Monday, September 29, 2008

Honolulu - Los Angeles / Boeing 767-300ER / IFR

I tried a flight from Honolulu to Los Angeles yesterday afternoon (Hawaii time), mirroring United Airlines Flight 82. However, since I had to get some sleep for work, I flew it offline and set the option to pause at top-of-descent on my Level-D 767. ETA at Los Angeles was 0418Z.

Something must have happened during the night; the aircraft never paused. At about 0438Z I woke up and returned to the flight deck, as my mysterious phantom relief pilots went back to the crew rest area. Unfortunately, I discovered that I was flying over New Mexico, just east of ABQ, with nearly empty tanks. When I took over the controls, the engines abruptly flamed out. For a while I considered trying to land at a nearby airport (remember the Gimli Glider?), but I didn't really have the time to try it, so I just ended the five-hour flight. Oh well. I don't know why the top-of-descent didn't work.

As a general rule, I don't like long flights. Sitting on the flight deck for hours at a time bores me, just as it would bore me in real life. I like flights where you spend a little bit of time in cruise and then you come back down. That's why I favor flights such as PHX-LAX, which is only an hour. There are quite a few regular airline flights on 737s that are in this category, but when you look for 1-hour flights on heavies, you look a long time before finding something, at least in the United States. This flight out of Honolulu was a 767, but it took five hours. Most of the 747 traffic involving the U.S. is overseas stuff and really long hauls, 7 hours and beyond. I've been known to fly a regularly scheduled Southwest flight in a 747 (which never happens in real life—Southwest doesn't have any 747s!) as a bizarre compromise.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Newark - Atlanta / Boeing 737-800 / IFR

At about 2330Z, I started preparing for my MITRE flight, Delta Airlines Flight 847. The MITRE event requires that I leave the field at 2354Z, so I figured this would give me time to get ready.

I entered the simple routing for the event in the FMC. No SID was specified. When I called for clearance, I got vectors for BIGGY, direct MOL, then as filed, maintaining 2500 initially and then FL340 in about ten minutes. I made the necessary adjustments and fixed things up. At about 2340Z, I pushed back with engine start, and shortly thereafter I was directed to taxi out to 4L for my departure. I must have timed things well, because I arrived at the hold point at exactly 2354Z, and I was cleared for take-off with no delay, flying heading 060.

Take-off was a bit busy because I couldn't switch directly to VNAV and LNAV. I used HDG SEL and LVL CHG to follow my initial instructions. Within a short time I was cleared to 14,000, then to FL340.

Unfortunately, ZDC was not online, which was a real disappointment for an event like this. ZNY turned me loose shortly before I reached cruise altitude. I noticed traffic at my 5 o'clock about twenty miles behind me. He leveled off at FL320 and I stopped at FL340, but he ended up being on the TCAS all the way to Atlanta, on essentially the same route. We were about 10 miles apart, both part of the event and expecting the CLEAN CDA arrival.

The trip through ZDC territory was uneventful. Once in a while the TCAS would call out the 747 behind me and below. Gradually it overtook me and ended up in front. We were both flying against a constant straight-on 30-knot headwind. I was glad that I had elected to load a couple thousand pounds of extra fuel on board.

Around JOINN I checked in with Atlanta Center. Typically on VATSIM there's only one frequency active per level of ATC, but for big events the staffing is closer to real life, and I wasn't really sure which frequency to pick. As it is, I got shuffled back and forth between two Center frequencies for a while. I was told to maintain FL340. From the documentation for the event, I knew to expect my descent clearance somewhere around BEBAD.

Sure enough, shortly after passing that waypoint and crossing AVERY, I was cleared to descend via the CLEAN1 arrival, that is, the FLCON3 with the CDA modifications. I let the FMC schedule the descent, and T/D was still about 60 nm ahead. I changed the descent speed to match my cruise speed, as I didn't want to speed up on the way down.

