Threshold Review: Orbx’s Sacramento International Airport for MSFS
July 17, 2023
Sacramento International Airport (KSMF) serves the Greater Sacramento Area, California, with a yearly average of 12 million passengers. It opened as Sacramento Metropolitan Airport on October 21, 1967, with a single 8600 ft runway. It was the first purpose-built public-use airport to the west of the Mississippi.
When proposed ten years prior, its construction was considered extravagant and risky, with a poorly located site and unrealistic passenger expectations.
The original estimate was soon proven conservative, as the first million passenger mark was reached within the first year of operations, back when Pacific, PSA, United, Western, and West Coast served it.
SMF and all the Sacramento County Airport System airports are entirely self-supported through user fees and rentals, making zero use of local, state, or federal tax funds to cover its operating costs.
After a relatively quiet first decade, the 80s brought lots of new developments: an in-flight catering facility in 1980, an FAA Flight Inspection Field Office in 1985, a second air cargo facility in that same year, and an east runway in 1987 opened in style with a Concorde landing.
The 1990s marked the opening of the rental car terminal and Terminal A, increasing its passenger handling capabilities and granting it a new name: Sacramento International Airport. The rental car terminal was the first of its kind, placing all rental car companies in one building. The late 90s also brought the "digitalization" of the airport, with their first website launching in April 1997.
The early 2000s, against all odds, continued the steady growth, unlike most airports in the United States. New airlines, improvements to the international arrivals building, a new parking garage in 2004, and it even got to become one of the pioneers of free Wi-Fi for the customers in 2006, followed by a 1.03 billion dollar modernization project in 2008, replacing old Terminal B with a much larger terminal (3x larger), divided into two parts (an airside concourse and a landside terminal).
The economic crisis of 2008 brought instability and uncertainty that demanded creativity from some airlines to minimize the impacts. Aloha, Express Jet, and Mexicana ceased operations, America West, Northwest, and US Airways merged, and United Airlines and Continental started theirs three years later. Alaska, cleverly enough, added nonstop service to Mexico and Hawaii to make up for the absence of Aloha and Mexicana.
Currently, SMF has two terminals (A and B), with 32 gates in total. Air Canada, American, Delta, and United operate out of Terminal A, and Aeromexico, Alaska, Frontier, Hawaiian, JetBlue, Southwest, Spirit, and Volaris hare the nineteen gates of Terminal B.
The airport administration has recently announced a new expansion project for the future, potentially becoming their largest expansion in history. It's a new part of the 20-year master plan envisioned in 2020, including a $140 million pedestrian walkway, a concourse expansion adding six to eight gates to Terminal B, a Terminal A lobby expansion, a new parking garage, a ground transportation center, and a new rental car facility. The aforementioned 20-year master plan aims to add up to 18 new stands in total, which might even include the creation of a new terminal.
Aeroméxico, Air Canada, Air Canada Express, Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, American Eagle, Delta Air Lines, Delta Connection, Frontier Airlines, Hawaiian Airlines, JetBlue, Southwest Airlines, Spirit Airlines, United Airlines, United Express, and Volaris currently serve it. San Diego is the busiest domestic destination with 656,000 passengers, followed by Las Vegas with 646,000 and Denver with 482,000. Regarding market share, Southwest holds 50.8%, and American Airlines and Delta are second and third, with 11.8% and 11.6%, respectively.
The scenery, developed by Matteo Veneziani, features detailed ground markings and textures, animated jetways, dynamic airport lighting, custom ground clutter, custom ground service equipment, custom taxiway signage, an animated train, basic terminal interiors, and orthoimagery of the airport terminal area.
The scenery is distributed via OrbxDirect, featuring a one-click install.
As usual, I like to fly into the airport instead of loading in, and that's what I did to check out this rendition of Sacramento International Airport for the first time. The flight of choice was a Southwest hop from Phoenix, roughing up around one hour and thirty minutes of flight time with a Boeing 737-800.
With 2.1 million acres of truck (the crop), field, orchard, and rice, Sacramento's agriculture is overwhelmingly massive, way more than one would expect for California. Flat, with miles and miles of farms all around the airport during the 20-minute descent toward the runway, it was hard to escape the nostalgia of flying into SBCG when I was a little kid, the nearest airport to the little town I grew up in. It's almost the same thing, elevation - and nation - differences aside. In all fairness, the crops were also different: mostly soybeans, corn, and cotton. From high up, though, it's eerily similar. But that's where the similarities end.
After a relatively firm touchdown on runway 17R, in no part thanks to me taking multiple screenshots on short final looking for the perfect aesthetic shot that never came to fruition, I was finally down on Californian soil and ready to inspect Matteo Veneziani's creation closely.
The first thing that caught my attention was the patchy things on the taxiway, which I can't say I see very often. It's a very realistic element, given it's normal for holes and imperfections to be patched up, revealing a slight tonal difference between the old and new surfaces. So far, so good.
Modeling / Texturing
Upon vacating runway 17R through A10, A, and Y, I was finally face to face with Terminal B, where Southwest parks. After parking on B14, it was time to use the drone camera and check the airport properly, leaving no corner behind.
Fortunately, the modeling work is just as high-standard as the aforementioned taxiways, accurately representing both terminals and their subtleties. B, gray, modern, with fancy tridimensional gate numbers, accompanied by proper texturing with readable warning signs, "keep outs," and bits of varying clutter spread around the gates. The PBR textures add the depth and realism that we all come to expect from Microsoft Flight Simulator products. A, from an architectural standpoint, isn't as interesting as B, but that's not the developer's fault, of course. As generic as it may look, Matteo did a great job bringing it to the virtual world with great PBR textures, slightly rusty jetways, and realistic-looking glass. It's a proper rendition all around.
The product description makes sure to mention that the interior details are basic, and that's exactly what they are. From an airside perspective, it's good enough, especially because you can see the many 3D passengers inside, making it feel like a busy airport. As soon as you move the drone camera inside, though, it's, in fact, a bit dull.
The 7.9 MW solar array is there in its full glory, supplying 30% of the airport's virtual electric needs and saving them over a million dollars every year.
There are many hangars around the airport, all accurately reproduced with their logos and clutter. Their textures are good, albeit not stellar.
The cargo area has a very convincing amount of detail, with trucks, pallets, forklifts, and the cargo handling buildings got PBR on them.
The detail also extends to the parking lot, with 3D models of rentals, a tiny gas station, and a convincing amount of vehicles that strike the perfect balance between density and performance.
Overall, Matteo Veneziani delivered a satisfying rendition of Sacramento International, with superb PBR texturing on almost everything.
The night lighting is great on both terminals, and it also extends to the rest of the airport. The brightness levels are very convincing.
Terminal A, for example, has textured walls, and the light interacts nicely with the many micro bumps on the surface. The propagation is also very realistic, with the light fading within a believable range.
The taxiways are also well-lit, ensuring proper situational awareness at night.
Despite being a relatively big, dual-runway airport, the overall performance is rather solid. There are no stutters on short final and minimal dips on the taxiway when looking towards the terminals. My rig (32 GB RAM, Ryzen 7 3700X, RTX 3080 10 GB) had no trouble running it.
Orbx's Sacramento is solid, with sumptuous textures, excellent night lighting, accurate models of both terminals and landside, patchy taxiways, worn jetways, and a good interior from the airside perspective.
For roughly $20.45 on OrbxDirect, the pricing is fair, all things considered. It packs a lot of detail combined with a decent airline variety. It's a great addition to one's North American MSFS scenery collection.
A huge thank you to Orbx for providing us with a review copy!
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