Wednesday, May 9, 2012

On the Rocks - San Diego / Cessna 152 (N709YL) / VFR

I haven't been add new posts because there are just too many troubles in real life lately, but I did make an especially reckless flight this evening, just for “fun.”

I started out from the lofty On the Rocks private airstrip near Alpine, California, and made for San Diego. Not a problem in itself, except that I departed VFR with no flgiht plan in IMC. The C152 has only a single VOR receiver and no DME. I pointed the VOR to Poggi and planned a heading towards the Sweetwater reservoir, and then a right turn towards KSAN. I noted that the reservoir was about 10 miles from PGY on the 338 radial.

Turning immediately to 239 after departure, I flew through lots of clouds with only glimpses of the terrain below, climbing laboriously to 4500 feet. I figured it would take about ten minutes to reach the reservoir in still air, and I had my one VOR set to the 338 radial from PGY so I'd know when I crossed it.

The air was very choppy, which made me a bit queasy as I pressed on. After about ten minutes, I looked carefully around for signs of a lake. I spotted the distinctive shape of the Otay Reservoir off to the left, right where it should be. Shortly thereafter I glimpsed what had to be the Sweetwater Reservoir dead ahead. I made a turn to 273 as the needle on the VOR showed me crossing the 338 radial.

After that, it got even bumpier. I pressed on, trying to stay on a heading of 273, although I had no idea what the wind was like. I made a slow descent through 2000 feet, and finally the clouds cleared a bit and I spotted the dark square of Balboa park off to my left, showing that I had drifted substantially north. However, with the park in sight, it was easy enough to turn back on course, and soon I could see runway lights at Lindbergh Field. It was a bumpy descent but the visibility was sufficient to keep the runway in sight the whole way. I finally touched down safely on runway 27.

I flew this offline because I was violating regulations. I half-expected it to end in tragedy, but I got lucky.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Phoenix - Los Angeles / Boeing 737-700 (SWA2406) / IFR

Lots of flights have come and gone, and as usual I've been too lazy to log them all, but some have been more interesting (and thus more “loggable”) than others.

This flight was a mirror of the real world Southwest Airlines Flight 2406, from Phoenix to LAX. As usual, my mirror was nearly identical to the real-world flight. Inevitably some discrepancies creep in, but I'm always impressed by the extent to which the simulated 737 tracks the performance of the real thing.

There are some compromises, of course. I fly a 737-800, whereas the Southwest flights are usually 737-300s or 737-700s—Southwest is thinking about acquiring 737-800s, but it hasn't actually done so yet. And at my end, I've only installed PMDG's 737NG aircraft, which gives me a 737-800s and 737-900s. I fly the -800 but I log on as the real submodel for the benefit of other simmers on the network. The performance is different, of course, but not enough to be a big issue.

This flight went swimmingly. As always, the greatest challenge of the flight is to get airplane back down on the ground (as in real life). I like to restrict the FMC airspeed in the descent to 280 KIAS, because it seems to make it easier to stick to the descent path, although it makes the flight a tiny bit longer. Energy lost before or early in the descent is energy I don't have to shed as I struggle to finish the arrival and start the approach.

Still, the FMC occasionally complains and sometimes kicks me out of VNAV with the dreaded DES PATH UNACHIEVABLE. If I'm unable to avoid this, I switch to V/S and adopt my own, somewhat more aggressive descent path until I'm back on the FMC path. It works pretty well. One thing I don't know is how closely these nuisances match the real aircraft. I know that some real airliner FMCs have trouble following a descent path, too, but I don't know if the 737-800 FMC is better or worse than my simulator's version thereof.

I was a bit spooked during my approach. ATC was offline, putting me in the highly unrealistic position of announcing on CTAF for LAX. I dutifully made my announcements, but not everyone was so diligent. Less than 20 miles out, another pilot advised me that he was in front of me, heading for 24R, just like me. Sure enough, a glance at the TCAS showed traffic ahead, closing fast. He assured me that he was at 140 KIAS in his airliner, and I was slightly above, but even after slowing I soon could see him very clearly in front of me, no TCAS needed. Finally I decided to side-step to 24L with his tail rapidly looming larger in my windshield. This entailed hand-flying the rest of the approach and landing, but I surprised myself by doing very well, with a smooth landing, although I landed a little further from the threshold than I would have liked.

This quick maneuver was exciting in a way, but stressful too. Rattled as I was, I turned at the wrong place at Terminal 1 and didn't park at Gate 13 like I was supposed to. Oh well. At least I averted tragedy.

When ATC is online, of course, this doesn't happen, since we are all coordinated by controllers. I suppose in a sense it's impressive that traffic to LAX doesn't all end up in a twisted mass of virtual metal when ATC is offline, because sometimes there's a lot of traffic.

Despite the excitement, I arrived at the gate at about the same time as the real-world flight.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Montgomery Field - Los Angeles / Beechcraft Baron 58 (N701TL) / VFR

This flight promised to be fairly routine, and I got lazy and complacent. It got “exciting” (if that's the word for it) when the weather deteriorated.

