Orbx Friday Harbor


[FSX:SE] Question: What does Meigs Field and Seattle Tacoma airport, have in common? They were both default starting airports in past versions of flight simulator. Meigs Field in Chicago (no longer in existence) is an interesting choice so aptly named after Merrill C. Meigs a rather iconic aviator. But I have also heard it was chosen as the default airport for so many years due to its close location to Sublogic's corporate offices. Sublogic was the original flight simulator before Microsoft took the reins.  I assumed Seattle was chosen due to it's proximity to Microsoft's headquarters. But why was Friday Harbor the selection for FSX? I'm stumped on this one. Yet this little airfield joins the other aforementioned airfields as an iconic starting point within the Microsoft Flight Simulator franchise.

Now I suppose I should be clear right off the bat. For those used to my reviews, this one is going to be slightly different. I'm looking to appeal so some of the many thousands who purchased the Steam version of FSX potentially discovering flight simulation for the first time. I myself have been a flight simulation enthusiast since 1995 exactly 2 years after my very first commercial flight and anyone who loves this hobby never forgets their first airplane ride. Back then, it was mostly combat sim's on my dad's old Apple Mac that first drew me in to the simulation of flight. This brought an end to my endless hand piloting skills of die-cast airplanes around the backyard. Those combat games never fully satisfied my craving for commercial airliners like the MD80, and DC-10s I had flown on for the first time a few years prior. Then 1998 came along, by dad finally abandoned the Mac for his first PC with a fresh install of Windows 98. Shortly thereafter, Microsoft Flight Simulator 98 entered our home. Now this was something different. With the combat games, eventually I would get bored and just fly point to point trying to teach myself as much as I could. But with FS98, this was a true flight simulator and I relished every opportunity my dad was away to get the chance to fly which often meant sorties at 3 o'clock in the morning. It wasn't till 2002 at the age of 21 did I finally get my first personal computer. Of all the things a computer was useful for back in 2002, the only purpose mine had was flight simulation. Even the internet back then wasn't much useful unless you were one of those AOL chat room people. 

After a while however, I started to get bored with the same ole airplanes. So I began searching the internet to see if there was a possibility that more aircraft existed and could be used with flight simulator. Not only did I find much more than what I was looking for, but I also discovered there was an entire community of people devoted to the hobby. Several flight simulation hobbyist websites existed and before I knew it, I was chewing the fat with people just like me, just as crazy about the hobby as me. 

The community seemed to me to be very strong with a huge following. And when Microsoft went from FS2000, to FS2004, things had only gotten better. But the biggest change with FS2004 was the advent of the third party development community. Prior to this, almost everything you wanted was available for free or what we call "freeware addons". Freeware products were seldom highly detailed but there were a few out there that were truly top notch. Essentially, freeware products enhanced the default airports that ship with flight simulator and payware products were far better in quality and realism than freeware products hence you had to pay for them. This was true of both aircraft and scenery. In a short period of time, the flight simulation community had exploded with dozens of new third party developers seeking to stake their claim within the world of flight simulation. Since then many have departed, many have stuck around, and many are new. My first purchase was LAX my home airport, an airport scenery developed by now defunct Cloud9 Simulations. The level of detail and realism was unbelievable. Little did I know then that by purchasing that first addon, I had in essence, opened a can of worms I still happen to be drowning in to this day. And more new developers keep arriving with massive talent effectively ensuring I remain broke for the rest of my life within this hobby. 

Turbulent Designs Blue canyon-nyack

Take Turbulent Designs for example. This is a development team duo that arrived on the scene within the last couple years and they are really making a name for themselves. Take Orbx Simulation Systems as another example, 8 years ago, Orbx didn't even exist and today they are one of the leading brand names in the business yet just one of a great many that exist. Now when Microsoft decided to abandon flight simulation platform development many years ago after the advent of FSX, it was widely regarded that flight simulation and it's community of fans and enthusiasts would start to slowly die off. But in fact, the hobby remained alive and well despite Microsoft abandoning nearly 25 years of service to the community. Sure other alternatives exist, but for the most part, FSX has maintained it's stronghold. 

