P3D v4 Interested in Airport Design - Where Do I Begin

Hello FS Developers!

Scenery design for FS is an interest that I would like to explore but I have no idea where to begin. I've put together a few questions that I hope a few of you won't mind answering to help me on my way:

1. What advice would anyone give to aspiring scenery developers to start? Is there a simple path like: start here (maybe ADE), then jump to this, then to that, etc...or should I just jump in and practice?

2. What software tools do I need? I've heard the names GMAX, 3ds Max, and Sketchup mentioned? What are the differences? Is one better than the other?

3. Do I need 3ds Max to design high quality sceneries like FlyTampa, Flightbeam, Orbx, etc...or can I use a program like Sketchup to produce the same quality add-ons? Trust me, I do understand this is a huge time investment and I don't expect to develop sceneries like FT, FB, and Orbx in a week; it will take years.

4. Should I take 3ds Max or Sketchup classes or will practice, practice, practice suffice?

5. Is there a level of design knowledge that is required or can this be picked up over time? I've heard the terms draw calls, polys, texturing baking, and many, many more thrown around on various product pages and forums and I have no clue what those terms mean.

I think this is a good start for now and I'm sure I'll have more questions as answers start rolling in. I appreciate your input and thanks for your time.

For modelling you have three free tools, Sketchup, Gmax , Blender, you have also 3ds max which is too expensive. Blender is a good candidate to créate quality models (recently have been released a plugin and exporter for Fsx). And of course an Image editor like Photoshop (payware) or Gimp (free),and others... to fight with textures, textures sheets, night maps, renderings etc.
Imprescindible tools: Ade to tune up de parkings aprons runways.redesign the terrain,etc.
ModelConvertex to manipulate the files. check them,and many more, someone call it the swiss knife of Fsx developing.
LibraryCreator, to créate a .bgl library of objects, and place them with the OPT (object placement tool)
This is almost the basic.
if you want créate photoreal sceneries, autogen, créate your own effects, créate AI Traffic, Animations,etc.. well, there are tools for this tasks.
I could say the more serious part is the modelling tool choice. Sketchup fun and easy but limited (of course the payware versión is much better, have more features). Gmax (it's the poor parent of 3Ds max) obsolete. Blender is great but on my point of view very litle user friendly. 3ds max expensive, and focused to the profesional. if you get the job that can't afford you to buy it. though there are licenses variations, that are cheaper. And by experience the better way to learn these tools will be courses, clases, but if you have enough time and patience. you can get your way through with tutorials, websites, etc.
You will find tutorials about all this, here and there.It's a laborious and endless task. the Wiky is a good place to take a look.
About the levels. according with your progress, maybe you want add to your aiport some traffic. some lights, some animations. efects, some autogen, some photoreal, involving new learning of development tools.
About modelling you maybe will want to add AO maps, specular reflections, bump maps, transparencies, more (detailed) polygons or less detailed objects, night maps, etc,etc...
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Thank you for the advice Tejal!

About the tools...3ds Max seems like the way to go, however, I just cannot justify the cost to start. Maybe down the road 3ds Max will make sense but not quite yet. I'm very curious about SketchUp Pro. Can quality sceneries be made with the pro version? Are there any developers that currently use SketchUp?

I'll be honest with you.....basic Sketchup is probably all you will need for the next 4-5 years of development. In my 5 years I have only hit one road block: you can't make kinematics such as moving gates on Sketchup, that's it. Everything else you can either do, or do a close enough approximation. Instead invest in Photoshop. You will learn and live Photoshop. You will use it from day zero.

1. Start with a YouTube tutorial on how to make FSX models using Sketchup. It will be fun, you can start right now, all tools are freeware.
2. Get back to us in 5-6 months and let us know how you are doing :D
3. Don't ask us questions until you, at the very least, master Sketchup, make your own textures, and successfully export a model to FSX.

See you in 5-6 months.


Thanks for the advice...that's exactly what I'm looking for!

I already own Photoshop :D so I'm off to a good start!


