Coming soon: FSX Time Capsule - - Mount St. Helens Pre-1980 Experience.

This has been a labor of love and a lifelong dream of mine as long as I've been a flight simmer. Now, that dream is becoming a reality, and I'm very soon going to share that dream with the Flight Sim community!

For the last month and a half, I have been hard at work creating one of my most favorite areas for FSX. Only with this, it requires a travel back in time (not quite within the sim, but metaphorically speaking)

Before the spring of 1980, Mount St. Helens in Washington State was a crown jewel. Its near-perfect symmetrical cone at 9,677 feet elevation earned it the nickname "America's Mount Fuji" and was the subject of postcards and Christmas trinkets all over the Pacific Northwest. Spirit Lake, nestled just three miles from its base on the north side, was one of the most popular tourist destinations in Washington State, and a very popular spot for recreational boating and fishing. Adorning the lake were a number of camps, lodges, and a United States Forest Service ranger station serving as an entry point into the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. On the northeast base of Mount St. Helens, a backcountry ski area offered winter ski enthusiasts with dozens of acres of prime skiing territory.

At the center of it all, was an eclectic lodge owner - Harry R. Truman. His Mount St. Helens lodge was the most popular tourist destination in the area. With over 13 cabins, a boat house, and a recreation hall, his lodge was the centerpiece of a vast area of recreation across two Washington counties. Truman himself was an area legend.

That all changed in an instant on May 18, 1980, when an eruption over 500 times more powerful than the Hiroshima atom bomb leveled 230 square miles of forest and turned Mount St. Helens into a wasteland. Gone was the symmetrical Fuji-like cone and replacing it was a gaping maw of a horseshoe-shaped crater two miles long by a mile and a half wide, and over 2,000 feet deep with an opening to the north. Spirit Lake was forever changed. Its new elevation was 270 feet higher than the former shoreline, with the new lake bed being raised to a height more than its former surface. This was due to an immense landslide deposit, caused by an 5.1 magnitude earthquake-preceded collapse of Mount St. Helens' north flank in the first few terrifying moments of the 1980 eruption.

Through publicly available data, I have been able to recreate this experience in FSX.

Here's what is featured:

Mount St. Helens' pre-1980 terrain mesh. (30m mesh - the only resolution available)
Mount St. Helens 1-meter resolution aerial imagery from 1972 (for the peak itself; Includes seasonal variations)

Harry Truman's Mount St. Helens Lodge

Spirit Lake USFS Ranger Station

Spirit Lake Lodge (downstream from the Mount St. Helens Lodge by two miles)

Harmony Falls Lodge (In Progress)

YMCA Spirit Lake Camp (In Progress)

Complete realignment of Highway 504 to its pre-1980 alignment, courtesy 1975 USGS Topo data.

Complete realignment of Spirit Lake's shoreline to pre-1980 contour data.

Hundreds of miles of pre-1980 logging roads

Complete landclass reassignment including pre-1980 logging clearcuts and reshaping the debris flow area to a lush forested valley.

And more!

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Resource contributor
Saw your thread on Avsim about this and I think it's a really great idea. It prompted me to read the Wiki articles on the eruption and some of the people involved. Must've been a terrifying experience.
If we wait and watch will the mountain explode? As Heretic says - it must truely have been a terrifying experience. The small photo sequence of the explosion is impressive.
Saw your thread on Avsim about this and I think it's a really great idea. It prompted me to read the Wiki articles on the eruption and some of the people involved. Must've been a terrifying experience.
Being there at ground zero, standing mere feet away from where David Johnston was standing, sends thrills up and down your spine. I live only an hour and fifty minutes from it and go there every year. Everytime, I am humbled by what I see.

It's really frightening to learn that Harry Truman and David Johnston both had about 22 seconds measured from the time the collapse initiated (which was 11 seconds after the earthquake) until the blast cloud/landslide reached them. You think 22 seconds is pretty fast, but you count it out like "one one thousand, two one thousand... " and that's a pretty good stretch of time to watch your life pass by.
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Some more testing shots, of the Weyerhaeuser clearcuts and some seasonal variations. :)

Getting close to the 50% mark as far as progress-to-completion goes.

