YMEN – Essendon Fields Airport
Introduction – 100 Years of Australian Aviation History
“Incorporating Melbourne’s first airport, Essendon Fields today is a thriving mixed-use precinct that offers an extraordinary blend of aviation, offices, retail, entertainment, hotel and event facilities.” – Essendon Fields website
Essendon airport (also known as Essendon Fields airport) lies 10KM from Melbourne’s central business district and served as the city’s first international airport until subsumed to an ancillary role by the 1970 opening of Tullamarine Airport. The two runways, terminal area, and surrounding area occupy 305 hectares in Essendon Fields – a north-western suburb of Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.
The one-hundred-year history of the airport officially began in 1921 when the Commonwealth Government proclaimed the area as Essendon Aerodrome. The field saw use by the Victorian Chapter of the Australian Aero Club until the late1940s and several visits by Australian aviator Sir Charles Kingsford Smith. In 1926, thousands descended upon the field to welcome Alan Cobham and his DH 50 floatplane when he completed his England to Australia flight. In 1937, Essendon witnessed the first parachute jump completed by an Australian woman when seventeen-year-old Jean Burns jumped from a DH-4 and landed nearby.
The airport became Australia’s second, and Melbourne’s first, international airport in February of 1950 and became known as Melbourne Airport. Ultimately surrounding homes would prevent expansion of the airport and, when it proved to be too small for larger jets, the international role, as well as the name, transferred to the new Melbourne (Tullamarine) Airport.
As the now named Essendon Airport it remains a valuable airport for the area with many corporate, privately owned, charter, freight, and regional aircraft utilizing its resources. It also remains home to the Victorian Air Ambulance, the Royal Flying Doctor Service, and the Victoria Police Wing.
Installation and Documentation
Installation is straight forward. The 2.22 GB scenery file downloads and installs via Orbx Central. The user has a choice of installing into the main X-Plane folder or into a designated library folder. When the item is installed in a library folder, the installation creates links to the scenery within the standard Custom Scenery folder. The installed product occupies 3.42 GB in two folders.
There is no documentation for this product.
Approach and Landing
Essendon has two runways; the 6302ft. 8/26 and the 4931ft. 17/35. Both are 148ft. wide and asphalt with 8/26 having a grooved surface although Orbx has chosen to represent both runways with the grooved surface. All approaches have descent slope guidance provided by PAPI-L lights at a 3.0º angle. Runway 8/26 is lit with HIRL and 17/35 with MIRL.
The texture of the runways is high resolution and the PBR properties accurately reflect lighting conditions as they change with the time of day or degree of cloudiness. What seems to be missing are the burned rubber smears of tires pounding the surface but a check on Bing maps verifies that they really do not exist. All markings are clear and highly visible. Taxiways are well delineated but, while apron edges are well lit, taxiways require the use of taxi lights for sufficient illumination.
Access to the RPT apron and Passenger Terminal is limited to two entrances from taxiway Papa due to the Skycranes at stands 35 and 36 and the AMSA Challenger located between the GA Apron and the RPT Apron. These static aircraft are featured in Orbx’s description of the scenery package. The modelling is quite detailed for static aircraft although it looks like the reflections have gone missing since they retain a very dull and flat appearance regardless of lighting angles or conditions.
Additional modelled aircraft that Orbx highlights include the AW139’s in police and ambulance liveries. These can be found on the Emergency Apron off the end of runway 17. Like the models mentioned above, these are richly detailed for static models but also, like the previous ones, they retain a non-reflective surface.
Starting the Walk-Around
While visiting the Emergency apron to see the AW139s it is worth checking out the detail of the Emergency hangar and then stepping around back where extensive modelling skill is on display. From a distance (and not too far of one at that) building surfaces look sharp and well defined with shadows and highlights instrumental in creating a sense of depth. Get too close and the textures become blurry. Then again, it doesn’t seem the purpose of an airport is to go around putting one’s nose up against the buildings.
