Sunday, November 30, 2008

Eugene - Seattle / Boeing 747-400 (QXE280) / IFR

I decided to duplicate the flight I took last night in the Baron in one of my 747-400s. Unlike the smaller aircraft, I often teleport the 747s to specific airports because I often use them to mirror real-world commercial flights. In this case I called myself QXE280 (Horizon Air Flight 280), which really does serve this route, although the airline has no 747s and doesn't operate this flight at the time I did. Mainly it was just easier to use that for a call sign than to use the tail number of the aircraft, which was N705ML.

Anyway, the flight went pretty smoothly, although I'm rusty on the 747 (it doesn't take long to get rusty). I used the same route as the real-world flight, and the same altitude (FL240). The 747 climbed marvelously well in the cool air; at times I was climbing in excess of 6000 fpm (the aircraft is lightly loaded most of the time).

During much of the flight I could only see mist outside the windows, except in cruise during which I was above the cloud layers. For a long time during the approach (to 16C at KSEA) I couldn't see much of anything. Eventually I could see things below through breaks in the clouds, including the buildings in downtown Seattle, but I couldn't see the airport clearly for quite a while. Eventually the field and runway were in sight, and I switched off the automation before I reached minimums and flew to a very nice landing by hand, although I touched down beyond the numbers.

Eugene - Seattle / Beechcraft Baron 58 (N2751W) / IFR

This was a longer-than-usual trip in a new Baron that I had delivered to Eugene (Mahlon Sweet) in Oregon. The weather being what it usually is in this part of the country, I filed IFR for Seattle. The straightest path had irritatingly high MEAs, so I chose a route slightly over to the west (V287, especially between BTG and OLM), and managed to fly it all at 6000.

Departure from Eugene was unremarkable. Lots of clouds and mist right from the beginning—dodging it all VFR would have been quite a chore, even though the weather was technically above minimums. With the temperature and moisture, I had all the anti-icing stuff turned on, just to be safe, and I had no problems with icing.

Things were uneventful for most of the trip. I was handed from Center to Approach and back again over Portland. After Olympia ATC switched me to vectors and sent me north. There was quite a bit of traffic, most of it big iron, and I was vectored around for a fair amount of time before ATC could slot me in for landing. Everything was landing on 16L, in part because very few pilots had the new 16R (although I did). I got 16L, too.

After circling around a bit under ATC control, there was finally a space for me and I was cleared for the ILS 16L approach. I had trouble getting the autopilot to take hold on the glide slope, and after fiddling with it for a bit I gave up and turned the AP off, flying the ILS myself. I did a pretty good job. I had more trouble with the glide slope than with the localizer, as usual. Landing was extremely smooth, though. ATC had warned of poor braking action on the runway, and sure enough, my rollout was quite long (though still no big deal in comparison to the runway length). In part it was just wet, but in part I didn't want to risk standing on the brakes, either—there was plenty of runway, so why rush? I did have traffic behind me, though, so I applied the brakes a bit more assertively as I slowed and finally cleared the runway.

I haven't yet tried the new 16R ILS. I'll have to test that out (offline). I fixed it up myself by modifying the default scenery.

Falcon Field - Phoenix - Sedona / Cessna 182RG II (N7049S) / VFR

I shuttled this aircraft back to Phoenix in a very short, uneventful flight, then parked over at Cutter Aviation for a while. Later, I fired it back up after filing VFR for Sedona, and made an uneventful departure from Sky Harbor.

I've been back and forth between Phoenix and Sedona many times. It sure is a lot easier during the day. It was misty above me but clear below. I climbed to 4500 to stay below the Class B as I turned towards Bartlett Lake, then up to 6500, where I remained for the rest of the flight. As long as you stay in the Verde River valley, 6500 is plenty. One of the disadvantages of filing IFR for this flight is that you get stuck with these really high MEAs, which require that I break out the oxygen to be on the safe side (sometimes even for my passengers), and require long climbs and descents that are bothersome in a small Cessna. Still, at nighttime, I'd be a lot higher, and perhaps IFR, anyway.

It was really windy as I closed in on Sedona, and it got pretty bumpy during the approach. I managed to land smoothly, however.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Los Angeles - Van Nuys / Cessna 182RG II (N7167V) / VFR

Another quick flight to move one of my SoCal Cessnas to Van Nuys.

This was also a very short flight, but the weather wasn't nearly as clear—just barely above VFR minimums in a few patches. I flew the TEC route, which is simply LAX316R.SILEX. I had to figure out where SILEX was with the charts (18 DME, if you need to know).

Unfortunately, I got a private message while flying, asking about the runways in use at LAX (this was after midnight, with LAX in “suicide ops.” While I tried to answer this, I neglected my navigation (I was almost over SILEX) and messed things up badly. It took a while for me to get back on track, and by then I was only 5 miles from KVNY. I descended recklessly (fortunately I know the terrain a bit), and squeaked into the pattern. For a short period I was in mist at 4500, but it cleared as I descended. I finally turned to 340 then to 070, anticipating the field, which I soon spotted. I tuned the ILS just to be double-sure, but the weather was pretty clear above the field and I was able to land with no problems. And I did stay on the needles quite well, and the landing was very smooth.

I dislike chatting while flying. It takes your mind off important tasks, and that's dangerous.

Phoenix - Falcon Field / Cessna 182RG II (N7049S) / VFR

This was a very tiny flight just to move my Cessna from Sky Harbor to a satellite airport outside the Class B.

It was a very clear night and it's easy to see Falcon Field from Phoenix at altitude, but just to be sure, I tuned my ADF to the Falcon Field NDB.

I was cleared into the Class B and directed to runway 26 (I was parked on the GA ramp on the northwest corner of the field). I made a right downwind departure and went up to 3500 (I was cleared for 5000 or below).

Landing was easy and without incident.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Gila Bend - Phoenix / Cessna 182RG II (N7049S) / VFR

Just a quick flight to Phoenix. The weather was cloudy with rain predicted, which seems to be strangely common lately in Phoenix (the city is in a desert so any rain at all is normally very exceptional). I profited from the unusual weather to make the flight. In other respects it was unremarkable, however, and this is a route that I know very well. Landed without incident on runway 8 and parked under one of those ramadas on the northwest GA ramp.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Portland - Seattle / Cessna 182RG II (N7109V) / IFR

The weather had deteriorated after a while in Portland, so I decided to file IFR for the flight back to Seattle. I simply filed PDX.BTG.OLM.CARRO.SEA at 6000.

It was really cloudy and misty and I couldn't see much of anything most of the way. There was some turbulence in the clouds but not a lot. I had no trouble maintaining altitude (I'm getting better and better at that).

Seattle Approach materialized along the way, so I checked in early and told them to give me a call when I was on their turf. After I crossed OLM Approach put me on a heading of 070 and kept me at 6000. This lasted an unusually long time while they dealt with other traffic. By the time I was turned towards the field, I was almost on top of the localizer and still at 6000, just near the Space Needle (I had clouds around me but it was clear below, so I could see downtown, albeit not all the way to KSEA). I had to scramble to get down to 3000, and as I was doing that I blew through the localizer, so ATC turned me around and set me back on the path. By that time I was at 1500, ATC sent me back up to 2000. I got the localizer and coasted in slowly, finally getting the glide slope as well, and by then I had the airport in sight and I was cleared to land on 16L.

I was very good on the needles this time, they were well centered for most of the approach. Touchdown was extremely smooth. I left the runway in a hurry because I heard traffic being brought in behind me. I parked in the rain on the GA ramp.

