Commercial Scenery Review
PilotPlus Gatwick International Airport
From Pilot Plus’s website, I could find the following information.
Pilot Plus develop airports for the X-Plane 10 Flight Simulator, Pilot Plus strive to provide quality scenery in X-Plane. Joe Charman is the lead developer of Pilot Plus and founder, with Pilot Plus being established in September 2014. Joe develops airports with an extreme amount of detail to immerse you in the X-Plane world and better your flight simulation experience!
Their team consists of:
– Joe Charman (CEO)
– Jack Bengeyfiekd (Assisting Developer)
– Jackson Banks (Assisting Developer)
– and Olli Laine (Ortho-imagery Specialist)
So far, they have developed 6 airports some of which I am already an owner of:
And of course, not forgetting EGKK which is the subject of this review.
EGKK is the U.K’s 2nd busiest airport after EGLL (Heathrow), and over 43 million passengers passed through this airport in 2016. It’s unusual for the fact that there are two parallel runways, with only one in use, due to the fact that they are so close together. Although I have the UK2000 version of this airport for FSX, this was the first time – due to this review – I was aware that there were in fact two runways in Gatwick.
The airport has been in use since 1933, and the famous “Beehive” structure was built in 1935, and was the first purposed-designed airport structure which had direct access from a railway line, and separate sections for departure and arrival passengers. and consists of two (North and South) terminals. In the late 1930’s it was also used by the R.A.F Volunteer Reserve for training pilots prior to WWII.
In 1956, the airport was closed for 2 years for renovations, and the building of 2 7000 ft runways, and diverting a major highway and river. This runway was the first in the UK to feature high-speed turn-offs on to a parallel taxiway. In the 1970’s the runway was again extended, which allowed direct flights to the east coast of the US
The famous “Big Orange” 747 from Braniff International, at one time used to fly regular flights from KDFW to EGKK in the 1970’s until 1982. With the advent of package holidays in the early 1970’s the airport became more popular and the runway was again extend to over 10,000 ft which allowed non-stop flights to the US West coast, and allowed the Laker airways DC10-30’s to use the European service and the East Coast routes.
There are over 51 passenger airlines using EGKK at the moment, and over half of these were EasyJet routes. More than enough reason to get your Airbus flights going again over Europe.
There are two parallel runways, consisting of the following attributes.
|Runway number||Length (Feet)||Length (Meters)||Surface|
It should be noted that only the southernmost runway has an active ILS, the northern runway is mostly used as a taxiway, but can be used when the southern runway is being maintained. It uses DME and assistance from the approach controller in these cases.
EGKK has 2 terminals, named North and South, The North terminal, logically – being situated to the north of the runways, but technically, South should be named East, since the map shows this to be on the right of runway 26R.
The south terminal consisting of pier 1,2 and 3 was opened in the late 1050’s and was the first in the world to feature pier-based terminals which allowed passengers to walk directly onto the aircraft, and in the 1960’s pier 3 was added which added which later added travelators and people movers to allow easy transfer of passengers.
The North terminal was built later on and has the famous land-bridge which allows passengers to move from the North terminal to pier 6. The cost of this bridge was £110 Million, and is designed to expand and contract by one mm for every degree change in temperature, and the clearance is such to allow large passenger jets (including the 747) to move below the bridge and you can imagine the view you would get from this when a 777 passes below you!
Somewhat unusual for an airport, there are no passenger announcements, so it’s recommended you keep an eye on the screens, otherwise you may well end up missing your flight.
From the X-Plane.Org, the following features are listed in the EGKK package.
– Faithful replica of London Gatwick
– High Resolution ground imagery
– Custom Night lighting
– Many Animations in and around airport
– Custom Tram track with animated tram
– Custom Made Static Aircraft, Bundled Pack
– Animated Jetways
– Very detailed 3D Models covering the whole airport
– Ambient Occlusion
– Custom Runways, Aprons & Taxiways
– 3D Grass and vegetation within airport and local area
– Optimized for maximum performance
– Over 70,00 hand placed objects!
