Orbx Homer Airport


[Reviewed By: Mike Cameron]

Introduction & the History of Homer Alaska

For my next review I am going to travel to the State of Alaska and the Orbx PAHO Homer premium airport scenery product.  This scenery was developed by Alex Goff.  Information for the introduction was gathered from the Orbx product page, The Homer Alaska Visitor Guide located at www.akms.com and Airnav.com.  Homer rests on the banks of Kachemak Bay, a sheltered arm of the lower Cook Inlet.  Long before Caucasians came, the first peoples to live in this area were the Pacific Eskimos and then the Dena’ina Indians called this area home, primarily on the southern shores of Kachemak Bay.  The Dena’ina’s gathered there necessities from the waters, shores and hills, leaving traces of their lifestyle throughout the area.  Coal was discovered and reported in abundance by Russian miners in the mid 1800’s on the seams lacing the North Shore of Kachemak Bay and was Homer’s first economic reason for existing.  American mining companies arrived in 1889 and began shipping coal on Alaska’s first railroad that ran 7.38 miles from the mining shafts and tunnels near Coal Creek above old town to a large wharf near the end the 4.5 mile Spit where it was loaded on waiting ships.  Supported by the coal industry, the first town was established at the end of the Homer Spit, a grassy 4.5 mile long finger of land “spit up” by the ocean.  In these days long before the 1964 earthquake, the Spit was higher & wider and even supported a stand of spruce trees in an area called “Green Timbers”.  

The modern Homer Spit is included with this scenery and I will comment more about it later.  In April, 1896, Homer Pennock and his 50-man/one woman crew dropped anchor at the end of the Spit and the Alaska Gold Mining Company took a minor role in shaping the history of the area by giving this new town its name.  Homer Pennock has been described as a promoter and sometimes “the most talented confidence man whoever operated on this continent”.  Homer’s namesake only stayed for about a year, moving on to the Klondike when gold was discovered there.  During the early 20th Century, fishing, primarily salmon fishing became the prominent industry of this area.  Much of the old town on the Spit was torn down and recycled into new structures for homesteaders and fisherman.  The homesteaders settled east along the bench above the bay raising a variety of crops and livestock.  Although the soil is rich, the cool damp weather and distance from markets prevented farming from being and economic viability.  In the early 1930’s most of the remaining structures burned by a slow-spreading fire fed by coal that had washed ashore.  The cabin, which is now part of the Salty Dawg Saloon, was one of the few buildings that survived.  During the 1940’s Homer grew physically but the population shrank from 325 residents in 1940 to 307 in 1950.  At this time other seafood such as crab, shrimp and halibut were added to the local harvest from Kachemak Bay, further strengthening the local economy.  Today, Homer is known as the halibut capital of the world and commercial fishing is the greatest contributor to the local economy, in excess of 30 million a year.  

Spruce logging has been a major support industry this century, with the current boom fueled by spruce bark beetle damage and logging restrictions elsewhere.  Today, Homer is easily accessible by land, air and sea.  Besides the fishing industry, tourism is also a source of growth and profit for the local economy.  Local activities include fishing & wilderness charters, art festivals; hiking and sightseeing are just a few of the many things to do in Homer, Alaska.


The Homer Spit

The primary theory about the origin of the Homer Spit is that it was built up over millennium from sand, silt, gravel and coal deposited from the currents of Cook Inlet and Kachemak Bay.  Another theory is that glaciers retreating into the Kenai Mountains to the southwest left behind a ridge of debris, which then served as a collector for the ocean’s deposits.  These deposits continue to rearrange this unique spot, most notably rebuilding the beach at the end of the Spit to pre-earthquake dimensions.  Archeological digs reveal that early native peoples probably camped out here but their villages were on the far side of Kachemak Bay.  A more permanent settlement on the Spit came much later with the arrival of American settlers and found the easterly end of the Spit a very handy place to land boats and the early-day coal shipping led to construction of a wharf and a company town there.  

