ADX Tour Of FTX Northern California Part One
P3D. As one of the most popular places in the known world, the US Golden State of California is one of the least covered destinations in flight simulation. As to why this is exactly is totally beyond me. Sure, we have had the occasional freeware scenery and payware renditions LAX, SFO, and SAN having been modeled in high quality but that's mostly it. The "US Cities LA" city scenery is fairly okay but its performance is terrible for me and building textures bland. So I return to square one. California has been just too neglected over the years. Well, that is... till now! Orbx has selected a very large section of my home state as the foundation of their next FTX dedicated region and as a native of California, I can honestly say the team had done... splendidly!
I am amazed at the levels of accuracy I discovered in the FTX NCA coverage area. So much so, I had to split this review just to cover it all in a timely fashion. Now I have been nearly everywhere in the world of FS but never before have I had the opportunity to review the place I call home. And as many of you have never been here, I am quite excited to show you California the way I know it. So come along with me as we explore the points of interest I personally feel are the most exciting in Orbx FTX NCA and as we get deep into Cali, we get pretty deep into my past also. Should make for an interesting read. Let's go!
[Note: For format purposes, images are cropped. Click each image for full size resolution preview.]
It was a fairly warm Monday afternoon in March. Here in Southern California we have 2 seasons: summer and cooler summer. This was the latter. For the past few days the rain pounded hard. In many places, up to seven inches. Sadly, not only was this not nearly enough to pull us out of this regions worst drought on record, but it also dumped a minute amount of snow in the local mountains which was a total bummer for me. You see, Southern California is one of the few places in the world where one can go snowboarding and surfing all in the same day. Which leads me to the SoCali cliche of where I am now: out on the beach, waiting for snow.
I had been waiting out the storm on the tiny LA County island of Catalina ready at a moments notice to make my way to Lake Big Bear for a visit to the slopes. After the storm passed, the ski report noted 7-8 inches plus manmade snow. Crap. That's barely enough and I really don't like skiing on that slushy manmade stuff. Last year we barely got any snow and it was worst the year before. I just cant be bothered to drive up to Mammoth Mountain (where most LA residents flock to during the winter) much less catch a flight out of state. So having snow in the local mountains are something I more and more reluctantly look forward to every year. Global warming.
Bummed out and dejected, I decided to remain on the island and drown my sorrows in a pint of Stella when I got a call.
"Hi D'Andre, Alex Goff here. How are ya mate?"
Alex Goff? How'd he get my number? By now, I had given up on wondering how people get in touch with me.
"Hey Alex, what's up man."
"We'll, I thought I would give you a heads up, FTX NCA is in final stages for release and thought you would like to get a head start on checking it out. I imagine you must be in Europe or Australia or something."
"Actually, no. I am in LA. Hanging out on Catalina island."
"LA? Really? I knew you lived there but with all the traveling work you do, I never actually thought you spent time there."
"Yep. When I am not getting pulled in ten different directions for reviews or getting ambushed on diverted flights, I actually get time to chill out down here from time to time. So NCA is ready?"
"All ready to go. It's your home state and we are quite anxious to hear what you think about it. It's a big coverage area so might want to pace yourself. Have fun!"
"Sounds great. In fact, I think I will get started now." Got nothing else better to do as it turns out.
We chatted a bit more before hanging up. I then pulled up the Google Earth app on my phone and started to work out how I would tour my own state. It was quite an odd feeling actually. Setting out to visit my own home in the simulator. In just fifteen minutes, I had put plan together and called in some favors from local mates to arrange for different aircraft at each destination I selected.
The first stop I decided on would be at the very southeastern corner of the FTX NCA coverage area. A little town called Lone Pine off US Route 395. It's all barren desert out there and very remote and desolate. But what makes this town so important is its proximity to America's second tallest mountain: Mt. Whitney.
I had been here before in the summer of '96 just before my sixteenth birthday. Myself and a camp of twelve others were setting out to claim this mountain. It would take us seven days, and an elevation climb of over 5 thousand feet all on foot. I included some of the pictures I could find from that trip. There were no digital cameras back then so these were re-taken from the album with my iPhone.
