US Cities X: Chicago
For FSX Published by Aerosoft
Reviewed by Joe (“Mutley”) Lawford
January 2010

Aerosoft's latest release in their US Cities X range is Chicago.  For those unfamiliar to Aerosoft's US Cities X series they are a collection of city sceneries created by LimeSim based on aerial images.  They include major buildings and landmarks and all airports and heliports that are inside the covered areas.

So let's look at the advertised features.


    • More than 2,000 major buildings included
    • About 210,000 autogen buildings placed realistically
    • "Retro style" version of Meigs Field that was sadly demolished in 2003
    • Major airports in and around the city are covered with new high res ground images (no new building structures added)
    • Chicago O`Hare (including new runway layout)
    • Chicago Midway
    • Chicago Executive (formerly known as Palwaukee Mun)
    • Schaumburg Regional
    • Brookeridge Airpark (where homes are next to the runway)
    • 9 heliports as start locations
    • Sound effects like downtown- and highway traffic, gulls...
    • Traffic on most major roads
    • Low price, very good value for money
    • Includes a separate Scenery Density tool

Download, installation and set-up
Chicago X is presently available by download only. With a relatively small download size of 285Mb and Aerosoft's blisteringly fast servers the file is delivered in minutes.

Installation is a familiar process with activation using a unique key provided by Aerosoft.  The installed size is 400Mb, again not huge considering the area covered but big enough for the developer to only include one season (Summer) and no night textures.

  A good read of the manual will help you set your display options, most of the import display options tabs are illustrated so there is no confusion with the recommendations

There is a handy scenery density tool included which gives you the option to increase the custom 3D building and reduce autogen. I had mine se to more custom 3D buildings for best effect.

Having a pretty good set up I opted for the increased 3D and you should too if you can.

The setting of the display sliders will be influenced by your system's capability to process the textures effectively.

There is a custom traffic file which controls the traffic within the city boundary, if this has an adverse affect on your FPS the the file can be removed to reduced the city traffic whilst maintaining the FSX default. 

Another consideration is if you want the Chicago Spire modelled.  This is a building planned but may never come to fruition due to the economic situation at the moment. I flew with and without it present and as the retro appearance with Meigs appealed more to me I disabled the bgl as instructed in the manual.

Finally compatibility issues with other third party sceneries are addressed.  Most problems are usually solved with by setting the Chicago X scenery near or at the top of your scenery library.  If this doesn't work try setting it one below the layer it is affecting in the scenery library. The developer Sascha Normann from LimeSim frequents Aerosoft's support forums and always appears to be on hand to answer questions.

Flying around Chicago
Being a flight sim "veteran", for my first flight I headed straight for runway 36, KCGX – Merrill C. Meigs Field (R.I.P 2003).   It was a great feeling to be lined up ready to go with the city towering to my left.  The memories of long lost days of sim flying came to mind **Wipes tear from eye!** Just have a look below at a comparison shot.  For me, the cost of this scenery has been justified just with this addition.

Just for fun, the old and the new. The image on the left was taken with a camera when running the program on my PC!

My first impression of the city was wow! what a lot of buildings, over 2000 major buildings by LimeSim's reckoning.  Under normal circumstances a right-hand circuit would steer you away from the city but I headed straight for it for a closer view.

LimeSim have included a representation of the Chicago Spire twist-scraper, a planned 2000ft building that was started in 2007 but is now on hold. After a while, I chose to remove this building by disabling the bgl file in the scenery folder as instructed by the manual.  Only really because it looked so unnatural against the skyline and is a fictional building. It is however one of the best textured buildings in this scenery, it was fun to hover around for a while enjoying the views that the inhabitants may one day get.

Now before describing the overall quality of the building textures you have to bear in mind that the developer has advertised the US Cities X brand as a low-cost series of add-ons. This means that you will not get pin sharp highly detailed textures. In Chicago X's case this also means only one season of photoscenery and no night textures.  However,  I found that from a distance and at normal flying altitudes the building textures are quite adequate. 

