Threshold Review: Texan Simulations’ William P. Hobby Airport for MSFS
July 13, 2023
William P. Hobby Airport (KHOU) is an international airport serving the city of Houston, Texas, United States, with a yearly average of 13 million passengers. It opened in 1927 as a private landing field in a pasture, used for commercial operations since the early 1930s.
The city of Houston acquired and upgraded the airport in 1937, adding a control tower and basic infrastructure for passenger traffic, most of it thanks to Howard Hughes, which eventually became the name of the airport in 1938 because of his contributions. It didn’t last long, though, as the regulations forbade using federal funds for airports named after a living person. A new terminal and hangar followed shortly after in 1940.
Three years later, in 1943, Houston Hobby hosted the first three training classes of the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP), a civilian women pilots’ organization that focused on testing and ferrying aircraft and offering training to other pilots. It was dissolved in 1944.
International service began in 1948 with Braniff International Airways, flying passengers to South America via Cuba and Panama with Douglas DC-4s and DC-6s. Two years later, Pan American World Airways started their nonstop service to Mexico City with DC-4s. Then Delta began a daily route from Houston to San Juan, in Puerto Rico, with multiple stops along the way.
The “international boom” of the late 40s/early 50s kickstarted the first expansion, making the terminal bigger to handle the 910,000 passenger average.
The jet age arrived in style with Delta in 1959 and their DC-8s, Braniff and their Boeing 707s in 1960, and KLM in that same year with a DC-8 between Houston, Montreal, and Amsterdam.
With the advent of Houston Intercontinental Airport in 1969, most airlines moved to the new airport, leaving HOU with no scheduled traffic. It wasn’t until the 70s, with a small commuter airline - Houston Metro Airlines -that the airport saw the resumption of passenger services. It was a cross-town service from the airport to IAH.
Proper resumption only happened with the arrival of Southwest Airlines in 1971, with nonstop 737-200 flights to Dallas Love Field and San Antonio, with Braniff International and Texas International following suit with nonstop routes to Dallas.
Eight years later, Braniff International and Texas International stopped competing with Southwest, ceasing their operations at HOU. Hughes Airwest and Ozark Air Lines came into play to destroy any potential dreams of monopoly, yet flying to different destinations. Southwest’s destination map took people to Austin, Corpus Christi, Dallas Love Field, Harlingen, Lubbock, San Antonio, and New Orleans. Conversely, Hughes flew to Las Vegas, Phoenix, Tucson, Burbank, and Orange County. Ozark Air Lines only flew to their hub in Saint Louis.
Republic Airwest eventually acquired Hughes Airways, expanding its route network with nonstop operation to Chicago O’Hare, Dallas Fort Worth, Detroit, Las Vegas, Memphis, New Orleans, and Phoenix.
In the late 80s, Continental Airlines had two hubs in Houston, operating out of both airports, with nonstops from Hobby to Austin, Denver, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Miami, New York (LGA), San Antonio, and Washington DC National Airport. They averaged 37 departures a day.
Pan Am returned to Hobby in 1987 with nonstop service to Miami, New York (JFK), and Washington Dulles.
In 1991, the list of airlines also included American Airlines, Northwest Airlines, Trans World Airlines, Air Florida, Eastern Air Lines, Emerald Air, Frontier Airlines, Muse Air, People Express, and TranStar Airlines. Alaska was also a temporary visitor in 1990, with flights to Anchorage and Fairbanks via DFW.
Twenty years later, the situation was completely different, with HOU only serving domestic destinations and international destinations with border preclearance, leading Southwest to push for the “re-internationalization” of the airport, supported by Houston Director of Aviation Mario Diaz, after multiple studies of the economic impact on the city. Southwest even started an online campaign to gather extra supporters.
United Airlines was not very fond of the idea, objecting to the plans and mentioning a study that determined a negative impact on the city, costing jobs and reducing the GRP. It was all in vain, as the city Mayor backed it, followed by the city council approval seven days later.
With international status comes the need for an international terminal, wholly backed by Southwest Airlines at an estimated $156 million, adding five new gates, a new parking garage, and security improvements. It was inaugurated after two years of work in late 2015.
Currently, the airport has a single terminal with two concourses (one domestic and the other international), with 30 gates total. Southwest plans to invest $250 million to add seven gates to the west concourse for domestic use. Six will be exclusive to Southwest, and one will be available to any airline.
It’s a hub for Southwest Airlines, with a significant destination list encompassing most of the United States and various international destinations in Central America. Allegiant Air, American Eagle, Delta Air Lines, Frontier Airlines, and JSX also mark their, albeit tiny, presence. It’s a Southwest airport through and through.
Codeveloped by FSimStudios and Texan Simulations, the scenery features an accurate rendition of Houston Hobby as of 2023, with custom taxiway signs, custom ground textures, improved high-resolution orthoimagery, PBR textures, detailed interiors for all concourses, and the removal of runway 17, matching real-life plans.