On the way in, heading 340 at 6000, some other aircraft that sounded like he was pretty close had to follow an RA. I found myself wondering if I was the traffic that triggered it. Since I don't have TCAS on the Cessna, I don't know. I didn't see anything outside, but visibility was terrible. I almost expected to see a 767 surge out of the mist at any second, but nothing happened. Thank goodness he had TCAS, at least.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Swanson - Portland / Cessna 182RG II (N7109V) / VFR

It's not a lot of fun to fly with a migraine, but it's possible. I'm lucky in that I never get the kind of migraines that make a person vomit or anything like that, but they are severe enough to be preoccupying, and they can make me queasy if I'm not the person driving (or piloting). Nevertheless, I thought a nice little VFR flight would take my mind off it, so I fired up the Cessna I had parked at Swanson (Eatonville), and flew it to Portland.

Conditions were just barely legal for VFR. I had originally planned to join V495 direct to BTG, but there were so many clouds in the way that I had to veer way west. I tried my filed altitude of 7500, then 9500, and still there were clouds in the way, so ultimately I went back down to 3500, and that was below the cloud deck and I could safely fly there, although it was a bit misty.

Eventually I came across the Columbia River, and I decided to just follow that to Portland at around 2300 feet. That also lined me up fairly nicely for runway 10L. Portland itself was clear with winds calm, and landing was without incident.

I had the airplane loaded with just me and some stuff in the back, and it kept wanting to turn left in consequence. I'm going to go back to my practice of loading water ballast in the back to compensate for myself when I'm flying alone, so I don't have to constantly steer to the right. The Cessna doesn't have aileron trim, and rudder trim doesn't quite fit the bill. With the autopilot on it doesn't matter much, but I get tired of holding the yoke to one side when flying by hand. It's easier to just try to get the aircraft balanced in the first place. Of course, hauling ballast means using a tiny bit more fuel, but fuel is cheap in the virtual world.

I was also cutting things close by filing VFR in this part of the country. Terrain is low around here (if you stay west of the mountains) and MEAs aren't too terrible, so maybe I'll just file IFR next time so I don't have to dodge the omnipresent clouds.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Santa Barbara - Los Angeles / Cessna 182RG II (N7167V) / IFR

SoCal was busy this evening, so I decided to make a quick trip down to Los Angeles with the Cessna I had parked in Santa Barbara. Because of the misty weather (KSBA itself was IFR), I decided to file IFR, even though this small Cessna is a handful when you are flying alone at night IFR. It would be a challenge.

I dutifully filed a TEC route for the flight, SBAM10. Because the Cessna has no moving-map GPS or anything that recognizes waypoints, however, I filed the waypoints as direction and distance from VORs, e.g., RZS119018 instead of KWANG. I figured this would make it clear to ATC that I didn't have a fancy moving-map screen on the aircraft. However, it turned out to puzzle ATC, which doesn't have a lot of experience with general aviation and especially this type of IFR, since most pilots fly big iron. I was asked if I could accept a route that was identical to what I had filed, except that it had waypoint names instead of radials and DMEs. I pointed this out to ATC and was cleared as filed.

The weather was actually better at KSBA than the METAR had said, but there was still a lot of fog and low clouds, so the decision to go IFR still made sense. I departed from runway 7 and was giving a heading of 100 to follow for a while, with my filed altitude of 5000. After the handoff from the local SoCal Approach to Center, I was given a climb to 8000 and direct VTU, then my own navigation.

I was told to cross VTU at 5000 and effectively depart VTU on V107 direct to SMO. This sounded odd, so I looked at the chart, and sure enough, V107 doesn't pass through VTU. I had filed V299 to SADDE (not given by name, though), and then V107 to SMO. However, Center was busy and it all boiled down to practically the same thing, so I just flew V299 anyway to get to V107.

I was told to depart SMO on 070, which I did, and shortly thereafter I got 3000 at my discretion. SoCal Approach kept me drifting east almost to downtown Los Angeles while it handled other traffic. Then I started getting vectors to turn me south. Ultimately I was cleared for the ILS runway 24R approach and descended to 2500. It all went pretty smoothly.

I flew the ILS by hand. I've learned the value of a slow, stable approach and I kept fiddling with throttle and trim to get myself on the glide path at a nice, slow speed. I was better at centering on the localizer than on staying on the glide path, but I did pretty well on both. After JETSA I was handed off to LAX Tower and was immediately cleared to land.

The landing was very smooth, on that huge runway, and I was given taxi instructions to my parking place, a popular FBO on the south side of the field. Too bad I had no passengers on this flight to impress with my flying skills.

Next time, though, I might just file the waypoints to avoid confusing ATC, even if I don't actually have a GPS for navigation. Using VORs is plenty close enough.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Desert Rock - Rialto / Beechcraft Baron 58 (N2735W) / VFR

I thought I had this flight well planned, but I messed up again, although not in too serious a way.

The objective was a nighttime VFR flight from Desert Rock to Rialto in SoCal. In the Baron, this takes about an hour. The problem is that this part of the U.S. is filled with pesky restricted areas and high mountains. Just to the south of Desert Rock, the Spring Mountains rise to more than 11,000 feet—uncomfortably high for me in the Baron because of the need for oxygen (I always have oxygen on board, but it's still a pain to have to use it, and it spooks passengers). Between me and my destination there are alternating low valleys and high mountains, and as if this weren't bad enough, many possible paths are blocked by restricted airspace and seemingly ubiquitous MOAs. If it's not restricted, it's chock full of high mountain peaks, and vice versa. So finding a usable route through all this is difficult.

Ultimately I worked out a route that took me south from Desert Rock over relatively low terrain (I planned an altitude of 8500), down past Shoshone, where I'd intercept the 292 radial from GFS at 66 DME, and then turn to intercept the 259 radial at 44 DME. If you're familiar with the area, you can already see my mistake. Anyway, from there I would continue to DAG, then on V210 to HESPE, then through Cajon Pass and down to Rialto.

As I worked my way south on the first segment of my route, I gradually realized my mistake. For some unfathomable reason, nothing on the charts (as far as I know) indicates the service areas of VOR stations—and it turns out that GFS is a low-level VOR. So I'm flying along and along, with one VOR tuned to GFS, and I'm still not picking it up, and I'm already over Shoshone. Finally I look up the particulars for GFS and discover that it's a low-altitude VOR. Drat! My Grand Plan is in danger.

Fortunately, the Baron has a boatload (or should I say a planeload) of fancy avionics, and I'm hardly limited to flying by VORs alone. But I had decided before this flight to just use VORs for practice; now I had to “cheat” slightly and resort to other instruments. The Sandel ST3400 protected me from terrain, so that was no problem. The SN3800 allowed me to navigate without having to care about VORs. After stumbling a bit back and forth, I finally used the HSI to estimate my crossing of the appropriate radial and used that to guide me more or less along my original route. Ultimately I picked up DAG and headed for that.

The rest of the flight went fairly smoothly. The weather was good. I had flown through the Shoshone and Silver North MOAs, but I did check those in advance and they were cold.

I just wish there were some easy way to see what coverage a VOR has from the charts. It's a pain to have to look them all up. I also understand now why all roads in this area seem to pass through either DAG or HEC: they are very hard to avoid when you have so much restricted airspace and mountains about.

My landing was good, even though it required quite a descent, with me coming in at 8500 and the field being at 1455. I started the descent over Cajon Pass and then did an extended downwind and a short base into the field. It was nighttime but I could see Interstate 15 below me snaking through the pass, and I also had the ST3400 to tell me where terrain threatened (plus the charts). This pass is the only convenient spot to sneak directly into the Los Angeles basin; it's either here or way out west towards Agua Dulce.

Las Vegas - Perkins - Echo Bay - Desert Rock / Beechcraft Baron 58 (N2735W) / VFR

Just a few practice flights around Las Vegas, without passengers.

My first leg was out to Perkins, a tiny airport near Lake Mead. Once again I had to make a speedy descent and didn't land very elegantly, although my touchdown speed was good and nothing broke. After that, I made a quick hop to Echo Bay, just south of Perkins and also right next to the lake. That went much better, with a very nice touchdown. These tiny runways are deceiving (just like the books warn): you think you're a lot higher than you are. Just the opposite of the huge runways at big airports, which seem to be right beneath you when you're still 200 feet up.

