Isles of Scilly
For FSX Published by Earth Simulations
Reviewed by Jack Whaley-Baldwin
July 2010

The Isles of Scilly are a small group of islands, located to the south-west of the Cornish coast. Whilst it is clearly not part of the mainland, the Isles of Scilly are considered to be part of the Cornish County, however the Isles still have their own Council.

As of 2008, the islands have a very small population of 2,100 people, with a small land area of 6.2 square miles. However, whilst being small, the islands play host to a beautiful jewel of scenery with untouched rural fields saturating the Isles, along with interesting landmarks and steep rocky cliffs. It is not surprising that the Isles of Scilly was named an area of outstanding natural beauty in 1975.

Tourism accounts for a large percentage of the Island's total revenue, with helicopter flights, aircraft shuttles and ship runs all being accommodated for suitably. The largest island, St Mary's, has an airport which can suit aircraft such as the De-Havilland Twin Otter. The airport also has a heliport, allowing the helicopters of the “BIH” (British International Helicopters) to land there. St Mary's Airport has a rather tricky approach, as it consists of flying low over the sea before breezing metres over a dangerous granite-faced cliff.

As a whole, the Isles of Scilly is a very interesting place to both visit and fly around. The combination of breathtaking scenery and tricky approaches make it inviting for the pilot who wants a challenge.

Earth Simulations
Earth Simulations are a small simulation company who reside in the Isle of Wight. The company is primarily run by team Darren and Vikki, who also have some help in the form of friends Tony, Neil, Paul, Trevor and Ted, who offer contributions to the company.

Earth Simulations aim not to produce large areas of scenery at once – they are more focused in designing small but extremely detailed scenery packages, such as Alderney, and the Isles of Scilly.

They have also released some free-ware sceneries such as Wolf Rock Lighthouse, Isle of Wight Needles, Stonehenge, “ES Free-birds” (which allow you to “fly” a virtual bird, letting you get up close to your scenery), and much more.

The company receive visual photography of a very high resolution from “Get Mapping PLC”, further supported by “Digimap”. This means that when Earth Simulations (from here on in referred to as ES) develop their sceneries, they are produced to a very high quality standard, for incredibly crisp visual results.
Bishops Rock Lighthouse - included in the scenery

The Product
ES have chosen to represent the Isles of Scilly as their second major product. They have huge expectations to meet after the enormous success that was Alderney. Have they met these expectations? Lets find out!

The product can be purchased from the Earth Simulations website, in download form, for £19.99. You will receive a serial code and be prompted to download the ES Installer, which conveniently handles your installations in one neat interface.

Without even starting FSX, I immediately got a first hand experience of the quality of ES products. I found the ES installer to be the best installation interface I have ever used. It was clear, concise and very easy to use. Whilst the files took a long time to download, I was informed of what was happening every step of the way via the ES installer. Once downloaded, I went ahead an installed the scenery without any problems.

The Earth-Simulations Configuration Panel is also installed along with everything else, in which you can enable/disable whatever features you wish within the add-on (such as advanced animations, etc).

The Isles of Scilly Experience
It is evident that ES have put an incredible amount of effort into the scenery package as soon as you start up FSX.

I started at St Mary's Airport, which has been completely over-hauled by Earth Simulations. I then worked my way around the Isle, swooping low-down to inspect the detail provided by ES.

Why is the product so good? Let's find out!

Earth Simulations have implemented an outstanding set of of summer-season textures. Unlike the default FSX, the terrain isn't the same bland colour. ES have ensured that every field, road, beach and stretch of land has its own identity.

The textures included in the product are expertly crafted. This can be clearly seen nearby to St Mary's airport, where at the end of runway 33 the terrain starts to become more soil-heavy, eventually blending into a rocky patch which leads onto a cliff. ES have given a very clear and realistic difference between the three textures of land that lead up to the cliff, and what's more is that they have been excellently blended together so there are no tears or anomalies in the scenery. Even little tiny mud plains can be distinguished from the neat, lined airport grass, which looks beautiful next to the brilliant rocky textures, in which one can make out little cracks in the stones.