Then, about a year or so ago, this fish & train game company came along and decided to take over the franchise. Who the heck were these people? Dovetail Games? Never heard of them. Now don't get me wrong, I love trains, and I enjoy a day out on the lake fishing, but both pale in comparison to my love for flying. I'll admit, the words adamant and skepticism has best described my feelings about what Dovetail had proposed to do. Now here are two more words describing my feelings: excited & hopeful. These two words also reflect my feelings about what Dovetail has been setting out to accomplish. Here is one more word: Proud. I am very proud to see what they have accomplished thus far and how the Steam Community has taken to the Steam version of FSX.

You see, after Microsoft left us, this also meant boxes of flight simulator titles would no longer appear on store shelves. Without this, the community could not grow. The thing that got my dad into flight simulation and subsequently me, all came down to a title on a store shelf. I suspect this is how many of us got started. But these days, there aren't really any computer software isles in most brick & mortar electronics stores and if there are, they are merely a fraction of a fraction of what they used to be. Online retailers like Steam and Origin is where the world looks for new PC entertainment titles and the fact that FSX has not only found a home here, many thousands of newcomers have discovered flight simulation for the first time just like I did all those years ago. 

But there is so much more to flight simulation than what you get in your initial download of FSX on Steam and in this review, it's my hope that in this particular example, you will understand just how big the difference is between the default stuff that is already included in FSX Steam, and the stuff you can add to completely upgrade your experience. Believe me when I tell you, there is a massive collection of stuff out there to explore. 

So, what is so special about this Friday Harbor place? It's been selected as the default airport in FSX and now a couple of guys in England have gone through all the trouble to recreate it a great level of realism. Not an easy task. Besides this, Friday Harbor is just one of literally hundreds of general aviation and aerodromes that litter the Pacific Northwest Region of the Western United States. Why had the development team chosen this place among all the others? Because first impressions right? The moment you load that default flight, you are met with some amazing realistic quality. I hereby invite you to come along and join me over to San Juan Islands the home of Friday Harbor. 

Well that was a long intro wasn't it?


FSX Friday Harbor: What You Got.

Are we having fun yet? Back in the golden days of 2002, this was truly as good as it got. Again, there were a few freeware scenery addons out there, but that was pretty much it. This quality level was the norm and it was nowhere as good as this. And unless you have discovered the joy of enhancing your simulator with third party products then chances are, this is as good as it gets for you too. Sure, there is a lot of freeware out there to choose from and I highly recommend you look into what's out there as almost anything is better than default. As you can see, default FSX is quite bland and unless you have something to compare it to, you would never notice. So let's take a look at what you get when we add the Orbx scenery in to replace the same area. Ready?


Approach & Landing

Now just like the default FSX flight, I have started the review above San Juan Island with Orbx Friday Harbor installed. The differences here is I am directly on the final approach whereas FSX has you a little off to the northeast. I have also selected something just a little bit faster than the Trike Ultralight. Immediately, the difference between the third party Orbx scenery and the default representation is about the same as the differences between night and day. You can clearly see the 60cm per pixel resolution photoreal texture application covering the entire island allowing the pilot to see the environment in the exact same manner as they would in real life. 

As I get closer to the ground over the threshold, the ground imagery for the airport sharpens to 15cm per pixel displaying a sharp and crisp visual enhancement. Seconds above the deck, I find that I am extremely impressed with the ground textures of the runway pavement. I find that I am completely distracted from the task at hand as I begin to admire the airfield buildings in the distance. As a result, I put the TBM 850 down a little to the left of center. The quality looks so good I almost want to jump out of the aircraft while it's still rolling and run over to check out the terminal. 

Finally parked in front of the FBO I climb out and immediately, I had to remind myself who developers of this project are because the quality is so incredibly good, I realize they have managed to increase their level of detail and quality about a hundred fold over their last release. Let's take a closer look at what developers Russ & Greg has created here. 

Carenado's TBM850 looks lovely sitting out on the ramp at Friday Harbor. The two products complement each other perfectly. 


Orbx Friday Harbor: What You'll Get. 

Now the primary publisher of the scenery: Orbx Simulation Systems, has completely defined the Pacific Northwest and how flight simulation enthusiasts experience it. In order to explain fully what Orbx has done to the region would require far too much of an explanation. But in short, to date, Orbx has released well over 20 airfields in the area including a separate terrain enhancement product that completely transforms thousands of square miles to ultra realistic. The Friday Harbor product however, is the first of which that has been developed for and optimized exclusively for FSX Steam Edition. 