The descent started and the FMC pretty much kept the path right on the money without any help from me. We were a tad high over the first constraint (a few hundred feet), but the rest were respected. When I saw the path drift, I added a bit of spoilers to help out—this was especially true for combined altitude and speed constraints, although I had anticipated a bit and lowered my descent speed in advance, as I've just said.

I had to change frequencies a lot. That's pretty unusual on VATSIM and I'm still a bit clumsy at it, and I had to ask again for a handoff frequency on more than one occasion. Other than that, things went smoothly. I was assigned the ILS for 27L (as the event documentation predicted), and by the end of the long continuous descent I was right on the mark, both laterally and vertically, so I just switch to LOC and then APP and the transition was completely smooth. I was told to slow to 210 a bit early (as compared with the published procedure) and then maintain 180 to the outer marker, but that didn't present any problems. Normally I would have wanted around 210, anyway, had there been no constraint, but I would have been slower without the 180-knot constraint (in fact, I was approaching 160 when I was told to keep my speed up).

Arrivals were tight by VATSIM standards (albeit not by real-life standards). I had that same 747 right in front of me on the same runway. I was worried about wake turbulence, but since I was using VATSIM online weather instead of ActiveSky, wake turbulence was disabled—otherwise it might have been an issue with a heavy so close in front.

To be on the safe side, I configured for autoland—I didn't want to risk an accident that would hold up the event. Touchdown was fine but the aircraft wanted to veer right during the rollout, and I'm not sure why, as the winds weren't that bad. I slowed as quickly as I could and took a high-speed turn-off as promptly as possible to clear the runway. I was held there and beyond for a bit and eventually directed to Ramp 1.

Ramp control was a bit confusing, since I've never encountered a ramp controller before on VATSIM, and I didn't know exactly what to say (my studies haven't ever covered ramp control, either). This was compounded by the fact that the standard KATL scenery in MSFS is very vague beyond the taxiways, with no gate markings, no jetways, etc. After fumbling about for a bit in response to controller instructions, I finally found what looked like it might be a Delta gate, and stopped there.

So, mission accomplished! I was substantially late on arrival because of the intense headwinds I had experienced, but other than that, all went well. The CDA was no problem to fly, and the FMC handled it pretty much on its own. Best of all, it was great fun. At times I had around three dozen ATC frequencies active, with aircraft in front of and behind me with only 10 nm or so of separation, and lots of radio chatter.

It's a challenge to fly an airliner with one pilot. The workload gets heavy during departure and arrival. I managed to squeak by, though. I didn't have time to take any pictures.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Newark - Atlanta / Boeing 737-800 / IFR

This is my final practice flight before the MITRE event this evening for which I've signed up on VATSIM. It's a sort of dress rehearsal, I guess.

As I've previously mentioned, the purpose of the MITRE experiment is to evaluate Continuous Descent Arrivals (CDAs). My flight, Delta Flight 847, mirrors a real-world flight from Newark to Atlanta, except that it will arrive via a CDA (a standard FLCON3 arrived specially modified to match a CDA profile). The routing is simple: MOL.CLEAN.ATL (CLEAN is the specially modified CDA arrival). Cruise is at FL340 at 455 KTAS.

I flew my 737-800 (the PMDG model) over this route with relatively few problems. The VNAV of the FMC was very well behaved, keeping me pretty much on the mark for the various altitude and speed constraints on the arrival. The weather was very misty and cloudy, which reduced frame rates (heavy weather always imposes a hit on frame rates), but things still went well. I did not have to intervene in the descent to keep things on path.

Based on this, I don't expect any problems for the real deal this evening.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Big Bear City - Palm Springs / Beechcraft Baron 58 / VFR

I'm getting rusty in my Baron, so I took it out for a spin today, flying out of Big Bear City and landing at nearby Palm Springs.

I have a boatload of avionics in the Baron, so much so that it affects the frame rates, but the avionics suite that I have would make a real pilot's mouth water. I draw the line at full glass cockpits, though, mainly because I know way too much about the unreliability of software.

