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Review of AEROSOFT ONLINE – MEGA AIRPORT HELSINKI

Helsinki Airport also known as Helsinki-Vantaa Airport, ICAO: EFHK; is the main international airport for Finland and is run by state owned Finavia. It is located in Vantaa, Finland which is about 17kms north of the city of Helsinki. The airport is relatively young having been built for the 1952 Summer Olympics which were held in Helsinki. Since 1997 Helsinki Airport has consistently ranked near the top of the list in Europe and the world in a number of different quality of service passenger surveys.

The airport is a very busy place serving just under 15 million passengers in 2011. There are three runways: 04R/22L @ 11,286ft, 04L/22R @ 10,039ft and 15/33 @ 9,518ft.

Installation

The installation routine is simple. You start the executable which will take you through the installation and activation of the addon. When you have an active internet connection the process is seamless. There is no longer a need to run the Aerosoft Launcher program to authenticate the scenery. The installer will also add the scenery to the FSX scenery library.

If you do not have an active internet connection, you have the ability to activate the newly installed software later via a new option that can be found on the FSX menu bar. The manual has four full pages dedicated to this new process, taking you through it step by step.

The product download file size is a respectable 620Mb, which triples after the installation to approximately 1.9Gb.

Configuration

A welcome trend with complex scenery releases is the inclusion of some type of configuration tool. With Helsinki X we have one called the Tweaking tool. The screenshot shows the options that are made available to you. This is a great place to start if you are having performance issues. Everything is clearly labelled and easy to understand. Checked means the objects will be seen in the scenery, unchecked means they will not. The thing to remember is that changes must be made when FSX is not running. If you attempt to do so otherwise you will get an error message.

Documentation

The download comes with three documents; an English product manual, a German product manual and a charts manual. The first few pages of the manual are all about the airport with both general and basic technical information provided. They then move on to system requirements which to me are understated and include what I consider to be some misinformation. As an example they list the video card with 256Mb (512Mb recommended), 2Gb RAM and a 2.6Ghz dual core CPU. I think you would be hard pressed to run this scenery and be able to enjoy it with those specs. Also the download and installation sizes are way off. The majority of the manual is dedicated to the installation and activation process and is very informative. The final couple of pages describe the options found in the Tweaking tool.

The manual is also available for download on the product page so you can have a look at it before making a purchase.

The charts manual has a variety of SID, STAR, ILS and RNAV charts. It is nice to see these included and  they are a welcome resource.

The Scenery

This is a mega airport scenery addon and it certainly lives up to its name. Here is a comparison showing the difference between the FSX and Aerosoft versions of Helsinki Airport. As expected the differences are very obvious.

For this review I installed the “AS_MEGA-AIRPORT-HELSINKI_OUT-OF-MEMORY-FIX.exe” patch.

Ground textures

Like most other scenery addons, the base consists of high resolution photo textures. The result is a very realistic look that shows plenty of details but is best viewed from an altitude of several hundred feet and higher for optimum results.

The hard surface textures they include are among the best I have ever seen. Even at ground level the details remain crisp and clear to the point that one can even make out what looks like the grooves in the asphalt. Aircraft stands and parking areas show signs of dirt and the occasional liquid spill.

As I was inspecting the painted markings I came across an effect I can’t recall seeing in previous scenery releases. If you look at the following screenshot you will see that the red painted area appears to show thickness from having had multiple layers of paint applied over time.

Buildings

Being a large airport it has quite a few buildings within its perimeter. The layout is such  that the vast majority of buildings are concentrated in an area between runways 04R and 33. So what we see is a mix of old and new, modern and traditional and through detailed modelling, high definition graphics and good coloring techniques, they’ve been able to recreate them in a very realistic fashion.

The main passenger terminal/tower is the airport’s center piece. It is a “U” shaped multi-level structure with lots of glass, curved surfaces and complicated roof lines. It is easy to see that a great deal of time and effort was put into the modelling of this large and interesting building. No matter how I approached the terminal I was impressed. I especially liked how they captured its complicated look and added those small details that help set it apart in terms of realism. Examples; the rooftop external supports, the large glassed walls that appear transparent, the curved and complex roof lines, etc. In the next few close up screenshots you can appreciate some of the intricacies of the building’s design.

The terminal has quite a few jetways and they have taken the detailing of them to the extreme and the screenshots show what I mean; their quality is over the top. These are some of the best examples of jetways I have come across. Definitely a highlight of this scenery. I was puzzled about one thing though. As you can see in one of the screenshots, the external stairway seems to go to a solid wall?

Located within the “U” of the terminal are several other large structures; multi-level parking garages, the Finnair crew center and Helsinki Airport Hilton. Each one is modelled so that we can appreciate their uniqueness. The parking garages also include vehicles on their rooftop levels.

Looking around the rest of the airport there are a number of maintenance hangars and cargo buildings. Again, the quality of these is very good. There are details mostly from the high resolution images, and they also have a distinct weathered look. I really enjoyed the quality of what I saw.

Objects and Vehicles

This scenery has no shortage of objects or vehicles and they are spread out over the entire scenery coverage area. The placement of these vehicles and objects is quite good especially along the aprons and parking areas. There are plenty of baggage trailers, wheeled belt conveyers, buses and mobile stairs. Lacking in the scenery however were pushback tugs, fire vehicles, fuel bowsers and catering trucks. At an airport of this size I would have expected to see at least a few of these somewhere.

