ADD-ON FOR X-PLANE 11
Orbx continues to improve the British landscape, with GB Central
In this review, we take a look at a new product from Orbx that complements the first instalment of its TrueEarth GB series, as we travel further north with TrueEarth GB Central.
As before, GB Central arrives as a compressed zip file that’s a little over 16GB, which must be installed via the Orbx FTX Central application. Having said that you do have the facility to download it first (which I would advise) so you can keep the file locally in case you ever need to reinstall it.
Installation is a four-stage operation where the file is firstly downloaded, unzipped, converted and then entered into the scenery libraries in X-Plane. This is best done while you find something else to do as the PC will be pretty much unusable until it’s finished.
We have a problem Houston!
After installing I decided to have a quick look around, just to see some of the landmarks shown on the Orbx website. My first thought was to look at Blackpool, where the pier and world-famous tower and ballroom were shown in nice detail.
The quickest way to get there was to set up my Cessna 172 for an approach to Blackpool’s Runway 28. I had no intention of landing there; it was simply a method of getting close enough to the landmarks I wanted to see. As I flew over the airport, I remember thinking there wasn’t much to see, as the airport consisted of the runways and a few parked vehicles, so I went to see what the pleasure beach and the tower looked like. Flying along the coast, I was surprised I could not see the tower in the distance, or even further along the coast!
Nor could I see many more of the objects I was looking forward to seeing. It appeared that all was not well. Initially I considered reinstalling the scenery to see if that fixed the problem, but instead I opted for a quick look on the Orbx forum first in case someone else had had a similar problem.
I found a post from someone who was answering a question posed by another member with my exact issue. The solution proffered was to reorganise the scenery packs.ini components in a quite specific order. I knew that this could definitely be an issue in FSX/P3D, so I followed the suggestion and hey presto, all was right with the world.
This is not a criticism by the way; I’ve only mentioned it to save anyone else pulling their hair out trying to fix it. It does however highlight the value of forums such as the one Orbx moderates, where knowledgeable people are only too glad to help other less informed users. I still have no idea why these elements were out of sync but at least it was an easy fix.
Orbx TrueEarth GB Central
This central section of Great Britain covers a tad under 60,000 sq km, incorporating North Wales, Anglesey, the Lake District, Peak District, Snowdonia National Park and the picturesque North Yorkshire Moors. It also envelops some of the largest cities in England, so there’s plenty for VFR pilots to explore. These scenery areas are also fantastic for those in the throes of completing real pilot training as it allows them to quite realistically fly a route before they go near their aircraft.
Instead of relying on sectional maps (as I had to), they can check for visual clues and features to help them navigate en route.
Flying over the GB Central scenery
With such a large area to explore, it’s difficult to pick a starting point and as I’d already had a look at Blackpool, I decided to drop back into North Wales to see how Snowdon looked in high resolution.
The closest airport is RAF Valley on Anglesey and flying that route would also take me along the coast to Caernarfon, where I could take a look at the castle where Prince Charles was inaugurated.
You get a much better sense of reality when flying through mountains and valleys if you’re flying a fast jet. I thought the X-Plane SR-71 would not be manoeuvrable enough, so I installed a freeware Dassault Rafale C from the XPFR website (a very nice little aircraft by the way).
I took off from Runway 13 at RAF Valley and then crossed to the mainland between the two bridges that span the Menai Strait; these again are very nicely modelled. Flying through the mountains at this resolution is brilliant; the overall realism you feel is allconsuming to the point where that almost irresistible: “I’ll just have just one more go,” kept me flying lower and lower as I recognised the same path through the valleys.
Points of Interest
So it was indeed sometime later that I passed over Caernarfon Castle, which as I recall from my visit in 2015 is a fair likeness of the real one. Then I turned northeast to track the North Wales coastline, passing the wellknown seaside resorts of Bangor, Llandudno and Rhyl. The rendering of the coastline and each town is so realistic; it’s very easy to pick them out as you pass overhead.
At this point, I could already see the River Mersey and the huge expanse of Liverpool beyond. As I was still aboard the Rafale I quickly covered the distance across the River Dee and then I could see the huge dock complex at Bootle and the Liverpool Waterfront buildings to the south. These include the Royal Liver Building, Merseyside Maritime Museum and the instantly recognisable Echo Arena.
I think the Orbx modelling of Liverpool is actually better than London as featured in my previous review, and from the air is simply remarkable. All the major landmarks are there, including some I had to resort to Google to recognise but hey, that’s what touring is all about.
Newcastle is close to the border of this scenery, but like many of the northern cities is a fantastic place to visit. Once again I used the local airport (EGNT) as my starting point which is roughly six miles north-west of the city and another perfectly acceptable place to take-off from. I swapped back into the Cessna 172 for this trip which is a more sedate way of exploring.
As you fly over the city, you’ll see the famous tilted Gateshead Millennium Bridge, just in front of the old Joseph Rank flour mill, which is now a Centre for Contemporary Arts. Alongside that is the iconic Sage Gateshead music venue, built of stainless steel and glass, with a reflective surface that can be seen for miles.
RAF Menwith Hill
During another flight, I took off from Runway 32 at Leeds/Bradford and headed north over the town of Otley, which sits in a valley just beyond the airport. I headed that way because I could see what appeared to be small white blobs on the horizon. These are located just north of Swinsty Reservoir and nicely detailed considering their purpose. They are in fact part of RAF Menwith Hill, the communications and intelligence monitoring station, a facility that provides intelligence support services to the UK and US Government agencies. The white blobs are sophisticated radomes and satellite dishes. After flying over this facility, I pondered that one couldn’t do that in the real world…
Although I had no issues when I installed GB South, my overall performance has been affected by this latest scenery. In normal flight I experienced some stuttering at airports or if I was banking hard to have a quick look at something below. However, this was much worse when I used the ‘C’ key to jump outside the aircraft and navigate to take screenshots. I don’t have an answer for this other than the fact that my current GTX 1050 graphics card is simply not up to the task.
To that end, I’ve just installed a GTX 1070 card to complete the review. This is a step up and has made quite a difference to the frame rates; nevertheless I shall certainly look at updating my processor as well later this year. I believe that will make even more of an impact on my framerates.
No detailed airports
As before, there are no highly detailed airports included in this release. Orbx is planning to port its previously published FSX/P3D HD airports from FTX England, Scotland and Wales over to X Plane 11 as payware addons.
Yet as I come to the end of this review, I must say I’m not too concerned about the quality of the included airports, because many of them, such as Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds etc are very nicely represented and for normal flight operations are perfectly adequate.
This is a worthwhile addition to the TrueEarth series, which I’m happy to recommend. It did tax my old video card but that’s just the nature of flight simulation; I was due for an upgrade anyway.
By Joe Lavery
PC Pilot Verdict
At a glance: Orbx continues its transformation of the UK with True Earth GB Central. There’s still more to come…
Developers: Orbx Simulations
Price: Download via Orbx FTX Central (at time of writing 10% off) £27.48
3D Modelling: Excellent
Graphics: Very good
Documentation: Very good Performance: Good but as always this is hardware-dependent.
PC Pilot Score: