Hailing from the city itself, and having worked at Bristol Airport for many years, I am always keen to try out scenery products that attempt to replicate my home airport in a simulator. With the airport being so close to my heart, it was only suited that I would step into the world of X-Plane 11 and review this English airport in the South West.
PilotPlus is a relatively small development team, and what is interesting is that the team all live in the city of Bristol. That alone means their accessibility to the airport is greater than other developers for some other airports and also means that this is certainly a project of passion for the developers. That passion and ease of access help to craft an airport in X-Plane 11 that is of a good standard and ensures it’s the most up-to-date version available across all simulators.
Bristol Airport is a regional airport serving the South-West of the UK. It’s been nominated for numerous awards across Europe, and has already submitted plans for further expansion. With a lot of the work currently on-going, the airport is expected to continue changing for the next few years. Each gate is accessible via a single terminal (across multiple floors), with some stands remote-only via airport bus. There are no jetways at the airport, so no need to worry about having any additional add-ons to make them work correctly.
A variety of airlines fly into Bristol airport, including TUI, Ryanair, Aer Lingus and by far the biggest presence at the airport; easyJet. Typically the airport sees a mix of narrow-body aircraft including the 737 and the A320, but flybe also uses Dash 8-400 for their daily flights to Guernsey. If you’re after a challenge, the short 6500ft runway will make you quiver in fear if you decide to take the 787 for a spin down to Cancun full of fuel and passengers. That runway will soon get eaten up with your heavy aircraft.
Installing the scenery was a very simple and user-friendly affair. Once purchased via the PilotPlus store, you are greeted with a small 14MB file to download. Once downloaded, you run it, and then point your installer to your X-Plane directory. Once set-up, the installer will automatically download the latest files from the server and place it directly into your Custom Scenery folder. This is a nice change to the usual issue of having to manually move files and PilotPlus have set a nice standard going forward for X-Plane developers. For me personally, this is a much easier method and gives me more trust in the files are in the right place.
After I had booted up the sim, I was greeted with a sight I am all-too-familiar with. Looking down runway 09, I saw the giant fuel tanks in the distance, along with the familiar mix of terminal buildings. For me, it was instantly recognisable. Taking my camera for a spin around the airport, other areas such as the main terminal building and huge Bristol Airport sign stood out to me. From a modelling perspective, everything has been done really well. The unique roof of the airport’s terminal building looks great. PilotPlus has also spent considerable time modelling smaller details in the key areas such as air vents, railings and lamps, all of which make the airport feel more alive and closer to its real-world counterpart. It’s also worth noting that the airport is modelled after a state taken from earlier this year, with the extension to the main terminal included, along with the recently added Hampton by Hilton hotel.
Whilst I am impressed with the modelling of the airport, I felt the texture work is a bit of a mixed bag. On one hand, ground markings are mostly nicely done – especially the environmental effects and wear and tear aspects. There are some nicely done tire markings across the yellow taxi-markings and seeing some of the signage fade away as it ages is a nice touch. However, I found the airport terminals to be pretty bland and basic. The airport in real life isn’t the most colourful or striking of places but despite that, in X-Plane, the colours look even more washed out and lifeless. It’s a mostly dull-grey pallet all the way around with very little details attached. My biggest issue is that the airport has a lot of glass on the buildings – none of this is very well done in the simulator with nothing being remotely reflective. Finally, there was also some strange issues with some of the bushes outside of the airport, whereby it appears the modelling and textures were exported incorrectly where no transparency had been set. You can see the black borders around the texture itself.
My disappointment in the texture work sadly doesn’t end there. The photoreal scenery used within the airport is also something I’m not a huge fan of. Within the airport area, it looks pretty good, but once you look closer at the less-common areas, the quality begins to drop. Take the car park areas for example. PilotPlus has (quite nicely) modelled a huge range of cars to give the impression of a busy car park. Sadly, the underlying photo imagery still exists, which just makes the whole area look rather ugly and blurry. I could say the same for the roads around the airport, where cars and vehicles haven’t been removed from the imagery in a post-cleanup process. Personally, I find it rather distracting and hoped we were moving beyond this in flight simulation. Although not related to the texturing, I did also notice that the mesh for the runway needs improvements too. Bristol is infamous for an incline towards the end of runway 27 (near the touchdown zone of runway 09), but sadly this hasn’t been modelled within the simulator and doesn’t take advantage of X-Plane’s ability to feature sloped runways with AI traffic (providing you have “runways follow terrain contours” turned on).
Despite my issues with the limited texturing and photoreal scenery, I am pleased that smaller areas around the airport have still received a good level of attention. The Bristol Flying Club is present and correct and seeing the old terminal building complete with rustic look brings back many memories. There are some missing details in these areas (such as the aforementioned ground markings), but they are adequately done to provide a sense of realism for those exploring the airport. I’m also probably harsh on these details having spent a good portion of my professional life at the airport in these more unknown areas.
One of the more unique aspects of the product from PilotPlus is the inclusion of dynamic vegetation. The all-new system unique to Bristol in X-Plane 11 enables you to change the time of year and see a visual difference for vegetation and trees in the area. This is all done on the fly by simply changing the time of year in the simulator. This systems finally adds variation in your flying depending on the time of year. It’s a neat feature but odd to see that the ground textures overall don’t change. Of course, the old problem of X-Plane lacking seasons likely plays a part here but it feels a little pointless to have autumn trees and then a summer-like surrounding. The other thing to note here is that there are only two types of textures to represent four seasons: orange tones (autumn and winter) and more vibrant green tones (spring and summer). Technologically speaking, it’s nicely done but doesn’t quite have the impact I would hope.
Whilst I have been critical of the texturing, I can at least say that I am impressed with the night lighting. The volumetric lighting from the apron lights emits a nice soft white glow and is fairly realistic. Furthermore, the taxiway and runway lighting are subtle but bright enough to be seen in a variety of visibility conditions. In general, the night lighting is a great addition to the airport and PilotPlus did a good job here at making it believable for X-Plane users.
In terms of price, Bristol Airport Definitive will set you back £20.99. I feel this is a bit too high for a regional UK airport, but previous customers can get 30% off if they own the old Bristol. There’s certainly enough detail in the work done to not feel cheated by the cost, but similar-sized airports of similar quality have been priced a bit cheaper.
Flying into Bristol is always fun. Being previously built as an old RAF base for bad-weather training means that you often see cross-winds, low visibility and other challenges. The short runway doesn’t make things any easier, but this is part of the fun. It’s a nicely put together airport with some missing elements – but nothing that distracts. Other Bristol airports exist within the world of X-Plane, but PilotPlus’ is the best one so far. At the very least, it’s the most up-to-date and feature complete. With Bristol Airport continuing to go through a lot of changes right now, PilotPlus did tell me that they would issue updates as and when required for the scenery going forward as airport construction completes.
- Innovative new vegetation system to match colours to seasons
- Most up-to-date version of Bristol Airport available
- Great modelling of the main terminal airport
- Texturing quality is inconsistent
- Some areas lack the same level of detail I would hope for
- Sloped runway doesn't exist in the sim (whereas it does in real-life)