Flightbeam Studios KPDX – Portland, Oregon

We take a look at the P3D and X-Plane versions of Portland, Oregon (KPDX) by Flightbeam Studios with some side by side comparisons between the two.


KPDX - Portland, Oregon

As a real world pilot who operates primarily east of the Mississippi, I often spend much of my flight simulation time in those areas of the country that I only rarely get to visit. The western coast of the United States from Seattle to San Diego, and inland to the Rocky Mountains, represents a fascinating and diverse topography that I enjoy exploring from my virtual cockpit. One of the airports that has always intrigued me is the airport in Portland, Oregon just south of the border with Washington State. With the Columbia River churning on the north side of the airfield and metro Portland surrounding the field to the south, the airport has an appealing runway layout and pilots always appreciate an airport that is easy to find (follow the river!).

Portland International Airport (PDX) is a joint use airport where civil aircraft mix in with military aircraft from the Portland Air National Guard. According to the all knowing Wikipedia, PDX accounts for 90% of passenger air travel in the state and 95% of all air cargo. The airport is well connected to the domestic air traffic structure and also serves as a jumping off point for limited international flights to Europe and Asia as well as more frequent service to Vancouver, Canada. The airport is a hub for both Alaska Airlines and Horizon Air. The airport is consistently ranked near the top of customer satisfaction polls and has received multiple awards from trade industries.

Flightbeam Studios

Founded in 2009, Flightbeam Studios has developed a reputation for fantastic scenery focused on quality over quantity. An immense amount of research goes into their products and their artists painstakingly bring the real world into our simulations. KPDX is one of the few titles they have published for both P3D and X-Plane with KPDX and EDDN representing their recent expansion into the X-Plane area - a welcomed addition for those of us that prefer X-Plane as their simulation platform. Development of PDX was spearheaded by former Portland resident, and famed flight sim scenery developer, Bill Womack. Some of you might be familiar with his company iBlue Yonder, which has a nice lineup of products and collaborations with Orbx, Flightbeam, and their own releases. I've recently been using iBlueYonder's freeware Heron's Nest to do testing of my bush planes for their performance in anticipation of the release of Air Hauler 2 for X-Plane.
** Throughout this article I will be providing side-by-side images with X-Plane on the left and P3D v4 on the right ***
Flightbeam/iBlueYonder first released PDX (after years of development) for P3D v4 (it is now compatible for P3D v5) in early 2019 followed by the X-Plane release in August of 2019. I could not resist (of course) and purchased both versions since I have Orbx regions for both simulators installed and I flip-flop between simulators based on the needs of the moment. Normal pricing for KPDX for P3D and X-Plane is $29.99 for each version - I'm sure I'm not alone in wishing developers would consider bundled discounts for those of us that buy products for multiple simulators.
 

Flightbeam Manager

Both products can be managed via the X-Plane or P3D versions of Flightbeam Manager - a small utility that allows you to set scenery conditions, reference the documentation, troubleshoot scenery conflicts, and obtain news and information about installed and available products.


Coverage

Both versions of the scenery integrate and are fully compatible with Orbx products such as FTX Global (P3D), FTX Pacific Northwest (P3D), and TrueEarth Oregon (XP). The P3D version features slightly more scenery coverage area with the total area encompassing much of the area south of the Columbia River to the confluence with the Willamette River to the west. The X-Plane version concentrates on a smaller area bounded by the Glenn L. Jackson Memorial Bridge to the Peninsula Drainage Canal on the western boundary of the airfield.

PDX - a layout to like...

From a pilot perspective - I like PDX for the aforementioned easy to spot geographic reference (just look between the big river and the big city) and I am a fan of parallel runway layouts simply because it can sometimes offer easier taxi routes and shorter times for both arrivals and departures. That is not always the case though - I've been to plenty of airports where the STAR dumps you off on the side of the airport you don't want to be on and sometimes the approach controllers just can't get you to the side that saves you time. Nevertheless, PDX has three runways: the general east/west oriented 10R/10L and 28R/28L and a crossing runway 3/21 for those particularly blustery crosswind days.