If you take to your news helicopter from the WGN-TV Heliport  (IL70 ) you notice a brightly coloured "Micky D" sign with the famous double arches and a fair representation of the building.  On the way into town the photo textures of the highways and neighbourhoods are very good.  If you view the scenery from the top-down view, you will see extent of the included photo textures and autogen is huge.  Outside the main scenery area are pockets of detail that cover the main airports.

Click for full size image
Click image for full size view
Click for full size image
Click image for full size view

So, from altitude all is ok.  However, from closer inspection I have to say that some of the building textures were poor, well worse than that, non-existent. I am desperately trying to buy into this product and I kept being numbed by the lack of detail in the quality of some the buildings within the photo scenery areas. 

For example, I wanted to land my Medivac helo on the 4IS3 - University of Chicago Hospital  helipad, the hospital looks like some stealth construction with no window or details, default autogen would, I am sure, been a 100% better option to place here.  This is a pad which doesn't exist in the default FSX scenery database but is nice to have.  However, to my liking it would be better off left out, given the modelling.

"It's a hospital Jim, but not as we know it!"

Overall, I really liked the vibrancy that this add-on gave to the city. The long streets are great fun to fly down with the buildings towering over you.  The best views are from the top down when you get the full effect of the photoscenery, the moving traffic and the 3d.  I am sure any local could find their way home from this scenery. 

On the down side, even though I knew that the photo scenery was for summer only and there were no night textures included, I felt this was a big sacrifice to be made by the purchaser,  even more so that the developer dismisses this with a comment about not flying VFR at night.  I have to disagree, when does the city look most dramatic?  At sundown when there is a beautiful blue, orange sky and the illuminations from the skyscrapers just takes your breath away.  Chicago X has missed out on this WOW factor big time, this is a big plus point with Aerosoft's own Manhattan X.

At the end of the day it's all about economics, to add what would be a 100% increase in textures and would put this scenery into a much higher specification band, therefore more expensive. 

Power cut! I know the man responsible for this!
Click for full size image
Click image for full size view
Click for full size image
Click image for full size view

Airstrips, Airports and Pads
I think Meigs airport is nicely done as you can see from the departure shot above.  I did find a blank textured windsock which, after questioning, the developer commented was standard FSX, he offered 3 options, remove it, replace it with a non-animated or leave as it.   This made me wonder how come the windsock at 06C Schaumburg Regional in the same scenery was textured and animated?  This comes across to me as a lack of attention to detail and a lack of interest to put it right too.

Talking of Schaumburg Regional, it has nice ground textures with more nice photo scenery included, looking to the horizon, this appeared to be the furthest away from the city.

  LL22 Brookeridge Air Park, Downers Grove, is superb and was great fun to land and take off from. 

The airstrip is connected by taxiways straight into residential driveways where the residents have their aircraft parked. 

There are two runways in a T formation so you are almost guaranteed a landing.  

The runways are surrounded by default FSX buildings and are rather large but this is explained in the manual as being down to Microsoft's sizing of the autogen. 

There is some photo scenery surrounding this airstrip and LimeSim's interpretation is just perfect to my eyes.

KPWK - Chicago Executive. Formerly known as Palwaukee Municipal was to Chicago Executive a while after the destruction of Meigs and attracts  business jets and GA. Again, this is another very acceptable representation with a choice of three runways.

KORD – Chicago O’Hare- this airport has undergone quite a few alterations by way of extending the old 9R/27L runway to 13,000 and re-designating to 10/28, a completely new runway 9L/27R was built and included here.  A great touch.  Unfortunately the runway lighting was missed from the original release but was made available as a new AFCAD via the support forum.  I would imagine by the time this review is published it will be included in a new version.

KMDW – Chicago Midway.  Midway is is on the edge of the main city photo scenery area and protrudes out to the default scenery as a large square of photo scenery.  This is quite a popular airport for being closer to the city and a departure from runway 4L or R will see the city straight ahead of you.

KORD -Chicago O’Hare and KPWK - Chicago Executive
Click for full size image
Click image for full size view
Click for full size image
Click image for full size view
Both of the main airports, have pretty much the default airport buildings used. I found this quite acceptable as after all this is not a product of airport scenery alone.

