Dutch Harbor (the rain let up long enough for the loading process to be completed), it started raining in time for my departure. The winds had shifted to nearly a direct headwind though, and takeoff performance was impressive to say the least. All in all, between its location and weather, Dutch Harbor is right up there with Lukla, Saba, and St. Barths in difficulty, only this airport is actually served by airlines with something larger than a Twotter in the fleet!
Dutch Harbor X is a large and complex scenery package, so you cannot expect it to have no impact on frame rates. Thankfully I have my system optimized, and it is working better than ever for this test. I was routinely getting frame rates in the 30-40 range, with spikes to over 45 with both default aircraft and some add-ons. As a comparison, sitting on the runway at my real world base of Oakland Pontiac International (KPTK) with identical settings to Dutch Harbor X in the default 172’s VC saw frame rates in the low to mid 40s spiking to well over 50, whereas Dutch was providing mid 30s. The default 737-800 provided frame rates of 31 at PTK and right around 20 at Dutch. In all other aircraft testing, the frame rates dropped between 5 and 10 from default airports of various sizes to Dutch Harbor, and never more than a 33% difference.
Dutch Harbor X comes with its own introductory mission. The included mission is a short flight in a recently repaired Goose with a copilot who has some basic knowledge of the area. He has a few stories to tell, but honestly is difficult to understand. I had to resort to reading his dialog in the messages section of the kneeboard.
The mission includes a takeoff, introduction to the area and the nontowered nature of the airport, the generally bad weather, and a water landing in Dutch Harbor followed by an optional extension to taxi up the ramp back to the airport after the splashdown. Whether or not to take the added “challenge” is up to you, as it is difficult to get up the ramp and through the gate thanks to the finicky crash detection provided by FSX.
The Dutch Harbor X introduction is the only new mission included with the package, but the two default missions involving Dutch (Aleutian Cargo Run and Dutch Harbor Approach) are both upgraded and patched to work properly with the add on scenery.
Summary / Closing Remarks
During the time I spent in Dutch Harbor X, I was able to do the type of flying I rarely am able to in the lower 48 states where I normally fly. Between the precarious location, and terrible weather, there aren’t many airports that are as tricky as Dutch Harbor. When the wind calms down enough to fly however, you are able to enter an incredible world of custom objects and landclass that span a large part of the Aleutian island chain. There was always something new and interesting to explore in the area, and I doubt I saw everything.
From the chilly summer, to the harsh winter Dutch Harbor X offers a challenge for all pilots, be it wrestling a plane onto the runway at Unalaska, sightseeing at the WWII historical areas, splashing down in a bay to provide vital supplies to a small town, or just setting the weather to clear and enjoying the sights and sounds of flying around in one of the most remote areas of the world. I thoroughly enjoyed my time flying around Dutch Harbor X, and highly recommend it to any pilot interested in a challenge, bush flying, Alaska in general, or Deadliest catch.
That said it is not without its flaws, with some texture/alpha issues and many default scenery objects. Overall though, the feel is great and gives you a little taste of the Aleutian Islands through a much needed enhancement to the most famous fishing town in the world.
What I Like About Dutch Harbor X
What I Don't Like About Dutch Harbor X
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