I eliminated the steam plume on the summit as well, since my ideal goal is to replicate the look of the mountain in the late 1970s.

In the next few days I'll begin reworking the blend mask for the aerial image and doing some minor terrain imagery realignment. I'm also going to do some photoreal stuff for the Mount Margaret backcountry just north of Spirit Lake, and a small portion of Minnie Peak and Elk Rock.

Later this weekend I hope to have all the major 3D components modeled.

Stay tuned!

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We're almost there! All of the pre-1980 logging clearcuts have been reclassed in SBuilderX, some shoreline details to Spirit Lake have been added, and the last bits are being modeled right now. Stay tuned!
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It's been a while since I've posted an update, so I figured I'd supply one.

Since the last post, I stumbled upon a vast treasure trove of declassified public-domain, super-high resolution 1-foot-per-pixel aerial images taken by the USGS in 1973. Since these images are not oriented in EPSG 4326 / WGS84 datum, it has been a time consuming process of aligning the new aerial imagery to the DEM terrain mesh of the pre-1980 Mount St. Helens volcanic cone.

I've also had to painstakingly blend in the previous aerial imagery to the newer, higher-resolution imagery as the higher-resolution imagery is monochrome. It has also required the addition of synthetic color (especially in the Floating Island Lava Flow on Mount St. Helens' NW side, as pictured below).

One huge discovery with the newer higher-resolution source imagery (which is sharp enough in its full resolution that climbers are visible on the summit), is that it is also clear enough to provide an exact layout of the cabins and sheds at Harry Truman's Mount St. Helens Lodge, as well as various camps and other sites around the lake.



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Some of the latest progress screenshots...

The first shows Coldwater Creek draining out into the upper Toutle basin. I have yet to establish the Toutle River's channel in FSX as I am still hung on whether or not I should try and find more archival DEM data, or just wing it and provide a README explanation as to why the river flows UPHILL in certain spots due to DEM terrain limitations.

It also illustrates the changes in landclass to the clearcuts on South Coldwater Ridge (presently named Johnston Ridge) and the surrounding areas.

The second highlights the view of Mount St. Helens as seen from Coldwater II, the observation post at which David Johnston was stationed the morning of May 18, 1980. Through some intrepid investigation I have been able to determine the exact location of his observation post within one foot of accuracy, based upon public domain images of the observation post taken on May 4 (when the site was activated) and on May 17, 1980, the day before the volcano erupted.

The last screenshot highlights changes in landclass to the North Fork Coldwater Creek drainage, including Weyerhaeuser Roads 3490, and 3533 (the access roads to Coldwater I, the observation post at which Reid Blackburn was stationed. His body and Volvo sedan were recovered in 4 feet of pyroclastic deposits), plus 4000, 4100, 4020 (the access roads to Coldwater II). It also highlights rockslide channels on the south side of Minnie Peak (left center). Today, present-day Coldwater Lake would fill the valley at left center of the screenshot.

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A little improvement in detail:

Over the last few months of developing this - as any artist and creator would attest - I've never been thoroughly "happy" with how the aerial imagery displays on the ground in FSX as far as the pre-1980 MSH cone goes.

It has never had that realistic "pop" to it since the FSX "Resample" application compresses the 24-bit bitmaps slightly during the scenery creation process (which takes one hour to do on this size of ground image).

Four nights ago, I came to an epiphany. Since I now have over 20 gb of high-resolution satellite imagery dating back to 1972, I would use those grayscale images and create "high pass" overlays using a data set from 1973 as a guide. Not only did it work, I was able to create imagery that would pass muster at close range without looking too "pixellated" and from a distance, it really makes the peak look realistic.

It took two days of work to do, because I had to warp and reproject UTM NAD27 data to WGS84 EPSG:4326 projection. Additionally, I had to further warp the image in multiple layers in Photoshop since it didn't align with the DEM terrain mesh.

The end result: A much clearer, crisper, Mount St. Helens pre-1980.

Before/After screenshots for illustration

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Work on 3D objects and key places around the mountain has progressed quite nicely and will be posting screenshots of those coming up in a couple days. :)