When the coal industry faded and fishing became the focus, the wharf which eventually became the harbor, developed into an even more important aspect of the local economy.  The road on the Spit is the longest road into the ocean in the world.  There is a constant tug of war between humans and the elements as violent storms sometimes break the Spit off from the mainland and residents will bring in more riprap to shore it up.  Less visible is the struggle by residents over the Spit’s highest and best use.  The piles of logs and wood chips harvested from the forests forty miles north of town awaiting shipment to Japan, indicate an economic boom for some, an environmental downfall to others.  This also applies to the boardwalk shops and the Fishing Hole, do they mar the view or stimulate the economy.


Homer Airport and Scenery Features

Homer Airport (PAHO) is located 2 miles east of the town of Homer, Alaska.  It is an uncontrolled airport with an elevation of 84 feet.  Homer has hangars and tie down parking spaces, 100LL, Jet A & B fuel, has only minor airframe & powerplant servicing and oxygen is not available.  PAHO has a single 6701x150 asphalt runway (4/22).  This airport can support regional airline aircraft of up to 30 seats without permission of the airport manager and greater with permission.  Airlines that service Homer are ERA (Raven) Alaska, Bald Mountain Air and Beluga Air.

93 aircraft are based at PAHO with 84 single engine, 4 multi-engine, 3 helicopters and two ultralights.  For the 12-month ending December 31st, 2013, Homer Airport had an average of 132 aircraft operations a day with 48% commercial, 32% air taxi, 11% local GA traffic, 9% transient general aviation and less than 1% military.
Scenery Features:
•    High detail rendition of Homer Airport and Beluga Lake Seaplane Base.
•    50cm photoreal coverage of the airport, town and Spit.
•    Custom static aircraft types including the ones operated by the regional carriers that service PAHO and new Piper Cub models.
•    Detailed interior model of the terminal.
•    Ambient Occlusion Baking and other advance rendering techniques.
•    Scenery is tuned for AI Traffic including float plane operations.
•    Many VFR Point of Interest landmarks in the town and on the Spit.
•    PeopleFlow, ObjectFlow & TextureFlow.

 


Installation

The Orbx Southern California Region (SAK) is required for the best experience possible.  Installation of Orbx products is very easy.  After purchase you will be emailed a link to your FlightSimStore account downloads area along with the Order Date, Order Number and a Registration Key.  Orbx uses the FSS “Wrapper” system for activation and installation of their products.  Unpack the downloaded file and run the enclosed FSS file.  Enter the Order Number, Date, Registration Key and click “Next”.  The Registration Key is very simple so you should not have an issue entering it but if you need to you can copy and paste.  The installer will now unwrap, read the important information, agree to the License Agreement, select your desired simulator, Homer includes the Orbx triple installer with FSX or FSX-SE, P3Dv1 and P3Dv2, no additional purchase required if you own both FSX and Prepar3D which is great.  

I will be reviewing Homer Airport on FSX-SE.  After the scenery is installed, click “Finish” to complete the install process.  If you are still using the old FTX Central program, download and install the latest Orbx Libraries but if you already have converted to the new FTX Central 2, you are good to go because you are notified when new Libraries are available and you can download and install directly from FTX Central 2 which is wonderful.  As with other Orbx products, Homer includes the terrific Scenery Control Panel that lets you select which scenery features that you want enabled.  I have a powerful computer system so I selected “Static Aircraft Level 3” instead of the default 2, “PeopleFlow Level 3” also instead of 2 and will activate “Beluga Lake Seaplane Base Winter APX” later in the review.  A 26 page PDF User guide is also included and I recommend reading it because it provides information on setting up the simulator for the best experience and performance.  It also includes a coverage area map, approach charts and copy of the sectional chart for this area.  It is nice to have these included instead of having to search for them on the internet.


Homer Airport Ground Tour

I am going to start at Runway 4 and walk/run around the airport in a clockwise direction using Orbx Bob and will finish at my starting location.  I may occasionally walk outside of the airport grounds to see the detail on that side of the fence.  From this starting point I have a nice overall view of the airport and I get a good look at the excellent runway textures.  I am going to turn around and walk to the runway threshold to start the tour.  This is also a good location to see the excellent runway lighting but if the halo size is too large for your taste you can adjust it using the Orbx lighting tool or by another means.  I do not have an issue with the halo size.  The airport vegetation I believe is the right height and this is the first Orbx scenery product that I have installed that did not include grass options in the Control Panel, so what you see is what you get.  The southwest area of the airport allows me to see a few of the great looking static general aviation aircraft that are part of the Homer Airport scenery.  I like that there is some variety for the Piper Cup external textures.  

