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Review of – IMAGINESIM – KCLT CHARLOTTE FSX (2013)

Feature image

Charlotte Douglas International Airport, ICAO: KCLT was opened in 1935 and is a joint civil-military public international airport located in Charlotte, North Carolina, USA. When it was originally opened it was known as Charlotte Municipal Airport and was operated by the City of Charlotte. From the early fifties to the present day it has seen many upgrades as well as several name changes. Finally in 1982 it was renamed to its present day moniker of Charlotte Douglas International Airport.

The military component of the airfield goes back to 1948 and is known as Charlotte Air National Guard Base (Charlotte ANGB), and is host to the 145th Airlift Wing (145 AW) of the North Carolina Air National Guard. The unit is located in the military containment area on the east side of the base.

The airport is a very busy place serving as US Airways’ largest hub. In 2009 KCLT was the 9th busiest airport in the United States. In 2010 it was the 6th busiest airport in the world based on traffic movements, and in 2012 it was ranked 23rd on the list of busiest airports in the world rated on passenger traffic. The airport has four runways: 18L/36R @ 8,676ft, 18C/36C @ 10,000ft, 18R/36L @ 9,000ft and 5/23 @ 7,502ft.

Installation

Installation is a simple procedure but you will need an active internet connection. After launching the executable you will be required to enter your order number and email address, the information is verified and then the program will proceed. As the last step to the process, the installer adds the scenery to the FSX scenery library.

Configuration

There is no configuration utility with this product.

Documentation

You get two documents with this product. The first document is available as part of the initial download and it is an html file titled “Readme KCLT FSX”.  This document is brief but is helpful as it contains information about the installation, some specifics on what you will find with regards to folders and files after the installation, where to find the product manual, uninstalling the product and  AI aircraft. They also include a link to where you can find out about and download any product updates. I think that making product information such as this available before the initial installation is a great idea and wish all developers would do this.

The second document, a 13 page PDF product manual, is available after installing the airport.

The manual is informative with a variety of topics covered. They include an airport diagram, a page that explains how to interpret the visual cues of the aircraft docking guidance system and four pages of FAQs that tackle a good cross section of topics that you may find yourself dealing with such as FSX settings, compatibility with other products, etc.

They do not provide any charts other than the single airport diagram.

Scenery

The ImagineSim depiction of KCLT is vastly superior to what we get by default in FSX. The scenery includes the airport along with an area north up as far as the I85 Interstate and east to just beyond the Billy Graham Parkway. Besides being much more complete and realistic it is more up to date as they have also included runway 18R/36L which opened in 2010.

FSX KCLT ImagineSim KCLT

Ground textures

In this scenery addon they use two types of ground textures; high resolution textures for the hard surfaces and photo image textures for the remainder of the scenery coverage area. The hard surfaces textures I thought were very good showing lots of details which remained clear and crisp even when viewed at ground level.

Nice detailing in the hard surface textures Problem with the taxiway texture near runway 23 Visible dirt and wear near terminal concourses

All other areas were covered in photo image textures so we get to see what is actually there in terms of roads, parking lots, grassy areas, etc. This part of the scenery I felt could have been better. The contrast between the high resolution hard surface textures and the photo textures is very noticeable; the roadways and large parking lots appeared blurry at low altitudes.

Blurriness becomes less of an issue as altitude increases Some of the ground surface blurriness visible here

As I was scrutinizing the terrain I came across what were supposed to be tunnels under taxiways B and M near runway 23/05. They unfortunately are little more than visuals on the ground photo imagery plus what looks like part of the concrete retaining walls that protrude above the ground. Although it is a small inconspicuous detail this I think is the type of detail that helps propel a good scenery up a notch.

Flat ground no 3D tunnels

Buildings

I’ll start with an overview screenshot of the airport that shows the layout of the buildings at Charlotte.

Airport overview

Like many other airports the main passenger terminal building takes center stage as the most prominent structure. It is located between runways 18C/36C, 18L/36R and north of runway 05/23. The terminal complex includes the main terminal building with its five concourses.  This structure has been recreated with a good level of detail and looks quite realistic. Included are such features as detailed jet ways, working visual docking systems and  light poles to name just a few. The terminal also has a few interesting architectural features such as the curved lines of concourses D and E. The other areas of the terminal have sloped walls and windows. The building for the most part is a drab grey colour however the colouring of concourses D and E is different being a very visible blue. Parked at any of the gates the view from the cockpit was very immersive and it felt like I was at Charlotte. The terminal’s rooftops also received extra treatment with the addition of details such as skylights and roof top mounted HVAC units.  

Terminal complex overviewConcourse E Concourse D Concourse A Concourse C Concourse B Main terminal

Main terminal rooftop detailing Sloped wall of windows on main terminal

If you go around to the other side of the terminal complex there was a definite difference in the amount of detailing. Simply put there wasn’t much to see, I guess they expect you to be spending the majority of your time in an aircraft and not exploring all of the other parts of the scenery.

Arrivals side void of any real detailing

Just north of the terminal are four large multi-level parking garages and the control tower. The most prominent feature of the parking garages was the inclusion of vehicles on the upper most level of parking. This is something I like to see as it adds to the illusion that there is activity. The control tower is also located in this area between the parking garages.

Upper most level of garages filled with vehicles Control tower

This airport as I stated earlier has many buildings with most being pretty basic in design, nothing fancy here. I felt that they were all created to the same standard. The quality was good and included some detailing with good colouring techniques so the look of the buildings were fairly realistic and representative of what is found at Charlotte. Something that did pop out was how many of the building’s rooftops showed signs of aging and discolouration and also how many of them had additional rooftop details added.  

Quite a few of the buildings are arranged in clusters situated next to aprons. These aprons have various uses such as maintenance, general aviation and cargo. What I have done is included screenshots of the different parts of the airport to show how they are laid out.