Other destinations, once you are wheels down, include the GA, Southern, Northern, Eastern, and Hart Aprons but a return to the RPT apron is necessary before getting too far afield.
The RPT Apron and Passenger Terminal
Arriving on the RPT apron from taxiway Papa presents the pilot with a myriad of apron markings leading to one of eight available bays for RPT operations up to Embraer 145 size aircraft from sunrise to sunset according to information provided on the Essendon parking stands chart. The concrete texture used on the aprons is not quite as sharp and defined as the asphalt textures. Perhaps this is intentional as a way of balancing texture quality and performance. An additional observation is the concrete texture, though treated with a bit of dirt shadowing, appear as little too clean in comparison to real life photos.
After embarking from the aircraft at stand 22, the passenger enters the covered walkway that leads to the terminal entrance. The texture and details in this passageway are amazing. Again, in consideration of performance, it does not seem fitting to criticize the bit of blurriness introduced by being so close to the surface. The lighting, shadows, beams, and rust details are fantastic.
Moving on, the passenger reaches the entrance to the terminal where a meticulous and well done interior awaits. Noticeable features include the passenger waiting area, signage, planters, and check-in terminals, that all represent a high level of artisanship. The night lighting is extensive and the interior changes accordingly. Nice additions here would be passengers, employees, and a shine to the floor. These additions could really add to the immersion factor.
The detail extends to a replication of a painting that is displayed on the wall in the terminal:
“In June 2019, Essendon Fields Airport acquired another of Bottaro’s acclaimed works, Pactolus, an egg tempera and oil on linen that depicts Victoria’s iconic NGV as the backdrop of a scene depicting King Midas turning his daughter to gold. The piece was completed in 2011 and exhibited at the Melbourne Art Fair in 2015, also featuring on the front page of The Age Newspaper that same year. It now lives permanently in the entry to the new airport terminal for passengers and visitors to enjoy.” – EF Invites Contributions to Public Art Project
Walking through the interior leads down hallways that connect the business office side of the terminal to the passenger side. In those hallways, one will find posters hanging on the walls and several offices with labeled doors. One of those offices is that of ORBX itself.
The intrepid traveler finds it is time to head to the nearby hotel and looks around the entrance upon leaving again noting how light, shadow, texture, and modelling all come together to promote the feeling of being there. Did you notice the dirt that accumulated along the sidewalk at the top of the step?
Zooming out from the detail level at the terminal does not disappoint as detail after detail comes together to craft a very lifelike rendition of the Essendon Terminal. The view through the windows from the outside, the inclusion of ornamental trees and exterior stairs, and the skillful joining of the different textures that are present on the exterior of the building demonstrate the workmanship and time utilized in this overall fine presentation of the center of the scenery. Here, as inside, the addition of a few passengers, staff, and other personnel would only serve to bring this more to life.
Immediately outside the terminal, to the right (from the apron perspective) and around the covered walkway lies the GA apron. The maximum wingspan for any aircraft wishing to stop here is 12 meters. As with the neighboring RTP apron, the textures continue to be very well done with multiple surfaces and cracks in those surfaces all being realized in a realistic manner. Cones and barrels add visual interest to the surrounds.
The Eastern Apron
Moving north from the GA apron leads to the control tower and then the eastern apron. Stopping briefly at the control tower, the Orbx texture depth is again on display in the grooves between the blocks that the tower is built with. Duct work, piping, trash can, vents, air conditioning units, antennae, and the heads of two controllers in the tower make this building a stunning visual treat. Also of note is the tinted glasswork of the observation level. The blinking lights and rotating beacon add life to this otherwise static model. The nearby containers, fencing, and fuel add a sense of scale and complexity to this small section of the airport.
Continuing around the tower leads to the eastern apron where the wingspan limit is set at 30 meters. This apron features several different hangar styles that are all completed with meticulous details that accurately change with lighting conditions and complete the ambience of the area. Generally, time spent on an apron involves moving aircraft around rather than examining minute details. Those details are worth it, however, since they do make a difference when passing by. They would likely not be missed if they were never there, but once seen, the eye is starved for stimulation when returning to the default X-Plane airport for comparison.
