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.