Now Friday Harbor airport (KFHR) is the largest airfield among the San Juan Islands. It is what is known as a full-service airport that offers US Customs point of entry services, aviation fuel, repair and maintenance services, as well as flight instruction opportunities. The Roy Franklin Terminal shown above accommodates over 10,000 passengers each year with scheduled air services to Seattle, Bellingham, and Anacortes airports including charter services to other destinations. Orbx has also developed Anacortes to a high level of realism for those of you looking to conduct your own shuttle services.

The Port of Friday Harbor Airport serves the commercial, general aviation, and corporate air transportation needs of the islands with over 50,800 annual operations for 2014. They offer a well-maintained 3400 by 75 foot runway with medium intensity LED runway lighting, 40 aircraft tie-downs for guests, 55 port-owned hangars, 46 privately owned hangars, and 143 based aircraft. All this makes me wonder why Orbx never considered developing this airport long ago. 

Let's take a look at the details. 

The details I am sure you'll agree are astounding. Everything from the perimeter fences and gates, to the static cars, to the ground markings. There is a true depth of realism everywhere I look. I just can't get over how crisp the ground textures are. Honestly, I think I would prefer more static aircraft filling the empty spots. But must leave room for AI. 

Now as I said, this project marks a huge jump in scenery quality over the past release from the Turbulent team. Usually, there is a much longer lapse of time between development improvements that are this drastic. But aside from the quality,  you can clearly see just how much of an enhancement the airport is over default. From each blade of grass, to the trees, to the animated people enjoying coke at the restaurant, each bit of detail is designed to remove you from the simulation and make you feel as if you are in the real world and when developers get it right, even if it's just for a moment., you will forget you are looking at a screen. The developers have accomplished this perfectly. 

If you would like to add an additional feature of realism, I highly recommend you adding the freeware Orbx PNW AI traffic package enabling you to see aircraft come and going to and from the airport and even follow them to their destinations. If this doesn't float your boat, FSX Steam also has multiplayer capability allowing you to fly in real time with your friends and other enthusiasts. 

Now this product is so much more than the main airport. Let's explore what else is in store for us on this island. I have a Robinson R66 Turbine on the pad waiting to take us on a tour. Let's go!


San Juan Island

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Now whereas Turbulent Designs is fairly new, I like the style of this development team. The first release from Turbulent Designs under the Orbx brand is their Blue Canyon-Nyack airfield scenery. Included in this package was 2 additional airfields for the price of 1. And in the case of Friday Harbor here, not only is this their largest singular project to date, but again, they managed to throw in additional airfields and sea bases to keep you busy. These airfields are:

•1WA9 Friday West
•WA09 Roche Harbor
•61WA Burden Field
•2W4 Kanaka Bay
•2W7 False Bay
•1W4 Schoolhouse Field
•3WA5 Hidden Meadows
•W33 Friday Harbor Seaplane base
•W39 Roche Harbor Seaplane base

Now I am not going to show everything this scenery product has to offer in this review or there would be no point in exploring things for yourself. That said, the map on the right shows an overview of what's included. Getting all this with the entire island coverage makes this a perfect first purchase for anyone who has yet to buy a third party scenery addon. 

The photoreal terrain coverage is immaculate. It really doesn't get much more real than this. Heck for kicks and giggles, let's compare the sim with Google Earth. See what I mean??

I point my jalopy south and begin exploring the island. Indeed there is much to see! If it weren't for Orbx FTX and the many other nearby airports, I don't think I would ever leave. 

Another point worth note is the water masking. Every inlet, every lake, every pond, every freaking puddle you can find on this island has been watermarked. Watermasking is the process in which the developers have to remove the images of lakes on the photoscenery and code simulator to put actual water there instead. It's a tedious process especially in regions like this. Well done.   

I find there is so much to explore. Indeed, you can arrive in very fast business jets into Friday Harbor. But after you arrive, I highly recommend you crawl into the slowest thing you have that can still fly, and explore. There is much to see out here. 

One of the benefits of the continued growing realism of flight simulation is the ability to explore places you haven't visited in the real world. Trust me when I tell you that after hours of flying around the island, I really felt as if I've been there. It's just that real. Default destinations within the sim just can't capture this experience. 

