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Flight Adventure: California’s Only Island Destination

Come and join us on some nice flights around Santa Catalina Island.

I noted on the Aerosoft page a full functional demo scenery of Catalina Island provided by LimeSim which is part of US Cities X – Los Angeles. Honestly I was not keen to download the free add-on until I read that this product can be also used for amphibian aircraft as well. So I thought why not try the new Twin Otter Extended and fly around an airport off the Californian coast.

As a general note I am using an i7-2700 Gaming-PC with 64-bit, 3,50 GHz and 16 GB Ram,  furthermore two SSDs and a AMD Radeon HD 7970 with 1 GB support my Twin Otter homecockpit. As mentioned in previous flight adventures I am putting all sliders to the right in the FSX configuration menu. Here is a link where you can check the add-on software that I am using on my main computer. Please keep in mind that this is rather a small flight adventure than a full review.

Users can download the 795 MB (Aerosoft mentions 840 MB) zip file directly from the Aerosoft website free of charge and without setting up an account. The installation is extremely easy if you click yourself through the set-up menu. A 19 page pdf manual is available on the website which refers to the complete US Cities X – Los Angeles product.

Catalina Airport (01)Catalina Airport (02)
Catalina Airport (03)Catalina Airport (04)
Santa Catalina Island, often called Catalina Island, or just Catalina, is a rocky island off the coast of California in the Gulf of Santa Catalina. The 22 miles long and 8 miles across at its greatest width island is located about 22 miles south-southwest of Los Angeles, CA. Two aerial pictures – take from 175.000 feet and 15.000 feet above – show the beauty of the island and the location of the airfield.

The developer states that the scenery has full rendering of Catalina Island with detailed coastline, aerial imagery, elevation data and countless autogen objects – we agree after testing. Especially the different elevation levels on the island shown in the picture above have been modeled very carefully. The countryside has a fair amount of roads and is populated with many trees and bushes – and especially this is what I like about the scenery, it just looks real to me.

Catalina Airport (05)Catalina Airport (06)
Catalina Airport (07)Catalina Airport (08)
The Catalina Airport (KAVX) is located 6 miles northwest of Avalon and has one asphalt runway (04/22) measuring 3,000 x 75 feet. It was completed in 1946 and prior to this time the island was accessible only to amphibious aircraft – which we will test later on. Nowadays it is open to the public and allows general aviation aircraft to land at the island as well as airfreight from the mainland served by a daily DC-3 flight. The airport is also known as the Airport in the Sky due to the fact it lies near the island’s highest point at an elevation of 1,602 feet with all roads to the airport from the island’s population centers climb steeply upward. One interesting fact we have to mention as well; there is a restaurant at the airport, the DC-3 Gifts and Grill, and for private pilots in the Los Angeles area, the airport is one local choice for a $100 hamburger (aviation slang for a private general aviation flight for the sole purpose of dining at a non-local airport). Buffalo burgers are the house specialty – and I have tested them myself years ago.

Comparing with Google Earth and my memory, the airport buildings look alike. The ground texture is blurry but again we have to keep in mind that this airport is only part of a huge scenery package. Nevertheless small signs around the premises topped with some static cars, aircrafts and persons which caught my attention and of course the airport’s sole hangar.

Catalina Airport (09)Catalina Airport (10)
Catalina Airport (11)Catalina Airport (12)
From above you can see the nice tile roof on the airport building, which has been built by the Wrigley family and was frequented by presidents, movie stars, as well as „normal“ people like me. Speaking about the apron now – the runway itself was built by blasting away the tops of two mountains and using the 200,000 truckloads of rock to fill the gap between them. It is known for being pitched up in the middle, so that on short approach it appears much shorter. During take-off we notice that the terrain falls off steeply at both ends of the runway. Due to turbulence and downdrafts at the approach ends, lack of normal visual references on final approach, and the upslope of the first 1/3 of runway 22 – which creates the illusion of being too high on final approach – the airport can be hazardous for inexperienced pilots.

The sloped runway is challenging especially if you set your weather settings to ‚actual‘. The airport authority mention that the runway surface is rough with some potholes and soft spots, and we had the feeling that at least the potholes we noticed during take-off. From above we have a nice, colorful airport lots if small details. From above the ground texture looks very nice and the airport integrates itself very well into the landscape.

Catalina Airport (13)Catalina Airport (14)
Catalina Airport (15)Catalina Airport (16)
Flying along the coast we see Avalon Bay and the Catalina Casino beneath the right wing. With its population of around 4.000 Avalon is the southernmost city in Los Angeles County. The city remains primarily a resort community with most of the waterfront dominated by tourism-oriented businesses. We descent and prepare the Twin Otter for our water landing while we see Pebbly Beach around the bend from downtown and the Pebbly Beach Road to our right. We have successfully done some ramping and are now coming to a stop at the Island Helicopter premises which was formerly used as seaplane base with the ramp that we also used for our amphibian aircraft.

While landing on water we noticed some AI ships that cruise around the island. Furthermore simmers can expect animated gulls and sounds around the coast line. We again notice some blurry ground at the helicopter base. Furthermore ramping out of the water was difficult as the Twin Otter starts to jump, which is more related to FSX than the actual scenery.

Catalina Airport (17)Catalina Airport (18)
Catalina Airport (19)Catalina Airport (20)
In the evening we fly back to KAVX to enjoy some more Buffalo Tacos or DC-3 burgers at the restaurant which is located 1.600 feet above sea level. As aircrafts at opposite ends of the runway cannot see each other we also have to contact UNICOM to obtain permission for landing. We are experiencing some downdrafts on short final but manage to get the DHC-6 safely back on the ground. Securing the turboprop at the parking position we feel the nice sea breeze and enjoy the sunset before we finally „check-in“ the restaurant again.

The airport is very dark at night and I assume in real life this is not the case. Only the static cars have front light, the airport building and the hangar do not have any illumination at all. I would have loved some more lights around the airport but still it is thrilling to approach the runway during dusk.

Summary

Being part of a full scenery the KAVX airport and its surrounding have been modeled nicely. As mentioned before it is fun to do some touch-and-go landings although they are forbidden in real life. For me shuttling between the airport and the Pebbly Beach Helipad where I tried some ramping was exciting. I have not seen the full product „Los Angeles“ but am confident that it is even more fun using the major airports in and around the city as well.

During the review we have found another payware product which features the airfield as well but seems to have more details – while comparing we ask our readers to keep in mind that LimSim offers a full LA package product while the other developers have a stand-alone version of Catalina. Impressions of the competitor product can be found here.

The add-on US Cities X – Los Angeles is available at the Aerosoft Store for currently EUR 19,99 as download version. The free demo Catalina Island scenery can be found here. The product contains a separate Scenery Density Tool, which is said to makes the highly detailed scenery enjoyable on slower systems as well. Furthermore over 150 helipads are included such as the Queen Mary Heliport, the US Bank Helipad, the Catalina Air-Sea Terminal Heliport or the one on Catalina Island.

The used Twin Otter Extended has been partially released and can be purchased at the Aerosoft Shop – a great bird to fly and perfect for this add-ons. We expect the release of the 100 series in the next few weeks – check the Aerosoft website and forum for more details.

Please note that some text fragments have been taken from the user manual and the Catalina Chamber of Commerce. The source of information for this flight adventure was Wikipedia, Google Earth and the internet.