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The Road to Rio

by Anthony Vallillo, Senior Captain of a major U.S. airline (17 January 2005)


Flying is fun for a million or more reasons � the physical pleasure of handling a responsive machine in a dynamic environment, the intellectual challenge of procedures and techniques mastered and put to use, the satisfaction of getting from point A to point B faster and more efficiently � these are but a few. But perhaps the most wonderful thing about flying is simply the view from the window! Seen from above, old things become new and the world assumes a different and oft times even more beautiful perspective.


About to buzz the beach!

The Rio de Janiero area from 20,000 feet.

Ryan STA flying beneath the cable car to Sugarloaf.

The view from the window varies considerably, of course, depending upon where you happen to be. And no doubt many would agree that there are places in the world that are more alluring than others, by land or by air. I suspect that most of us would prefer flying over, say, Yosemite for an hour or two, to flying over the amber waves of grain in Kansas for that same length of time. This is not to say that Kansas lacks either beauty or subtlety, but rather that the passing scene in the Sierra Nevada is dramatic and constantly changing.


Inbound for landing in Rio Harbor - Pan Am Clipper.

Final approach to Rio Harbor.

Final approach to Rio Harbor.

In the real world, of course, there is a price to be paid for aerially viewing the more spectacular terrains of the world; namely, that these areas often feature a paucity of places where the airplane can be returned to earth in one piece, should the need suddenly arise! This problem vanishes, of course, in the virtual world of flight simulation, and the scenery designers have taken advantage of our inclination to fly over visually spectacular areas with some truly exceptional offerings of late.


Final approach to Rio Harbor.

Final approach to Rio Harbor.


In the world of places where human beings have chosen to settle in large numbers, two of the most visually impressive are the Hong Kong area of China, and Rio de Janeiro in Brazil. A few years ago, a company called Flight Soft upped the ante in scenery design for MSFS with a tour-de-force rendering of Hong Kong, a rendering so detailed and realistic that they coined a new term for it � video realistic scenery. The term is not inappropriate � in many respects this product came very close to a movie view out the window! It was well received in the FS community, and remains a benchmark in the saga of MSFS scenery development.


The view in FS2004 with Fly to Rio installed.

The real world view. Photo from

Casting their sights about, the people at Flight Soft took aim on Rio. Capital of Brazil until the building of Brasilia in the 1960�s, Rio is without doubt one of the world's most beautiful cities. It sits on a bay surrounded by mountains of wondrous shape, and is adorned, on its seacoast, by some of the world's premiere beaches. This area boasts, among its many attractions, some of the world�s most beautiful women sporting some of the world�s skimpiest bathing suits! This is just about the only feature of Rio that is not accurately depicted in Flight Soft�s Rio de Janeiro Video Real Scenery!


Fly to Rio view 2.

The real world view. Photo from

In the course of my flying career, I have had the opportunity to fly into Rio just once. When I checked out on the 767, I eventually bid a month of South America flying and got to put pins in the map for both Rio and Sao Paolo. Sadly, the Rio part of the trip was the shortest � just a 6 hour layover that allowed only for a ride from the airport to the hotel on the beach, a brief sojourn along the water, and the ride back. From time to time, we had trips that had longer layovers in Rio; but -- and more�s the pity -- I never bid them. Now the opportunity is lost, perhaps forever, as we no longer fly to Rio from New York, at least not on the 767!


The beach in Fly to Rio.

The real world view. Photo from

Rio boasts some of the world�s most recognizable landmarks, among which are the famous Sugarloaf mountain, and the statue of Christ the Redeemer, perched high on top of a neighboring peak. These, and the famous beaches, give the city a visual identity that is instantly recognizable. Any product that purports to provide video realism in this area has its work cut out for it!


Looking up at the famous Christ statue in Fly to Rio.

The real world view. Photo from

The default scenery for Rio is one of the more detailed areas in FS 2004. The Microsoft scenery is pleasing to look at, and presents a general simulacrum of the bay and its environs. But a great deal is missing, not least of which is the Christ statue, together with the Jockey Club, an accurate rendition of Sugarloaf, and a really detailed rendering of the International Airport. All of these shortcomings are corrected in the Flight Soft package!


Original FS2004 scenery.

