FSX

UK2000 – Birmingham Xtreme v2 for FSX review

This latest release from UK2000 is the v2 Xtreme version of Birmingham Airport, EGBB. My review is for the FSX version.

A bit of general info on the airport. It is located on the outskirts of Birmingham, England about 10 kms east southeast of the city’s center. The airport was originally opened in 1939 and was known by the name “Elmdon Airport” because it was located in the village of Elmdon. With the outbreak of the Second World War the airport was taken over by the Air Ministry. It was during this time that two hard surface runways were constructed; 06/24 and 15/33. After the war it was returned to civilian use but remained under Government control until 1960 when it was once again taken over by the City of Birmingham, in 1987 ownership was once again transferred, this time to Birmingham International Airport plc. In 1984 a new terminal was opened on the east side next to the Birmingham International railway station giving it a capacity of 3 million passengers, the facilities were further expanded in 1994 with the opening of the “Eurohub” terminal doubling its passenger handling capacity. Runway 06/24 was closed in 2007 leaving the airport with a single runway 15/33 which is 8,527 ft long. As the seventh busiest airport in the UK it saw approximately 8.5 million passengers go through its facilities in 2010. There are plans in the works to further expand both the airport’s facilities and runway.

Installation

When you make your purchase at SimMarket you get a link that allows you to download the full installer and retrieve the product key code from the UK2000 website. If you already have an account you simply log in but if this is your first purchase you will need to create an account which is also a very simple process.

After downloading the key code and executable file I was ready to proceed with the installation.

The installation process is straight forward as most are nowadays.  You run the installer executable file, enter your product keycode, choose and confirm the installation path and let it continue.  The final step is adding the scenery to the FSX scenery library, you have the choice of adding it manually or letting the installer do it for you.

Configuration

Immediately after the installation process has completed you will be presented with the “Options setup” screen.

Configuration Options

While reading through the manual I never came across any mention of the options as set out on the Options setup screen. Most are self explanatory. As you can see in my screenshot I had everything enabled.

Everyone is running different hardware configurations so I strongly suggest experimenting with these to come up with the best balance of detail versus performance. If you change your mind about your configuration choices this screen can be accessed via the UK2000 program group created at the time of installation.

Documentation

With the scenery comes a 13 page manual. It includes information for both the FSX and FS2004 versions of the product. Much of what is written pertains to both versions however if the information in a particular paragraph is specific to a single version it is labelled as such.

This scenery is complex and has lots going on so before you start scratching your head on why the jet way isn’t lining up properly or why there are gaps in the terrain I highly recommend that all users take the time to read the manual as it does contain some very useful information related to display settings, scenery anomalies, how the animations work and how to use the docking systems.

Regarding charts, none are included but they provide a link that gives you online access to all the latest charts for the UK.

For support and lots of good information there is an FAQ and forum on their website, if you don’t see your problem anywhere you have the option to email support directly.

Scenery

The scenery package provides a very detailed recreation of Birmingham Airport along with the National Exhibition Centre that is located just east of the airport. The whole area is very detailed and has seasonal as well as night textures making it a very realistic and satisfying experience day or night any time of the year.

FSX default Birmingham

UK2000 Birmingham Xtreme v2

Buildings

The airport can be split into two areas; east of the runway is the main terminal building and fire station along with the National Exhibition Centre. West of the runway is the control tower, general aviation and freight areas.

The buildings are definitely one of the highlights of the scenery. There are no fancy modern curved rooflines or intricate metal support structures here so what stands out is the quality of the developer’s work. The buildings are meticulously recreated and that is what is showcased. Using colouring techniques that give the buildings a weathered look and then add to that hi resolution graphics and details and you have all the ingredients for a winning combination. The results of all these can be seen in the following screenshots. They of course included all of the buildings that appear in the aerodrome charts; terminal, control tower, hangars, fire station and fuel farm.

Main terminal

Looking west to the main terminal

Passenger drop off and pick up at main terminal

National Exhibition Center

Freight handling area

Fire fighter training area

Fire station

Control tower

Elmdon apron and Flybe hangar

ESSO Aviation fuel farm

There is one thing however that I was disappointed with. There are several parking garages adjacent to the main terminal; unfortunately they chose to recreate roof top parking with flat bitmaps.

Roof tops are flat bitmaps

Ground textures

The entire airport area is rendered in very high resolution photo scenery as the base and where ever other textures are required they have used hi resolution graphics. I am referring to two specifics here; the hard surfaces such as runways, taxiways and aprons and then the adjacent grassy areas. What I look for on the hard surfaces are signs of aircraft traffic; this is a busy airport so you expect to see rubber tracks in the touchdown zones, some discolouration in the asphalt surfaces and signs of dirt and residue at the gates. I saw all of these in my observations at Birmingham.

Landing on runway 33

Twy Y apron area

Transitioning from Twy A to Twy T

Additionally the painted markings were very well done and also showed signs of some fading in high traffic areas.

Faded markings

The grass textures had realistic colouring that varied with the seasons and also included a form of volumetric grass enhancement along the edges where it met the taxiways and runways, this added to the perception of fullness. This in my opinion does wonders to the sense of realism while in the cockpit as you taxi along at ground level.

Lush green summer grass

Fall grass textures

Objects/vehicles

Vehicles of all types, freight, fencing, pylons, lighting, gates, blast fences, I could go on and on but I think you get the idea. I was extremely impressed with how they’ve populated the airport and the immediate surroundings with the different types of vehicles and objects you would expect to see at an airport this size. It is not enough to just find these things in the airport they also have to match the quality of their surroundings and they do. I spent some time looking around checking these things out at close range and was consistently impressed with the quality of what I saw.