In this view, consider the small sheds, dumpster, cone, crates, and signage. Now imagine this same scene without those seemingly insignificant things. Also note the interaction of light with the windows above the hangar doors. The one little niggle for this area is the apron vehicles drive through the hangars when running their routes.
The small fuel area here is yet one more example of how detail is so important to the sense of immersion many simmers seek.
A Small Surprise
Moving on in a north-westerly direction from the eastern apron leads to the northern apron but the taxiway to get there is a wee bit different from others.
In 2007, a new plan was instituted for the Essendon Fields area and included adding a new exit from the Tullamarine Freeway. That exit leads to a new access road that proceeds through the airport and forces the need for a gated crossing where it intersects with the taxiway. In Orbx’s rendition of Essendon, that crossing is accurately modelled and necessitates the aircraft coming to a stop if the gates are closed. The “if” is because these gates are fully operational and will shortly open for the taxi to continue. If the pilot does not respond to the open gates promptly enough, he or she may find their aircraft caught between the gates when they slide shut and the automobile gates swing open.
The presence of active vehicle traffic at this crossing would make this scene totally astounding. Even a few static vehicles stopped on the road would add a great deal to it.
The Northern Apron (eventually)
The taxiway beyond the crossing gate eventually ends at the northern apron but not before passing by the main fuel area for the airport where attention to detail continues to be on display. This feature extends to the bumps in the surface of the concrete platform the tanks are built on. The PBR effects are clearly visible as the light off the tanks varies greatly from the light reflecting from the tank trailer stored against the fence. Behind the tanks rises the freshly refurbished water tower bearing the Essendon Fields logo and the 100th anniversary logo.
For anyone who may think the area is too clean as it does seem to be for a fuel area, a quick check on Bing maps confirms that it really is that tidy.
Further along, on the left, ramp start 71 places your aircraft in front of hangar 10. These two hangars are of equal caliber to the others looked at to this point. It does appear that some of the signage is not quite as clear and sharp – an issue that carries over to the hangars at the north apron a short distance ahead. The major visual attraction here is the back side of the parking structure done, again, with impeccable clarity.
Last stop before the end of the road is the apron area for the flyAmber fleet. There are no stands available here although there are several stock stationary aircraft.
Finally, the taxiway ends at the north apron. It is a bit of an anticlimax since much of the scenery passed by to get here has much more to visually offer. The north apron consists of two hangars. A third hangar is only in use from the street side since an auto dealership was constructed on the apron side of the building. Selecting stand 77 at the start of your flight will place your aircraft in front of hangar 12. There is not much to say here that hasn’t been said everywhere else already. The attraction of the north apron will be for those who enjoy a somewhat extensive taxi before takeoff (and, of course, having a chance to pass through the crossing gate).
If this scenery is ever updated, it is likely the entire north hangar area will be entirely different. According to Wikipedia, most aviation users have already moved from these hangars to other locations at the airport and the Victoria Police Air Wing is scheduled to move to new facilities. That would leave only Executive Airlines operating from their current location with the rest going over to non-aviation business.
A brief stop at the Hart apron on the return trip to the RPT apron reveals a parking playground for the helicopter operators in the group that often come up wanting for a pad at many airports. (Although many others can be found around the airport). On this apron are five clearly marked locations to hover down upon.
This is not surprising once it is discovered that this hangar is the home of Leonardo Helicopters. Linfox, by the way, is one member of the consortium that holds the management rights at Essendon Airport. Their headquarters building is modelled behind the airport tower across from the main entrance to the terminal building.
Visually, the southern apron is the largest at the airport. It is also the home of the brand new, 50,000 square foot, Bombardier hangar. The hangar is scheduled to open next year to operators.