Installation and Documentation
Before you purchase, you should note the minimum requirements below:
– X-Plane 10+ (any edition) or X-Plane 11+
– Windows, Mac or Linux.
– 1GB Minimum VRAM – 2Gb VRAM recommended
This is within the specifications of most users systems at this stage.
As I mention before, sceneries in X-Plane usually just involve a simple copy and paste of the unzipped files directly into the custom scenery folder and then starting up the sim which then reads and adds the new folder to the scenery.ini file, which is a text-based file which lists all your currently installed scenery. In some cases, you need to change the order of the text entry and restart the sim again.
If this needs to be done, the readme file included in the scenery packages will generally state this, so it’s important to read the readme files, even if you are a seasoned X-Plane user. With more and more new users coming on board with X-Plane (I’m happy to see), this airport will also work with X-Plane 11 too.
In this particular case, the installation is quite simple, with only one extra step. When you’ve downloaded your file you will have a zip file named Pilot Plus – EGKK Gatwick V1.X where X denotes the current version – in this case, version 1.1 is the latest.
Once you’ve extracted this file, there is a readme pdf file which is always a good idea to ready through. To install this though, you need only perform two steps:
1) Extract the Pilot Plus – EGKK Gatwick V1.1.zip folder and place the extracted contents into your custom scenery folder,
2) Delete the Aerosoft EGKK which currently resides in the custom scenery folder.
Once this has been completed, restart X-Plane again so that the scenery.ini file is populated correctly. This will then have replaced the Aerosoft Airport with the Pilot Plus one.
At first glance, this looks like a busy if compact airport, with the very prominent air bridge being the main feature along with the very close twin runways. Pilot Plus’s added their own additional aircraft, but they look not quite right due to the strange looking tails that seem particular to their brand of airports that they create. They look a bit off putting, and to be honest, it’s a shame they didn’t make them a bit more realistic in the tail department, otherwise they look fine.
Pilot Plus have added an option for this in their scenery.
They provide two copies of “Earth Nav Data” in their scenery folder. To show the aircraft, leave as is. To depict the airport without any additional aircraft, then rename “Earth Nav Data1” to “Earth Nav Data” after deleting the original “Earth Nav Data”. The other item to note is the absence of SafeDock or AGNIS systems which are marked on the actual charts in reality.
I’ve contacted Pilot Plus for clarification on this and this is their reply; “DGS (docking guidance) is planned for V1.2 of the airport, this update can be expected within a few week time.”
A Closer look
Here you can see the custom groundwork that Pilot Plus added, and the “Beehive” structure, which was the first structure used for ATC and terminal building. It’s not 100% detailed, but close enough for flying purposes.
Starting at the maintenance area, we have some works in progress as is evident from the exposed groundwork, and some maintenance buildings very nicely rendered. The Glideslope Aerial, is very detailed and complete with the two lobes and antenna present.
At the end of RWY 08R we have some carparks with 3D cars which seem to be the norm nowadays, but it seems from the charts that these belong to the adjacent industrial park rather than the airport itself.
As to the runway surface, I love the way they have rendered the centerline, with its cracks and weathering due to the elements. Even the green runway centerline lights are 3D. The ILS and Grid array are also done with attention to detail. Moving along taxiway Juliet, we have the practice training aircraft, which I can only presume is for firefighting purposes. Some websites show this as a composite B747/DC10 type, but in this product, it’s more of a generic 737.
From the charts, it seems that Taxiway “U” is missing from this scenery, but maybe this will be corrected with an update. Next we have Maintenance area 2 , which houses a Virgin hangar with cars and offices for staff. Next, we arrive to the Cargo buildings, complete with pallets and cargo containers, I really do like the details they’ve gone to in this regard.
You can see the tare weight and various Far Eastern products ready to be collected and sent to their respective owners. Oh, but what is this? Some of the Tank farms seem to be floating, I’ll compare screenshots in XP11, to see does the same exist.
From the above comparison shots, it seems the same issue is present in X-Plane 11 too.
