FSX Refugee - My Journey to X-Plane

By
Jose Antunes
June 22, 2019

A copy of X-Plane from 2001 sits, still, on a shelf behind me. Despite knowing of the sim for a long time, I had not used X-Plane at all. That is, until 2018. This is the story of my voyage from FSX to X-Plane.

Microsoft Flight Simulator has my go-to simulator since 1988, until in 2018 when an update to Windows 10 killed my FSX-SE installation and I decided to forget it and move into the world of 64-bit. A long relationship, of some 30 years, ended then. That’s how I discovered X-Plane 11. Having written about flight simulators since the days of the 8-bit Spectrum computer back in the 1980s, I’ve tried almost everything, but X-Plane never really made it beyond the mandatory review period.

On PC, Sierra’s ProPilot, Fly or Flight Unlimited were more my thing, with FSX, and more recently FSX-SE, being my main simulator, although Prepar3D, DCS or even Rise of Flight filled some of my leisure time. For a while, Flight Sim World seemed like a new option, but development halted abruptly, so I had to look for alternatives. Prepar3D is one option, but since I installed the demo version of X-Plane 11, the limited time session made me want to take the plunge.

The Norwegian fjords are a fantastic region to explore, so different from the mostly flat South of Great Britain.

Oh how X-Plane, the “ugly duck” from years ago has become such a beautiful swan! So, in 2018, I finally bought it. From my “never felt attracted” opinion from years ago I turned into a true believer. The software is a powerhouse, and when you consider what the base program offers, it is, I believe, a bargain compared to other commercial products. That was the start of an adventure that continues to make me sit in my virtual cockpit every evening.

You need new eyes, not new landscapes

I believe I acquired X-Plane at the right moment, too. Before I tell you why, though, let me take you through some of my history with flight simulators and scenery.  I’ve tried so many different sceneries, free and premium, between the late 1980s and early 2000s as part of my professional writing about computer games in general and flight simulation in particular. Two specific sceneries lived in my computer for a while: AU Tasmania Demo and the NA Pacific Northwest Demo, both from Orbx.

Despite trying and using multiple sceneries, the NA Pacific Northwest demo became my go-to region. I also used the free Bowerman Airfield from Orbx as my base for wandering around, even after I acquired the complete version of the region, in 2014. I don’t know about you, but I fly to be alone, away from busy airports, low and slow, admiring the landscape. It’s the photographer in me, having spent some years, in the real world, photographing from up there.  I’ve always appreciated the virtual views as much as the challenge of trying to understand the intricacies of each virtual airplane. I am also a slow mover, and I believe you don’t always need new landscapes, you need new eyes to appreciate those you believe you know. It’s something I preach in both real life and flight simulation.

A Socata TB20 leaving the ground at one of Orbx airfields available for TrueEarth GB South.

In 2017, though, I went on a shopping spree, and acquired a series of Orbx sceneries around the NA Pacific Northwest, as a way to expand my adventures in the region. I also got my hands EU Norway, an area that offers the same type of scenery, and decided to add to the list EU England for FSX-SE, bought at the end of 2017 as a Christmas present for myself. In the end I added EU Scotland, as the logical extension of the EU England, geographically speaking.

A “cartoonish” and flat England

In early 2018, I decided to fly an extended kind of round robin flight around England, using Orbx scenery on top of the other Orbx layers (Global, Vectors, and Open LC Europe) and FS Pilots mesh and it was then that I discovered the England landscape by Orbx, despite being better than the FSX base, had some kind of “cartoonish” look that I had not found in the Pacific Northwest area or even Norway. The Windows 10 April update interrupted my round robin, when it broke my FSX-SE installation.

I decided it was time to forget FSX and move ahead, and that’s when I acquired X-Plane 11. Finally able to go beyond the 10-minute demo, I started to explore my new toy, learning how to add new aircraft and scenery, and deal with the specifics of a whole new program. Orbx, who had nothing for X-Plane 11, suddenly revealed a new technology, TrueEarth, and a region to show how it would work in Austin Meyer’s baby.

Flying the Cherokee 140 somewhere over Great Britain.

TrueEarth Netherlands (for Prepar3D) looks fantastic, but I resisted the urge to buy it. My recent experience with EU England had, besides the “cartoonish” look of the scenery, another problem, at least for me: it was mostly flat. Used to the vertigo experience of flying over the NA Pacific Northwest ridges or even EU Norway, EU England was not as exciting, and the Netherlands, which takes the concept of flat even further, was, in my opinion, not the best example of what TrueEarth could be used to. I tried to imagine, then, what the Pacific Northwest would look like if ever Orbx created it with the same tech.

My TrueEarth Addiction

Then Orbx introduced TrueEarth Great Britain South, and, despite having the EU England FTX version for FSX-SE, I decided to buy it for X-Plane 11, as a Christmas present. Orbx had, at that point, teased the Pacific Northwest TrueEarth regions for June 2019, so I reasoned that, because I wanted to try the technology, it made sense to buy the Great Britain region. I remember I said to myself: I will ONLY buy this one and play with it until next year. I bought it on December 10, 2018.

Flying over the mountains somewhere in Scotland, True Earth GB North. The Pocket Rocket can be both a low and slow aircraft and a fast high-altitude “rocket”.

Well, flying over the South of England with the addon caught me completely by surprise. I can sum the experience for you in a simple phrase: it’s like moving from a “cartoonish” landscape to something “as real as it gets”. Suddenly my idea of using the scenery as a testbed and a way to keep me busy until this Summer was gone. I bought TrueEarth GB Central in the last day of December 2018, and on the 30th January 2019 TrueEarth GB North was added to my account.

Besides the sceneries, I also acquired some of the airfields and airports, to give me an idea of what the whole system offers and give me base stations around some of the scenery: Cardiff, Manchester Barton (ideal for the helis I love to fly), Shoreham and Stapleford. Because flying in remote areas is a passion, I also acquired Sumburgh Airport as soon as it was available, to use as a base to explore the Shetland Islands and fly from there to places such as the Orkney and Faroe Islands and Norway and all the way along the Scottish coast to the Outer Hebrides.

High over the Shetland Islands, in TrueEarth GB North, flying the SF-260D Marchetti near sunset.

Back to the Pacific Northwest

Being able to fly Great Britain within TrueEarth is a huge step forward from the original EU England and Scotland. Yes, I still miss the seasons, and that’s the reason why I ended installing Prepar3D and all my old Orbx sceneries, but these days I spend most of my time in X-Plane 11, flying through many of the places at different hours of the day, always discovering new perspectives over the same landscapes.

As of late June 2019, Orbx has just released their first Pacific Northwest region in their TrueEarth series - Washington, and I can hardly wait to go back to the region and continue my adventures in X-Plane 11, now with some of the scenery that made my FSX years so riveting.

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