Thanks to my Sandel ST400, I was able to navigate my way out of Big Bear and away from the lake without consulting the sectional more than briefly. Coming into PSP was uneventful, except that ATC mysteriously directed me to make a left base for 13R when in fact I had 31R at my 3 o'clock. This was presently corrected and I landed without incident, although it was a rather hard landing, which proves that I've become rusty.

Frame rates were terrible, and I don't know why. Sometimes it's just like that.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Stalls 'n Spins

Today I went out to try some stalls and spins, in the busy Class B surrounding KSAN. This wasn't a problem because I did it offline.

Flight simulators (like most simulators) tend to favor the normal over the abnormal; that is, the most accurate simulation is the simulation of normal situations. Flight simulators handle normal flight best, and as you move away from normal flight regimes, the simulation becomes more questionable, although it still might be useful. That's the case when it comes to stalls and spins. I did some stalls and spins in my clunky little Cessna 182, and while it's probably moderately close to real life, I take it with a grain of salt.

Stalls seemed to work like they are supposed to work (based on what I've read—I've never piloted a real Cessna), as did spins. Supposedly these Cessnas recover from spins on their own if you just let go of the controls, and that's certainly true for the simulated versions. Whether the simulated recovery is exactly the same as the real recovery is a separate question.

Anyway, I did it mainly just for semi-serious practice. I don't normally stall my aircraft, and I certainly have no reason to spin them, so my interest was mainly academic.

I also did some T&Gs at KSAN (another advantage of simulation is that you can do these at huge, busy airports) and North Island, buzzed the Hotel Del and came within tens of feet of some buildings downtown as I flew among them, and so on. I'm usually not into this type of game-like flying, but it is occasionally relaxing. After a half hour or so, I had relaxed enough.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Newark - Atlanta / Boeing 737-800 / IFR

This evening (U.S. time) I made a test flight from Newark Liberty International to Atlanta. MITRE is planning another test with VATSIM this week, this time dealing with Continuous Descent Arrivals (CDAs). A CDA is an arrival during which an aircraft descends continuously from top-of-descent in cruise to the final approach to a runway, instead of changing altitudes and leveling off intermittently under ATC direction. CDAs are more fuel-efficient than standard arrival descent profiles.

MITRE has lots of pilots sign up for specific test flights during the test period. I selected a flight from Newark in a 737-800. The destination airport is Atlanta. Many of the flights are CDAs, using a special version of the FLCON3 STAR, but many others are crossing or other traffic, in order to see how well the CDA fits in.

I didn't have any trouble on the flight, which is rather long (by my standards) at 1:56. Sometimes the VNAV on the 737 (at least in PMDG's model) has trouble sticking to altitude constraints on a descent, but it seemed to follow them pretty closely here. If any trouble arises I can switch to V/S or LVL CHG, but it doesn't look like there will be any problem.

The CDA flights are supposed to land on 27L, so I requested that, even though it wasn't the active when I arrived. ATC was able to work me in, anyway.

I'll practice a few more times before the actual event.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Phoenix - Los Angeles / Boeing 737-800 / IFR

Duplicating Southwest Airlines Flight 701 this afternoon, I actually came in a bit later than the real flight; I'm not sure why. Everything went smoothly. I did notice that the real flight was moving along pretty well compared to the speed they filed for (440 kts over the ground, compared to 427 filed), whereas I was a bit slower; perhaps the winds aloft were different.

Anyway, I finally got into LAX. My gate was a lonely little gate, Gate 1 at Terminal 1, and after arriving I discovered that the real flight had changed to Gate 2 at the last minute. Oh well.

The weather was nice and clear, although it was ridiculously and intolerably hot in Phoenix and hotter than I like in Los Angeles (especially with all that humidity). Fortunately that part of the real world isn't simulated. In my apartment, the weather is just fine.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

San Diego - Phoenix / Boeing 737-800 / IFR

Duplicating Southwest Airlines Flight 1879, I left at the same time and arrived early. There's less traffic in the virtual world, which might be one reason for this.