Next we have one of the most important items in any airport – the control tower. This is complete with rotating radar as is pretty standard nowadays. Comparing it to actual photographs, it looks quite realistic as well as it can be with scenery limitations, although it is missing the small boundary fence on the real tower.
Adjacent to the control tower, we have the all important fire station, complete with it’s own control tower and air conditioned personnel quarters.
It’s lacking in fire-fighting vehicles, but I suppose we can forgive them that.
Moving along to taxiway Q, we have some very nicely done blast screens, which are done in red and white along with the 3d trees in the background
Next, we come to Pier 5, the first of the North Terminal building we’ll be revisiting. It’s got a nicely rendered brick front, and concrete terminal and emblazoned with the almost worldwide HSBC logos seen in almost every airport. It does have some door markings on the lower utility levels but a bit bare on top regarding height markings and warning signs that you would expect to see at such airports. The roof is also nicely done with the air conditioning units that you would expect to see in such places.
From satellite pictures I’ve seen, this would appear to be one of the terminals for EasyJet.
The rest of the review, I’ll take screenshots from X-Plane 11, so you can see the difference in atmospheric scattering effects. The lighting and shadows also look better with X-Plane 11.
Just one thing to note regarding X-Plane 11.
At the moment, since it’s in Beta, there are constant updates, and this has the effect of reinstalling the Aerosoft version of EGKK. This will then show alongside the Pilot Plus version, and you have have legobrick terminals alongside the Pilot Plus version. As a permanent solution to this, just comment out the Aerosoft EGKK entry, in the scenery.ini file, or Set CUSTOM_SCENERY_DISABLED as the Aerosoft EGKK entry which will hide the Aerosoft version, even after an update to a new version is released.
Now that we have that issue sorted, we move along the very well done and famous Air Bridge to Pier 6 which cost £11 Million to build in 2005.
As an experiment, I taxied the default X-Plane 11 747-400 under the Air Bridge to see if it was indeed possible to pass under the bridge without touching, and as you can see, yes, indeed it was!
Next, we have come to Pier 4 which was built in the late 1980’s early 1990’s. The North Terminal handles a wide variety of airlines, Air Canada Rouge, British Airways ,EasyJet, Emirates, Icelandair, Royal Air Maroc,Thomson Airways, Tianjin Airlines,Vueling and Westjet.
At time of writing, all EasyJet flights should operating from The North Terminal and British Airways have moved their operation to The South Terminal. This terminal has the transparent jetways, which are also used in the South terminal pier 3. Again, the terminal is scattered with baggage carts and delivery trucks, giving it an active appearance. The only thing which it lacks is some decals warning of height restrictions which would be a nice touch. Otherwise, it’s about the same appearance as pier 5. Behind pier 4 is an automated rail link that provides transport from the north terminal to the south terminal.
Moving on next via taxiway “L”, we come to Pier 3, the first of the Southern Terminal piers.
This was opened in 1983, and cost 200 British Pound to construct. The south terminal originally opened in 1958, and has over a £1M spent on upgrades as recently as 2014, and has a mixture of self-service and online check-in, as does the North Terminal. It connects to the North Terminal via a 1.2km long “people mover” rail system.
South Terminal handles among other major airlines, Aegean Airlines, Aer Lingus, Air Arabia, Maroc , Air Baltic, Air Europa, Air Malta,Air Transat, Aurigny, Austrian, Bulgaria Air, Cathay Pacific, Croatia Airlines, EasyJet,Flybe, Germania, Monarch ,Norwegian ,Pegasus ,SATA International, Swiss International Air Lines,TAP Air Portugal, Thomas Cook, Titan Airways ,Turkish Airlines, Ukraine International Airlines, Virgin Atlantic Wizz Air, and WOW Air.
Pier 3 is a circular building which is mostly a brick and concrete structure, and as you can see it’s connected to the main terminal by a walkway. I’m pleased to see that at long last, there are some nice transparent glass effects in an X-Plane airport. You might have noticed the British Rail Logo
on the roof of the train station building (not dissimilar to the Dutch Nederlandse Spoorwegen logo).
However, you might also notice some strange “google earth” symbols on the roofs and trees growing from the car-parks. Maybe a small update will fix this?
