[Reviewed By: Mike Cameron]
Welcome to California Wine Country
Research for this introduction was gathered from the product page, www.sonomavalley.com , www.sonomacountyairport.org , www.ifly.com , and www.airnav.com websites. KSTS Sonoma County Regional Airport also known as Charles M. Shultz or Santa Rosa Airport is the fifth premium airport developed by Misha Cajic and the sixth premium airport for the Orbx northern California region. Sonoma County is ideally located about 40 nautical miles north –west of the San Francisco Bay area as well as between many of the other Orbx premium airports for this region. This area is one of California’s premier wine growing regions and attracts more than 1.4 million tourists each year. The highest mountain peak of this area, Mt. St. Helena (part of this scenery’s photoreal areas), looks over the Sonoma Valley. Each approach into the airport is scenic in its own right, from the rolling California hills, to the wineries and the medium sized city of Santa Rosa. I will provide more about the scenery features later in this section.
History of the Sonoma Valley Area
The Sonoma Valley is recognized as the birthplace of the California wine industry. Besides being home to 183 – year old vines, it also lays claim to a certain pioneering resilience. Despite the efforts of General Mariano G Vallejo, the town of Sonoma lost its place as the county seat once the booming Gold Rush redirected the flow of commerce south to San Francisco. In the 19th Century the Valley’s wine industry would survive an epidemic of the route disease Phylloxera and in the 20th Century it would survive prohibition. The Sonoma Valley has always grown grapes, with the early Mission fathers planting primitive vineyards whose berries were crushed by their feet, a tradition continued by early Sonoma settlers. In the late 1850’s, a Hungarian immigrant, Agoston Haraszthy, arrived in the Valley and turned a scientific eye on viticulture and convinced the State of California to send him on a long research expedition to study vineyard agricultural techniques in Europe’s legendary wine growing regions. What Haraszthy saw there convinced him that the Sonoma Valley’s red, gravelly soil offered the perfect conditions for grapes whose wines that would rival Europe’s. Haraszthy also helped found the state’s first official winery, Buena Vista Winery. Other’s quickly followed, and by 1876 the Sonoma Valley was producing more than 2.3 million gallons a year. After the Phylloxera epidemic, the wine industry began to recover and renew itself.
Today, Sonoma Valley remains a major hub for the wine industry and a popular tourist destination where visitors can sample local varietals at more than 40 premium wineries and tasting rooms. For some decades in the late 19th Century, Sonoma Valley lay more or less isolated. In the 1880’s, the town of Sonoma languished and the town Plaza fell into a state of neglect with plenty of wild weeds and overrun with cattle. The Mission decayed & deteriorated and transportation to the area was infrequent and slow. Boats from San Francisco took a day’s travel and it was not until 1890 did a standard gauge railroad run through the valley. This line included a depot on the Plaza, a turntable and an engine house. Sonoma life began to pick up again in the 1890’s with many resorts opening after a hot water source was discovered at Boyes Hot Springs. Trains brought many visitors to these resorts and electric light arrived in 1895. Author Jack London arrived in the Sonoma Valley in 1904 and used this setting in his novel, The Valley of the Moon. London settled in Glen Ellen where he started to build a large mansion that burned to the ground before he and his wife had a chance to move into it. Today, some 40 acres of the London Estate including the burned mansion are now preserved as a California historical park.
The Sonoma City Hall was dedicated in 1908 and was carefully built with four identical facades, so that the merchants on all sides of the Plaza could claim that it faced them. During World War I, this area sent 117 of its sons to war with only 98 of them returning alive. Like much of America, Sonoma mobilized during World War II, supporting blood drives, scrap metal drives and the USO. The speed limit was lowered to the wartime limit of 35 miles per hour and citizens were trained to learn the difference between a Japanese Zero from an American P-40. After the war, Sonoma’s long sleep ended. The outside world discovered this area just as the Mexicans and the Spanish before them. The population increased with new schools along with a new hospital being built. The population surged from 20,000 residents in 1960 to 40,000 in 1980. This growth has been managed by the leaders of the Sonoma Valley. A plan for a freeway running down Sonoma’s center was abandoned in the 1960’s and in 1974; Sonoma adapted a general plan that called for the preservation of single-family dwellings and the Valley’s natural treasures. The citizens also prevented a multiple housing unit from being built and also prevented construction of a large resort from being built on the town’s last open space. What all of this means is that Sonoma, unlike many parts of California, has managed to retain its original charm and pastoral beauty.
