Chicago is a special place to virtually all flight simulator enthusiasts of a certain age. It wasn’t until the later years of Microsoft flight simulator that all flights didn’t start at Chicago Meigs airfield. This is where I, and thousands of other people were introduced to flight simulation. My first “cross country” flight was from Meigs to Midway. The Chicago skyline of skyscrapers as sparsely populated at they were at the time, became a familiar sight to many.
Now, Drzewiecki Design has brought Chicago to us in X-plane in a way that only Drzewiecki does. I’ve enjoyed DD New York, and Miami sceneries for years now. This new Chicago and Chicago Airports scenery bring that same standard to Chi-town.
Installing the Chicago city scenery starts off pretty straight forward. But a few clicks into the executable file, you’re presented with a prompt to install Scenery Animation Manager (SAM) it gives you three choices to download this program from. It’s not hard to do, but I found this part a little annoying. I expect scenery packages to be just that, packages. I was a little disappointed that this scenery relied on an outside program to function properly, however, I didn’t see much by way of animation in the scenery besides a few places so I’m not sure this was worth it.
If you have any other ortho scenery installed for the Chicago area, I highly recommend that you disable it if you plan to use this scenery. Otherwise you may get some weird tile conflicts especially on the lake.
Welcome to Chicago
The ortho files in this scenery package are pretty good. You could get better resolution with Ortho4XP but the included files line up very well with the building and scenery objects so there’s an advantage to using what comes with the package.
The down town area is superbly modeled. I had a lot of fun exploring the urban canyons of the city, and appreciating the architecture of the buildings included here. If you’re into casual flight simulation, you’ll really enjoy flying around this scenery. There are lots of details to be noticed that someone in a fixed wing aircraft will miss. A helicopter is the absolute best way to enjoy all of the things this scenery has to offer.
I was very impressed at how much thought and effort went into the modeling of each of these buildings. Like any helicopter pilot, I spent a lot of time looking at the roof tops, and found that each of these skyscrapers had their own unique system for their window washing equipment. Some had a track system, others a swiveling boom.
Checking this against satellite imagery of downtown shows a great deal of care was taken to model each building individually, which probably took a long time considering how many buildings there are! Air-conditioning units, and other unique structural work is also seen accurately modeled.
So, a common gripe helicopter simulator enthusiast have is the lack of non-Airport landing areas, mostly helipads. Initially I was skeptical about what Drzewiecki Design would offer. Chicago doesn’t have a lot of rooftop helipads in real life, so I didn’t really expect to see any of them modeled here. I did find one on top of the Ann & Robert H. Children’s Hospital, and one on top of the University of Chicago Hospital.
There may be more, but as of this writing I haven’t found them. Even though there aren’t many rooftop helipads, there are more than a few major Hospitals in Chicago, and most of them have helipads for HEMS operations. Drzewiecki Design was hit or miss when it comes to the ground based hospital helipads. Some were there, like Resurrection Medical center and Saint Mary and Elizabeth Medical center helipads that are modeled, but the default X-plane helipads are still present and serve as the starting point. It really detracts from the experience of using this scenery to see the default helipad just sitting there.
There are a few ground based helipads in Chicago, but all of the smaller single point pads are simply the default helipads that come with X-plane. There is one just south of O’Hare international (Patton Industries 3IL0) that is modeled with 3d buildings, but it appears to be from the scenery gateway, and not part of this package.
Hospital helipads are good news for helicopter simulator enthusiasts, but heliports are even better news! And this scenery has three of them! YES! THREE!
There’s the Chicago Vertiport
The Police Marine heliport, known as the Down Town helipad in X-plane and the Chicago Heli Experience heliport
Of the 3 heliports in the Chicago city scenery, the Vertiport and the Police/Marine pad are the best looking ones. The Vertiport is the largest of the three. The main building and the hangar look really good. However, for the landing area, Drzewiecki Design chose to use a default helipad for some reason. The parking area didn’t seem to get the same care as the rest of the city either which is sort of weird to me. Let me explain.
Now I don’t want to seem like I’m not appreciative of the inclusion of the three heliports, other big name scenery developers don’t even bother with heliports, or have helicopter landing areas that aren’t actually hardened to support landing a helicopter (Lookin’ at you ORBX). But this city has so much detail in places that you would normally never see on a normal flight. Take this street corner for instance.
There is a clock on the side of the building, as well as the support structure of the church is modeled in detail that will almost never be seen by the average GA pilot. I happened to notice it while doing this review. So why spend time detailing and placing a clock on the corner, or the underlying support structure that can’t even be seen unless you just decide to land on that particular street corner. And not put an equal amount of effort into the landing area where flights will both begin and end? To me it feels like this parking area and helipad were already there, and Drzewiecki Design just added the static helicopters and buildings to the area. Again, I’m happy to have the heliport, but I wish there was as much effort put into them as the rest of the scenery.