In addition to this hangar, the southern apron is home to seven other large format hangars. What more can be said that wouldn’t be a repetition of all that has come before? Only that the single pallet at the western end by the shed looks lonely. Even that has been touched by the Orbx wizards. The only drawback to this area is those annoying ground traffic vehicles that seem to have a mind of their own when heading to their parking spots. If you hang out in front of hangar 82 for any length of time, you will witness the various high jinks as vehicles drive through that beautiful hangar and collide with each other. It is good for a chuckle should you need one.
The real beauty of this apron is the area not of interest to pilots. It is the streetside of the apron that shows off the brickwork of hangar 85, the Beaufort Building, and the spot-on light work when the sun sets. It is also here that the walk around of the airport ends and a look at the surrounding area begins.
Leaving the airport does two things: It leaves one wondering where to start and removes the structure of following taxiways to destinations. Orbx has included so much in the surrounding area that it is impossible to cover all of it within the confines of this review. It would require many more screenshots than is practical to do it justice.
The skill and wizardry of the Orbx artists continue to be on full display throughout. The modelling that emphatically states “this is Orbx” touches every building and sign within the Essendon Fields airport city. The scope of what is captured here is immense. Although there are larger airports with more complex terminals in the X-Plane world, there are few that include so many well defined and individually made structures. One could almost say Orbx did not leave any stone unturned when directing their attention to the extra-airport area.
Where to begin? Well, it seems reasonable to start with the two defined areas promoted by Orbx in their description of the scenery. Those would be the EF Auto Precinct and DFO retail area.
Has your aircraft been grounded with engine problems or due to weather and you are looking for something to do? Look no further than the Auto Precinct to entertain yourself by checking out the latest models from all the major manufacturers. Within the precinct, you will find no less than 14 dealerships ready to lend you an eager helping hand. It’s time to take a walk and see what can be found. Unfortunately, there will be a moment’s wait for the gate to open.
While this is a flight simulator and not a driving sim, it would be nice to see a few more cars on the lots to help ease the “ghost town” feel that seems to permeate this area. On a more positive note, if you are a fan of quality work, it is worth the time to really check out the features that have been included in the presentation of this precinct.
Once you have had your fill of automobile shopping, it might be time to replenish your energy with a fill of your own. Feel free to stop by the Hungry Fox to give your feet a rest and let the kids have some time to burn off that excess energy.
Once everyone is set, it’s time to cross the field and visit the DFO retail area.
DFO Retail Area
The DFO retail area opened in October of 2005. It houses 135 merchants in 564,987 square feet around a 2075 car parking area. In 2017, the left propellor of a Beechcraft B200 King Air on a charter flight slashed the roof of the building before crashing. The crash was considered the worst Victoria civil aviation accident over the last 30 years. Four American passengers and the Australian pilot died.
The center was closed at the time and all staff were accounted for. The crash, determined to be caused by an incorrectly set trim tab, fueled ongoing criticisms of building so close to airports since it took away from pilot options in emergencies. It also renewed calls for the airport to be closed.
Fortunately, for X-Plane pilots, the airport and DFO center have not yet closed and the DFO is yet another showcase for the talents of the folks at Orbx. It would be nice to see a few more pedestrians and a few more cars. In this case, a few screenshots will take the place of many words.
It is possible to spend hours wandering through all the streets, parking lots, alleys, hangars, and buildings to see everything. The same accolades continue to abound regarding the ever-present evidence of accurate visualization, conception, planning, and execution. The beneficiaries of all of this are those who choose to take advantage of adding Essendon to their collection of airports. There are many fine screenshots available on the Orbx site but these few are worth the space to showcase a few items that do not appear there. Hope you enjoy them.
One of two folders that are installed in the custom scenery folder is the customized mesh Orbx created for this airport. There are a couple of areas where that mesh does not blend well with the default mesh but this is not at all unusual since it frequently appears in many sceneries with custom meshes. The inner workings of X-Plane mesh is beyond the knowledge base of this writer but there are a couple points to note if you are an avid Ortho4XP user. The tests conducted were limited in scope to the fairly moderate skill of the tester.
