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Bella Coola Airport
For FSX Published by Orbx Software
Reviewed by Jessica Bannister-Pearce
August 2013


Ah, Bella Coola. Just the name sums up images of Pizza, Vespa scooters and beautiful warm summer evenings spent in the piazza. So it was a bit of a surprise when I found myself way up in northern Canada, not far from the artic circle. Ok, it's not exactly the artic circle, but life high up in north British Columbia can be harsh in winter. It's also achingly beautiful. Situated in a secluded mountainous area, Bella Coola is a small town next to a river which leads out into the pacific. The mountains are high and plentiful, and with a little Orbx love, brought to life in stunning detail for FSX and P3D. But is there anything worth seeing up north. Let's see.


As is common with Orbx scenery these days, you'll need a copy of the 'Pacific Fjords' to enjoy this airport at its best. If you do have Pacific Fjords already, you'll need to install the latest patch to prepare for Bella Coola's arrival. So once you've installed the patch, you're free to install the airport, remembering to install the latest Library after. All are available from orbx website.

Once everything is installed you can boot up and start to enjoy, well more or less. A small control panel will have been added to your desktop, clicking it will bring up several options for Bella Coola. There's an option to have a snow covered runway or clear as well as options to enable standard Orbx items like 'Creatureflow' and 'Peopleflow.'

Baby it's Cold outside.

Viewed from afar the airstrip looks great

Out back

It's a cold day

Although the cold doesn't seem to bother this guy

PeopleFlow, Um, Flowing

The most interesting option though is for Grass. Yes grass. It seems that the ORBX team spend countless nights not sleeping, caught in a world of worry about how to make these little airports that little bit more lifelike. Their solution, obviously found at 3AM to shouts of 'Eureka', is Grass. 3D grass to be precise. Surprisingly for grass, it's a heavy performance item, so you have options to switch it off, switch it to lite for that 'bit of grass look' and set it to full. Full will tax most older PC's so be warned. Whether or not it's worth it, I guess I'll see.

La Dolce Vita

Once I've chosen my settings, I load up and get to the fun stuff. On first inspection, it seems that Bella Coola is very popular with just two parking spaces available to pop my aircraft onto. Given the area, anything bigger than say the Quest Kodiak, is overkill. Instead, and in keeping with the surroundings, I drop into a Piper Tri-Pacer and park it on the small parking zone. This pops me away from the main building (calling it a terminal seems a bit much) and next to a small hangar. Already, 'Peopleflow' is in full swing as I spot a gentleman wandering around the hangar. Time for a look around I think.

In common with other Orbx airfields, the surrounding area's received a bit of tender loving care with higher resolution textures used. My first impressions are akin to 'what a beautiful place'. the Airport is surrounded by towering mountains and trees seem to be the predominant life form.

It feels remote, and it is. Come winter, the airport is probably more important than summer when the roads are open. This is the kind of place you come to get lost. It sounds like a good plan. Leaving my friend still wandering around the hangar area, I taxi out to the main FBO and park up for a look around. It's clear Orbx have pushed the boat out when it comes to the building textures. The log cabin that serves as the airports terminal, FBO and meeting spot is beautifully rendered. The whole area is. Orbx have used what their calling 'SuperHD' textures at a stunningly small 2cm resolution. the results are crisp taxiway's, runways and surrounding areas. Again, People mill around the area and I see why parking is such a problem, with several aircraft setting the scene. there's even a Cessna Caravan that looks huge at this small airport.

Summertime, and the living is Easy

For such a small town, there's a lot of people parking at the airport

Even a few butterflies find their way around

Even the semi hidden details are sharp

I suppose I should mention the grass. Well it's very nice at lite levels and even better at full. But at full the performance hit on my system was just too strong, reducing my FPS to the high teens/low twenties. Given that the Pacer is a simple FPS friendly model, I can't imagine the grass being set to full on anyone's system right now. At lite though its very friendly and really adds to the rustic feel with flowers sprinkled in between the tufts.