My departure (POGGI2.IPL, same as the real thing) gave me a nice view of downtown San Diego out of the captain's side of the aircraft on the way out. Even in simulation, there are many recognizable landmarks, such as the Coronado bridge, the Hotel Del, North Island, Balboa Park, and so on. There was a layer of clouds in the way over the water but that cleared as we turned east.

Most of these flights have similar characteristics: about an hour in length, cruise between FL270 and FL290, at just under 440 KTAS, and so on. I tend to select max rate climbs so that I can tweak my airspeed to match the flight plan. Despite that, I always seem to arrive ahead of the real-world flight. I can only assume that traffic is one big difference, since the real skies are very crowded. I almost never have to wait in line on the taxiways, for example.

I daringly hand-flew the approach. I still had trouble drifting away from the centerline, but other than that I did okay. I knew where gate C12 was, so I didn't have to wander around Sky Harbor like a bum in my 737 looking for a place to park. I also managed to swing into the gate very nicely, all lined up and everything.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

San Diego - Las Vegas / Boeing 737-800 / IFR

Duplicating Southwest Airlines Flight 922, this 59-minute flight was pleasant and uneventful. The lights of Los Angeles and Las Vegas were pleasant to see. The original routing took me over LAX on the way to DAG, but ATC was kind enough to give me direct DAG (I note that the real flight didn't have the same luck).

After being cleared for the visual approach to 25L at LAS, I was asked at the last minute to switch to 25R, which I did. It gave me an excuse for more hand-flying. I did okay, although a crosswind caused me to drift off the centerline at just about the time I flared. The landing was pretty hard, too. Once again, I couldn't find the right gate (C19), so I stopped at the first C gate that looked free.

I'm still trying to find a source for gate maps that allow me to find my way to a gate after landing. It's kind of impractical to wander around in a big jet, burning precious (virtual) fuel, trying to read the signs to find one's assigned gate.

Phoenix - San Diego / Boeing 737-800 / IFR

Nice weather this evening (apart from the blistering heat in Phoenix and the oppressive humidity in San Diego) for a routine flight from KPHX to KSAN, duplicating Southwest Airlines Flight 319. We left and arrived at the same time … I'm getting better and better. And I managed the "suicide approach" at Lindbergh without too much trouble, mainly by setting V/S and putting that green arc right over the numbers at the field. I used the localizer to line up, and switched off the computers a couple of miles east of Balboa Park. The sunset looked nice as I landed shortly after the sun went down.

There was a ton of traffic in ZLA. I had to listen closely for my call sign. Lots of pilots, and huge variations in pilot competence. In heavy traffic, one inexperienced or slow-moving pilot can cause a lot of headaches. I try to read back instantly whenever I can, but sometimes pilots take five, ten seconds to read back or acknowledge and it makes you nervous knowing how many aircraft are waiting for instructions while the slowpoke gets around to responding.

ATC is a bit different in simulation from real life in several unusual ways. Usually there isn't much traffic, so the load on ATC should be light; but at the same time, when there is lots of traffic, the load on ATC can become very heavy, because a single controller on VATSIM may be handling several positions that would be separately staffed in real life. This means that, even if the total traffic in an area is relatively light compared to real life, if there's only a single controller handling it all, the controller (and the frequency) can become very busy.

Friday, September 19, 2008

San Diego - San Francisco / Boeing 737-800 / IFR

Flying as Southwest Airlines Flight 89, I made a quick trip from San Diego to San Francisco this afternoon (local time). As usual, it was a challenge to try to adjust my speed to match the real-world flight. The RW flight pushed back before I did, but took off after I did, which complicated things. For a while we had identical projected arrival times, then I was a bit early, then I became a bit late. However, we were within a couple minutes of each other.

I hand-flew the landing and did a reasonably good job. I had a very slight crosswind but that wasn't too difficult to deal with. I did have some trouble finding the gate: I knew which terminal it was, but reading the signs was hard, and I ended up finding an empty gate and parking there.

There was some general aviation traffic using the same runways, which made me a bit nervous, but there was ATC online so things worked out okay.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Las Vegas - Burbank / Boeing 737-800 / IFR

Another duplication of a real world flight, this time Southwest Airlines Flight 997—and another occasion where I messed things up.

