FSX has been out almost two years now. During that time, Aerosoft has been updating its various products for the new sim, including various scenery products for Germany. These two products are from the German Airfields (GA) line, which covers local airfields and regional airports.
With GA2: Nordlichter, coverage of the German coastline moves east and to the north. (An earlier product, Island Hopping, covered the western coast already.)
GA9: Northern Bavaria, which I am reviewing at the same time, is an update of one of the first products in the GA series; previously, it wasn’t compatible with the most recent service packs, but that has been fixed now and, during a month of flying, I encountered zero problems.
Each product has detailed scenery for fourteen or fifteen local airports, including at least one regional airport.
For GA2: Nordlichter, the airports are:
In addition, there is also a hospital landing pad in Kiel and a water runway in Hamburg.
For GA9: Northern Bavaria, the airports are:
• EDFC Aschaffenburg
Each product, while part of the same series, was crafted by a different team and, as a result, has a slightly different personality. I’ll comment on this as we go on.
Installation and Documentation
Installation is straightforward and automatic. If you have overlapping products, the installer program will detect this and arrange your scenery library accordingly. For GA9, there is also a configuration program, which adjusts ground and foliage textures to match the season. With GA2, there is only season, so no configuration is necessary.
Documentation is in the form of two PDF files: a user manual and a set of charts. The user manual varies in length from 29 pages for GA9 to 48 pages for GA2; the first half is in German, the second half is in English. It lists the airports covered, explains how to set up your scenery sliders (for GA2) or how to use the configuration program (for GA9), and points out a few (by no means all) of each package’s highlights.
The second PDF contains official charts for each of the covered airports. These show the field layout, identify buildings, and specify the traffic pattern (including any restrictions). I printed these out two-to-a-page (since most airfields have two charts). I found that by using them, I noticed more of what I was seeing, and trying to observe the local restrictions made pattern flying more interesting.
What both packages lack is a decent map of where the airfields are geographically. GA2 comes with a file that shows them in Google Earth; however, as I pointed out in my review of GA3, this doesn’t print well. GA9 is even worse in this respect; it comes with no map at all. For both packages, I ended up printing out a road map of the coverage area, and writing in the ICAO codes by hand. Someone who lived in one of these regions could probably do this in about twenty minutes; it took me the better part of an hour, and that was just for one package.
There should be a map of where the airfields are. It doesn’t have to be the same quality as a VFR sectional, but it should be legible when printed; Google Earth, while great for some applications, is not usable for this one.
What You Get
Major airports, such as Hamburg and Munich, are covered in a different series, German Airports. The airports covered in this series are smaller in scale, and at the same time more intimate. Each of these airfields feels unique. There are elements, of course, that are common to all airports; for example, all of them have runways and a majority have control towers. But support services vary widely, and so do the types of traffic.
From the glider cases on the ground, you can tell that some airfields specialize in gliders; the regional airfields have accommodations for passengers; and in the case of one airport, Husum, there is actually a fence in the center of the field; one side of the airport is civilian, the other side is military, and has armored personnel carriers on the tarmac!
Situation varies as well; some fields are urban, others are rural. The mix makes both packages more fun. Each package covers a relatively small region, and some of the fields are only a few minutes apart; because of the variety, though, you don’t have to fly a long distance to see something different.
Here is a partial list of objects I noticed: noise shields, lots of trees (often lining the runways, but not usually on runway thresholds), playgrounds for children, beer gardens and eateries (with local signage), flight schools, repair hangars, various types of refueling equipment, parked aircraft, parked cars, gliders, glider cases, lamp posts, runway markers, taxiway markers, windsocks (including, at some fields, windsock carts), warning signs, signal squares (non-working), runway indicators on the control towers (working), PAPI and VASI lights, rabbit lights, airplane hangars, trailer camps, and lots of human figures: men, women (including, in GA2, pregnant women), children, mechanics, pilots, passengers, observers. They don’t move, but (as I remarked in my review of GA3) they do bring a place to life.
All airfields are lighted at night, although not necessarily the runways; it depends on whether the real airport is open for night landings.
Another feature, which I did not notice in GA3, is sound. In GA2, this seems to be used selectively, but in GA9, you will hear woodland sounds at almost every field. At airfields with eateries, there are café sounds (people laughing, people talking), and when you near a repair hangar, you will hear sounds of hammering and drilling.
It took me a month to see all of the airfields in both packages, and while I’ve taken lots of screenshots, I don’t have a sense yet that I’ve seen (or at least noticed) everything. There are some fields that I like better than others, usually because they have an interesting location; but there are no dull fields in either package and, again, each field is unique.
Differences between GA2 and GA9
GA2: Nordlichter is a newer product than GA9, and feels like it. This is evident in several areas. First is the harbor of Kiel. For most airfields, products in the GA series try to cover the airfield proper and the surrounding terrain for about 2 km in each direction, including bridges, church spires, observation towers, windmills, smokestacks, and other aerial obstacles. For Kiel, though, the team has modeled the entire harbor, including the marina, the cargo loading facilities, an off-shore lighthouse, and numerous buildings.
In terms of scale, detail, and the mix of land and water features, it reminds me of the Sitka model that Bill Womack did for Tongass Fjords. There’s lots of water traffic and -- something you don’t usually see in Flight Simulator -- helicopter traffic as well. Kiel is home to a base of Sea King helicopters, and if you stick around for any length of time, you will see them taxiing on the field and then taking off across the harbor.
