For this review, I took a look at Orbx’s newest Australian release. Melbourne’s Essendon Airport. If you have any other Orbx products, or even just read some reviews, you know what Essendon has to live up to. So, has it?
There are 4 airports with scheduled passenger traffic that serve the city of Melbourne. With the release of Essendon, Orbx now covers 3 of them in very high quality: Melbourne Airport (YMML), Avalon Airport (YMAV) and now Essendon Airport (YMEN). Additionally, Orbx offers a 4th Melbourne airport: the freeware Lilydale Airport, a GA field.
The site at Essendon was proclaimed by the government for use as an airfield in 1921, although the site was used as an airfield prior to that. The site was updated with concrete ground surfaces in 1946. In 1950, the airport was renamed ‘Melbourne Airport’, and became Australia’s second international airport. Because airport expansion was impossible, a new international airport was build in Tullamarine, just 7 kilometers away from Essendon. Most service was relocated to the new Melbourne Airport in 1970.
The Australian Government sold its management rights for the airport in 2001. In 2007, a new masterplan for the airport’s development led to major changes all over and around the site. Essendon Airport is currently used by freight and charter airlines, flying schools, executive and private aircraft, and it is home to a Police Air Wing and a Flying Doctors Service, as well as an Air Ambulance.
Essendon Airport has 2 runways, runway 08/26 at 1921m or 6302ft and runway 17/35 at 1503m or 4931ft. Runway 26 is the only one with an instrument landing system.
Orbx’s rendition of YMEN is their latest release for Australia, and their first urban airport. It’s available both as a download (which I got for review) or as a boxed product, at a price of AUD $32.95.
By the way, a note on screenshots: those with the Orbx footer are from the FTX website, those without are taken by me, at my current (flyable) FSX settings.
Obviously the first step in installing Essendon by Orbx, is downloading the installer if you got the download version. This .zip file comes in at 590MB, so be sure you’re internet connection can handle that. Actual installation, like all other Orbx airports, uses the FlightSimStore wrapper. This is a tried and tested system, and I have never experienced any problems with it. Upon executing the installer, the FSS Wrapper will check your credentials over the internet, or by using another PC which is connected to the internet. When the credentials check out, the Wrapper unpacks the actual installation files, and installation will begin. It’s a very user-friendly system, but because of the sheer size of the product covered, it does take some time. After installation, you get the airport in FSX, the FTX Aero tool in Windows, and a manual.
It’s what all this is about, isn’t it? The actual scenery in FSX. Everything else is just side stuff. Let’s start with the ground layer. As usual with their airports, Orbx built Essendon on top of photoreal ground textures. The area they covered this time might not be as huge as with some other airports, but this time they used incredibly detailed (7cm per pixel) ground textures for the entire covered area! The coverage area extends to include the freeway south of the airport, the industrial estates to the west and some housing to the east. To the north, the coverage extends to the northern end of the industrial area, where it connects to the (60cm/pixel) photoreal coverage area of YMML, if you have that airport installed. As usual from Orbx, you can expect only the very best ground layer. You can see a lot of details in the textures: the different shades in the grass, details on the taxiways and aprons, roads and even road markings. Superb detail all round.
Of course, an airport with only ground textures, is not an airport… So, let’s take a look at the modeling around the area. Orbx knows how to model airports buildings, and it shows in YMEN. Not only are the larger buildings accurately and beautifully modeled, but the small details as well. Light poles around the airport and on the roads, taxiway signs and other signage around the airport, a very detailed ‘Aero-Crossing’, where a taxiway crosses a road, cars on the parking lots… The list goes on. I should be used to it by now, but Orbx keeps amazing me with the high quality of the textures, while the frame rates are kept relatively high. One very nice modeling feature I didn’t mention above, is the freeway interchange southwest of the airport. Instead of just sticking with the flat ground textures, Orbx went further, and did all bridges over the freeway, and all elevated parts of the interchange in 3D. You will hardly notice this if you land your jet in Essendon, but if you’re going low and slow in small aircraft or helicopter you’ll certainly be able to appreciate this eye for detail.
And then on to the finishing touch: textures. It’s well known that Orbx doesn’t compromise on textures. This is clearly shown in Essendon. Texturing on the models is very good. Clear, crisp, detailed and very good looking in general. It doesn’t matter what textures you look at: the buildings are good, signs around the scenery are all readable, even ground equipment cluttered all over the aprons is textured very well. One thing that disappoints me though, are the runways. The taxiways are ground textures (7cm/pixel is a perfect resolution for that). The runways are normal FSX runways. I’m not impressed with this, they lack detail and weathering. Certainly compared with the aprons at YMEN, and runways at other Orbx airports. In general, the scenery is very good. Despite the runways I don’t like, this is an airport I will return to in the future, more than once. Detailed ground textures, great modeling, and gorgeous textures. This is Orbx FTX YMEN for you in a nutshell.