The Chicago Heli-Experience heliport leaves a little bit to be desired as well. Again. I’m glad it’s there, but it seems that the main landing area was the only place that was given any consideration. The parking pads are just depicted on the ortho imagery, of which 2 of the 7 partially depicted. This may be partly because the flight simulation community as a whole doesn’t actually quite understand how heliports work, and what the actual use of a helipad is when placed at a heliport. The way this helipad is depicted leads me to believe that the developer didn’t realize this was an actual heliport, and the big circled H isn’t a parking area for a single aircraft, but a landing and takeoff area separate from the pads the helicopters will actually park on when not in use or when loading or unloading passengers. Now, sometimes these areas are the same, sometimes there not. But in this case, looking at satellite imagery of the heliport, it would be pretty clear to any helicopter pilot where the landing/ take off area is, and where the parking area is. In the case of the Drzewiecki Design version of the Chicago Heli-experience helipad, it would seem that the only thing thought to be important was the take off/landing area. This heliport also doesn’t have its real-world identifier in X-Plane (IL09), so you can’t start a flight from there. IL09 is assigned to another airfield in X-plane for some reason. But it’s not all bad, again, I’m happy the heliport is there to begin with. And the quality of the ortho underlay is slightly better at this heliport than the surrounding scenery, it also sits on a bit of custom mesh.
The Police marine heliport is probably my favorite of the three. You won’t find it by its proper identifier or name in X-plane or this scenery. In Drzewiecki Design X-plane scenery, it’s known at Downtown heliport and has the identifier or CH1 instead of its actual real-world identifier of 10LL. I have no idea why Drzewiecki Design chose to not use these heliports real world identifier and name. the only reason I can think of is that the developer didn’t see it on the Sectional or Terminal area Charts and assumed it didn’t have a name, but that theory doesn’t hold much water because none of the other heliports appear on the Sectional or Terminal Area Charts either. Of the three heliports, this one seems to have gotten the most care to the helicopter parking area.
The airport scenery is a separate installation that the Chicago City. It includes 3 Airports, O’Hare, Midway, and Chicago Executive.
Chicago Executive still goes by its old name Palwaukee in X-plane, but the identifier of KPWK is still current. The airports themselves are pretty good, they blend seamlessly into the Chicago city scenery. There’s lots of static aircraft, support vehicles, and the area around the airports are full of custom 3d objects depicting local businesses, and industrial areas.
Each of the airports have custom buildings that look really good. Most of your standard FBO’s are there, Signature Aviation, is one of the most popular FBO’s in the United States. I don’t know how many times I’ve stopped at one of their locations for Fuel in real life, but it’s been a lot! Signature Aviation has locations at all three of these airports, and they’re all depicted.
There are other FBO’s too. And what I really like about this scenery is that Drzewiecki Design does their best to set a scene for each airport or FBO that’s appropriate for the type of business that they do. For example. Outside of the Signature Aviation location at Midway, there are several Business jets with people and support vehicles. This isn’t an uncommon thing to see at a Signature location in a large city.
Even though the Airports are nicely done, I didn’t find myself flying to them a lot while evaluating this scenery. Even though I have issues with the heliports downtown, they still gave me lots to do without having to spend time flying between airports.
One airport that is conspicuously missing is Merrill C Meigs. This makes sense because the airport is gone now. All though I respect the decision to show the area that Meigs once occupied as is, the simmer in me wanted it to be included in this release.
This scenery is really good at night! Each building in the downtown area has its own night texture, and the skyline looks absolutely fantastic after dark. This is easily one of my favorite night time scenery areas.
The Ramp lighting at the airports are really good too provided you have HDR enabled. If I had one complaint it would be that there’s no parking or taxiway lighting at the vertiport. That was a bit disappointing.
So, with any scenery, performance is a key issue. Doesn’t matter how detailed and amazing the scenery is, if your sim turns into a slide show when you load it up.
My computer set up is as follows:
- I7 4790K
- 32GB of RAM
- RTX 2080
- Oculus Rift S for VR
My simulator graphics settings are shown below
I don’t use any weather addons, just plain old X-plane weather for me. My weather settings for this review are shown below.
With these settings my frame rate over downtown stayed between 50-60FPS, which is perfectly fine for me. This FSP dropped the further out I set my visibility. This is about a 15 to 20 FPS drop compared to what I was getting with the default X-plane scenery objects and Z18 and Z19 ortho4XP tiles.
In VR using the OVR tool, I can hold 36-40 FPS, which is smooth enough to be enjoyable with no issues for me. So if you have a system better than mine I would assume your performance would be as good or better.
But... I want to use ORBX’s Merrill C Meigs airport, can I use this scenery too?
I’m a big fan of that airport too. So, to answer that question, I bought the ORBX Meigs scenery to see how well the two integrate. The short answer is yes, with some creative scenery .ini file management you can get the two to work together, but there are some compromises. For example, expect to lose the Downtown Police Marine heliport. And some changes to the area immediately around Meigs. Overall, by gaining Meigs with the ORBX scenery, you’ll lose a lot of the other details that make that area great about the Drzewiecki Design. Ultimately it’s really up to the user to determine if this compromise is worth it.
Chicago airports link
You can get the Chicago City XP scenery below. For the Chicago City XP, click here.