From Echo Bay, at sunset, I set out to Desert Rock, in an unrestricted part of the Nellis range (right near Mercury). I flew down to MEADS, then west into the Class B, following the Cortez transition route to get up to highway 95, which I then followed (on the left side) up to Indian Springs and then Desert Rock. Most of this was at 4500, except for a brief portion at 5000 as I neared KDRA, due to rising terrain.

Although the GPS could have done all of this, I chose to navigate laterally by hand (I let the AP handle altitude). As usual, I plotted out my course on charts first. I picked a heading out of Echo Bay that would take me directly to MEADS, at which point I intercepted and turned west on the 066 radial from LAS. I followed that in to 14 DME, at which point I turned to heading 268 to pass over the El Cortez hotel on the transition route. The hotel was hard to spot but I knew that LAS315005 was the spot, and when I got there I turned up towards highway 95, which was still on the transition route and also towards my destination. Thereafter I followed the highway all the way to Desert Rock, taking care to always keep the highway on my right (which kept me out of restricted airspace). I tuned the ADF to the Mercury NDB for good measure.

The descent into Desert Rock was a bit steep and messy but touchdown was fine. There are some runway lights (which fortunately were on when I approached), but nothing else except a tower. It was almost completely dark by the time I pulled onto the ramp.

I had ATC available all the way. LAS Approach cleared me through the Class B transition. I tried to contact LAX Center to establish communication before passing through the Indian Springs Class D, but it never answered me, and within a few minutes I had passed through the Class D, anyway. At least I did my duty.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Sedona - Las Vegas / Beechcraft Baron 58 (N2735W) / VFR

Today the weather was very nice, and I decided to take myself and some virtual friends to Lost Wages. Given the weather and my desire to avoid high altitudes, I decided to fly VFR. With VFR I could make the entire trip at 8500, instead of 10000+ (for MEAs).

I fixed up a route of DRK063035.DRK290022.V105.LAS, which is pretty direct. The flight would require about an hour in the Baron. On this flight, I found it easier to navigate by hand than to enter waypoints into the GPS and let the GPS do it. I just set my course to 261 after departing from Sedona, and continued to intercept the 290 radial out of DRK, at which point I turned onto V105, which is on that radial. Then it was mostly a straight line all the way to Boulder City, all on V105. With winds from the west, I turned north after Boulder and then west towards Las Vegas.

Everything went very smoothly, until it came time for my approach. It is my habit to set the ILS frequency for a runway in all cases, even when flying VFR, just to be on the safe side, and today was no exception. Unfortunately, I fell prey thereafter to the “simmer's disease” of staring at instruments instead of looking out the window. The weather was extremely clear and I could easily look to my left and see the runways at KLAS, but instead I was staring at the HSI, waiting for the needles to line up. Somehow I blew through the localizer (they probably swept past the centerline very quickly when I was looking at charts or something), and next thing I know, I'm abeam the north end of the Strip, far from the centerline of my chosen 25L. So I screech around the other way to make a right base for 25L, but now I have to descend abruptly (déjà vu from last night), and again I overshoot and end up dangerously below the glide slope. So I squeak back up and just barely slide in, with the runway approach lights scraping rubber from my tires (not really!). Another hard landing, but I made it okay. I taxied over to Signature, where I'll have the aircraft examined with a fine-tooth comb.

I was distracted late in the flight by another problem, too. Glancing at the fuel gauges, I noticed that the right tank had 12 gallons less than the left tank. The difference could not be accounted for by engine consumption, so I started to suspect a leak. But as I kept an eye on it, I noticed that the difference between the tanks stayed constant as the total fuel diminished, which leads me to believe that the right tank was never properly topped off. I should have caught that during my preflight, but I didn't. Another stupid mistake. A fuel leak is a possibility, but in that case the gap between the tanks would increase over time, not remain constant.

Anyway, I'm going to whip the aircraft into shape before the next flight, and try to do the same to myself, as I seem to be lacking in discipline lately. I need to get back up to speed on the Baron, too, as the slowpoke Cessna has made me careless.

Phoenix - Sedona / Beechcraft Baron 58 (N2735W) / IFR

This evening there was a “Friday Night Ops” event in ZAB, so I decided to fly one of my Barons from Phoenix up to Sedona. I was born in Phoenix, so I know the area well, and I know this route well (however, experience has taught me that this is no excuse to cut corners). It was already nighttime, alas! But it was still enjoyable. During events like this, a full complement of ATC is online, which greatly enhances realism.

Because the mountainous terrain can be tricky on the way up to Sedona at night, and because I had lots of ATC, I chose to file IFR for the flight, at 8000 (the MEA is actually 8100, so I guess I was cheating a bit, but I was cleared for it). I was sent out to runway 8 from the GA ramp on the northwest corner of Sky Harbor (I like to park under the ramadas there), and held short while I watched two airliners land on 8 and on (I think) 7L. I saw airliners taxiing past me while I was parked on the ramp, too. It's nice to see so much traffic on VATSIM.

Anyway, after the 737 landed, I was told to position and hold for a few minutes. I was then cleared to take off with an initial heading of 070 (I had filed PXR.RADOM). My initial altitude was 7000 but I was cleared to my filed altitude of 8000 as I made my turn, and then direct RADOM followed by my own navigation.

Weather was good but hot, still around 24 degrees (Celsius) at Sky Harbor, which is about 12 degrees too much for me. Weather at Sedona was 6 degrees and crystal clear. I stayed at 8000 for a while, but requested and got 10000 as I approached Pine Mountain, just to be safe (even though the mountain tops out at less than 7000). I stayed at 10000 thereafter, which probably wasn't a good idea.

At EXUTY I was still at 10000 (the GPS approach says 8000 or above), which meant I had ten miles to lose 5200 feet of altitude, at 186 knots. As I turned to LYRIT I could easily see the feel, so I advised ATC, was cleared for a visual approach, and then I canceled IFR. Then I tried to make a very speedy descent to the glide slope (field elevation is 4800). I overshot and went below the glide slope, which is a bad thing in these parts. I had a brief moment of serious anxiety when the PAPI abruptly blinked out on the approach—meaning that something was between me and the lights—and I couldn't remember any high terrain on this side of the field, since it's on top of a mesa and there's a big drop-off at this end. I scampered back up to the glide slope, and by then I was roaring into the field, too fast because of my quick descent, and with an excessive rate of descent.

I flared aggressively as I passed over the threshold, but it was still quite a hard landing. So I taxied to the ramp kicking myself for starting too high over EXUTY and not being in a good, stabilized approach for landing. The Baron is faster and slipperier than the Cessna 182; I must be getting rusty after all that easy Cessna flight. I didn't want to take a Cessna on this trip, though.

Anyway, I taxied to the ramp a bit frustrated. I must do better next time.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Paris - Nice / Boeing 747-400 (N706ML) / IFR

I haven't been able to fly all week. My opportunity to fly today occurs during nighttime in the U.S., and I'm tired of flying at night, so I decided to fly one of my 747s from Paris to Nice, France. It's a one-hour flight, somewhat like Phoenix-Los Angeles.

Flying outside the U.S. is frustrating because documentation is scarce. You can find all the data you need to plan a flight online for the U.S., but for other countries it's really difficult, either because they still are ruled by military dictators and/or consider everything having to do with aviation to be a state secret, or they are simply thirty years behind the times with respect to cyberspace. For France, it's mostly the latter.

I have two sources for flight plans for Europe: SimRoutes and Euroutes. Both are maintained by volunteer simmers, as opposed to official sources (unlike some U.S. sites, which actually show the filed flight plans). However, it's very difficult to find charts for Europe, so I resort to these hobbyist sites to get a usable flight plan, so that I can fly IFR (flying VFR is very difficult and also very poorly documented, and some airports won't accept VFR traffic at all in Europe).

