Scenery add-on for Microsoft FSX

“If you are a frequent visitor to screenshot forums, your probably know the first thing about Dillingham already: it looks superb.”

Hawaii, the Aloha State. Clear blue skies, clear blue waters, palm trees, surfers, bad shirts and some bad-moustached bloke named after a wine bottle, chasing bad guys around Paradise in a big red Ferrari. Oahu. Most developed of the Hawaiian islands, most famous for the skyscrapers of Honolulu and Pearl Harbor US Naval base. Also, now, the setting for Aerosoft's latest scenery in Microsoft Flight Simulator X.

Its developer, Bill Womack, is pretty well known in the FS online community for work such as his freeware Reading, PA, scenery for MAAM-SIM, Contributions to FSAddon's Misty Fjords and Tongass Fjords projects, and companion sceneries for RealAir Simulations' aircraft, including Bear Gulch near Seattle and RAF West Malling airfield, circa 1943. He's also someone that I count amongst my friends, although typically for the FS world, I've only actually met the guy once, and it wouldn't surprise me at all if the picture of him videoing us in the back of MAAM's B-25 "Briefing Time" appears somewhere around this review, because I know Nick has it (I do here).

Dillingham itself is a US Army owned airfield right at the North-Western corner of Oahu, available for civilian operations, although if you want to land anything too heavy there, you have to ask for permission first. It is situated on a narrow strip of land between the mountains that dominate the Western side of the island and the unstable waters of Oahu's northern coast, making it a haven for glider pilots in the real world and a whole different world from most peoples' holiday experience of the island.

FSX makes it possible for us to explore every inch of the island, whether tourist, native or totally un-populated, so let's go take a look around, shall we?

Installation

As usual with most commercial products these days, Aerosoft use an executable based installer, in this instance approximately 34Mb in size. Although these are normally pretty much of a muchness, requiring you to accept a license agreement, input registration details and confirm installation paths, this one has an extra pop-up box coded in which highlights an important piece of information: Dillingham requires, not optional, that you have installed FSX SP1. Fortunately, I can't think of a single reason not to install SP1, given the improvements it brings to the sim, but on the off chance that you haven't got it because of a problem or similar, Dillingham apparently won't work without it.

The installer extracts the scenery to a 48Mb folder under "Aerosoft" in your FSX root directory, adds itself to your scenery.cfg and gives you a new addition to your Start Menu of Aerosoft, under which you will find "Hawaii Dillingham X" and a link to the little 9-page PDF manual. If you have other Aerosoft products, such as I have the Beaver X package reviewed here, then these will be found under the same Aerosoft tab - a definite plus point when your Start Menu "All Programs" starts getting full.

If you want to uninstall the scenery for any reason, the uninstall link is found in your standard Windows Add/Remove Programs list.

Documentation

Being a fairly small airport, Dillingham doesn't need a massive manual and around half of what is provided is taken up with the "commercial" side of the product; Credits, Copyrights, System Requirements, Contacting Support, recommended FSX slider settings, etc. The other half is taken up by two pages of introduction and two pages of airport information.

Overall, the manual is, like all Aerosoft manuals, well laid out, concise but containing all the information you need in a professionally presented package. If I had to come up with one criticism, it's actually not Aerosoft's fault directly but that of their information provider for the airport details. Some of the acronyms and abbreviations used in the "Additional Remarks" section took me some time to work out and I've been in this game for a while. I'd hate to be a newcomer trying to work out what "INVOF", "CTC" and "CTN" mean, although, let's be honest here, how many people actually read the real world operating instructions and try to follow them when we put scenery in the sim, eh? I see a few hands going up around the world, but more guilty expressions I think!

Scenery

So now we get to the most important part of this review, the scenery itself and, if you are a frequent visitor to screenshot forums, your probably know the first thing about Dillingham already: it looks superb.

The airport itself is not complicated. It's certainly no Chicago O'Hare or Paris Charles de Gaulle, with a single runway, a full length taxiway from end to end (extended to match ongoing building work) and parking areas with buildings on both sides, primarily at the West end of the field. The north-west corner of the runway is taken up with a row of static gliders and the large, distinctive, hangar structure that dominates the road side of the airfield, while to the south of the road is a GA parking area with fuel bay, the tower and, as you go along the runway, a few other oddities.

I say oddities, rather than buildings, because apart from the ramshackle hut with spray can painted signs that passes as the "Aloha Skydivers" office and a few other, rather more expensive looking, offices there's also a small apron, partially hidden in the trees, that contains a shipping crate, a small storage hangar and what appears to be a small lump of decidedly chopped-up-looking Boeing 747. Yes, fans of the TV series "Lost" will already know Dillingham quite well, although they might not know it by its name, because much of the filming is carried out here and in the vicinity and Dillingham itself has appeared at least once (my wife thinks more than that, after I gave her a virtual helicopter tour) in episodes.

Going back to the Aloha Skydivers shack again briefly, however, it is worth noting that after looking at it for more than about thirty seconds, I really, REALLY, never wanted to get into an aircraft with their staff. From another Skype conversation with Bill, apparently they look even worse in real life than they do in the sim which is, frankly, quite terrifying considering what they are offering. It does, however, bring me nicely onto the next thing I need to discuss about the scenery, which is its occupants.

