The goal of this series is to take a look at new scenery that I feel is optimized for VFR pilots (such as us “rotorheads”). You can expect this tour to cross simulator platforms, as new sceneries are discovered or released, and I also plan on having an accompanying video on my YouTube channel.
For our inaugural airport will meet up in X-Plane 11, at Half Moon Bay!
Half Moon Bay, California
Just over the hills, west of KSFO (San Francisco International Airport), is nestled the picturesque, beach-side city of Half Moon Bay.
Began originally as an agricultural area for the raising of cattle and horses, Half Moon Bay slowly evolved into a town as more ethnicities settled in the area at the tail end of the 1800s.
The railroad was the primary means of transportation around the turn of the century, and while one would expect that to bring a boon to the community, the railroad eventually folded by 1920, after the Pedro Mountain Road was built to connect the area to San Francisco.
Though blessed with a mild, Mediterranean climate, the area still experienced slow growth throughout the early 1900s, until the Half Moon Bay airport was built in 1942. Constructed by the California State Highway Department, the airfield served initially as an auxiliary airfield for Salinas Army Air Base, further to the south. It was the creation of this airfield that was to bring Half Moon Bay the boon it needed to become a full-fledged city by 1959. While the airport was eventually deeded to the county from the military, the military has kept a presence in the area, through nearby Pillar Point Air Force Station. This station is used primarily to monitor for ballistic missiles on a trajectory towards the United States.
As the city grew, its importance as a tourist area, as well as a good hub for industry became more pronounced. Landmarks such as the Pacifico Hotel (now called Oceano Hotel & Spa), and the Pillar Point Harbor, have become key local attractions, made even more accessible by the presence of the airport. Today the airport, now renamed Eddie Andreini Sr. Airfield, after a local airshow pilot, boasts over 60,000 yearly aircraft operations. In a typical year, these include cargo transport, air taxi, and of most interest to us helicopter simmers- air ambulance, medevac flights, law enforcement, and homeland security patrols. The US Coast Guard even operates from this airport for SAR operations, and the airport has in the past been used to stage disaster relief flights. The airport also hosts a yearly benefit event in April, known as Pacific Coast Dream Machines.
Not too shabby for an untowered airport, barely 67 feet above sea level, funded solely through airport and business fees!
So, this brings us to the star of our review today, the rendition of KHAF airport, by relative newcomers to the scenery field- Rising Dawn Studios.
A Rising Dawn
On August 17, 2017, Rising Dawn Studios announced the release of their first airport -- KHAF Half Moon Bay Airport. Available through online stores such as Future Game Shop, this scenery has been created to be used by VFR pilots in X-Plane 11. Why Half Moon Bay? It is the real-life home base of the primary designer- Peter, so he knows it well. The detail that Rising Dawn Studios has incorporated into this scenery, has set a new bar in what one should strive for in payware scenery design.
One of the key things that sets this airport scenery apart from others is that the airport itself boasts customizability. Not simply intent on giving you one “look”, the airport can be modified by the end user, to make it more “homey”, or to enable it to perform much better on lower end machines.
For example, three of the key features with this airport involve animated 3D trees, animated power lines, and 3D grass. The trees and power lines DO have a direct reaction to wind speed and direction, or you may opt to replace them with static versions that presumably have less impact on your machine. The same holds true for the grass. Rendering a ton of 3D grass can bring lesser computers to their knees, so Rising Dawn Studios has included several density levels of grass, which you can easily swap out to ease your GPU and CPU woes.
It should also be noted that the entire area you get with this scenery package, which encompasses the city of Half Moon Bay, is set on a custom orthophoto layer, for that realistic look from altitude.
The flora aren't the only things in this seaside area that are customizable. You also get a hangar!
To my knowledge, Rising Dawn Studios are one of the first scenery developers to actually devote a spot to the end user, as THEIR hangar. While it will not accommodate the Zibo 737, it will allow you to store one of your small general aviation helicopters or planes in the T- shaped space.
To help make Hangar 58 feel more like home, you can modify things such as the accent trim, the light fixtures above, the cleanliness of the hangar, and even the large poster above the desk.
In my testing of this feature, I discovered that of the seven color trim selections, there was no purple (my official color). Not to be deterred, it took me less than five minutes in paint.net to alter what was presented as “Professional Blue” in the options, to make it “Professional Purple” to suit my tastes. It took me a little longer to use the blank “poster template” to create an original work of art for my hangar wall (regular viewers of my FSX-SE series on YouTube should recognize the subject of the artwork). If you would rather not create artwork, there are nine other poster options available.