I also had to semi-guess on the SID and STAR, since looking these up is fiendishly difficult for Europe as well. You don't file a STAR and SID, you wait to be assigned one, and there is often a separate procedure for each runway/transition combination. Since there was no ATC online, I entered a SID that seemed to be right on the ground, and a STAR for Nice in the air that also appeared to be right. I filed LATRI UM133 LERGA UY30 AMFOU based on SimRoutes, at FL370 and 470 KTAS.

There's a lot of other European weirdness. Every country changes the rules. Transition altitudes and levels change not only by country, but even by airport. I used 4000 for both on my flight, which is probably right (it's not as if I could just look it up on AirNav).

Anyway, I finally got it all entered into the FMC, at gate A38 at Charles de Gaulle, and pushed and started, planning on 26R under rainy skies (just as in real life—which I knew for sure, because I live in the city). There was no ATC online, which is just as well because their English is sometimes mediocre. I taxied out to 26R via Romeo in my lovely 747-400, and departed without incident.

The flight itself was unremarkable. It was nice to get above the clouds and see some sunlight, and weather improved considerably on the way down to Nice. A lot of turbulence afflicted my flight on the way into Nice, however, as we approached the coast over the hills to the west in expectation of 04L. My lovely 747-400 flew wonderfully well, although the STAR I selected had me flying way out into the boonies with a hold over the Med, and it just looked really weird (a lot of European procedures look really weird, and I have no plates). I ended up chopping out all the bizarre waypoints and making direct for the extended centerline and the ILS, although a weird loop in the route persisted, so I switched to HDG SEL after AMFOU and made for the localizer centerline that way, descending ultimately to 2000.

While still ten miles out or so, I shut off the robots and decided to fly by hand. Amazingly, I did a pretty good job. And the ILS seemed curiously misaligned (might be a problem with the scenery in MSFS), so it's just as well that I flew a visual approach. Touchdown was flawless, which also amazed me.

I still prefer to fly in the U.S., where the rules are consistent everywhere (except in paranoid areas like D.C.), and you can find documentation for everything, and you can decide on an easy-to-remember SID and STAR at the time you file.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Various flights

I flew a lot this weekend and I don't recall exactly all the flights I made. The last one I've retained is a flight in one of my Barons to Cleveland, in rather difficult IMC. I managed to avoid icing but visibility was effectively nil for more than half the trip. Fortunately, my Barons are so heavily loaded with first-class avionics that flying in zero visibility is relatively easy, so I still made it to Cleveland safely (and by Cleveland the weather had let up slightly, so runway visibility was not a problem).

The other flights were in Cessnas, but I made so many tiny little flights that I don't quite recall all the places I went.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

San Diego - Phoenix / Boeing 747-400 (N705ML) / IFR

Time to brush up on the wonderful 747-400, always a pleasure to fly. I made a short trip from San Diego to Phoenix on one of my private 747-400s, which required just about exactly 1 hour.

As it happens, 747s are unusual at KSAN, because the runway length and obstacles around the airport place restrictions on maximium weight for the heavies. Most airlines don't want to fly with a partial load, so they don't fly 747s into or out of KSAN. (Airlines are enamored of tiny twin-jets these days, anyway, so domestic 747 service is scarce these days.) Some cargo 747s still come in. Anyway, my 747 was an exception to the rule.

The aircraft flew beautifully and it was nice to have an on-board galley and toilets, although there's not much time to eat on SAN-PHX and it's too short to require a potty break as well.

Winds dictated runway 8 at KPHX, so I had to tweak the FMC on the way in to go direct ALLIS from HYDRR, but everything went smoothly. I parked at Terminal 2.

Phoenix - Las Vegas / Boeing 737-800 (SWA3044) / IFR

Another routine flight, which went extremely well. The real flight on Southwest and I were within 2 minutes of each other for departure and arrival. No flickering runways, either (maybe claiming negative LOD bias in the video driver helped). We didn't use exactly the same gates, though. The D gates are still blocked by construction in my Phoenix scenery, and I mistakenly went to C25 at Mc Carran, instead of C21.

Boulder City - Jean / Cessna 182RG II (N7166V) / VFR

I returned to Jean during the day. It was a zillion times easier when I could see the terrain around me. I just went south over the dry lake, turned west when I saw the dry lake next to Jean, and then landed uneventfully. A far cry from the stress of flying over that area the previous night. I can understand why some countries have special restrictions applying to visual flight at night, although I prefer the less restrictive regulations of the United States.

Phoenix - Los Angeles / Boeing 737-800 (SWA1399) / IFR

A short, familiar flight just to stay in practice on the 737. My major mistake was using the wrong flight number: Southwest 1399 goes to San Diego, not Los Angeles (the result of a last-minute change in destination on my part). Otherwise uneventful, although I got a case of the runway flickers again upon landing at KLAX. I'm still looking into that.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Saint George - Las Vegas - Jean - Boulder City / Cessna 182RG II (N7166V) / VFR

Although I have my doubts about the wisdom of night VFR over terrain that isn't very safely flat, I decided to fly about a little tonight under exactly such conditions. The first leg went very well. The second went pretty well. The third leg was a bit harrowing.

Leg 1 was from St. George to Las Vegas. Although it was already dark, there was a full moon; but more importantly, there were landmarks that I could easily see and follow. St. George has some potentially nasty mountains near it, especially to the north. However, I was going to the south, and the immediate vicinity of the city is relatively flat. Interstate 15 leads south out of St. George and it's easy to spot the traffic. So I left St. George, found I-15, and followed it to lead me through the mountains to the southwest. I also tuned MMM and OZN to make sure I was moving in the right direction. Once through the mountains, it's easy to see Mesquite airport, and beyond that, the Virgin River and the start of Lake Mead shining amid blackness. So I had something to follow on the ground the whole way. Down the Overton Arm of Lake Mead, then west over the lake between the hills roughly on the LAS 066 radial towards Las Vegas. I was given a right base to 1L, which allowed me to turn practically right into Signature's ramp.

The second leg was slightly more delicate. I was assigned 7L, VFR at or below 4500 in the Class B airspace. I was on my way to Jean. The terrain around this area was the site of my most impressive crash online, when I slammed directly into one of the mountains … on a night VFR flight just like this one. Oo-wee-oo! So I was extra careful. ATC gave me a heading of 180. At first I asked if I could have 6500 or below, just to be safe, but then I spotted the Interstate (I-15 again, coincidentally) and followed that down to Jean, which is only 20 miles from Las Vegas.

Landing at Jean still made me nervous. The charts provide elevations but not in great detail. There are some low mountains around the airport, except to the east. As I came in, I occasionally saw my landing light on terrain below—terrain that was surprisingly close. I also saw lights on the ground appearing and disappearing, telling me that there was terrain in between me and the lights. For an instant, even the threshold lights on the runway were blocked, which definitely kept me alert. Fortunately, I landed uneventfully, even with the wind behind me (flying a pattern in the darkness didn't appeal to me, and the runway is long enough).

Then came the leg to Boulder City, which I undertook against my better judgement. One way to get there would be to fly north back into the Las Vegas Class B, then turn east and fly out to Boulder City. But for some reason I decided that I'd try a shortcut. Taking off to the north, if I turned immediately east over the dry lake near the airport, and climbed vigorously to 5500 or above, I could sneak over the mountains to the east and then fly right up to Boulder City. So I tried it. As soon as I started my turn, I began to have second thoughts. It was extremely dark. There was a full moon but it wasn't helping much; I couldn't see it so I think it might have set, or in any case it wasn't in a useful position. I spotted the lake. I had one VOR set to BLD and the radial I wanted to intercept, but I didn't seem to be finding it as expected. I climbed aggressively and finally got above 5000, and then to 5500, which meant I was clear of all terrain between me and Boulder City. Still, not being able to actually see anything below made me very nervous.

