Threshold Review: FlightFX's Chicago Executive Airport For MSFS
December 5, 2023
Chicago Executive Airport is located just 40 minutes from the city center of the Windy City, serving general aviation purposes within the Chicago area. Despite being the fourth busiest airport in Illinois, it saves you from the congestion of O'Hare and Midway airports while being cost-effective with landing fees and parking charges.
Initially known as Gauthier's Flying Field, the airport was founded in 1926 as a 40-acre field with dirt runways. It expanded to 91 acres in the 1930s. It was then named Swallow Airplane Field, named after the Swallow OX-5 airplane that was based there. 1928 Saw another name change for the field to Palwaukee Municipal. In the 1940s, it grew to 109 acres with additional T-hangars and gravel runways. George J. Priester (Priester Aviation Service) purchased KPWK in the 1950s; he later constructed paved runways and a control tower. By the late 50s, the airport featured four runways, with the longest coming in at 5000 feet with VOR capabilities.
In 1967, the FAA commissioned an air traffic control tower, marking the beginning of a series of changes and improvements at the airport over the decades. In 1974, Palwaukee Muni gained an ILS approach installed by the FAA. The year 1997 witnessed the construction of a new control tower and three corporate hangars. Shortly thereafter, in 1998, North American Jet became the second FBO on the field.
On October 17th, 2006, the City of Prospect Heights and the Village of Wheeling assumed ownership, leading to the renaming of the airport to its current title, Chicago Executive Airport. Since then, it has been open to the public and operates 24 hours a day. The airport currently accommodates 325 aircraft, including 57 corporate jets. Additionally, it serves as the location for several flight training schools, such as the Chicago Executive Flight School. Besides training facilities, the airport offers maintenance services and supports helicopter operations.
Chicago Executive Airport boasts three FBOs—Signature, Atlantic Aviation, and Hawthorne Global Aviation Services—that provide line services for inbound and outbound flights.
About the Developer
Flight FX was founded in 2021 and is well-known for their H-Jet HA-420 (Honda Jet), designed for Microsoft Flight Simulator. Their second aircraft, the Cirrus Jet, is a popular personal light jet also available for Microsoft Flight Simulator. The Cirrus Jet has become a favorite among general aviation fans in the community. Flight FX also offers KDPA – DuPage Airport located just south of KPWK. The Honda Jet is the perfect complement to Chicago Executive! Check out their Discord, social media accounts, and website to learn more about Flight FX.
I acquired my copy of KPWK via the Contrail App, and it's conveniently accessible on Flightsim.com, Flight Simulator Marketplace, Flightsim.to, and Orbx as well. My preference for Contrail stems from its exceptional app client and streamlined purchase management features. This application offers a novel solution for discovering developers who may not be prominently featured in the Flight Sim Marketplace. Additionally, Contrail facilitates the seamless management of installations and activations, rendering the process remarkably user-friendly. With Contrail, the installation unfolds effortlessly, sparing you the need to search for your community folder.
The downloaded file registers a size of 679.5 MB, while the installed version occupies 1.77 GB.
Pricing Varies depending on the distributor you chose.
I paid $10.15 via Contrail, Orbx is listed at $9.83, Flight Simulator Marketplace 9.99, Flightsim.to $9.99
The flight, facilities, and first impressions.
FlightFX's KPWK package became an immediate purchase for me since I frequently travel between Chicago and St. Louis, alternating between flights and the freeway. The drive typically takes five to six hours, depending on traffic, but I managed to complete it in just over four and a half hours( Yeah, I know Petal to the metal.) Given the monotony of the drive, flying is the preferred mode of travel. Poor Amtrak comes in between eight TO five hours, which is insane. I dream of the day we get TRUE high-speed rail in the States.
For this particular journey into Chicago Exec, I opted for the Honda Jet as my aircraft, departing from the northern side of St. Louis Lambert International. My choice for FBO line service was Signature Aviation.
Flying to KPWK solo can be a straightforward process, providing flexibility and the convenience of three intersecting runways for landing. However, the runway and taxiways might seem overwhelming for newcomers to the airport. We strongly recommend utilizing moving maps to navigate efficiently. Although instrument approaches are limited to runway 16 due to O'Hare traffic, you can still execute an ILS approach and circle to land when required. Inbound flights are served by a single STAR, the GOPAC THREE (RNAV). It's crucial to be aware that Chicago Executive has its own Class D airspace, which is situated beneath O'Hare's Class B airspace.