Sitting on the front of the Aloha Skydivers' platform is a rather fine example of FS manhood. Not Josh Holloway or Matthew Fox, unfortunately (or, for that matter, Evangeline Lilly, sorry guys), nor is he animated, but as 3d figures go, he's extremely realistic. So are those outside the rather more salubrious "Skydive Hawaii" offices and in several other places around the field. Plus there's the guy on the bike, who appears to be seriously airside without an orange vest on. Where's the operations manager? I wish to complain about security!

In addition to the people, there are a number of 3d vehicle models around, which look equally realistic and range from coaches, through a Mercedes and a rusty VW van, to an eclectic collection of cars. I think I even saw a BMW Mini in one carpark. The fact that these vehicles can be identified so easily is testament to the amount of attention to detail shown in the scenery overall. The quality of the buildings and structures around the field such as the swimming pool outside Pacific Skydiving, the children's play area and fuel tank near the tower are what gives Dillingham the character so lacking from default sceneries or those made from default objects. The bridge over a creek is worthy of note as well. In fact, as you tour the airfield at low level, you keep finding new objects and little things that show exactly how much work has been put in.

The ground textures are custom, mainly photographic although it looks like the aprons and operating surfaces (runways and taxiways) are custom textures of Scenery objects instead. The runway itself, in fact, is only the centre section of the tarmac available, with large unlicensed areas at either end. The blending around the edges of the photographic ground is well blended, using the surrounding terrain to its advantage and avoiding the obvious and distracting straight straight edges that cause many photosceneries to look out of place. One of the nice touches is that objects are placed in appropriate positions around the photoreal textures, so, for instance, the grass is not only edged with the 2d grass fringes that have been seen quite a lot recently, but there is a 3d effect over the entire area. Likewise, although the old field's large taxiways to the dispersal points are no longer in use, I spent quite some time nosing around them between the trees.

Overall, I saw nothing to complain about at all in the scenery. Frame rates were little changed from what I get anywhere in FSX, the AI traffic was sufficient to give the place some life, but didn't force you to hold for ages to get airborne. It's a pity there are no AI gliders, but I don't think that facility is actually provided in FS yet.

Integration With Other Add-ons

With any scenery for a sim as open as FS is, it's fairly safe to assume that at some point, you will come across a product that wants to occupy the same bit of land that your new product does. Even given the sparsity of FSX add-ons at the moment, Oahu indeed has such a thing in the form of MegaScenery Hawaii. Fortunately the two work very well together indeed, possibly because, as was suggested in a conversation between Bill and myself, the two products could well be using the same source photographs for textures. Just as an aside, MegaScenery Hawaii has been my first introduction to large-scale photographic sceneries in FSX and, in case you were wondering, there really is a world of difference between the grainy, sometimes indistinct, photosceneries of FS9 and the new world of FSX. This isn't a review of MSX Hawaii, though, it's a review of Dillingham, so enough on that topic. Suffice it to say there are no problems at all between the two, just layer Dillingham above MSX in your scenery library.

The other obvious add-on, given those mountains south of PHDH and the fact that FSX only includes ridge lift in missions, is the weather injection application ActiveSky X, which I also tested for this review, but with considerably less success. Apparently, ASX includes automatic creation of ridge lift, given the correct circumstances. Now whether or not it was me, or whether it was just that the weather didn't like me, I was unable on any test flight that I did to gain any lift from the mountains themselves and had to go looking for thermals. This is a bit of a pity, as Dillingham's popularity in the unpowered aircraft fraternity should speak for itself. I'll keep going on this one and if I get some ridge lift before this review is published, I'll update it! Fortunately between ASX and FSX I wasn't short of thermals and could, had I wanted to, have probably done a complete circuit of the island in the glider.

Conclusion

FS9, by the time FSX was released, had probably developed some of the most accurate and complex airliner simulations we have ever seen. It's newer stablemate, on the other hand, seems to be rapidly becoming the "low and slow" or "unpowered flight" simulator. Whether this is because of the new aircraft and features included by ACES, or just because the increased ground texture and object details makes flying low-and-slow more appealing I can't say, but it is definitely what I see more FSX users doing than anything else.

Of course, as it matures, there's every possibility that users' primary method of using the sim may well change, but right now, Dillingham airfield is very much in keeping with what people seem to want and does what it does extremely well indeed. At �15 (GB�10, US$20) the airfield isn't expensive, comparable, certainly, to other similar sized fields on earlier versions of the sim. If you fly a lot in Hawaii, it's well worth having. If you don't, the category I fitted into when I originally got Dillingham, you'll probably find that having such a good looking home field to operate from, you'll start doing so pretty quickly!

All in all, I think I have one complaint with Dillingham - made worse, if anything, when adding it to MegaScenery Hawaii... It makes all the other airports on Oahu look awfully boring and basic in comparison. So. Where are you doing next, Bill? ;)

Please visit Aerosoft for more information or to purchase this product, alternately you can purchase from Simmarket Visit Honolulu Soaring who are based at Dillingham to watch some excellent videos.
Click below to view a glider landing at Dillingham - real world!
Ian Pearson is a real world CAA PPL-IMC qualified pilot who has been hooked on civilian flight simming since Mail Pilot on the Commodore 64 and Thalion Airbus on the Amiga. He joined the MS Flightsim world with FS4 and almost immediately FS5.1CD, which was when his first attempt at designing aircraft went seriously pear shaped and he gave up. He has Beta tested for a number of well-known organisations and teams from FS98 through to the present day, but still hasn't found a way of making his addiction to Flight Simulation pay for itself, so officially works in the railway industry in the real world.

Nick Churchill has been providing images for advertisement of this product since January 2007, some images on this page have previously been used for marketing purposes by Aerosoft.

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