Sunday, October 19, 2008

Phoenix - San Diego / Cessna 182RG II / VFR

This was an unusually long flight for me, but I like the route because I know it well from real life (in cars and planes). The scenery between Phoenix and San Diego is rather grim and boring, just empty desert for the most part, but since I know the area from the real world, it's interesting to spot the landmarks as I go. Microsoft Flight Simulator has rather Spartan scenery outside of airports, but the important stuff is retained, and if you squint it still looks uncannily like real life.

I left the blistering heat of Phoenix Sky Harbor via runway 8, followed by a left downwind departure to the west. I quickly found Interstate 10 (the Papago Freeway) and followed it out to the “crook in the road” that has an exit to Highway 85. I followed this south to Gila Bend (unlike most other pilots and ATC, I actually know how to pronounce the name of this sun-baked little hamlet), and then picked up Interstate 8. I followed that west at 4500 feet, past Dateland, through Yuma, through El Centro, and so on. All of these places are deadly dull in real life, and the trip in a car past all of them takes seven hours. In a Cessna it's 2.5 hours, which isn't bad. By commercial airline, it's 50 minutes—but that excludes the 3 hours lost at each end in the hellish environment of the airports.

Along the way, I saw a sort of conga line of Southwest flights heading east, all from and to the same airports. It was obvious that this was a party event for young males, wherein they all fly in a line from one spot to another and use the flying as a pretext for chatting. Unfortunately, they took some of their inane chat onto the frequency, to which I and a supervisor objected. There are private frequencies for pilots who cannot get through a flight without dreary small talk. They were on practically the same path as me, but ten times higher, so they weren't a factor for traffic.

Anyway, it was all pretty routine most of the way, and the weather was clear. I decided to stay at 4500 even west of Ocotillo. The weather was clear and I still have air beneath me, but I wouldn't have tried it in lower visibility or IFR (indeed, I couldn't do it legally IFR). I followed the highway as far as Pine Valley and then turned west towards BARET, carefully threading my way past terrain that at some points was higher than my own altitude. By this time I had called up ATC to get cleared into the San Diego Class B. Given instructions to call when the field was in sight and to remain at or below 4500, I proceeded to Barrett Lake and then turned towards Lindbergh Field.

There was other traffic on the way in, particularly another Cessna that was doing touch and go operations at Lindbergh Field (unthinkable in real life, but okay in simulation, where traffic is lighter). The Cessna seemed to be having some trouble following instructions. It landed ahead of me for a touch and go, but dawdled on the runway, and finally ATC had me go around, which was quite interesting because I hardly ever do go-arounds. I reentered a right pattern per ATC instructions, with the other Cessna somewhere behind me (I had overtaken him on my go-around). I was rather nervous about this other aircraft, given his trouble with instructions and his proximity to me, and given that he was behind me where I couldn't keep an eye on what he was doing. I had images of midair collisions running through my head. As I completed my downwind and turned to base, he was still messing around with the crosswind, so I figured he was out of the way. I had been cleared to land and I set down quickly (but extremely smoothly, which made me happy) and got clear of the runway as soon as I could.

From there I taxied to Jimsair and parked. By this time the sun had set.

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