I thought I was flying the right way, east through a low spot in the mountains. I then turned northeast, towards BLD. I spotted what looked like the airport, and turned towards it. But after a while the direction of BLD, the lack of lights around the airport, and the arrangement of the runways made me realize that it was Henderson, not Boulder City. So I turned directly towards BLD and flew that way; based on the chart, I shouldn't hit anything. Finally, after flying for what seemed like a long time, I saw another airport, and lights, and I figured that now this was Boulder City, as it matched the charts.

With great trepidation I started my descent. There was no really high terrain around, but like I said, the charts don't usually show elevations with a resolution better than 1000 feet. Trying to make a left downwind into the airport made me very uneasy. Several times I spotted my landing light on terrain below; it wasn't too far away, but it was far enough. But turning base and final was scary. Visibility is limited in the sim, so sometimes it's hard to see the runway when you are on downwind. I ended up making a sharp turn to final perilously close to the hills, and then landing on 27R, wobbling all the way in, although the touchdown was okay. I needed the whole length of this smaller runway. Finally, glad that it was over, I taxied to the ramp. I'm going to have to try to think longer and harder about making nighttime VFR flights like this.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Seattle - Swanson (Eatonville) / Cessna 182RG II (N7109V) / VFR

This was just a simple flight at dusk out to the tiny airport in Eatonville. It has one little runway, a very narrow, unpaved sort of taxiway around it, and a small building (I enhanced the original scenery to more or less match the layout of the airport in real life, minus the structures).

I left Seattle on the 157 radial out of SEA. There are several airports along this radial, and the first one that I took to be Swanson was in fact Pierce County; I was almost ready to land when I realized the DME wasn't right at all. I started at descent towards Kapowsin, too, but that wasn't it, either. Finally I located the real airport and landed there, which I verified by checked that I was indeed at about 32 DME from SEA.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Bowerman - Seattle / Cessna 182RG II (N7109V) / VFR

This was a rare IFR flight in a Cessna from Bowerman (Hoquiam) to Seattle. The weather was quite grim, cloudy, misty, and rainy.

I filed HQM.V27.SEA at 5000 feet (the highest MEA along this route is 3200), and was cleared as filed. I took off to the west, then turned around and joined the 049 radial from HQM and then to SEA.

Along the way I couldn't see anything but large and fast-moving clouds, plus rain. I worked hard to stabilize my altitude and did a pretty good job. In fact, I was pretty pleased with how well I was doing at holding that altimeter right on the dot—until I realized that I was exactly 500 feet below my assigned altitude (4500 instead of 5000). Oops! ATC was gracious enough not to point this out to me; when I found out I excused myself and climbed as quickly as possible to 5000. By then, however, I was moving into the Seattle Class B, and ATC had me come back down to 4000, then 3000, as it turned me north for a landing on 16C.

On the way north, ATC questioned my heading. I was on 340, as instructed, but the wind from the west was so brisk that I was being blown twenty degrees to the right. ATC, which is more used to big iron than spam cans like mine, was surprised to see the difference, but quickly figured it out.

Shortly thereafter I was turned towards the airport and cleared for the ILS runway 16C approach, ATC told me to go around. Seems a 737 was coming directly at me. As terrifying as this sounds, it's not unusual at this particular airport. See, Microsoft Flight Simulator has a “default flight” that you can load that places you right on the runway at Seattle; newbies to VATSIM often just load up the default flight and log on, and so sometimes aircraft appear suddenly at the south end of the runway, and problems of considerable magnitude result. In this case, though, it was a clueless pilot rather than a newbie, but I'm not sure. I looked for the traffic but never actually saw it with all the clouds and mist in the way. I expected to see a huge airliner surge out of the clouds at any minute, but it never happened.

So I drifted along west on a heading of 250 as instructed. I had plenty of fuel, so I didn't care. After a few minutes ATC managed to deal with the rogue pilot and vectored me back to the ILS approach. I captured the localizer and glide slope with no problems and flew the approach by hand. The air was a bit rough, and I could see clouds racing eastward in front of me, but I managed to hold my course and land without any trouble. My big worry is always windshear or gusts or something at the last second, but I was lucky this time.

I taxied over to the GA ramp area north of the tower and parked.

While looking at the charts, I noticed that KSEA has opened 16R/34L, so after I finished the flight, I updated the KSEA airport with AFCAD to add the new runway (I had previously made changes for the runway number changes and for the construction areas). Now I can use any of the three runways at the airport.

Phoenix - Casa Grande / Cessna 182RG II (N7049S) / VFR

Shortly after landing at Sky Harbor, I was off again, this time to Casa Grande. The students had signed off and now ATC was an experienced controller.

The flight was pretty routine, leaving from runway 26. ATC had me swing way out west before finally turning back to the east (again over South Mountain) to join the PXR 144 radial that would take me to Casa Grande. It was only about a 15-minute ride. The landing was superlative (relatively speaking). Unfortunately I had no passengers with me to enjoy it.

Gila Bend - Phoenix / Cessna 182RG II (N7049S) / VFR

I wanted to get one more flight in before it was completely dark, as the Cessna is more of a pain to fly at night, with its limited avionics for IFR. I know Gila Bend well (I even know that the first word in the name is pronounced “heela,” being a native of the region), and I actually don't like the place, but it's okay in simulation because I don't feel the heat and I'm not stuck there.

Anyway, while still on the ramp, Phoenix Approach calls me by private message, asking to be contacted. I point out that I'm way far out of his airspace, but he persists. I tell him to look at a chart. I guess he was going by his scope range, which he had set too high, and didn't realize exactly what Approach is supposed to cover. Anyway, after promising to call in around MOBIE (actually near Buckeye, since I don't have a GPS on board), I was off, with a right downwind departure and then a turn to the north to follow the highway out of Gila Bend.

As I reached Interstate 10 just southeast of Buckeye, I finally called in to Phoenix Approach, about 33 miles from PXR. Approach was manned by a student, as was Phoenix Tower. I got a series of confusing instructions that blended VFR and IFR, but I did what I was told (didn't matter to me, as long as I landed safely). I was amused to hear ATC advise me to maintain an altitude above terrain (nixing my plans to tunnel through South Mountain, I guess!) and tell me that I could expect a visual approach (nixing my plans for the well-known VFR Cat IIIc approach, apparently).

ATC set me on a heading of 090 at 3000 feet. I flew that heading for quite a while, watching South Mountain pass rather unsettlingly close beneath me and gazing at Ahwatukee ahead, wondering exactly when I'd be told to turn back towards Sky Harbor, which was disappearing at my 7 o'clock. ATC called some helicopter traffic out to me, which was moving somewhere around the radio towers on the mountain, although I couldn't see it (and I was surprised that he would be flying about in that area at night, near a mountain and near such nasty obstacles).

Eventually I was turned back north, and told to join a left downwind, which required me to turn back west again. Hmm … okay. Then I was handed off to Tower, which told me to make a left base. Approach had told me to make the downwind for 25R. Tower told me to make a left base for 25L. Then, as I approached the runway, just two miles or so away, Tower cleared me for 25R, so I asked about it, and was cleared for 25R instead (I think—at this point I wasn't sure of anything). I just aimed for 25R and landed. I was cleared for the option, and I advised that I'd be making a full stop, but as I completed my rollout, Tower told me I could go around again if I wanted to. I declined the offer and taxied to the ramp.

I'm glad this was in a slow-moving Cessna. I'd have passengers barfing in the back if I had to make constant changes like that in a 737.

Anyway, I finally made my way to the northwest GA ramp and parked in one of the shady spots.

Corona - Santa Barbara / Cessna 182RG II (N7167V) / VFR

A comfy little flight from Corona to Santa Barbara on the coast in one of my tiny Cessna 182s.

