AeroflyFS and the return of a mountain goat

Memory Lane

That ‘mountain goat’ would be me, a lifelong mountain hiker and aficionado. If you are expecting to read a classic flightsim software review here, then think again. Maybe if I tell you that I regard Switzerland as the Country of my Youth, having spent ALL of my Summers there for 16 years in a row, you may understand. To me Switzerland is the one largest memory bank lodged in my brain, the most intense one as well. The word ‘ Switzerland’ alone triggers an entire range of reactions in my brain. I smell the freshly mowed grass and hay on the slope underneath our chalet, the hot oil and steam of the Brienzer Rothorn Bahn, the asphalt on the road below melting in the hot July sun, the tar and oil of the old steamer cruising over the Thuner See (Lake Thun). I hear the creaking of the ‘ sessellift’ – the old wooden/metal chair lift – and the rumble of its wheels on the poles, the panting of ourselves climbing up the 6000 feet Niederhorn for the umpteenth time, the whistle of the train ready to leave Interlaken station, the twin beamed Vampire jets screaming over the Heimwehfluh, thundering towards the pointy Niesen and disappearing in the blue haze. When I close my eyes and think ‘Berner Oberland’  I clearly see the Eiger-Mönch-Jungfrau, those three majestic mountains that we looked at all those years from our balcony, and I see the steep canyon of Lauterbrunnen, the castle of Thun, Dad’s old rucksack, my Dinky Toys in the sandy patch next to the chalet……

What does this personal and private trip down memory lane have to do with AeroflyFS, or with anything in a flight simulator magazine? What would you care about the smells, sounds, views and feelings of a little boy  of 45 years ago?
Well, for one AeroflyFS will let YOU take in some of these sights too. And just  sitting in your den, office or living room, wherever you have your flightsim PC set up.

AF_118

YES, it is THAT spectacular!

The images are so incredibly crisp and the movement of the aircraft so fluid. The little counter at the bottom of my screen is blinking 135 fps (frames per second). Flying up the mountain side over Interlaken in the Cessna shows every street, road, house and rock…. exactly like I remembered them, give or take a few new hotels. And so crazy….. flying there all those names instantly pop up in my head, the names I forgot for 30 years!
I see Beatenberg, the Niederhorn, the Gemmenalphorn, the Birren Fluh, the Justis Tal. I see Unterseen below, Spiez across the lake, the road going through Leissigen and the train tracks following it.

But I do NOT have to remember those names. AeroflyFS has a nifty feature, hidden underneath the Shift+F keyboard combination that lets you SEE all the names on your screen. Every town, village and mountain peak has its name displayed !

AF_053

Oh I want more !

So I fire up the F-18 Hornet with the familiar white cross on the red flag on its tail and zoom up towards the Eiger. Up and over to check out the Aletsch Glacier beyond, and onwards to the Rhone Valley. It’s all there. I can follow the pass road up the Grimsel, see the lakes up on the pass in the grey and smoothly polished granite rocks that are so typical of the Grimsel. I look into the Rhone valley towards Sion to the right and see the Furka Pass and Rhone Glacier to the left. Even the hotel and the parking near the glacier can be easily made out. We actually parked our motorbike there, only 2 years ago!

So what is AeroflyFS?

It is a NEW flight simulator, basically, built by a German company called Ikarus from Schramberg-Waldmössingen in the Black Forest, somewhere halfway between Stuttgart and the Bodensee. But it is not as ‘new’ as many believe, since the owner of the company is Norbert Grüntjens who started his RC Flight School Ikarus already back in the late 70’s ! From there they developed a program to help learn radio controlled model flying, and that program is called Aerofly (now already Version 5).  Their specific website for it is here:  http://www.aerofly.com/index.html.
AeroflyFS is partly a derivative of it, but now aimed at the flight simulator fans market instead of the RC crowd. AeroflyFS covers the entire country of Switzerland, with extremely high resolution mesh and extremely nice photorealistic textures based on aerial photography.

Flying over it in one of the included aircraft is great fun, especially if you KNOW what you’re looking at ! Oh, and talking about included aircraft…… here’s what you get for your US$ 65,96:

  • Cessna 172 Skyhawk
  • Jodel Robin DR 400 / 140 B Major
  • Pitts S-2B
  • Extra 300 LX
  • Discus bM motorglider
  • Swift S1 glider
  • McDonnel Douglas F/A-18 Hornet
  • Sopwith F1 Camel

There are three of these I like exceptionally well; the Robin, because I have flown it myself and I see them a lot in France (where we live in the Summer months), the F/A-18 Hornet because it is a great way of covering lots of distance and still see everyth8ing as sharp as crystal, and the motorglider! The last one actually provides the most of FUN in this ‘simulator’ because you have actually something to ‘do’ rather than just move over the landscape and watch it.

Because, yes, that is one of the drawbacks of AeroflyFS (and much like MS Flight actually): there’s not much else to do than ‘move’ your aircraft over the beautifully rendered Swiss landscape.
Which then conveniently brings me to the next point: how much of a sim is it ?

The flight models are good, for what I (and some other pilots) can judge. The team at Ikarus is NOT aiming to make a game, they DO want to make this a simulator.
But without a compleet set of working instruments and without the ability to actually USE the instruments (and switches) they still have some ways to go in that area. They assured me that the program has been built with proper ‘hooks’ so further expansion is possible. More instruments, more functions, other aircraft and of course, other regions.
That’s good.