First, I couldn't get a clearance into the San Diego Class B out of Montgomery. Not a problem, though, as I had plenty of time and fuel. I just turned east after departing from 28L and stayed below the Class B until I reached its eastern edge, then slipped up north. My original flight plan was direct to ROBNN and then V186 up to Los Angeles. My slight detour took me around the eastern boundary of the Class B and then to ROBNN, where I resumed my original route at 6500 feet and requested flight following.

Things went well for most of the flight. The weather was clear, great visibility, a lot of traffic in the area but nothing worrisome. After crossing the Paradise VOR I turned west and requested a clearance into the LAX Class B so I could land at Los Angeles. I was cleared into the Bravo and told to stay left of a heading of 250, altitude my discretion. I left 6500 for 4500.

ATC told me to take the Mini Route northbound for midfield at LAX. I did so and was handed off to LAX Tower. That's when the trouble began.

I had seen low clouds hovering around LAX as I turned west, but I could see the ground clearly, and in fact I could see the airport. The conditions given to me by ATC had been a bit ominous, but I carelessly assumed that if I could see the airport from where I was, surely it would stay clear during my approach and landing. That was a stupid move, since the weather report clearly mentioned fog and very poor runway visibility.

ATC asked what I wanted to do. Like an idiot, I said that I could see the field so I could continue. They cleared me to follow an MD-80 (!) in my little Baron. The MD-80 was landing on 25L. I was told to side-step to 25R (!), which I did. That's when all hell broke loose.

First, I ran right into wake turbulence from the MD-80. I knew that would happen, but for some reason I dismissed it. As if that weren't bad enough, with me struggling to hold the aircraft upright, the visibility suddenly dwindled to nothing as I descended lower and fog was in front of me instead of below. That, too, I should have known better about, since I know that fog can suddenly creep up like that, and I had the weather at LAX to prove it.

The runway looked misty as I descended. As I watched, descending through about 200 feet, it faded out of sight, and I could see nothing at all. I told the tower I was going around. The aircraft was bouncing around so badly that I wondered if I was going to make it, and on top of that I had to rely on instruments to stay level. Nevertheless, I did manage to get level and climb again on a heading of 250 given to me by the controller, up to 2000.

Once I had the aircraft under control, I told the tower I wanted to go IFR and try again. This in itself was reasonable, except that the visibility was still too poor at LAX for any instrument approach that I could do in my Baron (no autoland on this aircraft). As ATC turned me east to try again, I figured I had been stupid enough already, so I asked for the weather at Van Nuys. Fortunately, Van Nuys was clear, so I asked to divert IFR to VNY. I was given a heading of 360.

As I crossed from one valley to the other, the sky cleared again. I saw the airport and told ATC so, and I was cleared for a visual approach. Only in my confusion I didn't realize I was looking at Whiteman, not Van Nuys—the latter airport being hidden by a few clouds. I soon discovered my error and quietly made my way around the clouds, and then I could see Van Nuys clearly. As I descend and prepared to make a left base onto 16R, I was cleared to land. The landing went uneventfully under clear skies.

I taxied very nervously to the ramp and shut down, reflecting on the many mistakes I had made. Several factors caused this: (1) I had prepared for a VFR flight, not an IFR flight, both technically and psychologically; (2) I hadn't checked the weather at LAX adequately; and (3) I had forgotten that my Baron cannot land in zero-zero conditions or anything approaching those, even though it's equipped for IFR … and the visibility was really bad at LAX. There were other oversights, too, such as accepting an approach and landing behind an MD-80 on a parallel runway.

I'm sure I would have been more careful in real life, but would I have been careful enough? I don't know. I fly so often in good weather (mostly in SoCal and Arizona) that I have little experience in hard IMC, and hardly any experience with truly poor visibility at airports that rules out the kinds of instrument approaches that I can safely carry out in a small aircraft like the Baron. I need more IMC practice, and more discipline, as I am getting dangerously sloppy.

Thank goodness I had the fancy avionics that I did. My mistakes would probably have been fatal in one of my other, smaller aircraft with simpler instruments. The EFIS and TAWS displays on the Baron told me where I was even in zero visibility. They also told me, unfortunately, that I was drifting all over the place as I gave up my landing attempt, in part because of the wake turbulence I was struggling to deal with.

I might try to fly the Baron back to my original destination (LAX) when the weather improves.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Salt Lake City - Gillespie / Cessna Citation X (N726YL) / IFR

This afternoon I flew the return trip from KSLC. Again I filed the most direct route I could, specifically, EDETH1.BERYL V21 CRESO V538 TNP V208 JLI ROBNN. With the winds at KSEE when I filed, I expected I could make the RNAV 17 approach, whence the inclusion of ROBNN.