I essentially flew the TEC route, except for altitude (6500 most of the way, then down to 4500 and below near Fillmore). The winds were pretty steady today and I had no trouble maintaining altitude or course. From Corona I went to PDZ, then up V186 all the way out past FIM, then towards RZS and KSBA. The landing was perfect. The weather was nice, too.

Los Angeles - Phoenix / Boeing 737-800 (SWA214) / IFR

A daytime flight (which is rare) from Los Angeles to Sky Harbor, a route I know very well.

Unfortunately I was running late with respect to the real schedule and made some stupid mistakes. Added to this was the mysterious flickering of the runways at LAX (but not at PHX, oddly enough).

In my rush I forgot to enter the departure runway in the FMC, so the aircraft tried to make HOLTZ direct after departure, which caused ATC to ask me what was going on. I discovered the problem and told ATC about it, and they just cleared me direct TRM, which was easy enough.

On the way into Phoenix, another pilot was spending so much time chatting about irrelevant stuff on frequency that I couldn't get through to ZAB to check in. As a result I had to work hard to rejoin my descent profile, as I was already thousands of feet above it by the time I was cleared to descend. The landing went well, though, especially since I hand-flew it. I'm getting better at hand-flying the big iron.

Los Angeles - San Francisco / Boeing 737-800 (SWA546) / IFR

Just a brief flight from Los Angeles to San Francisco to keep me in practice on the 737-800. Mostly uneventful, except that the runways really started flickering at San Francisco, and I don't know why. I suspect a software issue, particularly a memory leak or something, but it's very hard to track down.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Santa Monica - Montgomery Field / Cessna 182RG II (N7141S) / VFR

Another Cessna that I've based in Santa Monica. I took this brand-new one down to Montgomery Field in San Diego.

The flight went smoothly, but the ATC didn't. When I called for taxi and clearance into the LAX Class B, I got the taxi but not the clearance (from SoCal Approach, which works KSMO on VATSIM when there's no tower controller). At the hold point for runway 21, I got my take-off clearance but no Class B clearance, and since my route would take me immediately into the Class B (I had planned to fly a TEC route that started with direct LIMBO), I asked about it. I was told to contact LAX Tower after departure for my Class B clearance, which made no sense at all. I pointed this out and was told to fly heading 270, so I did.

Once I was clear of the field, though, I though it prudent to switch to a route that would not require any communication with ATC, since what I was getting was a bit confusing. So I circled to the north and then back down to the Santa Monica VOR, lining myself up with the 132 radial. From SMO I continued into the LAX SFRA at 3500, squawking 1201. I figured the controller wouldn't know what I was doing, but as long as I was legal, that was not my problem. Once clear of the SFRA, I headed for the shoreline, and once at the shoreline, I climbed to 5500 to avoid the Orange County Class C and continued on my way.

SoCal Approach signed off soon thereafter, and then there was no ATC for a while. Someone else signed on as SoCal Approach as I was landing at Montgomery Field, and sent me a message, but it was too late for me to contact him for the landing, so I waited until I had cleared the runway to contact him. He gave me instructions to the ramp and I was done.

It's disorienting when ATC does weird things, particularly for a pilot like myself, who goes strictly by the book. Sometimes it's trivial and doesn't matter, but sometimes it's a problem. I can't fly into Class B without a clearance, and tower controllers are not in a position to issue Class B clearances to aircraft on the fringes of the airspace. I submitted feedback to the ARTCC about it. Usually ATC in SoCal is excellent, but there are occasional students who are still learning.

Avalon - Compton - Corona / Cessna 182RG II (N7167V) / VFR

I returned to Compton on my own, and then went on over to Corona—only a few miles from the place where the Martians landed in the original War of the Worlds movie (the good version).

The winds were terrible. They were around 26 knots on the ground and gusting to 10 knots more than that. I kept getting blown back and forth on the taxiways. Take-off wasn't too bad, but landing at Corona was a challenge.

The heavy winds blew me around quite a bit at 3500 feet, and I got disoriented twice, starting my descent prematurely when I misread the DME for the Paradise VOR, and again when I headed towards an airport that I didn't recognize as Chino until I was a few miles away … I made a quick turn to the south and found the correct airport shortly thereafter. I think I probably flew right over the spot where the Martians landed as I mistakenly approached Chino (they landed in Linda Rosa, which was in the Chino Hills).

The clouds and sky were starting to look a bit menacing by the time I landed.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Chicago O'Hare - Lake in the Hills - Milwaukee / Cessna 182RG II (N7067V) / VFR

Two legs: One from O'Hare with some passengers out to Lake in the Hills again, then alone from Lake in the Hills to Milwaukee.

The weather was a little bit misty but still VFR. Lots of turbulence, though, and gusty winds; landing at both LitH and Milwaukee was a challenge.

ATC came online during the second leg but was a bit mystifying, and I ended up landing without ATC help at General Mitchell. I think I might have this Cessna shipped to a different region.

Lansing - Lake in the Hills - Chicago O'Hare / Cessna 182RG II (N7067V) / VFR

I bought still another Cessna and parked it at Lansing, so that I could fly around the Midwest if the desire took me. I took some virtual friends from Lansing to Lake in the Hills, where I dropped them off. I stayed with the airplane, as I was Born to Fly and I never leave the airport in MSFS.

After seeing my passengers off, I started back up and taxied out for a trip to mighty O'Hare. When I had first materialized in Lansing, a nearly full complement of ATC was online, but as Murphy's Law took hold, they disappeared one by one, and by the time I made my turn towards KORD out of Lake in the Hills, they were just about gone. I went to O'Hare with no ATC.

O'Hare is a busy airport even in VATSIM, and when ATC suddenly disappears, things get dicey. A tri-jet airliner passed nearly right in front of my windshield as I headed towards KORD at 2500 feet. I sensed that there were many aircraft in the area, but almost none of them were announcing on the CTAF, so I didn't really know who might be inbound. I originally planned 14L, but the gusting winds were so strong that I had no choice but to switch to 27L, for which I made a right downwind. I saw another jet flitting about the airport at lightspeed as I touched down on 27L, in the way that only Flight Simulator allows. I managed to cross 14L and found my way with some difficulty over to the FBO ramp, and parked near another aircraft.

Seattle - Tacoma - Bowerman / Cessna 182RG II (N7109V) / VFR

I “bought” a new Cessna that I've decided to base in the great Pacific Northwest (at least initially), and I took it out for a spin today with a couple of passengers. We started at Seattle-Tacoma International airport, the big Class B in the region. The weather was very cloudy and it was raining lightly, which is not unusual for KSEA. We were directed to 16L for an immediate departure and told to stay at or below 1500 feet. After flying the runway heading for a while, I turned to the west and flew over Vashon Island (sounds like a German clothing store!), then turned towards Tacoma Narrows and made straight in for runway 17.

After refueling and changing passengers (three off, two on), I taxied back out to 17 and we were off again, this time to Bowerman on the coast. I headed for the Mason County NDB, then onto V27 to Hoquiam. At about 10 DME, I made my descent straight in to Bowerman.

The clouds were really low; even at 2500 I was too close so I dropped another 500 feet (most of the terrain is nearly at sea level in this area). Very complex weather. For some reason this made me feel cozy inside the aircraft. The light was almost gone from the sky by the time we arrived at Bowerman.

I've also bought still another C182 that I've based at Teterboro, in case I want to fly around New York.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Saint George - Las Vegas / Cessna 182RG II (N7166V) / VFR

Just as the last light of dusk was disappearing from the western sky (I can almost hear music accompanying this), my virtual friends asked me to fly them back to Boulder from Saint George. So I quickly filed VFR using the same route I used to get to Saint George, with a minor change to go to Boulder, and we were off.

Nothing remarkable about this flight, except that we all decided that Las Vegas would be more interesting than Boulder, so we ended up going there instead. Cleared to land on 19R, which was handy because I could turn right off that runway and scoot over to the Signature ramp.