Sonoma County Airport
Charles M. Shultz – Sonoma County Airport (KSTS) is located in the heart of Northern California’s world renowned wine country and is situated six miles northwest of the City of Santa Rosa. It is conveniently accessible to residents of Lake, Marin, Mendocino, Napa and Sonoma Counties. KSTS is the only airport in this area that offers scheduled air service to the North Bay region. Alaska Airlines is the only airline operating out of Sonoma County Regional Airport and offers daily nonstop flights to and from Los Angeles, Portland, San Diego and Seattle with connecting flights to other parts of the world. Over 211,000 passengers travel into and out of KSTS a year. Other air operations at Sonoma County Airport are air cargo, private & commercial flights, military, search and rescue, firefighting, law enforcement and pilot training. KSTS is owned and by the County of Sonoma and operated by the Department of Transportation and Public Works – Airport Division. The passenger terminal of the airport has been expanded and remodeled with new dining options. Installed in front of the Terminal is the bronze statue of Charles M Shultz’ beloved characters, Charlie Brown and Linus. This sculpture was made by Tivoli Too, a three dimensional sculpture & design studio in Minnesota, Shultz’s home state. They also created the Peanuts on Parade statues painted by local artists and are located all around the City of Santa Rosa.
Runway 14/13 has a 6000×150 foot runway with an asphalt/grooved pavement in good condition with high intensity edge lighting. Runway 2/20 has a 5202 x 100 foot runway with an asphalt/grooved pavement in good condition with medium intensity edge lighting. For detailed runway information visit Airnav.com located here: http://www.airnav.com/airport/KSTS.
- ILS or Local DME Runway 32
- RNAV (GPS) Runways 02, 14 and 32
- VOR/DME Runway 14 and 32
- Charlie Four, Frees Eight and Santa Rosa Eight
Elevation: 128.7 feet
Nearby Navigational Aids:
- Santa Rosa (STS) VOR/DME, 113.00, located on field
- Point Reyes (PYE) VOR, 113.70, 25.9 miles
- Scaggs Island (SSD) VOR, 112.10, 28.7 miles
- Mendocino (ENI) VOR, 112.30, 39.1 miles
Additional airport notes:
- Deer located on or near airport
- Airport has noise abatement procedures
- Numerous Flocks of birds including migratory geese on or near the airport
Orbx Scenery Features:
- Over 250 square kilometers of 30/60 photoreal scenery terrain to explore
- Pristine 7cm ground textures at the airport
- Scenery is optimized for Q400 and airliners
- Fully custom modeled airport and objects
- Advanced AO and night-rendering techniques
- Full Santa Rosa cityscape and landmarks included
- Internal modeling of the terminal and restaurant
- Advanced animations, including vehicles and guard gates
- Custom vegetation at the airport
In order to get the full functionality of the Orbx KSTS Sonoma County Airport, you need to have the Orbx FTX Northern California regional scenery installed. If you do not own the region it is still possible to enjoy this scenery but you will not have the following important features:
• Blending of the photoreal scenery area with the surrounding terrain
• Moving traffic on roads that are properly aligned to the photoreal ground terrain
• Enhanced FTX Global 3D lighting system with improved FPS in the urban/township streets around the airport
• Orbx modified houses and trees which match North American houses and trees
• The FTX Central application which is used to launch all of the Orbx tools and to switch between the different Orbx regions
The User Guide does an excellent job explaining how to manually add this scenery to the simulator scenery library if you do not own other Orbx FTX products installed. If you do have other Orbx FTX products installed, activation and installation is very easy. Orbx uses the FSS “Wrapper” system for activation and installation procedures. After purchase you will receive an email with a download link to your FlightSimStore account, the Order Number, Order Date and the Registration Key. The Registration Key is very easy to enter which is wonderful. The activation and install process is very self-explanatory, simply follow the onscreen instructions. This product includes a triple installer for owners that own FSX or FSX: SE, P3Dv1 and P3dv2 simulators without having to purchase a separate license for either FSX or Prepar3d which is great. The included User Guide is excellent and includes recommended simulator settings, the airport diagram and some approach & departure charts.
The Airport diagram is dated January 1995 but I found a newer version (January 2015), so I will be using the newer one for my ground tour. The upgraded diagram has some airport updates and is also more detailed than the earlier one but at least it is included rather than just web links for the owner to download. The simulator settings are similar to the other Orbx airport products and I will be using the recommended settings for my system. As with all scenery products, adjust these settings for the best performance on your system. I will comment more about my system performance later in this review. Also included with this scenery is the always useful KSTS Scenery Control Panel which allows you to adjust the various scenery features. The options are, Ground texture resolution (7cm, 15cm or 30cm), animated cars (enabled or disabled), Kaiser Air Gulfstream aircraft (Animated, Static or disabled), Terminal Interior (Enabled, Interior PeopleFlow Disabled & Disabled), and Airport & Surrounding Area options (various features).
