By D’Andre Newman, AirDailyX
Question: What does Meigs Field and Seattle Tacoma airport, have in common? They were both default starting airports in past versions of flight simulator. Meigs Field in Chicago (no longer in existence) is an interesting choice so aptly named after Merrill C. Meigs a rather iconic aviator. But I have also heard it was chosen as the default airport for so many years due to its close location to Sublogic’s corporate offices. Sublogic was the original flight simulator before Microsoft took the reins. I assumed Seattle was chosen due to it’s proximity to Microsoft’s headquarters. But why was Friday Harbor the selection for FSX? I’m stumped on this one. Yet this little airfield joins the other aforementioned airfields as an iconic starting point within the Microsoft Flight Simulator franchise.
Now I suppose I should be clear right off the bat. For those used to my reviews, this one is going to be slightly different. I’m looking to appeal so some of the many thousands who purchased the Steam version of FSX potentially discovering flight simulation for the first time. I myself have been a flight simulation enthusiast since 1995 exactly 2 years after my very first commercial flight and anyone who loves this hobby never forgets their first airplane ride. Back then, it was mostly combat sim’s on my dad’s old Apple Mac that first drew me in to the simulation of flight. This brought an end to my endless hand piloting skills of die-cast airplanes around the backyard. Those combat games never fully satisfied my craving for commercial airliners like the MD80, and DC-10s I had flown on for the first time a few years prior. Then 1998 came along, by dad finally abandoned the Mac for his first PC with a fresh install of Windows 98. Shortly thereafter, Microsoft Flight Simulator 98 entered our home. Now this was something different. With the combat games, eventually I would get bored and just fly point to point trying to teach myself as much as I could. But with FS98, this was a true flight simulator and I relished every opportunity my dad was away to get the chance to fly which often meant sorties at 3 o’clock in the morning. It wasn’t till 2002 at the age of 21 did I finally get my first personal computer. Of all the things a computer was useful for back in 2002, the only purpose mine had was flight simulation. Even the internet back then wasn’t much useful unless you were one of those AOL chat room people.
After a while however, I started to get bored with the same ole airplanes. So I began searching the internet to see if there was a possibility that more aircraft existed and could be used with flight simulator. Not only did I find much more than what I was looking for, but I also discovered there was an entire community of people devoted to the hobby. Several flight simulation hobbyist websites existed and before I knew it, I was chewing the fat with people just like me, just as crazy about the hobby as me.
The community seemed to me to be very strong with a huge following. And when Microsoft went from FS2000, to FS2004, things had only gotten better. But the biggest change with FS2004 was the advent of the third party development community. Prior to this, almost everything you wanted was available for free or what we call “freeware addons”. Freeware products were seldom highly detailed but there were a few out there that were truly top notch. Essentially, freeware products enhanced the default airports that ship with flight simulator and payware products were far better in quality and realism than freeware products hence you had to pay for them. This was true of both aircraft and scenery. In a short period of time, the flight simulation community had exploded with dozens of new third party developers seeking to stake their claim within the world of flight simulation. Since then many have departed, many have stuck around, and many are new. My first purchase was LAX my home airport, an airport scenery developed by now defunct Cloud9 Simulations. The level of detail and realism was unbelievable. Little did I know then that by purchasing that first addon, I had in essence, opened a can of worms I still happen to be drowning in to this day. And more new developers keep arriving with massive talent effectively ensuring I remain broke for the rest of my life within this hobby.
Take Turbulent Designs for example. This is a development team duo that arrived on the scene within the last couple years and they are really making a name for themselves. Take Orbx Simulation Systems as another example, 8 years ago, Orbx didn’t even exist and today they are one of the leading brand names in the business yet just one of a great many that exist. Now when Microsoft decided to abandon flight simulation platform development many years ago after the advent of FSX, it was widely regarded that flight simulation and it’s community of fans and enthusiasts would start to slowly die off. But in fact, the hobby remained alive and well despite Microsoft abandoning nearly 25 years of service to the community. Sure other alternatives exist, but for the most part, FSX has maintained it’s stronghold.
Then, about a year or so ago, this fish & train game company came along and decided to take over the franchise. Who the heck were these people? Dovetail Games? Never heard of them. Now don’t get me wrong, I love trains, and I enjoy a day out on the lake fishing, but both pale in comparison to my love for flying. I’ll admit, the words adamant and skepticism has best described my feelings about what Dovetail had proposed to do. Now here are two more words describing my feelings: excited & hopeful. These two words also reflect my feelings about what Dovetail has been setting out to accomplish. Here is one more word: Proud. I am very proud to see what they have accomplished thus far and how the Steam Community has taken to the Steam version of FSX.
You see, after Microsoft left us, this also meant boxes of flight simulator titles would no longer appear on store shelves. Without this, the community could not grow. The thing that got my dad into flight simulation and subsequently me, all came down to a title on a store shelf. I suspect this is how many of us got started. But these days, there aren’t really any computer software isles in most brick & mortar electronics stores and if there are, they are merely a fraction of a fraction of what they used to be. Online retailers like Steam and Origin is where the world looks for new PC entertainment titles and the fact that FSX has not only found a home here, many thousands of newcomers have discovered flight simulation for the first time just like I did all those years ago.