My route consisted of KSTL/12L N0374F310 NATCA5 SPI DCT PLANO DCT DPA DCT KPWK/16. During the flight, we cruised at an altitude of FL310, covering the distance in 45 minutes with some tailwinds aiding us. On a previous flight, I experienced a faster journey of only 35 minutes in the air with a strong tailwind on a WN 738 on the last flight out of STL. These flights can be quite time travelish! I usually pass out as soon as I grab my window seat; by that time, I'm hearing seatbelts unbuckling!
The longest runway at KPWK (34/16) is reasonably lengthy, measuring 5001 feet x 150, making it suitable for midsize to full-size corporate jets. However, the approach presents its challenges as it navigates through the city and is encircled by businesses, industrial establishments, and residential homes. In fact, you'll even catch sight of the McDonald's sign during the short final approach! Experiencing the iconic MickyD's sign whiz by in a blur is quite memorable, akin to the sensation of passing IN-N-OUT at LAX.
FLIGHT FX has skillfully captured the ambiance of the area with intricate details, including a drive-through, Dunkin' Donuts, and various other businesses that surround the airfield.
Approaching KPWK from the south involves cutting under the heavy traffic of MDW and ORD at FL040 while meeting up with the DuPage VORDME after DPA. After that, I had to make a sharp right turn to align with RNW16. KPWK is less than 12 miles from Ohare, and as you may have noticed, the area is characterized by heavy traffic flows and severe constraints, making it a challenging place to fly into, especially on less-than-perfect days.
"Runway 16 offers a splendid view, especially during sunrises and sunsets in spring and September. It passes you over mostly industrial businesses, with downtown's skyline faintly visible. The sight of the glowing sun over the lake on the horizon is particularly captivating during these times.
Precision during approach matters significantly due to the relatively short runway length. Depending on the aircraft, landing may require maximum reverse thrust and moderate braking. While the Honda Jet's outboard engines lack thrust reversing capability, its low approach speeds prove advantageous due to its almost boxy-shaped wing. The combination of aerodynamic drag and carbon brakes on the ground deterred me from testing the EMAS."
Chicago Executive Airport boasts an essential safety feature: the EMAS system, pivotal in reducing the risk of runway excursions and overruns. This system holds critical significance due to the airport's proximity to both businesses and residential areas. EMAS, short for Engineered Materials Arrestor System, comprises materials designed to absorb high-energy levels and effectively arrest aircraft.
Upon landing, an aircraft's landing gear engages with cellular cement blocks, facilitating controlled deceleration until the aircraft comes to a stop. This system minimizes aircraft damage, particularly effective for aircraft traveling at speeds of 70 knots or lower. Notably, once the aircraft is removed, the runway can swiftly reopen. While occasional repairs may be necessary, the EMAS system generally operates reliably with damage from a previous over run.
Flight FX adeptly captures the texture and essence of the EMAS system, as illustrated in the provided screenshot. In the event of a runway overrun, the aircraft's tires would sink harmlessly into the system without damaging the tiles. Looking ahead, the potential for future animation and interactivity within this system is an exciting prospect!
FlightFX’s PWK airport features meticulous landscaping adorned with lush foliage and trees. FlightFX's innovative terraforming techniques elevate the scenery by enhancing the sloping grassy areas between taxiways, offering a visual experience that surpasses the typical flat surfaces found in some sceneries. The runways and taxiways seamlessly follow the natural terrain, intensifying the thrill of applying thrust from a complete stop and traversing slopes.
Furthermore, the taxiways and runways exhibit intricate detailing through PBR texturing, endowing the surfaces with a textured, shimmering glow, particularly striking when the sun is at shallow angles.
While taxiing towards the FBO, I attempted to take taxiway K3, but my braking was not sharp enough, causing me to pass the taxiway and take the scenic route. The airport can be cramped with its narrow taxiways requiring care when taxing, especially for aircraft with wingspans over 40 feet in certain areas. However, the well-maintained taxiways with FlightFX's PBR taxiway textures are impressive. The textures are so realistic that it feels like I'm taxiing too quickly (as I was), causing me to want to slow down.