Looking at a blast fence through the wire perimeter fencing

Markers and lights

Radar

Variety of objects and vehicles

Freight, mobile stairs and service vehicles

Fuel trucks

Service vehicle

Baggage tractor with trailer and push back tugs

Tractor trailers

I was very pleased to see that they added the 3D vehicles to several of the large parking lots. I recall in my review of their Gatwick Xtreme v3 scenery that I had made a negative comment about the lack of 3D cars on these large parking lots.  What they have done is a big plus. I did notice however that there were several large lots south east of the airport as well as the roof tops of the parking garages that were still simple bitmaps. Now if they could populate these areas with cars I’d be even happier.

Parking lot full of 3D cars

Flat bitmap parking lot

Animations

Another outstanding aspect of this scenery has to be the way they brought Birmingham to life with all of the activity. The most noticeable is the vehicular traffic; within the airport grounds you have various types of service vehicles moving about all areas. Outside the airport on the adjacent roadways there is also lots of road traffic. In both cases the density of traffic, the variety and the quality of this traffic is all top notch.

The terminal at Birmingham Airport is linked to the nearby Birmingham International Railway Station via an above ground rail system known as the AirRail link. These are two cable driven people movers that ride along a raised track. These are included in the scenery and can be observed making this run. This again is one of those extras that helps boost the sense of realism you get when looking at the airport overall.

AirRail link

Docking Systems

Large airports such as this have docking systems in place to assist pilots with parking at a gate. They have modelled three different systems.

The one you are probably most familiar with is the Safedock system. It is an electronic system that provides visual clues to the pilot for precision parking.

What the safedock board looks like

Arrived and parked

The other two systems are passive, meaning there are no moving parts. The PAPA (Parallax Aircraft Parking Aid) system has two lights that provide lateral guidance along with a board that has a pointer with certain aircraft types listed, the pilot advances till the indicator on the board is lined up with the proper aircraft type.

Double green indicates I am centered on path to my parking spot

PAPA aircraft type board

The other system has a mirror that reflects ground markings that show the stop points for different aircraft types. When the pilot sees that the front wheels are lined up with their aircraft type you are in the correct location. This was my first exposure to this system and I was surprised to see what looked like the reflection of the aircraft’s undercarriage as it advanced over the ground markings. Bravo! Very interesting effect.

Lining up to park

Visual docking system showing undercarriage location on ground markings

Let me say that they deserve a lot of credit for adding these docking systems. I tried each one using different aircraft types and was pleased with the outcome. They worked best with the 737 and 757; the aircraft types were recognized and the aircraft would be lined up properly. I also tried with the Emb190, in this case I had to experiment with the final stop location to get everything to line up but it really wasn’t a big deal to get it right. The final aircraft position affects how the jet ways and service fleet if available will line up to the aircraft.

If you are flying a commercial air liner type aircraft I am sure you will love what they have done with this aspect of the airport scenery. It adds a great deal to the immersive quality to the airport as a whole. The other thing is that it comes with the scenery so there is no need to purchase a third party program to get this functionality.

For anyone who can’t live with the limitations of the jet ways and service fleet as they come default with the scenery you can always wait for the next revision of AES which I understand is expected to include support for Birmingham xtreme.

Airport service fleet in place

Night

The big thing at night is lighting and how it is portrayed. If it isn’t done correctly it can ruin the overall appeal of a product. As I flew into Birmingham at night I was again struck by how realistic the airport looked. I would say that they took just as much care in making the airport experience as satisfying at night as they did for daytime flying.

Dusk over Birmingham

Ground lighting

Runway 15 in view

Windsock lit up at night

Interior lighting gives impression of transparency

Approaches

I thought that the airport had some interesting approaches with several of them taking you over the city of Birmingham west of the airport affording you a nice view of the city of Birmingham as well as the airport at a relatively low altitude.

Passing Birmingham on Grove1A STAR

LOC and GS captured for final to runway 33

About to touchdown on runway 33

Performance

With any large busy airport there is always concern about performance; eye candy versus fly ability. As I mentioned in my review I had enabled all scenery options available in the scenery and am pleased to report that I never experienced any stuttering worth mentioning. I lock my frame rates to 30 and was extremely happy with how the scenery performed. I had a nice fluid experience in all phases of flight regardless of aircraft type.

Final Thoughts

UK2000 in my opinion ranks up there with the best of the FSX scenery designers. This scenery is jam packed with details, action and features to make the whole experience so much more immersive. The quality of their airports gets better with each subsequent release. This airport is definitely worth the money and will give you a wonderful location to start or end your flight experience.

My Ratings

Installer: Very good. Easy to use.

Documentation: Good. Manual is informative but somewhat jumbled. Configuration could have been better explained. No charts.

Modelling: Very good. Exceptional amount of high quality detailing.

Extras: Configuration utility included, multiple docking systems modelled, many different animations

Download Size: FSX 84Mb

Price: EUR 15.82

Developer Homepage: http://www.uk2000scenery.com

simMarket Purchase: Link: http://secure.simmarket.com/uk2000-scenery-birmingham-xtreme-v2-egbb.phtml

Test System: Intel i7 950 OC @ 4.2 Ghz, 6 Gb RAM, ASUS 480GTX w/1.5Gb video, Win 7 Ultimate 64, FSX w/acceleration, Ultimate traffic 2, REX Overdrive, GEXn, UTX, AES 2.10

Richard Desjardins

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