My selections are 7cm ground textures, enable the animated cars, gates & Kaiser Air Gulfstream aircraft, enabled the interior Terminal & restaurant features and left all of the other optional scenery and airport features enabled. Similar to the simulator settings, adjust these for your best performance. In order to have the 7cm ground texture resolution a Texture_Max_Load setting of 4096 must be entered in the [GRAPHICS] section of fsx.cfg. A 2048 setting is required for the 15cm and 30cm ground texture resolutions and is recommended for a VAS heavy aircraft. The FSX boxed edition has a very annoying feature in that any time you adjust a simulator setting, the simulator will go back to the default 1024 Texture_Max_Load setting and you have to manually adjust again. Steam and Prepar3D owners do not have this issue because FSX: SE retains whatever setting you enter and Prepar3D owners simply need to adjust the Maximum Texture Load setting in the P3D settings. Personally, with my eyes I cannot see the difference between 2048 and 4096 textures, so I probably will change this to the 2048 setting for better performance. Enough background and housekeeping, lets load this airport and see what it looks like.
Sonoma Airport Ground Tour
I always like to use the Orbx Bob first person simulator to walk around the airport because it allows me to have unobstructed screen grabs. I am going to start at Runway 14 and walk south in a clockwise direction until I return to my starting point. From this starting location I get my first look at the scenery ground textures. I am not going to include screen grabs of the three texture resolution options but have included two screen grabs that Jarrad Marshall uploaded to the Orbx Previews Forum that display the differences at the Orbx KMRY Monterey Airport scenery. I also decided to capture and example of this scenery’s runway & ramp lighting. I love that these lighting effects do not display the severe halo effects that are sometimes used and if anything they may not be bright enough, at least at dawn when I captured this screen grab.
The 3D grass and Orbx HD or this airport’s trees add to the overall experience. If you do not like the look of the grass, this feature can be disabled and I highly recommend the HD Trees product which gives all of the simulator trees a more realistic look. The Sonoma scenery does not include winter seasonal textures and I do not have an issue with this because this area of California probably does not get much snow if any at all. When I did select the fall season in the simulator, I did see some fall tree colors which is nice. Taxiway signage both alongside or painted on the pavement also look wonderful.
The first group of buildings and other structures that I come across on my tour are for the CAL Fire Tanker Base and I am glad that Misha has included tanker aircraft with this scenery. As I have come to expect from Orbx scenery products, objects both large and small are extremely detailed and very impressive looking. If this is the first Orbx airport that you are thinking about purchasing, all objects are three dimensional and do not have blurry textures including window and door signage. The only feature missing from this area of the airport are airport workers or firefighting employees, either animated or static. The next area on my tour is the Kaiser Air facilities with plenty of parked executive aircraft, buildings and an open hangar. With every new scenery product, the talented Orbx developers come up with something new and interesting.
At the Kaiser Air open hangar I see a worker on a tug that is hooked up to a Gulfstream aircraft ready to be backed into this hangar. As I am standing there looking at all of the impressive scenery features, the tug and aircraft start moving back into the hangar very realistically. The animation continues with the Gulfstream being pulled out from the Hangar. This is one of the optional features that can be selected with the Control Panel if performance is an issue but performance was just fine on my system. It is also nice to see that one of the parked aircraft has the main exit open with the stairs attached. It is these small but important details that make Orbx scenery products so wonderful. There is also some general aviation aircraft parked here and there are plenty of open spaces to start from in the simulator.
I like that there is a static fire vehicle parked at the airport fire station. Also at this area near the Sonoma Terminal is a static Horizon Airlines aircraft with the appropriate ground objects and other airline support equipment. For those people that are not familiar with this airline, Horizon Airlines is a regional carrier that is part of the Alaska Airlines group. I love the detailed ramp labeling. The Terminal is very impressive looking from the outside but this is one of those optional features so let’s take a look at the features inside the Terminal and the adjoining restaurant. While I am still outside, I am going to capture a screen grab to what the building lighting looks like and it looks very nice. The interior features are just as impressive as the exterior with detailed signage, three dimensional objects and people.