Flying away from the airport, it is very clear that ES have applied this ground-breaking texture approach to the whole of the Isles of Scilly. Wherever you go, you're sure to find a painstakingly replicated patch of the islands.

I also love the way that each agricultural field is defined in the package. Due to the way that ES have carefully rendered the textures, you'll find that pretty much no two fields are the same. Each field has its own characteristics, whether that be a small mud blemish or a different type of crop. If the scenery can be rendered to display such minute details between fields, then surely this demonstrates how much effort ES have put into this add-on.

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My only potential gripe with the textures is that there is no seasonal variation (where the textures change depending on the season). I contacted Darren at ES and he said that they will be implemented possibly in a future pay-ware update, perhaps as a boxed version.

To conclude this part of the review, I'd like to say that ES have designed a very competitive set of high-resolution textures which are sure to knock the big names in FSX scenery back a notch. VFR flying over the Isles of Scilly has been perfected with the introduction of this add-on.

Thankfully, ES have scrapped the default autogen in favour of a custom-made, more detailed 3-D library. This new autogen library includes things such as updated houses, trees, bushes, etc. Not only does this new library provides much better visual results, but I can't really see any performance hits with it.

Along with the updated autogen library, you will see detailed local landmarks too. This is great for helicopter pilots as you can swoop low and hover right next to something such as St Agnes' Lighthouse. From what I saw, most if not all of the main landmarks on the islands are represented in the package.

  The Autogen not only looks good, but it is immaculately placed too. Flying around the islands, it's very difficult to see one tree, house or building out of line. Field enclosures can be easily be made out, usually marked by a row of trees or a hedge.

Farms are quite common on the Isles of Scilly and this scenery package offers no exception. Greenhouses, animal housing, farm buildings, ponds, and everything you'd expect to see on a rural site is there.

Furthermore, the autogen representing the houses is very well placed too. The houses are perfectly aligned with the respective street/road which they are on, and cul-de-sacs, pubs, car parks are decorated with accurately placed autogen which still looks very crisp even when flying at low levels.

The old grey brick traditional houses really give an impression of something that might have had an eventful history.

On the whole, I'm very impressed with the autogen that ES have placed in their Isles of Scilly package. It does a great job of replacing the default autogen, it is accurately placed, and it looks fantastic.

The product is advertised as featuring “Detailed 1.2M hand edited terrain mesh”... But what does this mean?

Mesh defines the elevations of the land, the “ups-and-downs” of the terrain. In FSX, this elevation is defined by placing “mesh points”, which tell the FSX engine how to render the land. The closer these “mesh points” are together, the more detailed the land is, whilst the further away they are, the less detailed the land is and it becomes more “flattened”.

ES have provided 1.2M mesh, which is extremely, extremely detailed mesh. Most products feature a minimum of around 5M mesh, so ES have broken the mould by implementing 1.2M mesh.

This can clearly be seen in FSX when you turn your mesh slider to the maximum, especially when you fly into the approach of runway 33 at St Mary's Airport. The rocky cliff preceding the threshold is very well defined, and it really gives the impression of a dangerous drop!

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Click image for full size view
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Round Island, a small rock bulge on the northern tip of the Isles of Scilly, just to the North-east of Tresco, is a clear example of why ES have crafted such detailed mesh. With the mesh slider in FSX set to a very low-setting, Round Island looks quite strange, appearing as a rocky hill with a building on top. However, when you crank the mesh slider to the maximum, the ES mesh really shines through and Round Island can be observed as a wonderful isolated outcrop which looks stunning, particularly when flying at low levels.

The variable terrain which sits atop the rest of the islands is spot-on. The gentle sloping hills look great, and I couldn't really find anything wrong with the mesh that ES have given the FSX user.