All went well on this flight, which I flew for maximum speed. The winds had changed by the time I reached SoCal, though, so ATC told me to expect a visual to 27R. On my way to ROBNN, ATC vectored me towards BARET, and then turned me in the direction of the field. It was a bit hectic for a while. Without vectors, it's a pain to change things in this aircraft; fiddling with the FMC can quickly become frustrating. But since I had vectors, I was saved; I was afraid I'd get direct BARET or something.

Because of the tediousness of setting up the ILS and the fact that I was cleared for a visual approach, I just ignored the needle, turned off the autopilot, and hand-flew the approach once ATC turned me towards the field. The approach and landing were very smooth—I guess I'm getting better. The air time was 85 minutes, just one minute longer than the trip out to KSLC. And the time from gate to gate was also just one minute more than the trip out.

All in all, a good exercise.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Gillespie - Salt Lake City / Cessna Citation X (N726YL) / IFR

Inspired by some family events, I decided to make a round trip in one of my Citations between Gillespie Field in El Cajon (San Diego) and Salt Lake City. Gillespie (KSEE) is a general-aviation airport that can accommodate bizjets; I had Scotty beam my Citation over to the airport.

I was mainly interested in how quickly the trip could be made by air. By car, it can take up to 16 hours or more to reach Salt Lake City from San Diego. I was confident that a Citation could beat that, but I wasn't sure by how much. Commercial flights take about an hour and fifty minutes to make the trip, but the Citation is a lot faster.

I filed the most direct route I could, and I had my preflight and most other things finished by the time my virtual relatives came out to the airplane. At 0006Z, they were aboard, and five minutes later we were airborne.

Things went quite well, except for the approach. The inbound localizer frequency for runway 35 (which I had requested because it is right next to several FBOs) had changed—I don't know when—and I only discovered this while trying to get established. After the flight, I updated the airport in MSFS, but during the flight I had to try to look up the old frequency in order to make my approach. I finally gave up and requested a visual approach, since the weather was fine.

Total elapsed time for the trip was 1:24. Air time was just 84 minutes. We burned 3722 pounds of jet fuel with just two people on board, so the total cost of the flight was a good $6000 or so, but that's the price you pay for speed.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Bishop - Imperial / Cessna Citation X (N726YL) / IFR

Trying to break out of routine, I flew from Eastern Sierra Regional Airport (KBIH) in Bishop, California, to Imperial County Airport (KIPL), near the southern shore of the Salton Sea. It's about 300 nm as the crow flies, but you can't really fly like a crow because of vast amounts of restricted airspace that get in the way. I took a slight western detour around the restricted stuff and the flight was about an hour.

It's good to get off the beaten path, for both me and ATC. ATC sees a constant stream of 13-year-olds flying into and out of LAX in this part of the country, and they probably get tired of seeing the same old arrivals and departures day after day. My flight was just a bit unusual, which broke things up, for all of us.

Bishop is a small airport and the runways are just barely long enough to allow a Citation to depart on a hot day. I prudently took off with flaps 15 and throttled up with my feet on the brakes just to be extra sure. As it was, we left the runway with plenty of length left over.

I was sloppy on this IFR flight. On the way up after takeoff, I realized that I really should have followed the obstacle departure for the airport, although weather was very clear so I wasn't really in any danger. The mountains nearby are potentially worrisome if visibility is limited. I messed up even more on the way into Imperial. The only published approach is a VOR/GPS circling approach, which got me all confused as I neared the airport. Fortunately, the weather was severe clear, so I canceled IFR as I got closer and just kinda sorta entered the pattern for runway 32, and landed successfully. There was no other traffic at the time so I got away with this.

Sunday, August 8, 2010


I've been terribly remiss in logging my flights. It's not that I'm not flying—I fly almost every day—but I've had trouble summoning the energy to actually log each and every flight. Many flights are routine, so there isn't a lot to say. I have the distinct feeling that if I actually piloted for real, I'd find putting things in my logbook to be terribly tedious as well.

Anyway, on an otherwise routine flight to Sky Harbor out of McCarran, in one of my Citations (N7446E), I actually ran across a thunderstorm, which is rare in the generally clear weather of the Great American Southwest. I had already seen reports of thunderstorm activity moving north during my preflight preparation, and on the ramp at McCarran (Signature, my favorite semi-virtual FBO), I had noticed storm clouds and a lot of lightning to the north, albeit well out of my intended path. But on the way to Phoenix, I came across some isolated thunderstorm activity, right down to the anvil-shaped cloud up ahead.

I started to feel some substantial turbulence while still far away from the storm. I negotiated some deviations from my route with ATC and detoured to the east for a while, watching the storm out the windows. Normally, the Citation X would have weather radar, but Eaglesoft's model doesn't simulate this (Wilco's does, but Wilco's model is undesirable in other ways). Not a bit deal, though, since I could see the clouds right outside.

After about ten minutes of flying well to the east of the bad weather, I eased my way back towards my filed route. Every time I felt the turbulence pick up, I backed off. Eventually I got around the storm.

Other than that, the flight was routine. No hail or icing or anything, as I gave the thunderstorm a wide berth. It did make the flight interesting.