But there is so much more to flight simulation than what you get in your initial download of FSX on Steam and in this review, it’s my hope that in this particular example, you will understand just how big the difference is between the default stuff that is already included in FSX Steam, and the stuff you can add to completely upgrade your experience. Believe me when I tell you, there is a massive collection of stuff out there to explore.
So, what is so special about this Friday Harbor place? It’s been selected as the default airport in FSX and now a couple of guys in England have gone through all the trouble to recreate it a great level of realism. Not an easy task. Besides this, Friday Harbor is just one of literally hundreds of general aviation and aerodromes that litter the Pacific Northwest Region of the Western United States. Why had the development team chosen this place among all the others? Because first impressions right? The moment you load that default flight, you are met with some amazing realistic quality. I hereby invite you to come along and join me over to San Juan Islands the home of Friday Harbor.
Well that was a long intro wasn’t it?
FSX Friday Harbor: What You Got.
Are we having fun yet? Back in the golden days of 2002, this was truly as good as it got. Again, there were a few freeware scenery addons out there, but that was pretty much it. This quality level was the norm and it was nowhere as good as this. And unless you have discovered the joy of enhancing your simulator with third party products then chances are, this is as good as it gets for you too. Sure, there is a lot of freeware out there to choose from and I highly recommend you look into what’s out there as almost anything is better than default. As you can see, default FSX is quite bland and unless you have something to compare it to, you would never notice. So let’s take a look at what you get when we add the Orbx scenery in to replace the same area. Ready?
Approach & Landing
Now just like the default FSX flight, I have started the review above San Juan Island with Orbx Friday Harbor installed. The differences here is I am directly on the final approach whereas FSX has you a little off to the northeast. I have also selected something just a little bit faster than the Trike Ultralight. Immediately, the difference between the third party Orbx scenery and the default representation is about the same as the differences between night and day. You can clearly see the 60cm per pixel resolution photoreal texture application covering the entire island allowing the pilot to see the environment in the exact same manner as they would in real life.
As I get closer to the ground over the threshold, the ground imagery for the airport sharpens to 15cm per pixel displaying a sharp and crisp visual enhancement. Seconds above the deck, I find that I am extremely impressed with the ground textures of the runway pavement. I find that I am completely distracted from the task at hand as I begin to admire the airfield buildings in the distance. As a result, I put the TBM 850 down a little to the left of center. The quality looks so good I almost want to jump out of the aircraft while it’s still rolling and run over to check out the terminal.
Carenado’s TBM850 looks lovely sitting out on the ramp at Friday Harbor. The two products complement each other perfectly.
Orbx Friday Harbor: What You’ll Get.
Now the primary publisher of the scenery: Orbx Simulation Systems, has completely defined the Pacific Northwest and how flight simulation enthusiasts experience it. In order to explain fully what Orbx has done to the region would require far too much of an explanation. But in short, to date, Orbx has released well over 20 airfields in the area including a separate terrain enhancement product that completely transforms thousands of square miles to ultra realistic. The Friday Harbor product however, is the first of which that has been developed for and optimized exclusively for FSX Steam Edition.
Now Friday Harbor airport (KFHR) is the largest airfield among the San Juan Islands. It is what is known as a full-service airport that offers US Customs point of entry services, aviation fuel, repair and maintenance services, as well as flight instruction opportunities. The Roy Franklin Terminal shown above accommodates over 10,000 passengers each year with scheduled air services to Seattle, Bellingham, and Anacortes airports including charter services to other destinations. Orbx has also developed Anacortes to a high level of realism for those of you looking to conduct your own shuttle services.
The Port of Friday Harbor Airport serves the commercial, general aviation, and corporate air transportation needs of the islands with over 50,800 annual operations for 2014. They offer a well-maintained 3400 by 75 foot runway with medium intensity LED runway lighting, 40 aircraft tie-downs for guests, 55 port-owned hangars, 46 privately owned hangars, and 143 based aircraft. All this makes me wonder why Orbx never considered developing this airport long ago.
Let’s take a look at the details.
Now as I said, this project marks a huge jump in scenery quality over the past release from the Turbulent team. Usually, there is a much longer lapse of time between development improvements that are this drastic. But aside from the quality, you can clearly see just how much of an enhancement the airport is over default. From each blade of grass, to the trees, to the animated people enjoying coke at the restaurant, each bit of detail is designed to remove you from the simulation and make you feel as if you are in the real world and when developers get it right, even if it’s just for a moment., you will forget you are looking at a screen. The developers have accomplished this perfectly.
If you would like to add an additional feature of realism, I highly recommend you adding the freeware Orbx PNW AI traffic package enabling you to see aircraft come and going to and from the airport and even follow them to their destinations. If this doesn’t float your boat, FSX Steam also has multiplayer capability allowing you to fly in real time with your friends and other enthusiasts.
Now this product is so much more than the main airport. Let’s explore what else is in store for us on this island. I have a Robinson R66 Turbine on the pad waiting to take us on a tour. Let’s go!