ES have illuminated the Isles of Scilly at twilight very well. Most houses present in the scenery package have a gentle warm glow about them, and also things such as lamp-posts on roads are lighted to give a realistic feel.

The large building atop Round Island gives a lovely bright blue glow at night. This makes Round Island an even better place to land at, not only because it has a Heliport but also because it is very well night-lit.

St Mary's Airport looks equally impressive at night, the runway is well illuminated and the main buildings at the airport are too. Taxiways and holding points are also correctly brightened.

Zooming right in close to some of the buildings allows you to make to the most of the night-lighting that ES have applied to each building. As a nice little touch, some of the buildings have red curtains which emit a crimson glow in the night, instead of a default white glare from the window-frame.

The night-lighting has been designed in such a way that it feels very real. For example, windows are not equally lit (as in real life), usually the bottom of the window is slightly darker than the top, and this is the case with the ES software.

Since lighthouses are very frequent in the Isles of Scilly, it is essential that they are visible at night. Luckily, ES have yet again satisfied the simmer by allowing Lighthouses to emit a visible beam across the land, which can be used as an easy VFR reference point.

The professional lighting-techniques ES have applied are hard to miss when flying around the islands. I much prefer to fly around in the day, but I don't mind approaching at night now thanks to the ES night-lighting.

AI Objects
The seas surrounding the Isles of Scilly make up most of the traffic within the area, meaning that AI ships are a fundamental part of the ES product.

ES advertise the product as inclusive of 40 AI Timetabled Ships and Boats. After flying low and slow over the coastal shores of the Isles of Scilly, I can assure you that they aren't lying.

Even with my water traffic slider set at only 16%, I saw at least three boats and ships manoeuvring around the harbours, which is quite impressive considering that most people have their sliders set much higher.

They seem to move in and out of the harbours in a very realistic fashion, think of it as the aquatic version of Traffic X, because by the shear number of departures and arrivals, and the accuracy of their movements, it is quite evident that ES have essentially made a product-within-a-product on the AI Front.

Furthermore, you'll see cars moving along the roads of the main islands (albeit a little too fast) without any problems. It is also nice to see that the cars don't wander off course, or that the roads of which they travel on don't overlap or converge into any surrounding scenery.

The technical supremacy of this product is beautifully presented in the form of the fluid and realistic animations provided by the ES team. St Mary's Airport, nearby fields and farms... Have all been given a fully animated-makeover treatment.

One particular animation that really caught my eye was when I managed to land a Bell-206 Helicopter in a field, right next to a JCB-Style Digger Truck. The hydraulic scoop on the front of the farm vehicle was moving with outstanding detail, but what amazed me even more was when I noticed it was actually transporting dirt from one area and dumping it in another.

Venturing into even more minute details, rabbits can be seen wandering about the rural plains of the Isles of Scilly. You'll see the furry little animals nibbling at the ground before wandering off, searching for food. What fantastic detail! Also, Mallard ducks can be seen sailing across local ponds accompanied by their fantastic Soundscape (mentioned later).

Animated Horses

Plumes of smoke can also be seen from an industrial installation nearby to St Mary's Airport.

Another neat little touch is the added animations of farm animals within cattle-enclosures. Cows and other animals can be seen grazing the land.

The animations supplied are far, far superior to other manufacturers animations. Not only are they smooth, but they are very realistic and they appear rather frequently throughout the product.

ES have mastered some very pleasing sounds into the Isles of Scilly package, which really give a sense of true immersion when flying near to the earth.

Seagull sounds are heard very audibly from the coastlines, whilst animal sounds can be heard when swooping low over farming areas. Furthermore, you can hear and almost feel the waves of the ocean battering the age-old rocks of the shorelines.

St Mary's Airport also has its fair share of sounds. The airport fire vehicle really lets you know when it is operational – when you fly over the fire truck, the sound file embedded within it activates and you can hear a loud siren, coupled with flashing lights.

Ground vehicles at the Airport also make sounds at appropriate moments.