I remember the drive up to the parking lot at Last Chance Meadow was very windy. The elevation of Lone Pine is about four thousand feet. The parking lot on the mountain was at the eleven thousand foot level and from there, it was a three and a half day fifty mile hike through Inyo and Kings Canyon National Forest's up to the fourteen thousand, four hundred and ninety four foot peak. This place was no damn joke. Prior to this, all the camping I had ever done was either in the Los Angeles National Forest or Yosemite. I had no idea what I was getting myself into here.
Once we arrived at the Last Chance Meadow Research Natural Area, I will never forget what the sky looked like. Being a city dweller, it's rare to see stars in the skies. But here, there were so many. Mind blowingly many. So many in fact, the sky looked like shattered glass. I was quite literally for the first time, looking directly into space. With each passing second, we could count hundreds of "shooting stars" appearing and disappearing as space junk burned up in our atmosphere. To this day, words can barely describe.
The following morning and once out on the John Muir Trail, the realization hit. There were no roads, no restrooms, no signs of civilization. There were only 2 ways out of here: by foot, or by helicopter. And if you had to be taken out of here by chopper, you were in badly f'up'd shape. As we saw when we were woken one early morning to the beating rotors of a rescue Bell222 arriving to collect a man who had broken several bones in his body after a rock fall. Back then, there were no cell phones. Not that they mattered, there are no cell towers out there even to this day. If you didn't have a satphone, your mates had to hike out and get help for you which could take days.
I remember watching the Bell circle at least seven times as it gained its altitude out of the valley we were in. Way too high to take off and fly straight out.
Reality and home sickness hits a teenager quick in this place. Nothing but what could fit into my backpack. Run out of food? Screwed. No more water? Use iodine and drink from the river. Out of toilet paper? Remember not to grab the poison ivy. All of which actually happened to our group.
When it was all done, (and God was I glad) it was not the bears, wild life, and hail busting 30mph thunderstorms, that scared the shit out of me. It was the drive back down. What we could not see on the road up at night, we saw during the day on the road down. Ever stared at the ground from an eleven thousand foot cliff? Well how about doing that in a car going 40 mph on a windy road without guardrails? That ass of a driver of ours was going way too fast. I remember clinging to the door for dear life and praying. Plenty of pictures of this road on Google Earth. Here is a sat image from Wikipedia.
But what was most amazing were the cloud reflections off Owens Lake eleven thousand feet below us. It was like looking downward into the sky. As if you could jump off the cliff and float between the two skies. And that's then the mind fuck hit us. When we got to the bottom of the mountain, the lake was gone. No water anywhere. How could a lake nearly eight miles across and 12 miles long just disappear like that?? That's when our group leader informed us that the lake had dried out back in the 1920's when the Owens River was diverted into the Los Angeles aqueduct, feeding the much thirsty and growing city causing Owens Lake to desiccate. Today. Owens is the largest single source of dust pollution in the United States.
So where the hell did those cloud reflections come from? They were so vivid! For the very first time in my life, I experienced what seeing a mirage was. I was excited and terrified all at once. As of 2013, some water has returned to the lake.
I couldn't wait to return here. My plane had arrived.
The flight plan will take west out of Santa Catalina via runway 22. From there we will head northeast over my neighborhood in Marina Del Rey to Lone Pine airport about a 45min flight.
Now a moment ago I mentioned we would be flying over Marina Del Rey which is my home. I like over flying this route as it's always fun to see my pad from the air. Nothing is more calming and relaxing than a nice Sunday afternoon kayak out on the marina which I try to do as often as I can. The peace serenity helps me get my thoughts together for these long winded boring reviews. Of course, that's only early in the morning when it's not overly populated with boats and such. After all, it's the largest man made marina in the world.
After the short flight we began our approach through the Owens valley into Lone pine. I was not at all surprised to see how the weather changed as we made our way into the region... Out here in the high desert, the weather could change very quickly. You will also note, we are right on the border of FTX NCA and FTX Global+Vector. The differences should be rather obvious.