Important objects such as nav aids, blast fences, different types of ground lighting and markers were included and also very detailed. They include some perimeter fencing, however I noticed as I followed it around that there were gaps and in some locations it simply stopped in the middle of nowhere.

The scenery also includes a variety of other objects that add to the ambiance of the airport and help to make the airport look complete. I am referring to such things as light posts along the roadways and in the parking lots, road signage and security gates. Again all of these items were very well done.

Found in many different parts of the scenery are semi-trailers. From a distance they look ok but if you get up close they are little more than a large rectangle. Their quality was definitely inferior to other scenery objects. The other thing I noticed was a lack of any truck tractors that would normally be used to haul these trailers around.

On the arrivals side of the terminal they include some cars parked in a nearby parking lot, and on the rooftops of the parking garages, but there were none on the roadway in front of the building. I felt that because of this the area looked deserted.  They should have included some cars or buses on the road to give the impression that there were people coming and going from this busy place. If you go through all the trouble to create such a detailed environment why wouldn’t you add a few in this area? It looked deserted and in need of some extra attention.

Many aircraft parking stands are equipped with Visual Nose-in Docking Guidance Systems which provide the pilot with visual clues to assist in parking their aircraft. They were modelled and worked quite well.

Animations

There were very few animations in this scenery. I was surprised by this but on the other hand I am wondering what type of additional strain might have been imposed on already stretched system resources if they had decided otherwise. The animations you do get are a rotating radar antenna and the standard FSX vehicle traffic on nearby roadways.

To add animated service vehicles you will need to rely on 3rd party programs such as AES or GSX.

Seasons

Being able to show the different seasonal variations is very important. Ground textures are usually handled quite well by most developers; you make them white to portray snow cover which they did plus they added snow banks along the runway and taxiway edges which is a nice visual feature. Trees should be snow covered as well and to take care of this there is an option in the Tweaking tool that makes the necessary changes.

Other areas of a scenery that are just as important and should show the effects of winter and snow are roof tops and hard surface areas. This has been done but unfortunately not everywhere. It looks as though certain areas of the airport were overlooked when it came to these two items.

Regarding ground textures the area between hangars 2 and 5 seems to have been forgotten. In this area there is no sign of any snow as we see in other parts of the airport. Regrettably this omission stands out.

When looking at building rooftops there were clusters of them, mostly near the perimeter of the airport, that did show signs of snow cover which was good.

The problem was with the buildings located in the area between runways 04R and 33, they did not. Unfortunately, again very noticeable.

Night

The night time experience was interesting and for the most part quite good. What stood out for me was the different lighting systems that I would require as a pilot. Runway lighting, approach lighting and the taxiway/runway signage all looked very realistic. Experiencing them from a pilot’s perspective in the cockpit either on the ground or in the air made you feel as though you were there in the moment.

Approaches

The runways at this airport are long and equipped for precision approaches making it  ideal for those of you (me included) who like to fly larger aircraft and take advantage of the benefits derived from instrument landings.

I attempted a number of landings at each runway and found everything worked as per the charts.

Performance

Anyone who is going to purchase this airport scenery should know that it will put your hardware setup to the test. As I do with any airport I review all of the scenery’s display options were selected and enabled. Flying the PMDG 737NGX, I fell victim to the dreaded OOM problem as I made my final approach into Helsinki Airport. Soon after the scenery’s release the developers came out with a memory fix patch which reduced the texture size of many of the scenery’s objects. After installing this patch I saw an immediate improvement in performance but I still found that I had to uncheck some of the scenery’s features to avoid the OOM problem. Not totally happy with this, I considered what else might be eating up my system’s resources. I run UT2 with traffic set to 100%. With this setting I was seeing planes at every stand. I reduced the traffic to 60% which still made this a very busy place and in my opinion took nothing away from the realism factor. I was now able to enjoy the airport with all of the scenery’s options selected while flying my favourite aircraft with acceptable frame rates and maintaining a nice fluid experience.

The moral of the story is that you need to look at the big picture and take into account the addons you are running and the strain these may be putting on your system and then decide for yourself what you feel is important. What do you want to keep and what are you are willing to remove? This type of problem is not going to go away and will in all likelihood become more common as developers continue to push the envelope of both scenery and aircraft development.

Final Thoughts

The developers have recreated this large and complex airport in a very impressive way. As with any huge and complicated project there are some minor flaws and this one is no exception. This airport will definitely push your simulator and hardware setups to their limits so be prepared to possibly tinker with some settings and to make some compromises. Once you find the right balance between visual detailing and performance I have no doubt that you will enjoy this addon as I did. Your efforts will be rewarded with some great visuals and an immersive environment.

My Ratings

Installer: Very good; simple to use.

Documentation: Very good. Includes both a product manual and charts manual.

Modelling: Excellent quality with lots of details that make it interesting.

Extras: Tweaking tool for setting display options.

Download Size: FSX 620Mbs

Price: EUR 20.97 without VAT

Developer Homepage: http://www.aerosoft.de/

Link: http://secure.simmarket.com/aerosoft-online-mega-airport-helsinki-(download).phtml

Test System:

Intel i7 960 OC @ 4.2 Ghz, 12 Gb RAM, EVGA GTX560 Ti w/1.2 Gb video, Win 7 Ultimate 64, FSX w/acceleration, Ultimate traffic 2, REX Overdrive, GEXn, UTX, AES, GSX.

Richard Desjardins

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