Join the seals listening to the waves hitting the rocks!

The volume of the Soundscape included is perfect. It is loud enough to hear over your engines, whilst not ridiculously loud that it drowns out the experience of FSX. The quality of the audio is superb too, there are no issues with jumpy sound or sub-standard noises – everything is spot on.

The list of audio features that ES have popped into the add-on are quite extensive, so I think rather than listing them all here it would be better to watch some videos of the product, or the much more recommended option, buy it!

Much like the animations included, ES have outcast other developers by implementing a feature that not only sounds right, but feels right.

St Mary's Airport
No doubt the intended home base of this add-on is St Mary's Airport, located on the coastal borderlines of St Mary's Island. It is the main port for the influx of air travel into the Isles of Scilly, so it is evident that it should be one of the most important aspects of the IOS product.

The terminal has been, as with most other aspects of the product, exceptionally modelled, even on the inside. Transparent glass windows with objects behind them like rotating ceiling fans are a nice touch, along with small posters and plaques which adorn the outside of this masterpiece.

Airport “clutter” can be observed quite frequently around the front of the terminal. Wooden crates filled with cargo, airport picnic style benches, small litter bins and baggage trolleys are all there and crafted in superb detail.

ES have filled St Mary's with their impressive signature animations too. A man dressed in a reflective jacket drives around on a small airport vehicle. The man can be seen constantly looking around whilst driving his small truck, whilst the truck itself is also interesting to look at as it houses a small flashing light, along with animated wheels and other assortments that are a treat to the eyes.

The tower which sits atop the terminal is a further source of interest, as it contains what looks like realistic ATC equipment (not for you to use though!). It also has a fluid, spinning radar dish which lies next to the strong red tower beacon at St Mary's.

Unlike the rest of FSX's airports, St Mary's has been given a nice heliport makeover by ES. They have demolished the default generic, circular, and bland yellow circle in favour of a much better looking highly reflective ring that is decorated with heliport landing lights.

A car park can be seen around the back of the airport, containing a traffic-style barrier which rises and closes to let traffic through. This is well animated and is also the barrier in which the (previously mentioned) airport vehicle travels through. The vehicle stops at the barrier, waits for it to rise, before driving through and letting the barrier close behind. Very bitty-gritty features I know, but in a product like this, it's the detail that counts.

In a nutshell, St Mary's is extraordinarily modelled and does well as a vital pipeline of this product. A busy place with a perfect terminal, detailed clutter and wonderful animations topped off with semi-intelligent airport staff makes the ES rendition of St Mary's THE place to be!

Going out with a bang!

Earth Simulations have proved that Alderney was not the limit of their abilities by offering FSX users a masterpiece that is saturated with detail. I have never come across a product where even things such as animated rabbits are included!

Unparalleled quality and sheer dedication to make the best possible FSX scenery allow Earth Simulations to penetrate the FS scenery market with incredible force.

I am very pleased that I've had the opportunity to review this remarkable piece of work and, with their latest release Treescapes UK, the journey ahead for Earth Simulations looks sure to be a comfortable one.


Amazing Detail
Extremely fluid animations
Well placed and accurate autogen
Crisp photographic textures
St Mary's Airport completely overhauled
Wonderful Soundscape
Realistic AI Objects for water and land

I'm tempted to put lack of seasonal variation, but as this has been promised in a future (and deservedly pay-ware) update, there's really nothing I could find wrong with this product.

This scenery has been awarded top marks of 10/10 and our coveted Mutley's Hangar Award for Excellence! Well done Darren & Vikki

/Jack Whaley-Baldwin

      System Requirements
  • Flight Simulator X (Acceleration or FSX SP2 required)
  • Windows XP / Vista / Windows7 with the latest Service Packs
  • Pentium Duo2Core
  • 1 Gb RAM (2 Gb recommended)
  • 512Mb graphic card
  • On board sound card
  • 1.1Gb hard drive space