Effects and animations:
If you want to look at effects in YMEN, you’d best take a look at night. When it’s dark, the whole of Essendon is lit up beautifully. The airport itself is quite hard to spot at night. The runway lighting works and looks good, but is not as dominant as on default FSX airport. The lights that light the aprons, and certainly those along the freeway, are way more dominant. In the end, because of its urban setting, the actual airfield (meaning the taxi- and runways and the grass around them) is a lot darker than the surrounding land. The freeway is lit up, the aprons are as well, and so are the urban and industrial areas around the airport. I can say though, despite looking realistic, it’s also very pleasing to the eye. Good work from Orbx here once again.
You can also find some animations around the airport. The windsocks are working correctly, indicating both wind direction and wind strength, as do their real-life counterparts. But the most notable, and best looking, is the included PeopleFlow technology. PeopleFlow is a technique that Orbx uses to put moving people on their airports. These 3D human figures move and walk more naturally than any other human figures I’ve seen in FSX so far. It’s something that Orbx has included in several airports now, and made available to most of their older add-ons in patches. And I keep loving it, it brings the airport really to life, and makes your FS experience so much more immersive.
The usual 2 extras with this Orbx airport: the YMEN Control Panel, and the FTX Aero tool. But let’s talks about FTX Region support first. Orbx’ Essendon Airport is located withing the FTX AU Blue regional scenery product. Having AU Blue installed will get you some nice extras when flying from YMEN. Among these are: Australian style autogen houses and trees, light poles on roads and accurate road traffic, matched to the roads. If you don’t have FTX AU Blue installed, you will miss out on these things.
Now then, the extras: the YMEN Control panel is a small external application to lets you enable or disable certain features of this scenery product. With the YMEN Control panel, you can adjust the amount of static aircraft on the airport, the amount of ground service equipment, the amount of 3D animated people, and the amount of cars in the parking lots around the airport. To get the best experience, turn everything on, to its maximum. However, if you’re pc can’t handle that (like mine), turn some stuff off, until you reach an acceptable performance. By using this tool, Orbx can create airports that deliver awesome quality to people with a monster-pc, while also catering to people who don’t have such high-end equipment. It’s one of the things I like best about Orbx products.
The FTX Aero tool is also an external application, that controls several texture related settings. Things like the ground detail bump map, taxiway textures and taxiway lines. You can also quickly edit the texture_max_load setting in your FSX.cfg file. Nice tool as well.
Like with all Orbx airports, YMEN doesn’t go over performance lightly. With the incredible amount of detail in the airport and its surroundings, you can’t just turn sliders up without thinking, and expect it all to work just fine. However, Orbx knows this all too well, and as usual, they dedicated a large part of the manual to recommended settings, so everybody can get the best out of the YMEN, and FSX in general. This coupled with the control panel, will make this frame rate heavy airport run even on less powerful pc’s, like mine. Maybe you can’t use YMEN to its full visual potential, but you can at least use it with acceptable frame rates, and it will still look great. One other thing that does affect performance, is that Melbourne Airport (YMML), is very close by. If you have Orbx’ YMML airport, it will affect performance in some view and camera positions. I have YMML installed, and although I didn’t really notice a heavy frame rate drop, I did experience stutters when looking in the direction of YMML, as FSX loads the textures there, on top of those at YMEN.
Although they’re also creating great American scenery now, Orbx will always ‘be’ Australia for me. Not because they are from Down Under, but because of the great scenery they produced for that country. With the release of Essendon Airport, they only confirmed that status in my eyes. That said, Essendon is a great scenery product. It looks good, and both because of the airport, and the airport location, it can cater to all kinds of pilots. If you prefer heavy iron, Essendon is a very nice destination, although you won’t be able to takeoff from there in a 747 on an intercontinental journey. But if you like to cruise around in a small prop or helicopter, you’ll feel right at home as well. The airport will suit you, as will the surrounding lands.
- Great ground textures
- Good looking and very detailed airport
- Customizable, to get optimal frame rates
- Catering to all sorts of virtual pilots
- Default FSX runways in a detailed airport add-on