The recently released Drzewiecki Washington XP scenery for X-Plane is a superbly detailed package that brings back fond memories for this author.
Washington National Airport (KDCA)
Growing up in suburban Washington DC, the Washington National Airport was as familiar to me as the local mall, playground, or library. Unbelievably (or unknowingly?), my parents allowed my friends and I to ride our bicycles the near twenty miles from our homes on Ft. Belvoir, Virginia to the airport via secondary roads and the Mount Vernon bicycle path. Lunch at McDonald’s in Old Town on the way would fuel us on to Gravelly Point Park, a popular airport viewing spot just off the north end of the airport along the banks of the Potomac River. There we’d sit on the picnic tables and watch aircraft arriving and departing from the nearby runways, sometimes seemingly close enough to reach up and touch. In the background, the Washington Monument, the Capitol Dome, and the low skyline of tourist filled Washington D.C. presided over the whole affair. To say that National Airport (DCA) was integral to my developing interest in aviation would not be overstating its importance in my life. Over the years, many developers have brought DCA to life in various ways, but the recent release by Drzewiecki Designs (pronounced Jeviètzky) of their Washington XP scenery for X-Plane has set the bar incredibly high.
The package is extraordinary not just because of the intricate detailing of the airport itself, but for the inclusion of a vast geographic area that includes much of the District of Columbia to include custom buildings, bridges, monuments, stadiums, marinas, and a completely believable cityscape that unfolds around your aircraft. The developer claims 1,500 custom buildings (I haven’t counted them) and from all of my exploring, I’d agree that the personalization of this scenery is exceptional.
In addition to DCA and the city, bonus content includes a lightly modeled Joint Base Andrews (KADW) – home to Air Force 1 and other support aircraft.
Joint Base Andrews is where the presidential 747s are kept.
As well, the smaller general aviation airports in the vicinity – College Park (KCGS), Potomac Airfield (KVKX), and Washington Executive (W32) are all modeled to a nice level of detail.
Rounding out the aviation possibilities are helipads at the White House, Pentagon, Joint Base Bolling/Acostia, and Sibley Memorial Hospital among others.
Thus equipped with all manner of different types of aviation infrastructure – from 11,000’+ runways at Andrews capable of handling Boeing 747s, to the 2,665′ strip at Potomac Airfield, this scenery can appeal to airline, general aviation, corporate, military, helicopter, and heavy metal users alike.
The history of DCA is quite fascinating, but I won’t bore you with the details. One of the interesting things about the airport is that it has been continuously restricted throughout much of its history, despite nearly endless expansions. Due to noise concerns and a desire to increase utilization of alternative airports (Washington’s Dulles / KIAD), the FAA imposed landing slot restrictions, and, in 1969, a perimeter rule that limits nonstop flights from cities beyond 1,250 statute miles. Of course, over the decades, exemptions to the perimeter rule have allowed flights to west coast destinations. As well, in the 1980s the FAA imposed the DCA Nighttime Noise Rule that imposed night noise restrictions from 10PM to 7AM – effectively a curfew on the 24 hour airport.
The noise restrictions at DCA required aircraft to meet Stage 3 (quieter) operations by January 1, 2000. The great leaps of aviation technology since the 80s and 90s, when the noise restrictions were drawn up, now means that even though most airlines voluntarily restrict operations from 10Pm to 7AM, most fleet aircraft actually do comply with the noise restriction limits and can be operated during the “curfew”. One of the interesting things about operating to DCA a couple of decades ago was that in an attempt to avoid triggering the “noise fine”, departure procedures were developed by airlines and other operators that would provide performance based on attempts to reduce the noise footprint. Thus, steeper climb profiles and reduced engine power settings during the climbout became normal operating procedures. Some complained these techniques reduced safety margins, but there doesn’t seem to be any evidence that that any accidents have been attributed to these techniques.
Prior to 9/11, I had the opportunity to fly turboprops and small business jets into DCA many times, and it was one of my favorite airports to visit due to both the complexity of operating there, and my own attachment to the field being “local” during my youth. Since 9/11, most general aviation users have been restricted from the airport unless they abide by ridiculously onerous requirements, one of which is to have an officially trained and certified armed security officer onboard the aircraft. The trade between freedom and security is something that could be debated, but I do know the additional hour my sometimes critical patients have to endure on the road between Dulles and D.C. is not appreciated.
Drzewiecki’s DCA includes all of the modern accents, and I’m happy to see some legacy USAirways aircraft still sitting on some of the gates. The iconic terminal and tower are recreated to stunning detail, and even portions of the interior are modeled to a degree that anyone who has flown through DCA would recognize. DCA’s main terminal atrium is one of the most beautiful designs I’ve ever seen and I’ve walked it probably a hundred times during my trips back and forth to visit my parents.