At first the RW flight was delayed, then abruptly it departed almost on time, leaving me behind at the terminal at my (identical) gate in the sim. I rushed to push and taxi out, and finally got on my way from 25L. I hand-flew the departure for a couple of thousand feet, then let the computers take over. This was an online flight and ATC appeared shortly after my departure, so I checked in with Los Angeles Center and got a new squawk.

While I cruised along, I pulled out the charts for Burbank to see what awaited me exactly. The LYNXX8 arrival is unremarkable and easy to fly. However, it turns out that Burbank has an ILS only on runway 8, and ATC gave me vectors for runway 15. The weather was clear and I got a visual approach, but I had a hard time finding my way to the field after getting confused between Van Nuys and Bob Hope airports, and I had to make some rather … aggressive maneuvers to line up for 15. The landing was quite wild, although I and my passengers survived. The aircraft will be in the hangar for a while, with damage to the gear and a few other problems. I was able to taxi to the gate, however.

Once again, I discover how much practice I need with hand-flying large aircraft. One tends not to do it online, since messing up can interfere with other traffic. I guess I'll have to try it more often offline.

Los Angeles - Las Vegas / Boeing 737-800 / IFR

This flight duplicated Southwest Airlines flight 802, in real time. Both the real flight and mine were practically in lock-step from start to finish. I was quite pleased with that.

I had some problems on the flight, though. I decided to fly the LOOP4 by hand at least until LAX, but I got mixed up as I climbed out of the airport and had trouble maintaining a smooth climb and turn towards LAX. Once again, I need more practice hand-flying big iron. By the time I completed my turn, the LAX VOR was well behind me, and so I ended up heading for KEGGS (this was an offline flight, by the way). Once I got a reasonable climb things were better, but I still wasn't completely smooth until I was in cruise. Oh well. At least I didn't lose any time with respect to the real-world flight.

The rest of the flight was uneventful. I set the cost index in the FMC to slowpoke mode so that it would more closely track the real flight. I further dialed it down to 260 KIAS in cruise and descent just to make sure I matched the RW profile. It all worked out correctly, since we stayed synchronized. For a time it looked like I had gone too slow, so I took a shortcut past KEPEC, but then I flew the rest of the arrival and approach as published, and we touched down nearly at the same time.

I like this flight because it's short and sweet, and I get a nice view of Hoover Dam on the arrival as I swing out over Lake Mead for the approach. I don't know what the real-world flight did, since that level of detail isn't available on the Web.

I haven't been able to find Southwest livery for the 737-800 with winglets, so I settled for Boeing's Dreamliner house livery, which I also like, and I leased myself to the airline for this trip.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Big Bear - Hesperia / Cessna 182RG-II / VFR

This very short flight was supposed to be a routine exercise in pilotage, but it seems that I'm still not very good at navigating by visual landmarks alone.

I had drawn a course on the map that should have taken me past Arrowbear Lake and then over Lake Arrowhead and up to Hesperia. It all looked simple. On the sectional, at least, the valley I needed to follow to get to Hesperia directly seemed to stand out clearly. Things changed in the air, though.

I started out from Big Bear easily enough. Once I had crossed Big Bear Lake, however, I got confused about where to make my turn to the northwest, and I followed the valley all the way down out of the mountains. When I noticed that all the mountains seemed to be off to my right, and I recognized what had to be either Redlands or San Bernardino ahead of me, I turned to the northwest and tried to find a valley through which I could sneak north. I flew for miles along the foothills until I saw a nice deep valley, but as I tuned the Hector VOR I realized I was moving too far west, so I turned north and hopped over the mountains, hoping to see a lake on the other side.

I did indeed see a lake as I crossed the summits, but I realized it was Silverwood Lake, not Lake Arrowhead, and I was too far west. I turned northeast and flew (coincidentally) along V442 for a time, constantly scanning the land below, until I saw what looked like it probably might be Hesperia. I didn't see any other fields nearby and it was in about the right place, so I turned towards it and landed. Sure enough, it was Hesperia.

