Photographic scenery and elevation mesh terrain for the whole of the Netherlands area providing replacement textures for the default scenery s you finally recognise what you are seeing from the cockpit
Visual flight rules (VFR) navigation is one of the last frontiers in Flight Simulator - purchase a copy of FS2004 and you can do pretty much anything else you like with it. There is real weather, live ATC and a slew of planes to choose from, but once you master flying the default Cessnas and have flown the Boeings around the block a few times, you can pretty much claim to have had the experience. At that point, many simmers install some addon airfield scenery and try their hand at some cross-country flights - and run into the condundrum of how to locate their position on a chart littered with roads and lakes and small towns, few of which appear in FS2004's lanscape. Those which do, don't look anything like the real ones and it is kind of tough to work out which river you are looking at when it is depicted at Microsoft Standard River Width and is flowing up the side of a mountain.
So most wannabe VFR simmers go back to flying high and navigate using the GPS and VORs; a minority sport in the real world. At a guess, less than 50% of planes in Europe carry a GPS of any description, let alone a panel mounted Garmin like the Microsoft offering - the reason being that most pilots fly in areas with which they are intensely familiar and use landmarks like gravel pits and football stadiums to orientate themselves. Apart from seeing clouds from the wrong side, this is one of the great pleasures of VFR, which is no more and no less than sightseeing from the air, with a hundred dollar burger as your reward. Now I think of it, why do pilots eat burgers? I don't even like burgers, yet I always eat one when I land anywhere, it must be like Pavlov's dogs, or something.
But you can't see sights if there aren't any there to see, which is why flying the big iron is so popular in FS. Even then, when you finally make your descent from the upper flight levels, all Flight Simulator has to offer is a landscape you have seen a thousand times before, bland tiles repeating endlessly off into the distance, which means that one approach is much like any other.
The solution, of course, is to buy photoreal texture sceneries, which after a faltering start about five years back, when PCs weren't fast enough and hard disks weren't big enough, have finally made it into the big time. Phototexture sceneries replace the default landscape texture tiles with new ones based on aerial or satellite photos of the area in question, each tile being locked into the correct geographical place by a coordinate system built into Flight Simulator. The two leading suppliers of phototexture scenery at the time of writing are PC Aviator and Horizon - both have released US sceneries, but to date Horizon are the only one to have published European packages. VFR Netherlands will be particularly welcome because there is a very strong FS scene in Holland and I can only imagine the excitement this release must have caused there, but even if you don't live in the Netherlands, I seriously recommend you take a look, because flat though Holland might be, it has some fantastic scenery. I sailed there a lot in the seventies and eighties and have very fond memories of the place and its people, which makes me a little biased, but believe me, this package is so good that people are going to be talking about it for years to come.
Hardware specs for VFR Netherlands couldn't be simpler, because it will run on any machine that can run FS2002/FS2004, as long as it has enough hard disk space: a full installation will rob you of 1.8 Gb, although it is possible to partially install the scenery, thanks to the way the developers have packaged it. The phototextures come on a single DVD-ROM (not a CD, note) and an automatic installation routine triggers as soon as you shut the drive door; you will have to stay at the desk, because VFR Netherlands installs in at least six different stages and you are required to confirm each one, which is how you get to choose which sections you want to install on your hard disk. The process is a little unnerving, because after each section is installed all the dialogs disappear off the screen and it can be tough figuring out what, if anything, is happening, but if you wait thirty seconds, the whole process kicks into life again, this process repeating until all the parts have been transferred. What I cannot for the life of me figure out is why the developers didn't just provide a series of check boxes to let users preselect which areas they wanted to install, along with a 'put it all on the disk' option, which would save a lot of time and energy. According to the manual (in English and Dutch), the scenery is organised in horizontal slices, with area 1 covering the extreme south of the country and the other four stacked on top, ending with part 5, which covers the northern coastline; because Holland is a small country, the slices are relatively thin, so installing only one or two would limit you to direct east-west flights if you didn't want to run off the edge of the photoscenery.
The package also includes new terrain mesh; a land/water mask that fixes Microsoft's coastline; and replacement default objects - some of the default scenery is also inactivated as leaving it in would result in elevated areas and other oddities along the shores, this fix extending into contiguous parts of Germany and Belgium. At the end of the installation, the program asks for permission to alter some FS parameters, including the terrain_default_radius, which reduces the frequency at which texture blurring is likely to occur. Horizon's chosen figure of 7.5 virtually eliminates attacks of phototexture blurring but sets the range at which FS focusses the textures too close to the plane for practical VFR navigation - owners of fast PCs with plenty of RAM might consider leaving the default radius setting at the original figure
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