This view also provides a nice example of the new Orbx HD Trees product.  As I have come to expect from Orbx, building textures and signage are of top quality.  You can even see inside the windows which add to the experience.  Even the small structures and miscellaneous stuff lying around are three dimensional and have great looking textures.  The helipad is located here and I like that it can be selected from the FSX Airport Starting Location.  Ground vehicles including parked cars and trucks also look very nice.  Moving on, the next group of objects is the passenger terminal and the static Era (Raven) Alaska aircraft.  The regional airline aircraft are just as impressive looking as the general aviation aircraft.  Building night lighting is excellent.  The Orbx Homer Airport scenery includes what I believe is a first for airport scenery products, the ability to walk into and explore the small passenger terminal.  

You can use the FSX Slew command but Bob is made for things like this.  Alex has put a lot of impressive detail into a very small space including the ERA Alaska check in counter, detailed walls and ceilings (detailed three dimensional beams) along with animated people, very impressive.  I am now going to go outside of the terminal and look at the features outside of the airport boundary.  There is not a lot to see from here so I am going to walk back onto the airport grounds.

  Crossing the runway and moving over to the general aviation side of the airport, I continue to be impressed with the variety and the quality of the static aircraft models.  The building textures are equally as impressive on this side of the airport and it is nice to see some environmental caused textures.  This is a good time to show the 3D snow feature.  I am going to take two screen grabs from a hard winter month one with the feature disabled and another with it enabled.  I like the added dimension that the 3D snow brings so I am going to leave it enabled.  On my system I did not have a performance impact with this feature enabled.  In fact, Homer is one of the better performing Orbx premium airport products.  

Normally, I do not post frame rate information but with this airport I am going to make an exception.  I have my frame rates locked at 31 per Nvidia Inspector settings and I consistently received 30-31 FPM even with the snow feature enabled.  One thing though, I currently have my AI Traffic sliders set at 100% GA and 16% Airline, I did not have any traffic at Homer.  I currently only have the default and Orbx traffic installed.  The final building has a windsock on the roof and it is animated with the wind speed which is a nice feature.  The screen grab below is with the wind at 16 knots and I like that it is not totally animated because sometimes there are unusual animation effects.  I am now going to travel outside of the airport grounds to see what it is like on this side of the airport.   There are some buildings with boats parked on the ground which seemed odd to me.  When I looked at the Google Earth image of this area, there were boats here in the real world which is great but I think they would be on trailers though.  Now it is time to explore the Homer-Beluga (5BL) Seaplane Base from a ground level perspective.


Homer-Beluga Lake Seaplane Base & Homer Spit

I am going to leave Homer Airport and make my way to the Homer Seaplane Base and will capture some snap shots if I see anything interesting along the way.  It was nice to see some open gates at the airport to allow people to exit without walking or driving through these gates.  There are plenty of detailed buildings and other scenery features on my way to the water airport.  At this time I decided to capture a FSX Aerial view of the scenery area and you can see it is ultra-detailed and looks spectacular.  Homer-Beluga Lake Seaplane Base is just as detailed as PAHO, just without as many scenery objects.  I like that the seaplane base does include three starting location parking spots which is wonderful, including two next to a waterfront house and a small shop.  I am going to save my tour here so that I can activate the winter features to see what they look like.  Enabling this feature freezes the lake and the static aircraft are now parked elsewhere for the winter which is great and adds to the realistic experience.  I know that I cannot have everything but it would have been nice if this was an automatic seasonal feature instead of having to enable/disable it from the control panel.  The starting locations are also removed with this feature enabled, so I probably will leave it disabled.

  I decided to continue the ground tour to the Homer Spit to be able to see it from a ground level perspective.  As I jog on the road on the Spit, I continue to be impressed with the variety and quality of the static objects included with the Orbx Homer scenery.  The trailers and mobile homes in a parking area all have great looking textures.  The quality of buildings on the Spit is pretty good, obviously not on the same level as the airport and there is some repetition but I think they are better than some of the other township buildings that have been included in other scenery products.  It is nice to see some quality from the ground level instead of just from the air.  