I do have to comment on the lighting. I tried both the neon tubes, and the vintage incandescent. I find myself strongly favoring the old school incandescent bulbs. With either option though, I also noted that the amount of light given off did seem rather low. It felt almost as if my hangar could only afford two 40-watt bulbs, instead of 100-watt. I am sure this can be tweaked, but that is not an area of expertise of mine, so I offer it as feedback, and a possible update opportunity.
The Finer Details
Once you've made yourself at home in Hangar 58, before you go flying around exploring the area, perhaps you may want to visit the 3-Zero Cafe for a meal. You will have to be on time however, as the cafe closes at night. Using this as an opportunity to do something different, Rising Dawn has made it so that the cafe REALLY DOES close at night! The blinds all close, and the sign on the door flips over to its closed sign. Even the neon “OPEN” sign becomes an animated “CLOSED” sign.
It's these little things that scenery designers do, that endear themselves to the community, and Rising Dawn has already proven that they can think outside the box, to bring us that feeling of being immersed in the sim world.
As a user of XPRealistic PRO, I set my airport ambiance to setting 6 at small airports. The extra added ambient GA, and natural fauna sounds add to the impression that I am at one of California's best kept secret airports, secluded from the hustle and bustle of city life by a mere 10 miles of mountain.
The ability to add or remove static aircraft, also makes it feel like this airport has been lived in. At the time of this writing, Laminar Research has yet to introduce their revamped ATC and AI system to X-Plane 11. However, once brought to the simulator, it will allow for AI aircraft to really utilize this airport as an untowered field, which for me, increases its value tenfold. Honestly, the only thing missing from this airport, are 3D people... Though their cars are well populated in the parking lots.
So, What's the Downside?...
I find it difficult to critique another scenery designer's work, especially when they have gone to great lengths to provide things before unseen in the X-Plane community of payware developers. My limited experience using WED pales in comparison to the effort put into Half Moon Bay.
I should relate my experience when I first installed the airport, prior to customizing everything. My computer is about high mid end, as far as power goes, but when I first installed KHAF, my FPS dropped from an average of 45, to an average of 9. I cannot entirely blame this on the scenery though, as this install of X-Plane 11 is also the install that I was using to test FlyInside for XP. It is possible FlyInside may have limited the sim's frames behind the scenes.
Luckily, I have a backup install of XP11 on another drive, which I then copied my customized KHAF. By this time, I had already lowered the grass to its lowest 3D option, and made both trees and power lines static. For that install, I was back to the familiar 45 FPS. With that being said however, I have not reinstalled the full 3D grass density, nor the animated trees and power lines, to see if my frames take a noticeable hit.
My philosophy is- “If it ain't broke, don't fix it”. If the trees are swaying that much, I probably do not want to fly my helicopter anyway.
The area of Pillar Point Air Force Station does not accurately reflect pictures of it in real life, due to mesh issues, which again, cannot be attributed directly to this scenery.
However, it will also be noted that the developer has already released updates to the scenery, where they took it upon themselves to hand fix the underlying terrain mesh. I could have lived with it as is, but the fact that they addressed it, speaks volumes about their attention to detail, and dedication to their craft.
As a side-note, Rising Dawn has included files to modify the terrain, should you use freeware addons such as Alpilot's HD mesh V3.
Rising Dawn Studios have knocked it out of the park, with the creation of Half Moon Bay, both city and airport. There are many little areas to be explored, such as the modular home community opposite runway 12/30, the industrial district of Princeton, where boat and automobile sales abound, and of course the hotel and accompanying harbor, said to host some of the best fishing on the Pacific coast.
While there are no designated helipads at this airport, there is a cordoned off area of the airport that can be commandeered as a helicopter landing area, within walking distance of the cafe/terminal, and your hangar. I have demonstrated its use in the YouTube review that will have been uploaded at the time of publication.
If you are a user of W2XP America, like me, you will find that the autogen housing meshes perfectly with the airport, providing a residential area for you to avoid, when doing your pattern work. There are, after all, noise abatement procedures clearly posted at the end of runway 30.
Do I recommend this airport to my fellow helicopter pilots? Yes, emphatically. It makes a perfect staging area for search and rescue missions, or law enforcement patrols, or perhaps even running an air taxi service over the hills to San Francisco and its airport.
Should you decide you would like this scenery, it is available at the following locations:
Check out the video!
The review video as part of the “Purple Hat Tours” (as well as other amazing videos!) may be found on the Bel Geode YouTube channel.