The weather was very clear, which was nice, especially since I had planned to follow the Interstate from Saint George to Mormon Mesa. Most of the rest of the trip was over the lake.

Friday, November 7, 2008

San Francisco - Los Angeles / Boeing 737-800 (SWA180) / IFR

This was a comfy flight from San Francisco to Los Angeles, a route I've flown many times. I flew as Southwest Flight 180.

I got a late start from KSFO, and for the first time I landed after the real flight, instead of before it. I arrived at the gate 14 minutes late, compared to the schedule. I'm not sure exactly why it took me so long.

There wasn't much ATC along the way, but LAX Tower was online. On my way in, I checked the ATIS, and it said 24R and 25L in use for landing, as usual, so I configured for that. Then, the next time I checked, after intercepting the localizer on my turn to final, there was a new ATIS, and it gave 24L, so I reconfigured for that, and managed to get established on 24L. Then, when I checked in, the tower told me to go for 24R again, so I had to reconfigure again five miles from the threshold—and I just skipped the ILS and flew it by hand. I was not happy. Fortunately the weather was clear, so I could make a last-minute visual approach.

I also had trouble finding the gate. I found gates 1 and 3, but not gate 2, which I presumed would be between them. I'll have to look into that further. I parked at gate 3 (the real flight parked at the elusive gate 2).

Las Vegas - Saint George / Cessna 182RG II (N7166V) / VFR

A nice little flight in a different Cessna, which has been parked on the Signature ramp at Mc Carran for days. The airport was quiet (not unusual on VATSIM, although it would be very strange in real life), and so I just announced my intentions, taxied out to 7L, and went on my way, after filing VFR for Saint George. And yes, I did check the weather in advance this time.

The flight was uneventful. I went straight out east and then turned slightly north to put me over Lake Mead at 5500 feet. I turned up the northern arm that goes past Echo Bay, the one into which the Virgin River empties, and went up to Mormon Mesa and then back out roughly on the 070 radial. From there I just followed Interstate 15 through the mountains, turned towards St. George, after I was past them, and landed very smoothly indeed.

Along the way, I happened to check my control settings, and discovered that I had large null zones defined for my aileron and elevator controls. That explains why I've had to move them so much lately to get a response from the aircraft. I set the null zones to zero, and now the aircraft is much more nimble and realistic, since any movement at all of the controls also moves the control surfaces.

I think I'm going to add another Cessna or two to my fleet and base them in Seattle and perhaps one on the East Coast. I can just have Scotty beam me from airport to airport when I want to change from one aircraft to another.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Hawthorne - Compton / Cessna 182RG II (N7167V) / VFR

This was just a quick shuttle flight to return my aircraft to Compton, now that it's daytime again. Hawthorne was nice but it's very close to the Class B of LAX, and I didn't want to risk busting airspace at a bad time. I just took off to the west, turned immediately south, then flew on over to Compton, crossing midfield to join a left downwind for 25L. It only took a few minutes. I didn't file a flight plan for it, and there were no passengers.

Avalon - Compton - Hawthorne / Cessna 182RG II (N7167V) / VFR

Two short flights from Avalon to Compton, then from Compton to Hawthorne. I originally planned to stay at Compton for a while, then I realized that it was getting dark, and I didn't want to be in Compton after dark, even at the airport.

The flight from Avalon was routine, with a right downwind departure to the east from runway 22. The weather was nice and clear, and I left before the 5 PM deadline. I stayed at 3500 and flew a heading of 006 to intercept the 251 radial from Seal Beach, then flew 001 to intercept the 090 radial from LAX. After landing I realized that I could have simply followed the Compton NDB in, which I'll probably do next time.

The runways are tiny at Compton, but more than sufficient for my tiny airplane. I landed and taxied over to the ramp, dropped off my passengers, and topped off the tanks. Soon thereafter, I realized the part of town I was in, and decided to leave before it got truly dark outside. So I taxied back out, took off, and headed for Hawthorne, only about 30 seconds away to the northwest. It's not clear from the charts whether KHHR is in the LAX Class B or not, but there was no ATC online, so I didn't need to care. KHHR has a nice big runway and is a bit more reassuring, so I decided to park there for the night.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Rosamond - Avalon / Cessna 182RG II (N7167V) / VFR

I originally planned this flight to follow V186 and then sneak around the Los Angeles Class B airspace, but once in the air I decided to take some shortcuts. I started with a climb to 6500, dropping to 4500 by VNY.

I noticed that the Lake Hughes, Van Nuys, and Santa Monica VORs all lie on a single line, more or less, so I just continued over VNY rather than turning east and went towards Santa Monica. Instead of going all the way around the eastern end of the Class B, I decided to take the SFRA right over the field at LAX. Continuing straight through SMO at 163 wouldn't do, so I turned due west and descended quickly to 3500 while I waited to intercept the SMO 312 radial inbound. This would allow me to depart SMO already aligned for the SFRA, and at the right altitude. This worked out pretty well (the slow speed of the Cessna helped), and I scampered across LAX by the book. Once clear of the SFRA, I turned southwest and went out over the water, descending slowly to 2500 while I waited to intercept the SXC 202 radial. This radial turned me roughly towards Santa Catalina Island and the altitude put me about 900 feet above the runway at Avalon.

I know the island fairly well and I know which way to head to get to the tiny airfield there. The weather was clear, so I could easily see the island even from the shoreline of the mainland. After riding along the 202 radial for a while, I turned to 210 and started in towards the airport. Within a short time I could make out lights above the cliffs at the airfield. From then on it was easy enough to line up my approach, and the landing was excellent. I quickly taxied over to the tiny terminal, let out my passengers, and shut everything down. There's no fuel at the airport that I know of, but I have more than enough to return to the mainland.

I landed about 25 minutes after five o'clock, which technically is not allowed at Avalon at this time of year. Thank goodness I was able to receive special permission to land. The 1600-foot cliffs at either end of the runway always make landing and taking off especially exciting, but there's generally no danger if one takes proper precautions.

There was a lot of turbulence on the way to VNY, but it got a lot smoother after that, making my passengers happy. I was also briefly stuck in IMC along the way. However, with no ATC online, IFR is much the same as VFR, so I didn't bother to switch to IFR during the minute or two that I was below VFR minimums.

Monday, November 3, 2008

South County (Santa Clara) - Harris Farms - Rosamond / Cessna 182RG II (N7167V) / VFR

A two-leg flight just to get my airplane down into Los Angeles. I conducted most of it at only about 2000 feet AGL. Stopped at Harris Farms via PXN just for fuel and for practice—no time for a $100 hamburger. From there it was off to Shafter and Gorman, then east to Rosamond. I stayed at 2500 until I was about 12 miles from Shafter, then climbed to 5500 to avoid the KBFL Class D, then climbed later to 7500 to get over the mountains when crossing Gorman.

I touched down just short of the threshold at Harris Farms; fortunately, it was paved. I misjudged the height of the aircraft on that tiny runway, and there were no landing aids. On the other hand, I landed quite well at Rosamond, despite a 19-knot crosswind.

San Francisco - South County (Santa Clara) / Cessna 182RG II (N7167V) / VFR

Fired up my Cessna with three phantom passengers on the GA ramp at San Francisco and called for taxi and clearance into the San Francisco Class B, with a destination of the tiny South County airport about 24 miles south of San Jose.

I was offered and accepted an intersection departure from 28R. I had to wait a while for wake turbulence. ATC told me to make a speedy left crosswind departure at or below 3500 and advised me to keep the 101 freeway on my right. Unfortunately, I couldn't find the 101 on the charts—the highways were there, but I couldn't see any indication of which was which. So I asked for direct Woodside, but ATC gave me direct San Jose instead, which was fine with me. I made my way to San Jose at about 2800 feet, then ATC advised me to turn to 120, which would take me to South County. Sure enough, a few minutes later, I was there. I made a nice smooth landing and taxied to the terminal.