This should have been only a 20-minute flight, and I still got lost. I need more practice!

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Philipsburg - San Juan / Boeing 747-400 / IFR

I finally had time to make a short flight from Sint Maarten to Puerto Rico today. I took the 747-400 since I needed to remain current on that aircraft. Cloudy weather but no rain. It was a short flight and uneventful, so to make it interesting I flew the arrival and approach by hand. I'm still not very good at flying heavies by hand. I did manage to make a soft and proper landing, however, even though I slipped a bit below the glide path while still some miles out.

I find myself wishing for a small corporate jet that I could use to fly between smaller airports at higher speeds. Eaglesoft had been talking about a nice new Citation model but they seem to have abandoned that—and in any case I have no means of buying anything right now.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Pegasus Airpark / Gila Bend / Cessna 182RG-II / VFR

I continued from Pegasus Airpark under VFR across the barren, burning landscape of the Sonoran Desert, just south of Phoenix, to reach Gila Bend, a barren, burning town in the middle of that desert. There weren't many landmarks to look for for pilotage, so I made direct for Stanfield, then turned to a heading of 260 at 5 DME from TFD to go after the Gila Bend VOR. Like the previous flight, this was about 30 minutes in duration, and proceeded uneventually. I was able to hold my altitude quite precisely during this flight, despite thermals and what-not, which made me happy.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

San Carlos - Pegasus Airpark / Cessna 182RG-II / VFR

This brief flight was an exercise in pilotage. From San Carlos Airport (4AZ7) on the Apache Reservation, I followed Old San Carlos Road and then followed Route 70 to Globe, continued through Miami on Route 60 and followed that all the way to Superior. From there I continued over Route 60 to the "fork in the road" at Florence, where Route 60 turns northwest to become the Superstition Freeway and Highway 79 goes south. From there I went straight ahead on heading 234 roughly, based on the route I had planned on a chart, looking for radial 291 from PXR. Sure enough, when I reached that radial, I had Pegasus Airpark in sight. Everything went very well, and I was never higher than 3000 feet AGL. I did file a flight plan, though, just in case.

Wickenburg - Pilot's Rest / Cessna 182RG-II / VFR

Just a short flight from Wickenburg (where I landed last night) to a very tiny gravel airstrip called Pilot's Rest, near Paulden (northwest of Prescott, Arizona). I stayed close to the ground and flew inbound to the Drake VOR, then back outbound to this little airstrip, which, for some reason, appeals to me (I think it's the name). I didn't bother to file a flight plan for this flight.

I'm getting better at holding an altitude in this Cessna (which does not have altitude hold in the autopilot).

Phoenix - Wickenburg / Cessna 182RG-II / VFR

The extreme slowness of my Internet connection this past week has interfered with my flying, but I decided to fly a little bit this evening, anyway.

I was contemplating a complex trip through congested SoCal airspace, but several of the fields along the way were IFR, so I settled for a quick trip to Wickenburg, northwest of Phoenix. I took a right crosswind departure from runway 26 at PHX and joined the 306 radial from PXR, and at 49 DME I turned to 220 and made my way into Wickenburg visually. All went well, nothing special to report. A quick and pleasant flight.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Phoenix - Las Vegas / Boeing 737-800 / IFR

I managed to exactly duplicate Southwest Flight 1383 today, from PHX to LAS. As usual, I was a bit ahead of the real flight, but we took off and landed within two or three minutes of each other.

The weather was clear and hot, as usual. I'm glad I don't have to endure those temperatures for real. As usual, I got to see Hoover Dam on the way into Las Vegas. They look so close together from the air, but they aren't nearly so close by car. Of course, mountains get in the way in a car.