We next come to Pier 2 which was built in the 60’s and extended in the early 2000’s, to accommodate the growing traffic, and jet bridges and piers were added as the the capacity was needed for the growing holiday market. Pier 2 has the brick and concrete structure and HSBC adorned gates that are familiar to most UK travellers, and this houses mostly the long-haul flights and some domestic ones.
And again, they have some more of the transparent window effects which I like so much. Hopefully, they can add some more decals and signs to make this look a bit less barren, as I think this element is a bit missing from this airport.
From looking at real photographs though, I think Pier 2 is silvery in appearance, and I can see black and yellow gate numbers which are not present in this package. perhaps this is a limitation in X-Plane 11.
Lastly, but not least, we come to pier 1, which at this point in time, being the original pier, is in the process of being demolished and renovated. Pilot Plus have done an excellent job in depicting a building site in all it’s glory – unusual for an airport to say the least. It must be lunch-time, as there are no workmen in sight here. They even included some animated cranes to complete the ambiance of a working site.
Demolition started in May 2013, and was expected to be completed at the end of 2016, but it is still in progress at the moment. Expected to cost over £180 Million, it’s planned to consist of a two-storey structure with five pier-served aircraft stands and an automated baggage-storage facility.
Firstly, back to X-Plane 10 for some night-time shots:
Then a comparison with X-Plane 11:
As you can see, there are still bugs in X-Plane 11 with banding issues, but it has improved a lot in the last few patches. At the moment, X-Plane 10 has the edge for dawn/dusk shots, but I look forward to X-Plane 11 improvements, when the light issues are solved. This is where I believe X-Plane has the edge over FSX, as the landing and navigation lights really reflect back on the buildings, taxiways and runways, rather than the effects you get in FSX, which never really give you the immersion factor.
At the moment, the performance in X-Plane 10 is giving me about 30 fps with my preferred settings, as you can see from my screenshots. X-Plane 11 is about 19 fps with the latest beta version it’s still fairly acceptable. I have to point out that this framerate is the same as some of the default sceneries in X-Plane 11, so with this in mind, it’s actually an excellent result. The performance may change as they update the version of this package, but I’m happy so far with what I see.
Despite the shortcomings of this package, I find the product does grow on you, and it is one of the more important airports you’ll find in the U.K.
There is a lot of effort put into this product and I feel that it is a valuable addition to X-Plane and there are plenty of real-life routes that can be used with this airport, and it’s good representation of the airport at this point in time. They went to some trouble to add the Original Beehive terminal (which is a nice touch), and the runways and taxiways have a nice worn look to them, and the lights at night do look good.
I do like the fact that you can customise whether or not you can have the add-on aircraft, I personally prefer to hide these as I think they could be improved, in particular the tails of the aircraft seem to be oddly drawn. Whether this is an intentional trademark of Pilot Plus, is hard to tell at this point.
Despite the fact that there some finer details missing, such as height restriction decals and airport warning signs, I’m happy with this rendition of the airport, but the icing on the cake as far as I would be concerned is to really like to see these airports done in the UK2000 style of Gary Summons, for P3D/FSX, but as yet, no developer has come up to these standards yet.
Whether or not X-Plane 11 will change this remains to be seen. As of this writing, March 19th, the price of this add-on is currently 25.95 USD. More information can be found at the dedicated X-Plane.Org store page.
|Add-on:||Payware Realistic presentation of EGKK Version 1.1 for X-Plane 10 / 11|
|Publisher | Developer:||X-Plane.Org | Pilot Plus|
|Description:||Accurate Reproduction of Gatwick International (EGKK)|
|Software Source / Size:||Download / approximately 1.4GB (unzipped)|
|Reviewed by:||Jude Bradley|
|Published:||March 20th 2017|
|Hardware specifications:||- Intel Core i7-47900K @ 4.5 GHz
- 32GB RAM @ 2400MHz
- Gigabyte NVidia GTX 1070 8GB
- Saitek Pro-Flight Yoke and Rudder pedals
|Software specifications:||- Windows 10 Pro 64-bit