There’s nothing else moving….. no AI aircraft life we now are so accustomed to in our latest MS simulators (well, actually, not THE latest. There’s nothing moving in MS Flight either). No ground traffic either. And no ATC of any sort. That’s boring.
There IS a form of autogen, 3D objects on the ground, and SOME of the airports or airfields are detailed, but not all.

It has a big potential, but it isn’t there yet. So………..

AF_041

How to use it

The main problem as I see it for the simulator at THIS point in time, is the fact that there is not so much to do. That of course is reasoned from the perspective of a seasoned flightsimmer, accustomed to ‘acting’ as if he would perform a real flight or be running a real company.
AeroflyFS is not (yet?) aimed at that. Much more it is an easy way to get airborne and see the beauty of Switzerland, with some added fun thrown in once you’ve seen the country, without having to know much if anything about being a pilot. The really simple user manual reinforces that notion.

With ‘added fun’ I mean three things.
The first is what may appeal to some of the younger folk, AND to some of the more impatient people. It involves starting up the F-18 Hornet, shove the throttle forward to full afterburner and then zip through the valleys of the Swiss Alps in a fully irresponsible way.
The beauty of the game engine is that everything remains sharp and in focus, unlike doing the same with an FSX Hornet for instance.
Unfortunately there is no formation flying and no shooting at anything, but hey.

The other, and already more serious, bit of fun is to get into the Pitts or Extra and take off for some hair raising aerobatics flying. The flight models seem good and one can actually perform a lot of the real-world maneuvers, with equally real disastrous results when not performed correctly.
There’s a tab called Challenges, under which one finds a series of ‘lessons’, where one is guided through green squares to find one’s way.
Now what does that remind me of ??

Last but not least there is glider flying. To me this is the most ‘simulating’ part of the product. There is a winch launch, or you can just start in mid-air. There’s even a special key to reposition the glider in the air. One can choose to see the thermals (indicated by waves of small arrows showing where the wind is going up) or play it by the little thermal beeper in the cockpit. Not easy !
One of the nicest things of the entire package is the motor glider. I’ve never flown a real one, but I’d love to. Imagine the freedom of soaring without an engine and the added freedom of just flipping up the engine when running out of thermals and continue to the next area.
The only problem I had was finding the control for the engine….. Ikarus promised to adjust the user manual in some points.

Just a tip

It took me HOURS to find a way to retrieve the air brakes (spoilers) on the glider planes. In the end I found they are linked to the ‘THROTTLE’. I am not sure if I did that or whether it is default somehow, but there it is. So, full throttle is retract airbrakes! I always start with throttle closed, so also started with airbrakes extended !

The engine reacts to a key you can set yourself and then moves in increments. I.e. hit the key once and the engine pops up. Three more hits will increase the rpm. Reverse to hide it again!

I had a little trouble figuring out how to set the controls and keys to the various options, until I discovered you can click to the left or to the right in the rightmost column ! Again, the instructions could be improved here and there and Ikarus promised to have a look at it. And maybe I was just being too clumsy.

AF_038

My conclusion

First of all, please take into account that I am a huge fan of the Swiss landscape, specifically the mountainous part of it. So I am slightly biased. Only slightly, though, because I am also a flight simulator user for the past 38 years or so. I KNOW what I like in a sim, I know what I call a sim and what I call a game (YMMV on that topic of course) and I hope I know what our readers are looking for. And again, that too is varied to some extent.

So is AeroflyFS a ‘simulator’? I’d say it already is in some respects, and it can BECOME one for sure. But PLEASE let us not compare it to FS2004, X-plane or FSX. Now in spite of Ikarus’ protest (sorry guys, I have to be true to my own opinion), I do compare it to MS Flight in a number of ways. Limited area (although at the time of writing MUCH larger than MS Flight), limited aircraft (although here too BETTER than in the MS game), and not much to see other than one’s own aircraft.

But, and here’s an important thing to note, IF Ikarus continues to expand on their base product as they said they will, then it most certainly can become a wonderful product to add to our collection. Maybe not a replacement to FSX, but most certainly something to have also ! I for one had tons of fun flying over my beloved Switzerland and spent our trying my hand finding thermals in the glider planes !

So the ‘operative word’ I would use for this product’s description is: growing !

Pros

  • Great VFR Switzerland viewing
  • Awesome sharp photorealistic landscape
  • Great framerates, no stutter
  • Good soaring simulation
  • Fun aerobatics flying
  • Supports TrackIR, but also mouse
  • For PC and Mac

Cons

  • No interactive cockpits
  • Only the base instruments display
  • No AI arcraft or traffic
  • No ATC
  • No night, no seasons
  • No multiplayer option

 

Manufacturer: Ikarus, Germany
Price:  US$ 64,99
Euro 49,99
Runs on: PC or Mac

Full information here: http://www.aeroflyfs.com/index.php/en/everything-about-aereoflyfs/features.html

Purchase in the US: http://www.aeroflyfs.com/index.php/en/ (look for the ‘shop’ tab)

 

by Franois A.  ‘ Navman’  Dumas