But if it's not obvious enough, here you go. The development team just barely added Mt. Whitney in the coverage area. I am unsure if they even meant to. At some point in the future, I would like to see this area get the high cm resolution treatment as well as a more accurate representation on Mt. Whitney itself. It's very difficult to make out just where exactly the mountain is up there. But on a good note, the Sierra Nevada range is very well represented here as I will soon show you. Let's disembark and see what aircraft was left behind for us to explore the area with. Shall we?
We exit one Cessna and enter another. Out with the Mustang and in with the Skywagon!
Now this part of the journey should be very interesting. We will tour the area and its several mountain peaks including: Tunnabora, Russell, Whitney, and Muir. One of the most interesting things about this part of the range is just how steep these mountains rise out of the ground. It will take us nearly 45 minutes of circling just to reach an altitude high enough to overfly them. When we do, we will be just several hundred feet above the ground. I brought an oxygen tank just in case. I have gotten elevation sickness up here before. Better take my pill. Once over the range, we will get a good look at Kern Canyon and Kings Canyon among other places as we make our way some 80 miles to the west to Fresno where we'll sleep for the night. Okay let's bang out these checklists and get cracking! Oh, and better hang tight, we will be flying fairly close to the ridges! Here comes the next gallery!
Now finally over the lowest summit, we can finally start to make our way inward. Where I was most impressed was with the depth of the textures. Very crisp. I would also note how much more advanced this region is over the others. The performance is much, much better than FTX PNW and much, much, much, better than FTX AU. It's a much worthy note to recognize the teams are getting better developing FTX regions in more ways than one.
Up at this altitude, it's all barren rock and granite. Very little vegetation grows up here. It's almost alien. What I also appreciated was the scale. These mountains feel large in the simulator. I really had to struggle to get the little C185 over them. It was a constant fight. The closer I got and more massive they became and each time I turned back over the valley, I was reminded of just how high these mountains are. It all felt seemingly real.
My next point is with the topography. The more I ventured west, the more the terrain started to descend and thin out beneath me. As it did, the landscape started to change as well making me wonder, how the hell do they do this?? Enjoy the next set.
In the above shot you should get my point. Look at how crisp the terrain is. It looks so real. As you get down over it, the trees and vegetation appear in their proper places. But not just that, this terrain is by no means flat. It is very rocky and uneven and the closer you get to it, the more apparent it is. Now picture this hostile, non repeating terrain covering thousands of square miles of the Sierra Nevada mountain range. Impressed? I sure am. There is the occasional terrain anomaly which is present in some of the above shots, if you noticed it, then you see just how subtle they are. If you didn't notice them, then don't worry about it. This next set shows how the terrain transforms and dissipates as we approach the flat lands of the Central California Valley, out of the mountains, and into Fresno.
Making my way into Fresno Yosemite airport, I power down the little Cessna. The old girl has worked very hard getting us here. She has indeed lived up to her name as being among the most reliable aircraft ever built. As for Fresno itself, there is not much to see out here. For my family, it has always served as a last place to eat, piss, and poop before finishing out that last stretch of road into Yosemite.
But for proposes of the flight simulator, Fresno serves so much more. Given the fact that it serves as the first city we get to see at night in FTX NCA. So far, the hardest part of this review is landing at these dammed default airports. I can't stand it and I cringe and grit my teeth with the approach. Not that they look bad. FTX's default airports are not bad. But I hate default nonetheless. I can't wait to get out of here. So with a bite to eat, piss, and digital poop, I head back out to see Fresno all lit up at night. I'll tell you now, it was very nice! See for yourself.
Ah! Morning! And a typical central California morning it was indeed. That ugly yellowish haze, not a cloud in the sky. It was just yesterday I sat in Catalina and today, I awoke to find that Catalina had followed me here. This is the airplane I will be using to make my way towards Yosemite and nothing says California like a classic PBY Catalina! I don't care much for Fresno and was looking forward to getting out of here. I climbed aboard and prepared her for the slow dawn flight to Pine Mountain Lake where I would rendezvous with a Bell 407 that would lift me the final stretch into Yosemite valley.
As dawn fades into day, I am again impressed at how the terrain changes. This time, it's totally different than yesterday. This is what makes California so great and these guys nailed it in the sim.
After what was a very comfortable flight unlike yesterday, there was not much airwork to perform here. It was very relaxing to see the stunning Californian vistas pass by below my wings. It all feels very much like home. Finally I can say at least a part of my state was given it's proper due.
