Though closed in 1998, the iconic Hong Kong Kai Tak International Airport is still one of the world’s most recognizable airports, thanks to the infamous IGS approach to runway 13. Kai Tak (Hong Kong International Airport) was established in 1922 by Chinese businessmen Ho Kai and Au Tak, who formed a company known as the Kai Tak Investment company, which attempted to reclaim land in Kowloon to be developed. After the business plan failed, the government acquired the land for use as an airfield.
Kai Tak was originally a small grass landing field for the RAF and numerous flying clubs and flight schools. Hong Kong, and with it, Kai Tak, was occupied by the Japanese in 1941. In 1942, two concrete runways (7/25, and 13/31) were constructed using Allied POWs as slave laborers. After the war, the airport was returned to the hands of the British, and the Royal Air Force.
In 1954, the plan to modernize Kai Tak was released that included construction of a passenger terminal, which was completed in 1962. The original runways were replaced by a new 13/31 and was constructed on reclaimed land. 13/31 remained the main runway until the closure of the airport. The runway was extended numerous times and the IGS for runway 13 was installed in 1974 to aid landing in adverse weather conditions.
Originally, the airport was “Far Enough” away from residential areas, but as the population of Kowloon grew, and the airport expanded, it was determined that it was too close to residential areas, and plans for its replacement began. On July 6, 1998, after 74 years of heart stopping landings, Kai Tak was officially closed with the final departure: Cathay Pacific Flight 3340 departed runway 13.
In the following years, the airport was used for numerous purposes and was temporarily reactivated (Cargo Only) due to a software bug at Chek Lap Kok’s cargo handling system. Since the closure, Kai Tak’s future has been a hot topic. There are numerous ideas of what to do with the area, but nothing is set in stone. One idea (My personal favorite, though it has been turned down) was to keep a small section of the runway open to use as a GA airport, as private aircraft are not allowed at Chep Lap Kok. As far as I know, the future of this once proud airport is still uncertain, but enough history, lets FlyKaiTak.
Installation and Documentation
The installation of Kai Tak is one of the more complex, though not difficult, installs that I have ever done. The installer starts with a standard EULA, and continues to an installation options screen. You must choose what options you want to install with the scenery based on your preferences and computer performance.
Options include Static/FSX Generic Jetways, Animated/Static Vehicles, AI/Static Ships, Fireworks, Light Beams, Haze Glow, Kowloon City Smog, AutoGen Trees, Water Class, SDK/Non-SDK mode (More on this later), and add them to Scenery CFG. As this scenery is very complex with hundreds, if not thousands of 3D objects, you may need to re-install the scenery with different options to find the perfect balance of performance and eye candy.
The documentation for Kai Tak is quite thorough, but in my opinion, is out of order. It begins with a set of charts for Kai Tak including approach (Both runways), and two airport diagrams. After the charts, the manual contains a written out approach procedure (Runway 13), communication frequencies, heliport locations, FAQs, SDK Mode explanation and pictures, as well as recommended simulator settings.
FlyKaiTak is more that just an airport scenery. It contains scenery, mesh, landclass, and photoground for the city of Hong Kong, more specifically the Kowloon neighborhood. The scenery also contains many effects and AI features that enhance the realism and feel of Kai Tak. I will break up the rest of the review into small, manageable sections that describe each of the areas of the airport, and features of the scenery separately.
SDK/Non SDK Mode
Adding to the realism of KaiTak immensely is the exclusion of what Fly Tampa calls SDK Compliance mode. By disabling SDK Compliance mode during installation, custom ground textures are included in place of the generic FSX runways and taxiways. Though this feature can potentially cut the frame rates in half, the visual appeal is well worth it in my book. Even on my relatively low end computer, I was able to run in non SDK mode without flying a slide show.
Non-SDK compliance mode adds the beautiful ground textures that you see in my screenshots, as well as the comparison shots provided in the FlyKaiTak manual. It is possible to install KaiTak with SDK compliance mode activated, but it reduces realism and eye candy that make this add on airport look so realistic and genuine. It is worth noting though, that the night lighting at KaiTak is much brighter with SDK mode, though I did not find the dimmer lighting to be a problem during my night flights into the ‘Tak.
The Main Apron and terminal area of Kai Tak was the original parking area at Kai Tak during the passenger era, with the east and south aprons being added later. It is worth noting, that Kai Tak only had eight parking spots with jetways despite the fact that it served dozens of heavies every day.
The rest of the main apron is filled with parking stands (which are populated by Boeing 747-300s when the Static Aircraft install option is selected) and light towers as well as ground servicing vehicles and passenger busses. No fewer than 15 static aircraft are parked on the Main apron and at the terminal painted in period liveries from United, Qantas, Cathay Pacific, Malaysia, Chain, Korean, KLM, and Varig.
Even with AI disabled (in an effort to maximize performance) the hustle and bustle of Kai Tak is still evident thanks to the static aircraft, moving vehicles, and the overcrowded nature of not only the city, but the airport as well. As night falls, fireworks are going off in the distance (if that option was checked for installation) and the apron/terminal take on a well rendered night lighting scheme that includes cabin lights on the static aircraft. Despite all the static aircraft, there are still plenty of open parking spaces for your plane, and if you desire, AI aircraft.
The East Apron of Kai Tak is home to HAECO Airplane Maintenance, overflow parking for airliners, the Kai Tak cargo terminal, and the remains of China Airlines 605 which crashed at Kai Tak in 1993. This area of the airport is populated by ten static aircraft (Eleven if you count the wreckage of China Airlines 605) carrying the titles of cargo airlines that served Kai Tak including Cathay Pacific, Dragonair, China, Korean and KLM. This area features the same great lighting as the Main Apron and terminal, with two differences; No cabin lights, and exterior lights on the cargo terminal and HAECO hangar.
