Not really wanting to turn this site into some sort of wannabe flight simulator blog, this will be the last X-Plane diatribe I post here. I may do something elsewhere, but this whole flying around on the desktop is becoming a major distraction.
Still…it is fun.
And I say ‘fun’ advisedly, as the hardware we use has finally caught up with the software, which – to put it mildly – has until recently really stressed desktop PCs & Macs. Now…that’s simply no longer the case. Less than ten years ago there was no hardware (within the price range of mortal men & women, anyway) that could have run the files used to make the image above (a 733 landing at LSZH Zurich Kloten). My little Mac laptop runs it smoothly, I’d almost say effortlessly. Or, take this shot of San Diego, below, of another 733 departing over the Mission Bay area:
Or approaching downtown Los Angeles:
But here’s the point: keep in mind that every object you see in these images has to be drawn, in 3D; the aircraft, the buildings, and let’s not forget to mention the weather – and it has to be redrawn quickly AND precisely. If not, the image on screen sputters and grinds to a halt, and your graphics card either melts from the effort or just plain dies. Which means, in the images above, buildings, aircraft, reflections, and such things clouds and the shadows cast by clouds have to be drawn and redrawn multiple times per second. That’s a lot of processing power, and I suppose this state-of-affairs is the direct spin-off of advances afforded by the huge number of special effects required to make today’s FX-laden blockbuster movies, but I guess this is the kind of “trickle-down” that a lot of people can relate to on a personal level these days.
Another trend…airports and aircraft are more realistic than ever. Take a look at these airport images, starting with EDDL Dusseldorf, Germany, made by a company called AeroSOFT:
The detail is overwhelming, yet my little laptop runs it perfectly.
What do I mean by detail? Well, all of the systems that allow an aircraft to function in a real world airport are included, and that means ground power carts, baggage carts, all kinds of people and cars moving around, while even details INSIDE the terminal buildings are visible – and in some cases, animated, as well. Then there are the little things – like instrument landing systems – that have to be precisely encoded to work exactly as their real-world counterparts do. And the files cost twenty or so bucks!
Here’s another overwhelmingly complex airport, the ultra-huge EHAM Amsterdam, also by AeroSOFT:
This is just a staggering achievement by any standard, and it allows the flight simmer to recreate operations in Holland right down to the tiniest, nitty-gritty detail. But smaller airports are available too, and in regions all around the world. Try this one, in Valencia, Spain, made by Icarus Simulations:
The terminal behind the aircraft is fully detailed – INSIDE and out…but take a look at the sky, too. This was achieved via an ancillary program called SkyMAXX designed to better recreate sky colors and cloud formations based on current, real-time temperature, humidity, and wind observations. When you fly next to clouds you realize they aren’t static at all…they’re actually tumbling and growing, just like a real cloud. When lightning is in the area, you see lightning inside the clouds. It’s uncanny – and realistic enough to be unnerving for the pilot.
So, in the image below I messed with the setting, put the temperature at 109ºF – at seven in the morning! – and the barometer at 30.05. Maybe these are the skies we’ll see more of if global warming really takes hold, but to me, these are sixties type clouds. Maybe you need to OD on LSD to see this kind of color, but my oh my, it sure is purdy!
I guess all this fru-fru would be pointless without really good recreations of real-world aircraft, but equal levels of advancement have kept pace with airport development in XP. The IXEG 737-300 is without a doubt the nicest file I’ve ever seen, and perfect if you’ve ever wanted to wet your pinkies in airline-style operations. There are ten video tutorials and hundreds of pages of PDF manuals included in the download, if that gives you any idea of what you can expect.
Still, there’s another more whimsical part to all this, too. Perhaps you’ve always wanted to buzz the Eiffel Tower – in a jet – at 500 miles per? You can give that a try in XP…
Or maybe Notre Dame, for that matter…only right side up?
Or, for something more sedate…what about puttering around Mont Saint Michel with the canopy wide open?
Well, I guess that’s the point. XP is kind of an “on the cheap” “one trick pony” to visit places you might not ever get to otherwise. No, it’s not real……but it is fun…
…and – maybe it’s not a bad way to teach geography, too, let alone flying.
Anyway, I hope you give it a try someday.
Because flying has been fun. For me. Maybe it will be for you, too?