The same scenery with Fly to Rio installed - the Jockey Club clearly depicted.

Installation is automatic, and went off without a hitch. The package includes a great many flights, so you can start off either on an approach to the airport or in-flight near a famous landmark. There are also several of Flight Soft�s signature DC-10 aircraft in this package, which will be familiar to anyone who has any of their earlier releases, almost all of which are oriented around the famous tri-jet. I have reviewed the airplane itself for Flight Soft several years ago, so my opinion of it (excellent!) is already on the record. Suffice to say that it has lost nothing in the translation to FS2004, and is a very good simulation of a large passenger airplane in terms of handling. It makes great landings, too!


Another view of the default scenery.

Same scene with Fly to Rio.

Since I had flown into Rio before, on the approach to runway 10, I decided to get my first look at the new scenery by flying this approach, which is conveniently included as a flight. Sure enough, as I proceeded toward the airport things certainly looked familiar! Once again, we have a scenery package that is good enough to provide a really useful introduction to an area even for professional pilots seeking airport and area familiarization. Approaching the runway, things looked almost exactly like the pictures we have in our manuals � detailed color photos used for study prior to flying there. Of course, the airport itself is extremely well modeled, even the odd-looking tall light towers along the edges of the ramps. After a touchdown as smooth as the actual landing I made there in a 767, I decided to change gears and do some purely visual flying.


Sugarloaf Mountain in default scenery.

Same view, with Fly to Rio scenery - much more accurate shape and size.

This is where this product shines � it provides a superb visual experience. It doesn�t matter what kind of airplane you choose to fly; indeed, a hang glider off the top of Sugarloaf would be a real thrill! Everywhere you look you see details that closely match photos of the real world. The terrain is accurate in shape and size. The overhead photography used as an underlay for the 3D scenery is quite colorful and visually stunning, especially at altitudes above around 1000 feet. Again and again, as I compared the view out the window with some photos of Rio that I downloaded from a tourism website, I was impressed by the attention to detail and the reality of this �virtual reality�!

The scenery depicts the Rio of today, with modern high-rise buildings alongside colorful clusters of smaller houses (often of tin construction in the real Rio) clinging to the sides of mountains, as well as huddled into the valleys and arroyos. Notwithstanding this modern view, I couldn�t help recalling an even more glamorous time in Rio aviation � the Pan Am flying boat era. Pan Am reached Rio via the shoreline route in late 1930, as a result of its acquisition of the New York Rio and Buenos Aires Airline (NYRBA). The flights, affordable by only a few, were nonetheless among the most romantic trips available in those days. From Miami, the Clippers island-hopped down the Windward Islands to Port of Spain, Trinidad. From there they hugged the Atlantic coast to Paramaribo, Belem, Natal and Rio before continuing onward to Montevideo and Buenos Aires.

Among my other FS2004 acquisitions has been an exceptional package called Golden Hawaii, which includes, in addition to some great period scenery, a Pan Am Sikorsky S-43 Clipper. This twin-engine airplane is typical of the smaller ships that were used in the Caribbean and South America, where stage lengths were shorter and the need for extremely long range was not a factor. So, with all apologies to Flight Soft (!), I switched from the DC-10 to the amphibian for some old time virtual airline flying. Approaching Rio from the north along the coast, the view is incredible, and you can get a sense of what the early Clipper pilots got to see!

Having made a successful water landing in the bay, I switched mounts yet again, this time to a Ryan STA for some local sightseeing. Taking off from Santos Dumont airport, I flew around Sugarloaf, and on over to Ipanema and Copacabana. Buzzing the beaches at low altitude, I was almost sorry that Flight Soft has not found a way to include the girls on the beach! Of course, in the Clipper and STA days, the girls would not be wearing the thong bikinis they wear today! Oh well!

Girls or no girls, this package has to be reckoned one of the best efforts yet at detailed scenery of a naturally spectacular area. I highly recommend it, and having been there myself, I can vouch for its authenticity. Fly every one of the included flights to get an intimate look at this beautiful area. See if you can land on the track at the Jockey Club! You will be impressed by the many details Flight Soft has included. One thing you will certainly not be is bored! Enjoy, and happy landings!

Tony Vallillo