Kai Tak’s South Apron is inhabited by the ever present static aircraft. (Passenger Versions) The South apron was constructed later in the Kai Tak days, and was used as overflow parking. Just like the rest of Kai Tak (Except the eight gates of course) passengers deplane using portable airstairs and use buses to go to and from the terminal and baggage claim areas. Accordingly, the entire airport is populated with the buses and other ground equipment that is used much more commonly at Kai Tak than contemporary airports.
Runway and Approaches
Kai Tak’s only runway (13-31) is a thing of beauty in Non-SDK compliance Mode, marked with years worth of tire skid marks from countless heavies landing in stiff crosswinds. The main goal of this scenery is, in my opinion, to replicate the famous IGS checkerboard approach to runway 13, and I believe that Fly Tampa hit the nail right on the head.
The Kowloon city scenery is stunningly replicated under the approach, including all the lighting and buildings. Fly Tampa went so far as to overlay screenshots of its middle marker and lead-in lights with a picture of the real thing, and it lines up perfectly. The checkerboard hill is landable (by helicopter, it seems a bit small for even a cub) and is a good place to watch the traffic landing, though you will need to add AI packs, as default traffic does not go to Kai Tak. Just like the approach lights and path, the iconic hill is also replicated in all of its glory, completing the illusion that you are really on final to that airport that you have seen so many times in pictures and videos.
As far as I can tell, having never been there, the city of Kowloon is replicated accurately circa 1998 when Kai Tak closed. The city is very well done with thousands of custom buildings and objects, including a haze effect that replicates the highly polluted air. I especially like the port that falls in the approach path.
Upon closer inspection (with a helicopter sightseeing flight), Fly Tampa not only created custom ships, but placed the shipping containers that are ever present at busy ports. It took quite a few hours with a helicopter to experience this scenery, and I was still finding new things every time I went up. This is a testament to the quality and attention to detail of Fly Tampa sceneries.
The addition of the dense Kowloon city under the approach path (as well as coverage in other areas, though the entire city is not replicated) is a spectacular addition to the package, and enhances the realism of the entire area. On the realism scale, Fly Tampa is tops in my book, and Kai Tak (I cannot believe that I am saying this, as the other package is also hyper-realistic) gives their St. Maarten package a run for its money!
Unlike the other Fly Tampa products that I have tested, Kai Tak has a noticeable impact on performance. Sure, I did have many of the frame rate robbing options turned on, but my computer still struggled more than other sceneries.
Even though it has a higher frame rate impact than others that I have tried, the extensive installation options allow it to run on lower end hardware, though it will not be as realistic. Though it does not run as smoothly as St. Maarten for example, FSX was still running at a respectable 15 FPS. (when it would have been running 20-30 under different conditions) By disabling the static aircraft, Non SDK mode, and the moving vehicles, I believe that Kai Tak could have easily pushed 30FPS even on my relatively low end equipment.
Even though the frame rates were impacted by the scenery, I think that the sheer amount of polygons and objects would have brought my machine to its knees had this not been a Fly Tampa product, as they are famous in the FS community for providing detailed, but frame rate friendly sceneries, that never fail to impress even the most seasoned FS veterans.
During the testing of Kai Tak, I ran into one problem, and that is that the airport perimeter fences were floating about 500 feet above the airport. As I have done in the past, I consulted the Fly Tampa forums, and the problem had already been addressed.
The support for this product was excellent, and I believe that full credit should be given here. The Fly Tampa forums also provide a place to discuss, and fix, any other problems you may have with installing or flying in this beautiful scenery.
A Note On The Screenshots
At the request of Fly Tampa, I provided many more screenshots for this review than I normally do. Due to the fact that I have a low end computer, and a limited payware library (aircraft), I had to ask for some help with that request.
Most of these screenshots were provided by other virtual Kai Tak pilots, from the Fly Tampa and MetroAir Virtual forums. I would like to thank everyone who allowed me to use these screenshots, as they really helped make this review possible. Since these shots came from many providers, they may be enhanced by other freeware and payware add-ons (AES, ActiveSky, etc) and AI aircraft that are not included with this package.
Despite the fact that some of the shots have other add-ons, I carefully screened them to ensure that they gave a good perspective of the scenery as it comes from Fly Tampa, so for the most part what you see is what you get (the add-ons definitely enhance the shots, but are not the focus). The out-sourced screenshots also come from numerous levels of hardware/graphics cards/processors, and are taken in both FS9 and FSX SP2.
Summary / Closing Remarks
Thanks to Fly Tampa, Kai Tak is now re-opened, and I cannot say how glad I am that it is! After seeing hundreds of videos of 747s and A340s turning final at the checkerboard hill, I was finally able to do it at the controls of my very own virtual airliner. Despite the two issues with this scenery (Fences, and Possible Frame Rate issues at higher settings) it is definitely a winner in my book.
Unlike most scenery packages, you get most of a densely packed city as well as the airport in the package, and it is all extremely well executed. I found myself being blown away by the detail every time I took off, and found myself wanting to come back for more, as I was afraid that I was going to miss something. I truly enjoyed my time at Kai Tak, and it will be an overseas destination of mine for years to come!
What I Like About Kai Tak
What I Don't Like About Kai Tak
Tell A Friend About this Review!
All Rights Reserved