Nothing unusual to report on this flight. I tweaked my speed continually in order to try to stay even with the real-world flight. The FMS performed well on the descent. Somehow I got a full fuel load before leaving Phoenix and ended up having to switch to the center tank to try and get it down a bit before landing. I'll have to check my preconfigured flight to make sure it doesn't have too much fuel on board; I scarcely need a full load of fuel for any of the places I fly to.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Denver - Aspen / Cessna 182RG-II / VFR

I decided to tackle the challenge of flying out to Aspen in the Cessna 182, which has only the basic necessities for instrument flight. I set out in the evening from Denver, following the same route I had flown in the Baron a few days earlier.

My route was simple: the 254 radial out from Mile High, then intercept the 228 radial in to Red Table (at DOBEE, if I had RNAV), otherwise known as V356. I navgiated mostly by staying on this airway, but I also kept an eye on the ground to see if the expected landmarks were there; fortunately, they were.

It was also fortunate that the weather was clear below my aircraft for most of the way, although there was a cloud deck above me. There were occasional shifts in the wind, and updrafts and downdrafts, but not much turbulence per se. Leaving Denver there had been a great deal of cloud and lighting, but after flying illegally through it for a time, I enter clear air as I approached the mountains.

I preferred speed to climb rate, and so I climbed only very slowly to 16,500 feet, while maintaining about 105 KIAS. By the time I got to that altitude, I was only 24 miles away from Red Table. It was getting really dark and I didn't like the thought of being over the mountains in complete darkness. As I approached Red Table Mountain, I kept looking for the highway (State 82) to Aspen or the field itself, and finally I saw the airport at about my 10 o'clock position. Anxious to get out of the air in the deepening darkness, I turned south about 5 miles east of Red Table, and started my descent as I passed over Ruedi Reservoir, finally turning towards the airport as all of the highway became visible (meaning that I no longer had mountains in the way, which were getting harder and harder to see).

My descent into the airport was swift but safe and above the glide path, and very slow. The landing was a bit bumpy but I made it. By the time I parked on the ramp it was practically nighttime.

New Orleans - Baton Rouge / Cessna 182RG-II / VFR

This flight didn't turn out so well. It was a simple daytime VFR flight in my clunky Cessna 182, only about 70 nm. Unfortunately I still managed to get lost.

The departure went like clockwork. New Orleans was crowded. It took a while for me to get my clearance into the Bravo and taxi instructions, and then I waited a while to cross the active runway, and was directed to follow an airliner to the threshold of runway 28. Everything went smoothly. My route was direct RQR and then RQR321 for 30 nm, at which point I'd turn roughly to heading 220 to make my way to Baton Rouge for about 7 nm.

The problems started as I approached the Class C airspace of KBTR. I contacted ATC as I closed in on the Charlie airspace, but the controller seemed surprised by my call (I don't know why—as a VFR flight I'm required to contact him before I enter the Class C). He was chatting and goofing off a lot on frequency, which didn't inspire me with confidence. This also distracted me, and I lost my situational awareness, which is a bad thing.

I continued on roughly 220, weaving back and forth, looking for KBTR. I kept glancing at my TAC, when I could, to try to find the airport. The chart showed it being near a sharp bend in the Mississippi River. What I didn't know or notice is that there are zillions of sharp bends in the river, and the one I thought was the bend I saw on the chart was in fact downriver from the one on the chart. I searched and searched for the airport, but couldn't find it. Finally I saw runway lights a few miles away, and although the airport looked smaller than it was on the chart, I didn't see any other airport, and it seemed to be in the right place. By the time I got down and aligned with the field, I knew it wasn't Baton Rouge, or anywhere near it, but I figured I'd cut my losses and land, rather than wander around for another hour looking for the right airport.

Landing was without incident, apart from me fuming over my incompetence. After landing I looked at the GPS, and found that I was at Louisiana Regional Airport (L38). Grr.

Why didn't I use the GPS from the start, you ask? Because I normally reserve the Cessna 182 for pilotage and simple navigation, which means eschewing the moving-map navigation of the GPS. Just VORs or NDBs and looking out the window. But I didn't know the area, and I didn't look closely enough, and I ended up in the wrong place. Louisiana Regional is about 25 nm southeast of Baton Rouge.

I must learn not to be so careless. Next time there might not be another handy airport at which to land.