Moving briefly to heliports. In regard to what I said above about building textures I am surprised that so many have been included. I have already mentioned 2 above that sit on opposite sides of the satisfaction scale, here are the others.

IL75 – John H. Stroger Hospital - A white square patch on top of the photo scenery. (No comment)
6IS7 – St. Mary of Nazareth Hospital - pretty much the same story as the University Hospital the textures are awful.
40IS – Children’s Memorial Hospital - Enjoyable to land at otherwise much as UH
64LL – Rose No 4 Helipad - Nice decorative pad otherwise much as UH
IL74 – Rose Packing Co Helipad - Although I used go to airport to take off from here I could not see I was on a pad nor I could not see it from the air.
IL73 – Fire Academy Helipad - This fictional pad is probably the best for proximity to the city although, again suffers the UH syndrome.
IL76 – Marcor Helipad (closed) - Another invisible helipad.

The environmental sounds were very good, even the seagulls had something to say.  All around the city you could hear the road traffic a nice addition.  The sounds have been set to quite a high level, I like that but if you don't all it takes is to set the environment sound slider a couple of notches in the config.

Cityscapes of Chicago
Click for full size image
Click image for full size view
Click for full size image
Click image for full size view

Compatibility issues
I am happy to report I had none! The manual tackles this head on.  Obviously in the beta testing a couple of issues were experienced with 3rd party software.  Of the 3 products identified 2 were solved by placing the Chicago X scenery higher in the library and one had to go below. These programs are highlighted in the manual downloadable from the product page.

I Had some issues with performance, generally I managed to get a nice smooth flight but the sim didn't seem happy. On a couple of occasions FSX dumped with an out of memory warning.


I had some very useful information back from Aerosoft Technical about this problem as it is a known issue, there is not really anything that can be done about the memory problem.  The reason is pretty simple and is related to a memory leak in the car traffic.  When the cars are fully visible all seems okay but when they are in a city with high buildings and pop in and out of view FSX looses track of them and does not remove them from memory.

It is worth pointing out these projects are pushing the limit of what FSX can handle so some problems pop up there rather easily.  In a way the low resolution of the buildings help in this regard, if they were all high resolution they would have to remove about 35% of the scenery to make it usable!

Looking at the texture files files I wondered why they are still using the old DXT1 .bmp format and not DXT5 dds?  The response from Aerosoft was prompt and straight to the point.   "For speed reasons we decided to make the textures in the same format as they are used in the memory of the GPU.  The overhead we get by using compression factors would just make it slower.  As we do not use bumps, speculars or alpha maps means there is no limitation by using that format, only advantages. In fact for scenery it is more or less the best format.  For aircraft and advanced scenery (see for example Lelystad X) it's a different matter.  For US Cities Chicago it's size that determines every choice made."

So there you go, I think knowing information like this brings everything into perspective and just goes to show that the simmer's enjoyment is always foremost in Aerosoft's eyes. It's only the limitations of the host simulator that causes problems, this is becoming a a common bug-bear for developers.  Perhaps this is one good reason for Aerosoft's research and development into a new flight simulator program?

There is so much I like about this scenery but there are things I miss. The inclusion of Meigs is inspired whereas the exclusion of night textures for the buildings is a major regret for me but does fall within the remit of this scenery series.

I think to be fair I have to judge this one on its individual merits to give an honest appraisal, so out of ten here are my individual scores.

  • Value for money 9.5
  • Photoscenery 8
  • Custom buildings 7
  • Sound 9
  • Airports 8.5
  • Helipads 7
  • Performance 7

By my reckoning Chicago X comes up with a 8/10, so overall a product you should try, if only out of curiosity or to re-instate Meigs, it's definitely staying on my machine and it has some great little surprises!

/Joe Lawford

       System Requirements
  • Microsoft Flight Simulator X (Acceleration or SP2)
  • Windows XP, Windows VISTA, Windows 7 (fully updated)
  • Intel Core 2 Duo E6850 CPU (Core 2 Quad advised)
  • 2 GB RAM
  • 256Mb graphic card (512 MB recommended)
  • 285 MB Download size
  • 400MB hard drive space