Runway lengths are an impressive 11,000' for runway 28L, 9,825' for runway 28R, and 6,000' for runway 21. In metric, I'm told that is really long, long, and medium length respectively (47 decaliters or something). At 11,000', runway 28L/10R should allow your fully loaded 747 freighter or Sumo team carrying Cessna 152 to get airborne with no problem. At 31' of elevation and with relatively mild temperatures, PDX is a great test and evaluation airfield.
Again, from a pilot ground "navigation" standpoint, the twin pier terminals have a layout that is straightforward and easy to understand. Starting at the southeastern corner of the ground terminal complex are the A and B gates that primarily hold the Q400s and some regional jets (according to what I've read the A and B gates are slated for a major overhaul). There are only three B gates that appear to be full size jetway equipped gates, but they don't seem to be getting much use these days according to the airport gate information statistics. The southern pier holds all of the C gates numbered 1-23 ascending in alternating order from outside to inside as you move outward toward the end of the pier. The northern pier holds the heavy aircraft D gates 1-15 and the E gates 1-7 occupy the northern portion of the main terminal. The "alley" between the piers is nicely marked with easy to identify gate markers and is quite roomy compared to some narrow alleys at other airports.
It is worth mentioning that the X-Plane version seems to have more static aircraft placed at the gates and around the airport - definitely giving the impression of more going on. This comes at the cost of perhaps not all of the static aircraft being completely accurate - which is why you'll see things like the Alps Dornier 328 occupying the A gates. If you have an AI traffic program like Traffic 360 or something similar, it really helps fill in the gates for the P3D version with a higher density of mostly accurate operators.
South of all the runways are where the real pilots lounge about - the freight pilots are safely tucked away in that corner of the airfield where they can't steal all of the free cookies from the FBOs or ask for samples from all the food vendors in the terminals. I assume there are rows upon rows of coffins in which they all sleep during the day only to emerge at night to ply their trade. Flightbeam have done a great job with all of the 3D object creation including the Ground Run-up Enclosure that helps quiet maintenance engine runs.
The military ramps occupy the southeastern ramps (two large areas) and both scenery packages include some static military aircraft and specialized unit markings of the 142nd Fighter Wing (although the static aircraft in X-Plane don't depict accurate types which should be F-15s).
Of course, all is not perfect in the PDX world from a pilot perspective. I mean - look at this nightmare of intersections and taxiways at the intersection of runway 21 and 28L. The 747 pilot has the advantage here over the Citation guy when it comes to surveying the lay of the land. Fortunately, the markings are quite good and my frequently repeated mantra is "I'll ask (ATC) because I'd rather sound stupid rather than look stupid.."
Up on the north ramp you'll find the General Aviation terminals, U.S. Customs, and private aircraft hangars. Atlantic Aviation is well represented with a nice terminal building where they store their $300 cookies and coffee and where they hand out fuel tickets that I've never been able to accumulate enough of to refund in 20+ years of flying (they expire at the end of each year). Small airplane = not very many tickets. True story - a Gulfstream pilot once told me he had an argument with his wife whether to buy a chandelier or a Glock with his redeemed tickets. I will assume the spouse with a firearm wins that battle, but I didn't check the newspapers the following day.

Support infrastructure

Flightbeam obviously poured a lot of time and research into recreating not only the meat and potatoes of the airport (runways and terminals), but also the support facilities such as the parking decks, road and rail system, control tower, and all of the on-site airport buildings that make up the massive airport footprint. Cargo forwarding areas, catering, fuel farms, and hotels are all faithfully replicated and placed in their correct locations. The overall attention to detail is very impressive.
Some of the hotels on the entry road...
Both the X-Plane and P3D versions feature ortho scenery under the 3D objects, so while every attempt was made to match object placement with the underlying ortho, it just isn't possible to make EVERY object that exists within the airport perimeter. There is so much going on though, that things like a few flat buildings or a bulldozer that isn't 3D don't really catch your attention unless you are really trying to spot those anomalies. The scenery is already fairly dense with all of the cars, buildings, aircraft, and other items - so adding more would probably reach a point of diminishing returns with regards to performance. My i9-9900k and RTX 2080ti have no problems running the scenery at full detail level in 2D gaming, but I do need to notch a slider back slightly when in VR.
Night lighting is a bit of a toss up between the X-Plane version and the P3D version. I've always been a fan of X-Plane's lighting capabilities - including atmospheric effects, light sources, and light projectors such as landing lights. Much of the lighting is highly tailorable within the respective sims by adjusting HDR effects or using other plug-ins. I found the taxiway and runway lighting in X-Plane to be better than the P3D version, but I liked the warmer yellow glow of the P3D ramp and terminal lighting a bit better. P3D lighting has come a long way and has definitely been catching up to X-Plane.

PDX offers nearly everything!

The other reason I really like PDX is that it offers pretty much all of the possible procedures you may want to practice or test with various aircraft. With both RNAV and non-RNAV Standard Terminal Arrivals (STARs) and Standard Instrument Departures (SIDs) you can use modern avionics or old school green needles (VORs). Though it would be nice if they still had some more complicated non-RNAV departures since the PORTLAND ONE is a radar vectored approach with no real transitions to join and track. With regards to approaches - take your pick from CAT I - CAT III ILS approaches. With no CAT IIIc approach, however, you will be limited to a lowest CAT III RVR of 300' (not ceiling) for the ILS 10R. RNAV RNP and RNAV GPS approaches provide for low LPV minimums as well. A good old fashioned VOR-A circling approach and LOC/DME approach round out the civilian options. For military pilots HI-ILS/LOC and HI-TACAN approaches are available. The only thing missing is an NDB approach, but a short, 15nm hop over to Portland-Hillsboro airport can provide you with all the NDB approach fun you can stand.

Conclusion

Well - what's not to like? A superbly detailed airport, in an interesting part of the country, within a short hop of some of the most scenic flying in the United States - I'm sold! Throw in some terrible weather and a engine that doesn't sound quite just right - and you can feel that sense of relief when PDX finally comes into view through the murk. Nice job by Flightbeam Studios, iBlueYonder, and Bill Womack for cranking out such a masterpiece.
- Chris "BeachAV8R" Frishmuth
Flightbeam Studios: https://www.flightbeam.net/
iBlueYonder: https://iblueyonder.com/