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Aerosoft Lukla - Mount Everest
Monday, 28 August 2006

Lukla – Mount Everest. Now you've probably heard and are quite familiar with half of that first sentence, but what about the other half? Let me save you the effort of scrabbling around various search engines and I'll explain.

Lukla airport is quite popular as the place where most adventurers start out on their trek to the summit of Mount Everest. Weather permitting, the airport can get very busy with the daily flights from Kathmandu (there are no day flights allowed). I tried to recreate a dusk flight just to see if it was possible to land at Lukla as the darkness drew in. Let's say the result wasn't pretty! Only helicopters and STOL aircraft (i.e twin otters) are allowed to land here, because the runway is only 1700ft long and the airport is 9300ft above sea level deep in the heart of the Himalayas. When an aircraft has landed, it has to be away from the airport within 15 minutes as there are only 4 parking spaces and there are probably other aircraft circling to land. Flying into Lukla is a challenge even with perfect weather, but when the weather takes a turn for the worse, be prepared for several missed approaches! When landing and taking off at Lukla, you always land heading up the slope and take off heading down the slope. Mainly because taking off or landing in the other direction may be a little difficult considering that there is a huge mountain at the end of the runway. So make sure when you commit to land you can stop in time even with the slope to help you break. Taking off going down the runway helps build up speed at this high altitude, and the drop at the end of the runway into the valley will help you pick up more speed and keep the adrenalin flowing.

Aerosoft have not only provided us with Lukla airport in this package. They have also given us 2 other airports. Syngboche, which was planned to be the new Lukla as is was closer to Mount Everest (12,286 feet), but was abandoned due to protests from the locals. And also Phaplu, a reserve airport for Lukla. Aerosoft have also given us a Mount Everest Base Camp (17509 feet), which is mainly used as a Helipad. The height leads to problems as it is very difficult to take off with a helicopter, although it is possible and Aerosoft kindly suggest 2 models that they have found to work. The best part of the package though, is the high definition mesh for the whole area. Aerosoft bought a high resolution image of the area (expensive stuff they tell us), waved their magic wand and placed it over the are surrounding Lukla.

The package comes with an 18 page manual which gives you a little information about all the airports, 2 challenges which will give you lots of fun. If not in flying the challenge itself, then certainly in flying around the area. You are requested to find a missing chopper somewhere near the Cho Oyu mountain and also take a yeti-expert to investigate a reported sighting of the yeti! You are given a little help to set you on your way as Aerosoft have included a map of the region in the manual with various points of interest marked. To help you get to grips operating at high altitude and in and out of such a dangerous airport, there are also appendixes which give some valuable hints on how to survive! The whole package is available as a 32mb download for EUR 19.95/£13.50/$25US. The product is only available for FS2004 version 9.1, which most users have now anyway. Aerosoft also have a support forum for any issue that users have that aren't listed in the manual.

One of the biggest challenges Aerosoft had in developing Lukla was how to model the sloping runway. The created the airport using GMAX scenery to get around this. This gives the airport it's characteristic sloping runway, but leads into some other minor problems as well. When creating the airport Aerosoft have placed a new airport over the top of the old one. So if you start up at VNLK, you will appear below the new airport, which is VNL2. Sometimes when panning around the airport, the view will go underneath the new airport and you will be looking at everything from underground. And if you touch down too hard on landing, you'll fall through the runway to the old airport and crash. These are not faults on Aerosoft's part, but limitations of FS2004. If anything the 'fault' of falling through the runway encourages you to get those landings spot on!

The weather can also become a problem. Not because it gets severe, but because there isn't any! As Lukla is in the Himalayas, Microsoft didn't place any weather stations nearby (why should they? I don't even think they would've thought people would want to fly into Lukla). The problem can be remedied by using one of the weather themes provided by Aerosoft, or by using Active Sky. If you just want to sightsee, flying without the weather is fine. If you want even more of a challenge, load up that weather!

The weather is a challenge, just make sure you know the area well first!


So now you know all about Lukla, let's get on with the business of reviewing it!

When I first started up at Lukla, the first thing that struck me was the crispness of the surrounding terrain. Even on my mid-range system, the graphics were stunning and incredibly realistic.

Everest base camp

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