Static objects are abound at DCA with various types of aircraft occupying gates, luggage carts, tugs, GPUs, fuel trucks, parking lots, and all manner of DCA specific objects. Even the commuter aircraft covered mobile boarding trolleys can be seen at the north end of the ramp where some of the CRJ and Embraer aircraft park.
The scenery is a nice blend of custom buildings, X-Plane objects, and satellite imagery providing some of the base layer. The orthophoto imagery is very good, filling in the spaces in a believable way with the recognition that not every possible area can have custom objects and handmade scenery. I can’t fault the developer for not including 3D objects of me and my friends on our bicycles at Gravelly Point, sipping Slurpee’s and eating Moon Pie’s.
The MD-80 “Mad Dog” was one of the most frequent aircraft seen by me and my friends while watching from Gravelly Point.
Making L’Enfant proud…
Of course, the scenery package is not just about DCA, but the surrounding area as well. As a former resident of Northern Virginia, and a frequent visitor to D.C., I’ve done the tourist circuit many, many times with family, friends, and visitors. I even worked downtown for a couple of years during summers as an intern on Connecticut Avenue. Want to see BeachAV8R miserable? Put him on the Metro each morning at 6:30AM and send him into a big city to work in an office building. With all of that said, I love visiting D.C – there is a ton of stuff to do and see, and much of it is free.
A helicopter or even an R/C aircraft or drone is a great way to explore D.C. in X-Plane, allowing you to look for the many custom modeled buildings. The short list includes the Pentagon, almost all of the monuments and memorials on the Mall area (Jefferson, Lincoln, WWII, Washington Monument, etc.), the Capitol, the White House, all of the government buildings and all museums along the Mall. I was somewhat surprised the Air & Space Museum didn’t get a little bit of extra love, with perhaps an Easter Egg within or something. The more I wandered around the virtual city, the more I was impressed with just how much work went into the customization of this scenery. The National Cathedral, the Kennedy Center, the Nationals baseball stadium, D.C. United “football” stadium, the Watergate, and on and on…all blended in with a wealth of objects and a the nice ortho really work well together. I can’t tell you what the FPS penalty is for all of this – I have a fairly robust computer and graphics card, and everything was smooth for me, but I’d imagine perhaps some users might experience some challenges rendering all of this at maximum detail.
Once the sun goes down, many of the custom objects are nicely lit with floodlights that set a perfect mood. X-Plane has such incredible lighting that this results in a truly believable experience when flying into DCA after sunset. The moving traffic on the highways, bridges, and city streets gives a buzz of activity. Just northwest of the airport, along the banks of the Potomac River is the collection of highrise buildings on the Virginia side known as Crystal City – an easy landmark/obstacle to spot on the visual approach down the river.
Care must be taken when flying to DCA to avoid the prohibited areas (P-56) that hug the eastern bank of the Potomac River. Traffic departing from runway 1 at DCA must execute a fairly prompt left turn, accounting for any westerly winds, to ensure clearance from the prohibited areas. Likewise, arrivals on the famous River Visual Approach to 19 have to snake their way down the river, execute a bit of a low level lineup turn to the right, and remain clear of the eastern side of the river. It sounds easy enough, but in marginal VFR conditions, haze, and with the slightest distraction, mistakes can happen.
Of course, being a simulation, you don’t have to worry about red and green warning lights flashing at you if you are in restricted airspace, or being intercepted by F-22s, so feel free to cross the river and visit the sites. The White House is nicely modeled, and there is even a nice view from the inside of the Oval Office.
One interesting little tidbit I dug up during my DCA research I found fascinating. Though the total runway length of the longest runway at DCA (1/19) is 7,170′, the actual available landing distance is 6,689′, not exactly a short runway, but neither is it long. The perimeter rule means that mostly light and medium size aircraft use DCA with the Boeing 757 being the largest regular operator to the field. But back in 1998, an unusual arrival in the form of a United Airlines DC-10 landed at DCA due to low fuel. Originally slated to land at Baltimore Washington International, the plane was diverted to Dulles, but bad weather there prevented a landing at that alternate. With 300 passengers onboard, and fuel running out, the decision was made to land at DCA. The plane landed uneventfully (well, it WAS an event), and departed the next day for BWI with a light fuel load and no passengers. An ORBIS flying eye hospital DC-10 also recently landed at DCA while on a PR tour, as well as a Boeing 787 during a promo tour.
These days, you are most likely to see Airbus A319/20/21, Boeing 737/757, Embraer 175/195, and Canadair CRJ type aircraft operating to the multiple runways at DCA.
If it isn’t already apparent – yes, I think the Drzewiecki Designs team nailed it with their representation of the Washington area. The package is just so expansive and detailed, with bonus general aviation airports, Joint Base Andrews, and such attention to detail in all aspects – it is a standout scenery. Available at the X-Plane.ORG store for $30, I think the price is in line with the quality and I believe the airport and surrounding areas have broad appeal for many different types of pilots.
Chris “BeachAV8R” Frishmuth