Apron east of runway 05 GA ramp Buildings west of runway 36R Cluster of buildings near the end of runway 23 Air cargo area American Airlines hangar

Charlotte Douglas International Airport does have another function and that is as the home base for  Charlotte Air National Guard’s145th Airlift Wing. In support of that function they have an area which includes a group of buildings and apron located just south of the intersection of runways 05/23 and 18L/36R.

ANG apron

Objects

The scenery is definitely not lacking in this category. Throughout the airport we see lots of different type of vehicles and objects.

Charlotte is big, large and busy so I would expect to see the various types of objects that would support the aircraft traffic and day to day operations. They seem to have covered all the bases in this regard with GS and LOC antennas, MET equipment, runway/taxiway markers and all of the different types of lighting including runway, taxiway and approach lighting. The quality of these items was quite good.

Glideslope antenna and PAPI lights Localiser and approach lighting Taxiway and runway markers are located throughout MET equipment Airfield equipment

In addition to the objects listed above there are other objects you also expect to find; we see perimeter fencing and security checkpoints. These security checkpoints include gates, signage and even card readers; the detailing of these is impressive.

Security checkpoint

Apron clutter is something I always look for and I’d say that they did a very good job in giving these areas what they need. They look busy and that is conveyed quite well. Some of the objects here include pylons, safety barriers, baggage carts, etc.

Image highlighting ground textures and apron clutter for realistic look Freight waiting to be loaded Apron clutter and concrete barriers near Concourse E

Other parts of the scenery have been enhanced by such things as light posts and street signage on some of the roadways and parking lots.

Road signs and light posts

The variety of vehicle types include; security vehicles, fuel trucks, push back tugs, catering trucks, mobile stairs, cargo loaders, etc. To add to the realism many of them sport airline and airport markings and logos. The placement of these vehicles also serves to reinforce the activities in the various parts of the airport. Cargo handling vehicles in areas where we find cargo and then in other areas such as around the main terminal the vehicles are more in line with the functions of aircraft prep. Same holds true for airport security checkpoints where we see airport security vehicles. Other more generic vehicle types can be seen throughout the airport. In this addon they’ve populated many of the parking lots with cars and light trucks. 

Another view of aircraft parking with vehicles at the ready Service vehicles

As I was comparing the real world airport with ImagineSim’s version I came across two areas were objects were noticeably missing; the field radar near the junction of taxiways M and F and the mock-up of an aircraft fuselage  used for fire fighter training.

Fire fighter training area missing mock up of fuselage Blurry square marks the spot where the radar should be located

Something else I would have liked to have seen was the addition of a few static military aircraft parked on the ANG apron to reinforce this aspect of the airport.

One last point about objects. As I was exploring the area immediately surrounding the airport I came across a few instances where trees were growing up through some of the buildings.

Trees protruding through buildings

Animations

Service vehicles move along the apron road in front of the passenger terminal but the number is limited.

FSX road traffic can be seen travelling along nearby roadways and for the most part it works well. However there is a problem, since the release of FSX, KCLT has added a new runway 18R/36L. It was not part of the airport as it was originally depicted in FSX so the road traffic does not realize the new runway exists. There are cars and trucks travelling across the new runway and on parts of the airport between runways 18R/36L and 18C/36C where there are no roads. Not sure what developers can do about this type of problem I just know that it is distracting and unrealistic.

FSX road traffic crossing new runway

The airport has a visual docking guidance system at many of the terminal’s gates. The system uses lights to provide visual cues to the pilot guiding them to the appropriate parking location. The system is explained in the manual, I tried it at several gates and was happy with the results.

Visual parking system doing its job

Night

Night time at Charlotte was good, but it didn’t give me that sense of “wow” that I have seen at other airports. They include ground lighting, approach lighting and apron lighting. There is a strange problem where the taxiway center lights have a cross pattern visible when viewed from certain angles. I’ve seen this same issue with their recent Atlanta scenery.

Taxiway light problem

The aircraft parking spots next to the terminal concourses are populated with lots of static service vehicles that have flashing lights so that part looks good, the problem is that the majority of the airport appears dull and lifeless. I was underwhelmed. For an airport that ranks as one of the busiest in the U.S. it almost looked deserted at night.

Lack of interior lighting effects Night time appears drab and lifeless Looking down at apron lightingNight time arrival to runway 36L

Approaches

I undertook a number of ILS approaches to the airport and encountered no problems. Each and every time I was able to land on the mark just as I had expected.

Performance

When I review scenery addons I try to keep the same FSX scenery settings which in my case are all fully to the right. I was pleasantly surprised with the performance of the scenery. I only experienced a slight impact on frame rates even when flying complex aircraft such as the PMDG 737NGX. One technique they use is to have many of the scenery elements such as apron clutter and jetways appear only when you are within a certain distance. 

Final Thoughts

The airport is a good representation of Charlotte Douglas International Airport in its current configuration. It is definitely better than the FSX default rendition by leaps and bounds but there were some shortcomings that unfortunately, for me, reduced the product’s overall appeal. If you fly the U.S. and want an up-to-date version of KCLT you might want to give this product some serious consideration.

My Ratings

Installer:  Excellent. Simple to use.

Documentation:  Readme file available before install. Good manual, informative.  No charts.

Modelling: Good.

Extras: Some animated vehicle traffic plus visual docking system modelled.

Download Size: FSX 84MB

Price: EUR 21.99 without VAT

Developer Homepage: http://www.imaginesim.com

Link:http://secure.simmarket.com/imagine-sim-kclt-charlotte-fsx-%282013%29.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, UT2, REX Overdrive, GEXn, UTX, AES, GSX.

Richard Desjardins

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