If you are familiar with the Peanuts cartoons, you know that Lucy had a small help facility; the Help Desk in the Terminal has been modeled to look like the one in the comics. I have never traveled to this airport and if this is based on a real world object, it is nice to see it modeled. The interior of the restaurant is equally impressive looking. I did not have a performance issue with this feature enabled but if you do or do not think that you will ever need to explore the interior of the Terminal or the restaurant, this feature can be disabled entirely or just disable the PeopleFlow feature. To be honest, I like that it is included and adds to the experience, I just do not think I will have the time to explore the interior features after I complete this review. Now is a good time to walk back outside and look at the entrance of the Sonoma County Airport Terminal and review the features on this side of the airport.
Just as I expected all of the features on this side are just as detailed and impressive as on the aircraft side of the Terminal. Small objects such as vegetation and bicycles are just as impressive as the large objects. At this area of the airport I was able to see realistic animated cars and gates in action. I have included a link to a video of all of this scenery’s animations, again without a performance penalty, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y_ISdv_47gU. If you have an older machine, these animations can be turned off in the Control Panel. Lastly, the Peanuts sculpture mentioned in the Introduction is not modeled, at least I could not find it, but there are a couple of other Peanuts references inside if the Terminal, which is nice.
The next group of buildings is for the Sonoma Jet Center and Vine Jet along with the appropriate static executive aircraft. In the distance are the T-Hangars that are listed on the diagram and I like that some are open for simulator pilots to use. Also located here as you would expect are some static general aviation aircraft. It is nice to see that the airport structures that were built after the 1995 Airport Diagram are included with this scenery, including the Reach Helicopter facility. I want to note here that this scenery was designed from information taken before the October 2014 runway expansion so that is not modeled with this scenery and Orbx notes this on the scenery product page. I understand this and do not have an issue with it. Before crossing over to the other side of the airport I want to see another one the optional features, the animated fountain near the airport. This is very impressive and again, no performance issues. What always impresses me about the Orbx premium scenery products is that if it is listed on an Airport Diagram it will be located at that spot in the scenery. There is not a lot to see on this side of the airport other than some more hangars but at least they are placed in their real world location which is great. I am now completed the first part of the Orbx FTX: NA KSTS Sonoma County Regional Airport exploration. An ultra-detailed airport is only half of what this wonderful scenery product provides. The second part of the scenery is the 250 square kilometer photoreal area with plenty of custom scenery objects and the next section of the review will cover these features.
Sonoma Aerial Scenery Tour
Just as I like to use Orbx Bob to explore the airport from the ground level, I use the default Trike Ultralite to explore the larger scenery area. I will also have a Google Map type moving map open on my iPad to let me know what I am flying over. For this purpose I like to use the Remote Flight, RF Map application because it includes on screen zoom controls so that I can quickly adjust the zoom level. For this review I am not going to create custom real world waypoints but am going to depart from the active runway, fly around Mt. St. Helena then fly south to Santa Rosa before returning to Sonoma County Regional Airport. The nice thing about this scenery is that after departing the airport I quickly transition from suburban scenery to more natural rural scenery. There is some distance between the two photo scenery areas and this is where you benefit by having the Orbx Northern California regional scenery installed. The transition between this scenery area and the regional scenery area is very smooth and still looks awesome! Mt. St. Helena is located in the Robert Lewis Stevenson State Park and just as stated in the introduction is the highest peak of the area and looks very scenic. When researching about where this peak is located I discovered that it is a very popular hiking location. They are very hard to see but I think I can see some trails or back country roads in this area. I thought I would see if there are any winter textures for this area but there is not and maybe this part of California does not receive snow in the winter.
I am now going to fly west and travel over the communities that are included as part of the scenery area, Windsor, Larkfield-Wikiup, Coddington and ending with Santa Rosa Town Center. I am also going to zoom in on my map and fly low to the ground so that I can get the best look at the scenery textures and features. Hopefully enroute I will see a winery vineyard or two. As I fly over the community of Windsor, even though this town is composed of Autogen buildings, there are still some animated fountains located in the area which is great. Remember this is photo scenery so do not expect three dimensional automobiles in parking lots but if they are located at a shopping center there will be some generic 3D buildings that are placed approximately in the real world locations. Other than Santa Rosa the other communities look similar so I will not be capturing screen grabs of these communities. As with all Orbx and for that matter most photo scenery products, ball fields, golf courses, parks at other major landmarks should be in their real world locations.
As you can see from the Santa Rosa screen grabs below the building are much more detailed and realistic looking. Some of the buildings even have the business name on the exteriors for that ultra-real world look. I have already mentioned about some of the photo scenery ground textures but for the most part ground textures look pretty good, some better than others. Most of the time I will not be flying at such a low altitude or will be concentrating on flying an approach or departure that the ground textures will not be an issue. There are plenty of nice scenery features to locate and explore with the Orbx FTX: NA KSTS Sonoma Airport scenery that I am sure that I have only covered part of what this wonder scenery has to offer. This is why the Orbx premium airports are such a good value for the money. I decided to capture a couple of screen grabs of the final approach of the active runway during the day and at dusk. The lighting effects from the air are just as impressive as on the ground.