I will let you find the minor graphical glitch in one of my screen grabs below.  At least the Salty Dog Saloon and the Seafarer’s Memorial look realistic from the ground level.  The Fishing Hole is also included but there is not much to it.  According to my research there is a campground located next to the Fishing Hole and it would have been nice if some of the trailers from earlier would have been included at this location.  Well, I guess I cannot have everything and the scenery already has a lot of features for the price.  I also like to see that the boats in the harbor are three dimensional instead of a photoreal 2D image.  Well this concludes the ground tour and it is now time to explore the area from the air.


Homer Scenery Area Aerial Tour

I like to use the default Trike Ultralight to explore the scenery area because it allows me to flow low and slow to get a good look at the scenery features.  The airport looks just as wonderful from the air as it did from the ground.  I am going to depart from the active runway and fly over the town, the seaplane base and the Homer Spit before returning to the airport.  This is sure beautiful country to fly over and look forward to many future flights to and from Homer, Alaska.  It would not be an Orbx scenery product without accurate roadways including neighborhood streets and I am sure if I compared this scenery to a Google Map image it would be very close.  Also this is not blurry photoreal ground textures but is great looking from all altitude levels.   Homes and other buildings are also realistically placed which is wonderful.  There are some photo ground textures but they do not distract from this wonderful looking scenery.  I love the variety of ground textures that this scenery and the Homer area provide.  The Homer – Beluga Lake SPB area and the Homer Spit also are great looking from the air.  

The included scenery area is nice but what if you want to fly to and from other premium airports in the region.  The closest Orbx premium airport is Kenai Municipal (PAEN) which at 56 NM provides a nice short scenic flight.  During the May 2015 Orbx sale, Kenai was one of the airports included in the sale so I purchased it and a few others to add to my collection.  The other Orbx airports are much farther away and require flying over open water for some distance if you perform a direct flight or a much longer flight if you would like to stay above land.  Yakutat (PAYA) is 360 NM direct, Gustavus (PAGS) 493 NM and Juneau (PAJN) at 529 NM.  There are other airports in the area that is included with the Orbx Southern Alaska regional scenery and there are probably more enhanced airports both free and premium also available.

Test System
Hardware:
Computer Specs:
Intel Desktop Computer
Intel i5 4670K 3.4Ghz Non OC Processor
8GB DDR3 1833 Memory
2TB SATA HD (7200 RPM)
NVIDIA GeForce GTX970 Video Card with 4GB GDDR5 Memory
Logitech Extreme 3D Pro Joystick
Software:
FSX-Steam Edition, Windows 7 – 64 Bit
REX 4 Texture Direct with Soft Clouds
Orbx HD Trees, Global, Vector and Multiple Regions
DX10 Scenery Fixer
FSX Fair Weather Theme
Flight Test Time:
25 hours


Conclusion

Alex and Orbx have created another masterpiece with the FTX: NA PAHO Homer Airport scenery.  Everything that I have come to expect from Orbx premium scenery is included for your enjoyment.  Both of the included airports textures & features are outstanding; Homer airport includes animated people that greatly add to the experience and this product also includes a great looking scenery area to explore including a realistic looking Homer Spit.  Orbx always seems to introduce something new with each release and Homer includes a detailed passenger terminal interior for you to walk around in.  I do not think this is new but I also like the option to have snow on the building roofs during the hard winter which adds to realism & experience.  This feature may have a performance impact so it is optional but I left it enabled because I did not have a drop in performance.  Speaking of performance, I did not have any performance related issues with this scenery (slow drawing scenery objects, etc.).  I just recently upgraded my computer system so your experience may be different.  That is where the excellent PAHO Scenery Control Panel is nice, if performance is an issue you can change the various scenery features to your liking.  Another option with the control panel is enabling the winter features at the Homer – Beluga Lake Seaplane Base.  This is my only minor nitpick with this wonderful scenery; I wish this could be automatic.  When enabled, similar to the snow textures, on during the hard winter and off for the other seasons rather than manually turning it on and off.  To conclude, I highly recommend the Orbx FTX: NA Homer Airport scenery and to learn more visit the product page located here: https://www.fullterrain.com/product/paho.  I want to thank Orbx and Air Daily X for providing the review copy of this wonderful scenery.

-Mike Cameron