Now there are 2 reasons why I choose Pine Mountain Lake.
1. It's a stones throw from the Northern end of the Yosemite Valley.
2. It's an awesome airpark!
Fans of the now defunct Andras field project should feel right at home here. An entire neighborhood with homes and their massive hangars alongside the aerodrome. Add to that the very complex surrounding terrain, lake, and golf course, and you have the perfect home just outside Yosemite national park. A scenic approach and departure. I never ask for anything but I am going to now: If there is any developer that appreciates ADX and all it does, make this airport! I admit, I was very disappointed it did not make the announced list of FTX NCA airports. So now I must grit my teeth as I land at another default airport. Yuck. Thank goodness Jarrad Marshall completed Redding. Sadly though, that one is not getting covered in this part of the California tour. Stay tuned for part 2!
It wasn't long before my next ride arrived! I am not qualified to operate the Bell407 so I was a mere passenger on this flight. No matter, I wanted to relax. I wanted to see Yosemite for the first time from the air. And I must say, with those big windows and plush leather seats, the 407 was a very nice ride! Now this journey will take us into Yosemite National Park where I will switch rides to the Robinson R66. With that said, this part of the tour will actually end in Yosemite and will resume with my hand flying the rest of the way in the R66 to Mammoth with a nice scenic overview of Mammoth Crest and Laurel Mountain in part two of the tour. In that part, I will also cover Lake Tahoe, the Bay Area, and San Francisco.
The truth of Yosemite in my life. This place holds major sentimental value to me. And I am a very sentimental person. For example, I still have the Cannon AE-1 camera that took these above photos of me on my very first trip to the park. No I was not previously a woman regardless the resemblance. These pictures were taken in the spring of 1981 a few months before I was born. I would then go on to visit this park again the following summer before my first birthday, again the following year, and every year afterward till I reached the age of eight. I practically spent every summer here during my childhood and each time it feels like a part of home.
My most recent visit was the summer of 2007 inbound from London and back off to London the following week. I was simply amazed at the nostalgia of the place. Nothing had changed. Nothing. But as an adult, I now had more respect for the place. Those granite towering cliffs stretching into the heavens. Yosemite is truly a sight to behold. And nothing can capture it quite like the naked eye. Not even the millions of pictures visitors take of it every day. The only way to truly realize how amazing this place is, (besides a Ansel Adams photo) is to visit for yourself. For a newcomer, the surrounding granite walls can be almost overwhelming. Especially El Capitan. But there is nowhere else in the world more beautiful. Especially the waterfalls! But damn the mosquitoes. And look out for the squirrels, they will come right up onto your table and eat food right off your plate as you are eating! And let's not forget the grizzly bears, they will ransack your stash in a heartbeat if you don't lock it up in the metal bin. They will even break into your car if they smell food inside. No joke! But keep in mind, an overnight stay requires a year advance reservation.
Now as I said, nothing can really capture the magic of Yosemite, but the guys at Orbx came pretty damn close.
Okay enough riding. It's time to fly a helicopter I am qualified to handle. Bring on the R66!
Yosemite is one of the few areas in FTX NCA that comes fully equipped with high-resolution photo terrain giving it the most realistic look and feel. And don't concern yourself with performance. In fact, the only thing I did not like was the appearance of The North Face. No not the line of clothes I am always wearing (although, The North Face gets it's name and logo from Yosemite's Half Dome). Here, the photo image is shrouded in a shadow hiding the granite flat north facing cliff. I wish the shadow would have been cleaned out of the image. I don't like that I am seeing black when looking at the famous dome. Perhaps the guys could change this.
Now even though it's not the correct time of year to see it, but just for a moment, close your eyes and imagine the entire valley covered in fresh white powder. What might that look like?
Now last but not least, I want to pay homage to the one man that has truly created captured this amazing place most beautifully. No it's not Holger Sandmann. I am referring to one of my personal idols: Ansel Adams. I will now leave you off with some final parting shots of this terrific masterpiece. Be sure to stay tuned to part two of my FTX NCA tour coming up shortly. Thanks for reading and Happy Flighting!