This is a review of Aerosoft’s Lukla X by our regular reviewer, Paul Webster.
Lukla (meaning place with many goats and sheep) is a small town in eastern Nepal. Its claim to fame is that it is home to Tenzing-Hillary Airport, the nearest regularly serviced airstrip to Mount Everest, making it a popular starting point for mountain trekkers and climbers wanting to explore the Himalayas and to make an ascent of the worlds highest peak.
At 9,380ft, Lukla airport is the highest airbase served by scheduled airline flights, mostly originating from Kathmandu’s Tribhuvan International airport which is a 35 minute flight away. Lukla’s landing strip is short, uneven, sloping and therefore very hazardous. At one end is a wall of rock, at the other a 3,000ft drop. Even experienced pilots get it wrong. Just last month (October 2008), a scheduled flight crashed at Lukla killing 18 of the 19 on board.
Lukla airport has only 4 parking bays. Combined with the fact that it can only be served by small aircraft such as helicopters and the Twin Otter, this means that in the peak climbing season it can get very busy, even more so when frequent poor weather causes delays and cancellations.
Aerosoft have created a combined Lukla Scenery and Mission pack for both FS2004 & FSX which should enable sim pilots to experience both the beauty and the dangers of flying in the Himalayas. Included in the product is a high definition terrain mesh for the area, including Mount Everest. The airport, town and surrounding villages have been modelled using satellite imaging and use authentic Nepalese style buildings and temples rather than autogen buildings. Mount Everest base camp (helicopter landing pad) and 2 additional airstrips higher up the Himalayas (12,286ft) have also been included. There are 2 missions for FSX which feature their own voice files.
Purchase & Installation
The product is available as a download from Aerosoft’s website and costs ~£16 (20 Euros). Purchase is straightforward; once your payment has cleared you can log on to your account at Aerosoft and download the appropriate files. For the Lukla X product, you are given a main download file and also linked are a couple of files listed as updates. All files are in .zip format and contain the installer as an executable along with the license in .txt format.
Having downloaded and unzipped the 3 files I ended up with the following executables;
- AS_LUKLA-MOUNTEVEREST_V100.exe (AS_LUKLA.zip)
- AS-LuklaX-MountEverest_V210.exe (AS_LUKLAX.zip)
- LuklaX-Mission_v100.exe (AS_LUKLAX_MISSION.zip)
Unfortunately, there were no installation instructions either on the download page or included with the installation files. My natural inclination was to start with v100 of the scenery and assume that v210 was a cumulative patch and that the Mission pack should be installed last. But when I got to the main page of the v210 installer, it stated that it included the missions, and having completed the install of v100 and v210 I now had 2 separate Start Menu folders, one called Lukla the other Lukla X. Something was not quite right, so I checked the support page for the product and found a download listed as “Update 2.10 Lukla X Missions”, but when I downloaded it, this was exactly the same file as “LuklaX-Mission_v100.exe” that I’d previously downloaded.
I think it’s fairly safe to assume that v100 of the scenery when updated with the v100 mission pack becomes v210, and that the v210 executable is an updated file that includes both entities, but nowhere is it stated that this is the case, and why the outdated files are listed as updates is hard to fathom. So, having uninstalled both versions and reinstalled v210 on it’s own, we can proceed.
Once installed, you have a pretty comprehensive manual in full colour pdf format available from the Start Menu under the Aerosoft program group. As well as discussing the features and scenery included with the product and settings to use within FSX, the manual also covers the different methods required for operating aircraft at extreme altitudes and suggested methods for successfully landing and taking off at Lukla.
The 2 missions included can be flown in the default Cessna Grand caravan or, if you have it, (and you really should) Aerosoft’s own Twin Otter (reviewed here). Mission 1 is to successfully complete a landing at Lukla, mission 2 involves locating the crew of a downed helicopter for rescue. Both missions are listed as being of Intermediate skill level.
Because of the modelling constraints of FSX, Aerosoft have had to create their Lukla airport using the airport ID of VNL2 rather than the correct ID if VNLK, so it’s important to make sure you are starting your flight from the correct airport. Within FSX’s settings, you need to ensure that under the Scenery tab, Mesh Resolution is set to 19m and Scenery Complexity is set to at least Very Dense.
They say a picture is worth a thousand words so here’s a few thousand words for you.
FSX with FS Global 2008
FSX with Aerosoft’s Lukla Scenery
Notice the vastly improved terrain mesh, realistic plant covering and correctly placed dwellings in the Aerosoft scenery.
FSX’s Rendition of Lukla
Getting Ready to Depart Aerosoft’s Lukla
Lined Up On the Uneven Sloping Runway
Airborne – Thankfully Avoiding the 3,000ft drop just below
There’s no doubt about it, the scenery pack does what it says on the tin and does so well. Again, nice little touches from Aerosoft like the animated smoke from a chimney which acts like a windsock telling you how strong the wind is and what direction it’s coming from.
There’s no question that landing at Lukla takes a great amount of piloting skills. Come in too low and the landing strip disappears from view hidden by the slope at its end. Come in too high and you risk gaining speed in your descent which will see you hurtling towards the stone wall at the end of the runway with the steep hillside offering no option of an aborted landing. The high atmosphere and the effects the steep slopes have on the winds add to the challenges, making the aircrafts handling unpredictable. Even parking is a challenge. With access to the bay on the steep runway you need a fair amount of throttle to taxi, so you need to judge when to shut off the throttles so you don’t continue into the airport building.
The first mission puts you about 4 minutes out with the airport on your right, so you don’t have too long to fly before you crash (and you probably will) and then eventually get it right.
The second mission sees you taking off from Lukla and searching for a downed helicopter. You need to maintain a fine balance between airspeed and climb rate as the helicopter has crashed high up in the mountains. You also need an element of luck and skill. Pick the wrong valley and you might end up facing an insurmountable mountain at its end, but always you have the weather to contend with.
Aerosoft’s Lukla isn’t perfect. Installation issues aside, there are some issues with modelling a sloping runway and the way FSX works which means when you’re at the airport you can get some funny views when you’re panning underneath the aircraft. Additionally, the modelling feels a lot like a FS9 product. I don’t believe that much, if any, of the new FSX improvements have been utilised here. Because of this, I think pricing is a little on the high side, but this could be down to the current exchange rate and I know that Aerosoft had to purchase the satellite imagery used to help create the product.
However, there’s no denying that the product vastly improves the terrain around the area and realistically models the airport and surrounding dwellings where in FSX none exist. The sloping uneven runway and surrounding terrain make landing at the airport a real test of anyone’s piloting skills – consistently get this one right and you shouldn’t have a problem landing at any airstrip.
The missions, whilst relatively brief, are a nice touch, allowing you to practice your landings at Lukla as often as you need and giving you the opportunity to explore the surrounding area a bit more.
You will need to consider what kind of aircraft you like to fly before purchasing the product as, in real life, you’re options are fairly limited. The scenery is ideal for Aerosoft’s twin otter and the default Grand Caravan can be used. Larger aircraft will struggle with maneuverability and stopping distances, smaller aircraft will struggle with the wind conditions and altitude.
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