If anything it would be nice if the lights were slightly brighter, I had some trouble locating the runway on one of my flights during the evening. Because I did not do a location search for this trip I did not locate any wineries but after I landed I did find a couple just east of the airport and created a simple flight plan to locate them. Both vineyards are included as part of the scenery and even though they are photo textures I am happy that they are part of the scenery. The final screen grabs of this section are of these two vineyards.
Other Orbx Premium Airports and Scenery Performance
KSTS Sonoma County Regional Airport is a wonderful starting location for exploring the Orbx Northern California region. If you own the other Orbx Northern California premium airports, according to Skyvector, the air distance to these airports are:
- San Carlos (KSQL), 65NM south
- Monterey Regional (KMRY), 124NM south
- Blue Canyon – Nyack (KBLU), 109NM northeast
- Redding Municipal (KRDD), 122NM northeast
- Lake Tahoe (KTVL) is 134NM to the east.
Currently in beta testing and should be released by the time that this review is published is Murray Field (KEKA) is located 150NM north. As you can see the distances are short enough to provide some nice scenic flights and you will encounter mountainous terrain if you decide to fly to Lake Tahoe. Longer flights to premium airports located in the Pacific Northwest region are:
- Hobby Field (77S) is 325NM to the north
- Siletz Bay State (S45) is 386 NM north
Both are still close enough for a nice cross country flight in a higher performance aircraft. The two closest Global premium airports for long range flights are:
- Palm Springs (KPSP) is 415NM to the south
- Sedona (KSEZ) is 575NM southeast
If KSTS Sonoma County Regional Airport is your first premium airport for the Northern California region there are plenty of default airports to fly to. All of the regions default airports have been enhanced so they include improved textures and other features to enjoy. All of these airports now include animated people and some even have animals which are features that used to only be included with the premium airports. These enhanced features are not limited to just the larger airports. On one of my many flights exploring this region, I landed at a ranch or farm airstrip that was listed on the simulators map and when I looked outside there were horses grazing in a field, very cool!
I have saved my performance related comments for last because quite frankly, reviewing about performance is boring but still necessary. For the most part you should be able to use the recommended settings when exploring the scenery area. The most important setting that affects performance the most is the Autogen slider. For my system I started with the Very Dense setting and when I was exploring this airport and included scenery area, this setting worked well on my system and looked great. If you plan on travelling to the San Francisco Bay area such as flights to San Carlos and Monterey, I recommend adjusting this setting and possible others to avoid issues. The marina static objects in the San Francisco Bay area also can cause performance issues so if you would like to disable them visit this Orbx forum: http://www.orbxsystems.com/forum/topic/98005-nca-a-gremlin-at-ksfo/.
I did not disable these files and but when I did a flight to KMRY in the A2A Comanche, very dense Autogen and the 4096 texture setting, my frame rate dropped slightly, still acceptable but I did start to receive VAS memory warning tones from either my FSX: SE simulator or FSUIPC when I entered the Bay area. I even received the dreaded Windows out of memory error message but oddly I was still able to fly and complete my fight. I landed, exited the simulator and rebooted my system. I reduced the Autogen setting to “Dense” for my return flight and still received the warning tones as I approached Sonoma but did not receive the error message. For my flights to the other Northern California premium airports that I own (I do not own San Carlos), I did not have any performance issues even when I went back to the “Very Dense” Autogen setting. To conclude I recommend starting with more conservative settings then if you do not have issues increase the simulator settings for the best experience/performance possible.
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
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:
I am going to keep this section very brief. Orbx and Misha have again created another outstanding premium airport. This product has a very large scenery area to explore that blends seamlessly with the Orbx Northern California regional scenery. The airport and the City of Santa Rosa are very detailed and include many optional features including a detailed Passenger Terminal & restaurant interior that can be enabled and disabled with the easy to use scenery Control Panel. My favorite feature is the animation of the airport employee backing in and then pulling out the Gulfstream from the Kaiser Air hangar. This airport is also capable of handling many types of aircraft including airliners and is optimized for premium aircraft such as the Q400 and premium airliners. Performance is outstanding but you may need to adjust some simulator settings and disable some San Francisco static objects to improve performance when flying to that area. I want to thank Orbx for providing the review copy of this wonderful scenery and for more information please visit the product page located here: https://www.fullterrain.com/product/ksts.