I started out using ADE9X to simply create as close to accurate airport layout as I could. That was it. I left the modeling to the professionals. I used default buildings and objects to create a "better" airport layout. Everything I wanted to do then could be done from within ADE9X. Then I got adventurous and decided to do the local muni in the town where I live. I knew the airport manager and asked if I could wander around taking pictures to use for textures, measure buildings and distances, etc. I used GMAX for the modeling and MCX for the conversion to a useable FS Object.

I was pleased with the result. Of course my first step was, and always is, an accurate airport layout using ADE. Without that, everything else seemed pointless. A great looking terminal in the wrong place and wrong size just seemed counter-productive to me.

I soon discovered Sketchup and GIMP and never looked back. I'd love to give Photoshop a try, but is outside my price range at the moment...maybe someday. I have started using Paint.net a little, but i am more familiar with GIMP. Paint.net is for experimenting until I understand it better, especially layering and Sketchup is my "go to" model builder now instead of GMAX. I quickly realized that Sketchup and GIMP offered very much the same capability and was, in my opinion...and only my opinion...was far simpler to use.

I have done a few models and placed them in my sims, but rarely share them because they are somewhat simplistic, but accurate as far as size and shape. i did, however, recently upload to AVSIM a redo of ZGGG, Guangzhou Baiyun Int'l Airport. I did the new terminal with Sketchup and Gimp, using default textures from within FSX to keep the upload...and future downloads...simple. It, and the airport, are accurately placed using MCX and it's Convert and Place Wizard, an indispensable tool in my opinion.

So, the "tools" in my Toolbox are ADE9x, Sketchup, Gimp, and MCX. With those four programs...all freeware...I have done upwards of 10 or more terminals just by looking at the "footprint" in Google Earth and then scouring the internet for photos of the terminal (or hangar...I just did the new SkyWest hangar at Boise, KBOI) to use to texture the model.

That's how I got started several years ago and most of the time it was trial and error and a lot of restarts of FSX to see the model in my sim, deleting the model, redoing the model, and restarting FSX again...still is, although I get farther before I have to "restart". The best way to learn? Dive in with both feet. Search for tutorials that are more specific to what you are attempting, but that is not always the case. One of the videos i watched that helped me immensely was about a gentlemen making a model of a fireplace and I swear, there are no fireplaces in any of my objects...but his techniques are.

Besides animations another feature people miss in Sketchup is the rendering (not being Pro versión), you can't "render to texture" and créate "AO Maps (ambient occlusion maps) but one can live without it really. People are using Blender for this task.
Import in Blender and render there. don't know very well how would work.
Though confusing and complicated at first glimpse I think to develop for FS is rather straightforward taking a look at other games developing environments. As said before the really hard work here is to model and texture your objects so master modelling and image editing and "half" the Fs World will be your.
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Hi all,
I am also intrested in making airports for P3DV4 as James who started the thread. However some of the answers refer to FSX, are these good for P3DV4 as well? Or which programs are good for P3DV4?
I've just started my adventures into Airport design and 3D Modeling with 3DSMax. As with many aspects of development, there appear to be many ways to accomplish the task. I've been going thru videos where SBuilderX and ADE are both being used to create an airport, not entirely sure why both are needed? ... put I plug along.

There are many tutorials on building Airports but I haven't found one that is "current" (as of 2019 using the latest versions of ADE or SBuilder or 3DSMax and P3D plugin), some even reference Instant Scenery which doesn't support P3D V4.x.

I've also been in contact with established developers and they all seem to use a different workflow. I was hoping FSDeveloper.com would have an updated and optimized workflow document/tutorial that outlines the basic steps, but I haven not found any such information but I continue search and do what I assume most do, trial and error. Sadly the P3D SDK lacks any sort of useful workflow for Airport Design, just bits-o-information spread across a hideous CHM file ... it's like search for Gold and finding a nugget but the nugget turns out to be fake, because it doesn't really work that way until I find another "nugget" somewhere else in the CHM. I must say, the XPlane11 Airport design documentation if much better (not perfect).

Anyway, back to more tutorials, research, reading, trial and error.

Cheers, Rob.