That said, we really wanted you to get a feeling of what you can expect when you experience this scenery in FSX Steam. Something my puny words and screenshots just can't quite capture. I invite you to join our fellow pilot and friend Jordan King as he takes us on a low and slow adventure in A2A's lovely Piper Cub also available on Steam. I'll see you on the other end for the rest of the written portion of this review. Enjoy! 


Friday Harbor And The San Juan Island Experience


From Dusk Till...

Welcome back! I really hope you enjoyed that video. Obviously it's easy to get an idea of what your first experience may be like. 

As the sun begins to fade into darkness, I take my last looks at the scenery below me. I can't help but think how proud I am of the achievement that has taken place here. All these years in this hobby and I still get excited about new places to explore in the virtual world. The feeling never gets old and the products just keep getting better.


Night Shots & Final Thoughts.

After spending the entire afternoon flying in the skies above San Juan Island, the sun finally began to settle down for the day and I wanted to see the airport before things got too dark. Typically, these small airfields operate on a dusk till dawn biases and I wanted to catch a glimpse of Friday Harbor before things got too dark. I must say, where I found the night lighting effects, I was very pleased. And whereas there was so much done right with this project, the only gripe I can throw at it is I would have liked to have seen the night light modeling more complete. There are too many buildings with too many windows that are not lit in the scenery giving the feeling that no one is minding the shop after hours. In other cases, there are lights on one side of a building but not the other side. The tower is lit above but not below. Nitpicks...

Perhaps one thing I would have done differently with the scenery assuming I was actually capable of understanding how all this stuff works, is a change with the control tower building. That thing has some really big windows. I would have preferred to have seen those windows glass transparent allowing the pilots to actually see into the tower. I would have added computers and animated people flow in there as well. Orbx has done it before. Besides this, it would make for a nice eyepoint should the user decide to sit and watch the traffic come and go. 

Aside from this, the Friday Harbor project is truly a masterpiece and one heck of a step up from this team.

In the beginning of this article, I mentiond that there have been developers that for one reason or other, exited developing third party products for flight simulation. One such developer was known as Earth Simulations. Earth Simulations had a couple years back, developed a scenery much like this one but on a much larger scale. It was the Isle of Man and what I love so much about that scenery was the ability to fly around the island and explore. The developers had included many hidden gem's and landmarks to discover. Sadly, these developers no longer exist. But in flying around the island here in the Pacific Northwest, I truly realized just how good developers Russ & Greg have become. Again, I was blown away by their last release but this is something on a completely different scale and it's extremely obvious to me that these developers are extremely passionate in their craft. Their passion and attention to detail really shines in their work.

I have written many reviews over the years and I have examined hundreds of products and what I can tell you without a doubt, the future for Turbulent Designs is very bright. 

Now for those who are used to my reviews may have noticed my writing style is a bit different here. I have been saying things that are rather obvious and of common sense to the flight simulation community. My true goal here though is to reach out to those newcomers to the flight simulation hobby. Because if this hobby is to survive, we can use all the people we can get to support and love it. This is also obviously the focus with Dovetail Games, and Orbx. Indeed, the Steam version of FSX is not the only platform available out there. I will even go as far as to say, I do not personally use it too often as currently my primary simulation platform is Prepar3D but lest we forget, Dovetail is in the process of developing their own simulation platform due for release next year. Something I simply can not wait to see. If you are still using the old boxed version of FSX, perhaps now is the time to consider jumping over to the Steam Edition and take advantage of these new exciting destinations. 

When I first started simming, there were hardly any options at all. Today there are hundreds perhaps thousands of addons to choose from. I want these newcomers to know what is available to them and how these products will completely change their experiences with flight simulator. In other words, I want to do my part too. For the rest of you veterans out there, hopefully just one screenshot and none of my words were enough for you to rush out and purchase your copy now. But if you are new to all this, I am going to ask you to take a leap of faith and make this the first product you buy. May it be the first of many. As for what I would like to see next in this partnership between Dovetail and Orbx, perhaps they should continue along the line of developing the default starting airports of past platforms with Meigs Field. Oh wait: 

I sincerely hope you found this review helpful. I honestly could say more, but i'm about to raise the sun again for some more flying! Friday Harbor will soon be available on Steam!

Happy Flighting!

D'Andre Newman