Once I arrived at the FBO, I found it easy to get lost among the many FBOs. However, Signature's main lobby is lightly modeled at PWK, adding depth to the scene. It's possible to shut down the engines and head inside to pay your landing fees!
The prominent structures on the airport grounds are meticulously modeled, particularly in the aircraft parking areas. The hangars, in particular, stand out with their impressive PBR and material detailing. Nevertheless, a more comprehensive focus on texturing and modeling additional FBO building details would have enhanced the overall visual experience. While the Signature Aviation FBO is well-presented, allocating more attention to captivating details, such as the vestibule glass and structural elements, would have elevated its visual appeal.
Nevertheless, the execution of concrete texturing and bump mapping effects is commendable. The hangars, with their corrugated metals, are skillfully crafted, providing a distinctive appearance and a sense of depth and spaciousness. Flight FX has gone the extra mile by modeling curbs and incorporating 3D trees along entry and perimeter roads, significantly enhancing the immersive quality of these areas. Natural elements are thoughtfully integrated throughout the scenery.
All FBOs are faithfully modeled, with the notable exception of the Signature Aviation FBO, which is the sole enterable facility. The hangars, predominantly open in design, showcase building frameworks with select details, including service and maintenance equipment. Noteworthy elements such as HVAC systems, guard rails, light fixtures, and signage are meticulously modeled, contributing to the overall realism and visual appeal.
Airfield ground textures
FlightFX has crafted distinctive ground textures for this package, imbuing the scenery with a unique character and style. The runways are particularly noteworthy, showcasing pavement overlaps, cracks, and signs of wear from aircraft landings. The surface markings, characterized by their high quality, contribute to a visibly accurate and fresh appearance, closely resembling the markings found at the actual airport.
The greenery surrounding the runways and taxiways adds an aesthetically pleasing touch, with unevenly mowed greenways providing additional depth as you traverse the runways and taxi lines. This attention to detail enhances the overall visual experience, creating a more immersive and authentic portrayal of the airport environment.
Living world details
Although it is a municipal airport, I expected a tad bit more activity in the simulation. It would have been a fantastic touch to have functioning hangar doors. The addition of power lines and more hand-built structures on the airport's western side would make it appear even more vibrant. Additionally, I observed that the Prospect Heights fire station is entirely absent from the area.
The night lighting effectively brings the airport to life, creating a serene ambiance that aligns with the quietude one might expect at a small municipal airport during nighttime. Notably, the diffusion and spread of textures and light-emitting fixtures are well-executed, avoiding the hard outlines that some sceneries often present. The attention to detail extends to the temperatures of light fixtures, adding an extra layer of realism in certain areas. The shop hangar lights, featuring fluorescent area lighting, skillfully fade away in specific corners, reminiscent of the lighting nuances observed in large hangars during night operations. However, as illustrated below, there are areas, such as the Signature FBO, that could benefit from further enhancements, leaving room for improvement in certain aspects of the night lighting experience.
AMD Ryzen 5 5600 6-Core Processor 32GB Ram Nvidia RTX 3060 12GB 4TB SSD
The performance is excellent; there is nothing to complain about. Unlike some other developers, FlightFX took thought during the development of this scenery, allowing it to perform to on various machines. You can see where they saved on detail for performance by keeping the ramp areas not as cluttered and avoiding modeling non-user-facing objects and details. My machine has no issues with running, lags, hiccups, or slowdowns to report.
Scenery version Reviewed: v1.7.0
Current released iteration v.2.0.0 Released 11/11/2023
• Substantial Performance optimizations across the entire airport
• Added windsock lighting
• Terrain and landscaping improvements.
FlightFX has crafted a virtual rendition of Chicago Executive Airport, adding significant value to the available scenery options for the ChicagoLand area. Striking a balance with just the right level of detail, the scenery package provides a convincing sense of being at the location without putting excessive strain on your GPU. While the current package is commendable, there's potential for further improvement by incorporating advanced animations(FlightFX has addressed adding opening hangars in an update) and features comparable to those offered by other scenery packages. It is encouraging to express the hope that FlightFX continues to refine and enhance this scenery and perhaps expands its offerings to include more products based on Chicago for flight simulation. Overall, the current package is an excellent addition to your map, and with ongoing development, it can become even more impressive in the future.
Finally, thanks for tuning into this Threshold review!
For more captures of the scenery scroll down below!
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