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Ideas for terrain textures for historic airport?

I'm attempting to start a project to create a historic, or "retro", version of Chicago's O'Hare International Airport circa 1979-80. While I'm a relative beginner at scenery design, my goal is to produce a relatively high-detailed airport scenery including custom ground polys for all ramps, taxiways, runways etc. Ideally, I'd like to begin with a high resolution aerial image as the terrain base for the airport, but in my searching it appears that from that era (over 30 years ago now!), only black and white imagery is available. I have contacted a couple of commercial vendors online, and have found imagery from 1980 at 1:4800 scale (approximately 1 Ft or 30 cm/pixel?). However, the price of this imagery is over US $13,000! This is obviously not an option. Lower resolution imagery (1:24,000 scale or approximately 2 m/pix?) is also available at a lower price, but still quite an investment ($750).

My questions are as follows: Is 2 meter per pixel imagery sufficient to make a high quality airport background using the FSX resampler? I've done a bunch of searching and can't find any examples near the ground of 2 m/pix scenery. Also, I would have to "colorize" the black and white imagery in Photoshop. In doing so, is it possible to end up with terrain that looks pretty good? Given the price of the imagery, I would only be doing the actual airport property (although ORD is a large airport), so the size of the project would not be too immense.

Thanks in advance for any advice or words of wisdom. I've been dreaming of recreating my favorite airport from the era when I first became enthralled with commercial aviation. I'm disappointed thus far that imagery from my chosen era appears to be either nonexistent or absurdly expensive.

Hi Mark:

For the benefit of other readers, IMHO, this is a follow-up to your original thread on this topic:


You should be able to find NAIP or USGS DOQQ B+W aerial imagery free in the public domain for this purpose, and possibly archived in a digital cartographic / GIS format.

Google Earth historic imagery of O'Hare seems to only go back to 1993, so I did a quick search and found a few leads which might prove helpful in searching:



Note that some Illinois universities and/or libraries have such archived images available:



Because of the Flight-191 crash at O'Hare in 1979, there may be publicly available media coverage aerial photos of O'Hare as well:


My Google query links:



Generally speaking, available older aerial imagery is likely to be of too low a resolution to use for a custom photoreal land class, and would IMHO be best used only as a background to trace over for ex: year 1980 airport layout.

Creation and positioning of one's own replacement textures can be done via use of terrain vector polygons traced over the older aerial imagery, then mapped to either FSX default land class textures or custom textures created as land class (with or without autogen) ...and properly listed in the FSX Terrain.Cfg file.

Hope these ideas may further help with your project ! :)

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Thank you very much for your reply, Gary! I've noticed that in addition to replies to my previous inquiry, you tend to offer excellent advice and information to many here on FSDeveloper.com. You are a perfect example of what is so great about this community!

I've downloaded some of the earlier USGS imagery, available in both black and white and color-infrared. However as you mention, the resolution is far below what is needed for use as terrain textures. I have also amassed a collection of photos which show various views of the airport and it's buildings from the web, even some aerial views, but these are mainly non-oblique views or small sections which area also not suitable for direct use as terrain imagery. I even have some high quality black and white imagery from 1980 from a friend who works for a map making company, but it is not geo-referenced and a portion of the airfield was not included.

As you noted, more recent higher-quality (and often free!) orthorectified imagery is available for O'Hare. I even have some free 50 cm/pix imagery from the 2000's from the old TerraServer site. However, significant changes began to be made to the airport around 1983 (expansion of the terminal ramps for the 1987 UAL terminal and destruction of the original international building and D concourse, as well as construction of new cargo facilities and the new international terminal on the site of the old cargo area - not to mention access roads and parking lots). As such, one of my thoughts was to Photoshop this imagery to backdate it to a 1980 configuration. Unfortunately, this proved to be a very difficult task given the huge file size of the image and my rudimentary Photoshop skills.

I especially appreciate your link to the University of Illinois at Chicago site. I must have come across this before, but it appears it is worth further investigation. It looks as if they may have similar imagery at 1:4800 scale to the expensive film quoted by the provided I contacted. I imagine that the imagery I'm looking for would likely have been acquired by the City of Chicago Department of Aviation and various local government agencies at one time or another. In fact, there was a series of black and white oblique aerials posted by the City on their ORD Facebook page of the airfield through the years. I sent them a message asking if anything similar was available in digital form, but they indicated that it was not and they did know of any.

I have also pondered the idea of making my own ground textures, as you discussed in creating custom terrain vector polygons. I need to read more about that. Since all of the pavement areas would be made with GMax polys and hand-made textures, it seems that it shouldn't be impossible to construct the remainder of the terrain in this manner. I look at some of the FlyTampa and ORBX stuff and am just amazed how you can see the mowing marks and little terrain irregularities in the ground - that's what I would love to do with this project.

Anyway, sorry for rambling on here. I've dreamed of creating an accurate retro ORD scenery since the FS4 days! You've given me a couple of great ideas to follow up on, and I appreciate that, your thoughtful response, and your research and links very much! I hope in the coming months to be able to share progress (and likely man more questions!) on this project.