The product is distributed via Contrail, featuring a one-click installation and the possibility to toggle features on and off.
As usual with my scenery reviews, I flew into the airport instead of loading in, opting for a nearly 3-hour Southwest Airlines hop from Los Angeles to Houston Hobby. It would be my first time flying into HOU, given I’m relatively new to Boeings in general, and it is primarily a Southwest airport. I didn’t know what to expect and didn’t look up anything beforehand to keep the surprise factor high.
After a mostly uneventful cruise, I began my descent towards the airport, flying over a very green photoscenery. Microsoft Flight Simulator’s Bing imagery for Texas is average at best, which I realized after visiting the most significant airports in the state. As I got closer to Houston, though, the photogrammetry came to the rescue, warranting good wing shots as I got closer and closer to ILS interception.
As I approached runway 13R, I thought, “It’s just like Midway!”. I blame the near-perfect square layout and the relatively short runways, although not as short as MDW (a whole 300 meters longer!). After a bit of a floater, my 738 was down on uncharted territory with 150 passengers.
Modeling / Texturing
While going through taxiway C after vacating runway 13R, I came across many hangars and storage units that looked pretty good, with PBR texturing and impeccable modeling. The taxiways were equally decently textured, looking much better than default and pretty close to the real thing (as seen on Google Maps).
The two-concourse terminal is modeled nicely in and out, providing a very immersive airside experience. The jetways are customized, matching their real counterpart, with the Southwest logo slapped on it, reminding everyone that William P. Hobby is their neighborhood.
The ground clutter, though, is slightly underwhelming. I’d like to see more variety, as it’s currently very repetitive. Granted, it is a minor detail, but it would have been the cherry on top. It would be nice to see SWA-branded baggage carts rather than only having the colors.
At first, I thought the jetways were too pristine, with no signs of wear and tear, but after googling real pictures from the airport, it seems they are well taken care of.
Jetway misunderstanding aside, the wear and tear are evident on some hangars, with the JetAviation one being the best example: dozens of convincing moldy patches on the doors. And there’s an unbranded hangar beside the United hangar, which is basically a - stunning - rust box, evidencing how PBR makes all the difference in delivering realistic-looking materials. The hangars are impressively detailed, even those not yet affected by the harshness of time.
The entrance of the airport, often neglected by developers, is one of the best I have seen yet: sharp road textures, good lighting, small warning signs on the wall, and the air conditioning unit on the roof is so detailed you can read the branding: Weathermaster. I didn’t make sure, but I think the tiny labels on that unit could be read if one got close enough. That level of detail extends to the rest of the terminal, with even more Weathermasters to be found.
The interior is great, with individually modeled shops, restaurants, and gate assignments spanning both concourses. Given it’s mostly see-through from the airside, it’s a good thing they went the extra mile with the details. There are no 3D passengers, though, which might make it look a little “empty.” In all honesty, though, it’s a fair trade-off to keep the frames at bay.
The 1940 Air Terminal Museum is there in all its glory, with the original art deco building that was the first purpose-built terminal in Houston. It exhibits collections focused on the city’s civil aviation history, operated by the Houston Aeronautical Heritage Society (HAHS).
Regarding visual acuity, it’s safe to say Texan Simulations and FSimStudios did not compromise on anything, delivering a rendition that hardly has areas where one would feel like it was not given enough attention. The hand-made PBR texturing on more than fifty buildings paid off, taking things to the next level. The ground crew doors underneath the terminal are not flat like in most sceneries, with visible dents and wear, making it stand out (in a positive manner, of course).
The night lighting, combined with the PBR texturing, makes for a very great visual experience. I will let the images speak for themselves:
The interior is also decently lit, setting the mood for late-night operations.
The frames were consistent on final and short final, remaining as such during the taxi. I noticed a slight GPU usage spike when looking toward the terminal, but the framerate remained mostly unchanged.
The overall performance is very satisfying because the airport is a cluttered square, even more so considering all the attention to detail across the board.
My rig (32 GB RAM, Ryzen 7 3700X, RTX 3080 10 GB) had no trouble running this rendition.
Texan Simulations and FSimStudios delivered an airport of commendable consistency, with a high bar of detail that goes beyond the main terminal to the hangars and landside buildings, all accurately reproduced with meticulous texturing. It doesn’t matter where you go within that square, there is nothing that does not look up to standard.
The $18.99 warrants a very convincing HOU that hardly cuts any corners in terms of detail, with the only downside being the underwhelming ground clutter that does not detract from the sheer brilliance of the project. It’s a must-have addition to your virtual destination list, especially if you like to fly Southwest.
Thank you to FSimStudios/Texan Simulations for providing us with a review copy!
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