With the grass looked at I decide its time to see this place from above. So I taxi out to the end of a runway and line up. I choose the nearest runway and end up facing down the valley. After takeoff and avoiding the many, many trees, I follow the runway heading and gaze at the scenery.

Below me a river flows and I have to say, It's one of the best depicted rivers I've ever seen. There are shorelines, banks and all rendered perfectly. Its so good, you can almost see the salmon jumping. The river itself feeds into a vast inlet which just begs to be flown over as low as possible. Again, where the river meets the inlet, there's a shoreline and banks of silt waiting.

Instead of indulging in a little water teasing, I turn back to the airport. Somewhere amongst the trees is Bella Coola itself and now and again, homes pop up in clearings. Here too there's been a lick of paint and textures to fill out the area. Finally I turn to make the runway and taxi back to the terminal for a rest. Spring and summer look beautiful up here, but come winter it's a different story. So I exit the sim and head for the control panel to turn on the winter textures for Bella Coola.

3D Grass is a great way to spy on the Aircraft

From high above

It's not just the airport that gets a makeover

The whole area makes a fab base to explore from

Returning to Bella Coola in winter is a bit of a culture shock. From the ramp, the runway seems to be invisible. Instead you're greeted with snow. Lots of snow. It seems that Bella colla is even less prepared for winter than Heathrow and I begin to wonder if my aircraft needs skis. As a precaution I switch to a pacer with bush tires as the runway looks very rough.

Around the Airport though the winter textures are just as good as summer. There are certainly less people wandering around, although those that do, seem to be the hardy Canadian types, unfazed by the cold and happy to walk around in shirtsleeves and jeans. Just looking at the screen makes me long for a cup of hot chocolate with marshmallows. Like last time, I head for Runway 23 and take to the air. Be warned, the runway conditions aren't just for show. The pacer slips and slides around and don't bother with the brakes. Once in the air though, things return to normal and your greeted to snowcapped everything. All that's missing is a few elves and reindeers and you're set for winter.

Down the flightline


Summing Up

It's hard not to like Bella Coola. It's pretty, well presented and frame rates are generally friendly. But for all its charm the one thing that's bothering me is the price. At around £22 for the download it seems a lot for what is a very small field in an area you may never want to visit again. Plus, given its' an Orbx title, you'll need to have purchased a copy of the pacific Fjords if you want this airport to run properly, which effectively doubles the purchase price before you start. Then there's the grass. It's a nice feature and set to lite, it effectively adds a nice veneer to the whole field. But on full I couldn't get it to perform well, and I'm running a Nvidia 680 GTX. I even tested it on a single monitor and saw little difference. It's a nice feature but a little overkill for my taste.

Whist the downsides are present, the positives are just as numerous. Technically, Bella Coola is a tour de force. High resolution textures, pre-rendered shadows and many other things make this airport stunning to look at. But its the location that wins out. At first I was a little unsure what Bella Coola could offer me except for some pretty textures. The answer I found was simple. Whist the airport is beautiful. the real beauty surrounds you. Bella Coola makes a fantastic base for you to explore the many valley's around the area.

You could spend weeks picking through the many back country area's exploring, before returning to Bella Coola before the sun goes down (Bella Coola is daytime VFR only). It's this that makes this wonderful little airport such a gem. I may quibble about the price. I may ask why the people up north don't dress for winter. But I can't complain about the experience of flying around the area to explore. People go to Bella Coola to get lost, and I can sure see why.

A great little airport that's just let down by price.

 Verdict:   silver
• Level of Detail: 9.0/10
• Performance: 8.0/10
• Scenery Coverage: 9.0/10
• Quality of objects / buildings: 9.0/10
• Documentation: 8.0/10
• Value for money: 7.0/10
Mutley’s Hangar score of 8.3/10, "Recommended" and a Mutley's Hangar Bronze Award!

Jessica Bannister-Pearce
Review machine Spec:
Intel i5 2500K @ 4.6ghz | 16Gb Ram |Nvidia 680 GTX Graphics |Windows 7 / 64bit