Further inland, there’s also water traffic on the rivers; not just the little pleasure craft that are standard now in FSX, but big, colorful container ships that float past the airfield at Rendsburg (EDXR). These are frequent enough that you don’t have to wait around all day to see one. At Kiel, there’s also custom ground traffic that drives over the curved bridge; I don’t know if that’s unique in Flight Simulator, but it’s fun to watch.
At least two of the fields have animated flocks of birds, and all of them have photographic ground textures. Resolution for these seems to vary. For example, at Flensburg (EDFX), the ground textures are extremely sharp. But at St. Michaelisdonn (EDXM) they’re blurry, and at Kiel helicopter base, the landing circles are fuzzy.
I’m not sure what the problem is at St. Michaelisdonn, but the landing circle at Kiel should probably have been recreated by hand. I don’t want to exaggerate: in general, textures are sharp. But there is sometimes an over-reliance on photographs for objects that, from the customer’s point of view, would have looked better if they had been painted.
On the other hand, photographs give you details that, otherwise, would never make it into the product; an example of this is at Neumünster (EDHN), where one of the airport buildings has an old propeller nailed up on its outside wall. I don’t know how many buildings there are in this product -- I am guessing hundreds -- but using photographs makes them unique.
GA2 comes with a helicopter mission that’s fun to fly and shows off the harbor. Mission voices are in German, but if you follow the mission pointer you don’t need to know the language. Be patient: you’ll need to land and take-off at least twice, but if you take off too soon the mission will fail. The key is to wait until the mission pointer changes before taking off again; also, you need to be able to land on some small surfaces.
GA9: Northern Bavaria is fully compatible with FSX, including SP2 and Acceleration, but feels like an older product. Runways do get wet and shiny, which is a new feature in FSX, but there are no animated birds, no missions, and no high-resolution ground textures around each airport.
The difference is reflected in the relative file sizes: the newer product, GA2, takes up more than four times as much space on your hard drive. But bigger is not necessarily better. Yes, GA2 has more organic-looking people. (The human figures in GA9 look robotic by comparison.) But GA9 is no less inventive: each field has just as much variety, and surprising details abound. For example, at Bayreuth (EDQD) the glass panels all have bird scare decals.
Also, the GA9 airfields tend to blend in better with the surrounding default terrain. (I tested both products in combination with Ultimate Terrain Europe, and they all get along very well.) I’m guessing this is because the use of photographic ground textures is restricted to the airfield proper, and even then the photographic textures aren’t active until you’re already close to the field.
Topography is another difference: I’m sure the “Northern Lighters” who live in GA2 territory are all kind, hard-working, and neighborly; but they live in a coastal plain. In Bavaria, where GA9 is set, there are hills, rivers, and river valleys. That makes VFR more interesting, and allows for more variation in airfields: some are sited on hilltops, others have bluffs overlooking them, and one (EDNR) is nestled between two lines of tall trees.
GA9 also has seasonal textures. Again, the manual for GA2 says this isn’t possible anymore, but it is possible in GA9. You have to set the season manually, but if you do that every season, it’s only four times a year: not a hardship.
Another difference between the two products is performance. Kiel, in GA2, is an extremely detailed environment with lots of AI traffic; lower frame rates are to be expected. What I didn’t expect was an out of memory (OOM) error. I’m not blaming the designers for this; I just needed to dial back my autogen a notch. Once that was done, the scenery was more flyable, I didn’t have any more errors, and…there’s so much custom detail that I didn’t actually notice the missing autogen.
Outside of Kiel, GA2 has reasonable frame rates, but I had stutters when I turned or panned my cockpit view. My rig is not underpowered, so I’m guessing this is a result of the detailed textures in use. My video card has 512 mb, and it’s possible that more memory would eliminate this problem; I don’t know.
I noticed the same thing at one or two airports in GA3 (which I reviewed a few months ago), but in GA2, this kind of stuttering seems to be the norm. It doesn’t repeat at regular intervals, only when new objects come into view, but it doesn’t go away, either, after the whole scenery has loaded. If I look away for several seconds and then look back, there’s a hesitation while some textures reload. It’s a hiccup, nothing more, but it’s noticeable, especially with TrackIR.
With GA9, I had good frame rates and little or no stuttering. This is probably related to the smaller texture size; as I mentioned earlier, the download for GA9 is less than one quarter the size of GA2, for about the same number of airports.
German Airfields 2: Nordlichter and German Airfields 9: Northern Bavaria sell for 28 euro each (less if you don’t have to pay VAT). In preparation for this review, I toured the “Northern Lights” airfields for two weeks, then flew south and did the same thing for Northern Bavaria. Then I flew north and started over again.
Could one get tired of these? I suppose, and at some point one has to stop and write the review. But both of these products are fun and -- what’s kind of rare in Flight Simulator -- they’re fun right away.
I especially like them during the week, when there’s often no time (or, at the end of the day, no energy) for something more involved. With these products, you just jump in your favorite small plane and pick a couple of airfields to fly between. There’s a range of distances, so if you have an hour you can fill it. But if twenty minutes is all you have, that’s enough too: not just to fly somewhere, but to fly somewhere interesting.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: "In the original version of this review, I said that the windsocks in GA2 are non-functional. After the review was published, one of the developers contacted me to say that, in fact, the windsocks in GA2 do work, and so do the T-markers. The error, which was mine, has now been corrected."
What I Like About German Airfields 2 and 9
What I Don't Like About German Airfields 2 and 9
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