The Ortho4XP tile for this area does not appear at all when the custom mesh is placed above the orthophoto in the scenery_packs.ini. If the custom mesh is placed below the orthophoto or eliminated altogether, many issues with partially submerged buildings arise. This is not limited to the extra buildings around the airport itself. No effort was made to attempt any type of exclusion when the ortho tile was created. The elimination of the entire tile when the custom mesh is used suggests that eliminating the airport area from the ortho tile may not work. That is for more skilled individuals to test and determine.
The first question most armchair pilots ask when considering an add on is “Is it worth the cost?” Of course, one’s answer to the question will always be a matter of opinion but, in this case, the obvious quality of the package seems to answer the question in the affirmative. It becomes even more appealing for frequent Australia fliers that suffer from a paucity of scenery and for fans of aviation history.
As we have seen, there is much to enjoy with the Essendon Airport package. Meticulous detailing, accurate texture work, the benefit of multiple on-site photo sessions, the inclusion of an active road crossing, and an encompassing reach capture the essence of Essendon on its 100th anniversary celebration.
Somewhere along the way, balancing scenery and frame rates does become a concern. Orbx seems to have this down with the use of textures that are completely amazing unless you are right up on them. This is an easy sacrifice, however, since there are few places where this will happen in the normal course of airport operations.
Speaking of performance, frame rates remained in the high twenties to low thirties running in OpenGL with X-Plane settings pushed towards the high end including shadows on scenery, reflections, and world objects set on ‘high’. The aircraft in use utilized SASL programming, high-resolution textures, and some advanced features. Cloud coverage varied from partly cloudy to overcast. The experiment with orthophotos did not seem to affect the performance.
The overall impression is that Orbx has chosen to focus on the building quality (and quantity) over the addition of many little items to clutter the aprons. (In fact, Essendon aprons show up as uncluttered by any equipment of supplies when viewed in satellite photographs.) Unfortunately, the little items appear to include automobiles and people. With the absence of operational traffic, additional numbers of these items, especially in the Auto Precinct and DFO Retail areas, might be considered near essential to increase the immersion factor of this otherwise practically lifelike airport area. The last minor quibble is the absence of reflective qualities on the new customized airplane and helicopter static models.
It is unfortunate that the X-Plane road network does not line up well with the quality orthophotos used by Orbx resulting in many lifeless roads that, in real life, are anything but. Orbx has utilized GroundTraffic in the past but apparently has abandoned it of necessity because of issues created by the Vulkan driver support in X-Plane. Hopefully Orbx would consider revisiting Essendon if a new way to accomplish this emerges.
The final impression of Essendon Airport for X-Plane by Orbx is that it is a must have. Again, this would be even more so for Australian pilots and aviation history fans. Orbx moved into Essendon two years ago and have done an outstanding job bringing their own world to the world of X-Plane.
If you are interested in a short conversation with Orbx CEO Dr. Anna Cicognani, you can find it here.
It is this writer’s sincere hope that this review has proven helpful. Comments, critiques, and feedback are always welcome. More information can be found at the dedicated X-Plane 11 Orbx store page.
|Add-on:||Payware Orbx YMEN Essendon Airport|
|Publisher | Developer:||Orbx | Orbx|
|Description:||Realistic rendition of YMEN Essendon Airport|
|Software Source / Size:||Download / Approximately 3.42GB (unzipped)|
|Reviewed by:||Paul Beckwith|
|Published:||November 13th 2021|
|Hardware specifications:||- i7-10870H CPU @ 2.20GHz
- Nvidia GeForce RTX 3080 Laptop GPU
- 16 GB DDR4 3200MHz RAM
- CH Products Fighterstick
- Dual Saitek Throttle Quadrants
- CH Products Pedals
|Software specifications:||- Windows 11
- X-Plane 11.55 (64 Bit)