Oakland - Orange County / Boeing 737-800 (SWA3854) / IFR

I decided to fly something different for a change of pace, so I mirrored Southwest Airlines Flight 3854, from Oakland to John Wayne Airport (Orange County), a one-hour flight.

The flight was pretty routine, through about a 4/8 or 5/8 overcast the whole way. I was cleared for a visual approach to 19R after the TANDY3 arrival. I was in a daring mood, so I switched off the autopilot and autothrottle and flew the approach by hand. It was hard to see the field at first because of low clouds, but once I saw it and was cleared for the approach, I made a nice smooth turn just west of Disneyland and came around quite well aligned with the runway centerline. My descent rate was good, too, and I was at Vref just as I was supposed to be. The only problem is that I drifted right for some reason during the last half mile or so, and big airplanes being what they are, I couldn't coax it back onto the centerline before I flared, so I landed with some of the main wheels on the paved perimeter of the runway. That would be a bumpy and expensive mistake in real life. I can see it's going to take some practice to get it right. At least I can land little planes without any trouble now (I recall when that was a challenge, too).

Lake Tahoe - San Francisco / Cessna 182RG II (N7167V) / VFR

I decided to fly from Tahoe to San Francisco, via the narrow valley that Highway 50 follows west and south of the lake. VFR conditions prevailed throughout the valley, although things got cloudy thereafter. Technically, I wasn't always in VFR conditions, but it didn't make any difference because there was no ATC online to help me with IFR, anyway. I just tried to avoid the bigger clouds as I encountered them.

This was a straightforward flight from VOR to VOR, Hangtown to Linden to Manteca, then west 44 DME and a turn to 254 until I intercepted the 283 radial from SFO, then up to the airport. I could have gone straight in visually but I flew the ILS by hand for practice. Landing was glassy smooth.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Reno - Lake Tahoe / Cessna 182RG II (N7167V) / VFR

Just a quick jump over to Lake Tahoe, following Highway 395 then Highway 50. It was misty and rainy and I had clouds not far above me, but it was still VFR. Lots of turbulence over the mountains along Highway 50, but smooth over the lake, and a perfect landing.

Flagstaff - Reno / Cessna 182RG II (N7167V) / VFR

I believe this is the longest flight I've undertaken in one of my general-aviation aircraft. It covered more than 580 nautical miles and required five hours.

I took off from Flagstaff with three willing passengers and myself, accompanied by plenty of supplementary oxygen. The airfield alone is already at over 7000 feet. With four people aboard plus a full load of fuel, it took quite a while to gain any altitude; the nearby mountains were even more nearby than I would have liked. However, we still had plenty of margin.

The first leg was a straight line from Flagstaff to the Peach Springs VOR, on V291, itself a distance of 96 nm. I then departed Peach Springs on V562 to the MEADS intersection over Lake Mead, which was another 56 nm. So far, so good. The weather was nice. I flew these legs at 8500 for the most part, descending to 6500 after clearing the Grand Wash Cliffs, and then descending to 4500 as I crossed MEADS.

I got my clearance into the Las Vegas Class B and advised that I planned to take the Cortez transition, following the 249 radial to LAS until I got to the Wash Marina, then up past the El Cortez, then towards North Las Vegas and up northwest out of the Class B. From the Class B, I followed U. S. Route 95, taking care to stay west and south of the highway, which would guarantee that I'd be clear of the mysterious restricted airspace on the Nellis Test Range (home of the famous Area 51). That's when the trouble started.

I had carelessly departed without examining the weather along the way, although I probably would not have foreseen what I encountered, anyway. As I left Las Vegas, the clouds that had been growing thicker for some time suddenly closed in around me, and visibility dropped to perhaps two miles. Los Angeles Center was not online, so I couldn't ask for a pop-up IFR clearance, and the Cessna is not well equipped for instrument flight, although it has the essentials. By an unhappy coincidence, I had planned to fly this particular leg out of Las Vegas by pilotage, by following the highway until at least as far as the Amargosa Valley. But now the highway was gone. In fact, everything was gone—all I had around me was mist.

I put on a good imitation of professionalism for the sake of my passengers, but the situation was worrisome. I knew that rising terrain and mountains hemmed me in on both sides: nearly 12,000 feet to the west, and nearly 10,000 feet to the east … and I was at 4500 feet, which was plenty for following the highway, but did not leave any margin should I stray too far from U. S. 95. Now I couldn't see the highway, so that worried me. At first I tried climbing to 6500 to see if I could get out of the mist, but that didn't work. I then recalled that I had been west of the highway, so I descended carefully back down to 4500 and turned east. A glance at the radial I was on from LAS and the DME seemed to confirm that I was indeed just west of the highway, although it was hard to evaluate this because I couldn't afford to take my eyes off the instruments and the outside view for very long.

After a minute or two of searching in all directions, I spotted lights on the highway, or on a highway—it was hard to tell if it was truly U. S. 95, but there weren't supposed to be any other major highways in the vicinity. I came in low over the highway and followed it, taking care to remain on the west side of the highway. Once I was stable along the highway, I did some double checking against my position with respect to the LAS VOR and also in relation to the Mercury NDB just north of Desert Rock. The results were encouraging: I seemed to be clear of restricted airspace and more or less where I should be with respect to my planned route.

The highway was barely visible below me, so I had to constantly watch it or risk losing it. Every time I looked at the charts and looked back out the window the highway had moved and was disappearing, and I'd have to search desperately for it left and right and then steer back towards it. Too far from the highway and I'd either meet the ground or I'd meet a couple of jet fighters. Gradually, though, I grew increasingly confident of my position, by looking at where I was in relation to LAS and Mercury, and by comparing the twists and turns of the highway to the chart.

I proceeded in this way all up the highway, until the twirling of my ADF told me that I was passing Mercury. By then I was able to receive the BTY VOR, and so I climbed to 6500 and picked the 120 radial from the VOR to keep me over the desert valley and clear of the dreaded R-4808.

Once I had BTY, things got a lot easier, since most of the rest of the flight referenced VORs. From BTY I flew to LIDAT, climbing to 8500, then direct TPH, taking care to make a slight detour to the west to avoid R-4807A. I was trying to avoid high mountains, too, to minimize the amount of oxygen my passengers and I would need. From TPH it was direct MVA, with a reluctant slow climb to 10,500 feet MSL. From MVA it was V584 all the way to CHIME, where I had originally planned to turn west onto V494 to sneak around the mountains. However, with clear air below me (and a cloud deck above) at 10,500, I could see Reno from CHIME, so I just decided to go right over the mountains.

Once I could see that I was clear of the mountains southeast of Reno, I spotted the valley to the south where I had originally planned to make my approach, and descended into the valley to make a right base for 34R. There was a ton of turbulence on the way down (not to mention a bit before that on the way in) and it made us a bit queasy, but I finally got us down in one piece, although some strong gusts just over the runway made it a bit wild in the last few seconds before touchdown.

So, nearly five hours after I took off, I taxied over to a GA ramp at Reno and parked. We were all tired.

Of course, people who have never done serious flight simulation will dismiss this flight as just a game. It doesn't feel that way if you take it seriously, though. Even though you know in the back of your mind that you cannot be hurt in a simulation, it's still a shot of adrenalin to be stuck in solid IMC inadvertently when you had planned for VMC all the way. But it's good practice.

Valle - Flagstaff / Cessna 182RG II (N7167V) / VFR

A tiny flight from Valle to Flagstaff, uneventful except for winds gusting to 16 knots on landing, but I still got down okay.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Grand Canyon - Valle / Cessna 182RG II (N7167V) / VFR

Just a tiny shuttle from Grand Canyon to Valle, a small airport about eighteen miles to the south. I filled up the tanks after arriving at Valle.

I'm trying to figure out a nice flight plan near the Grand Canyon. Unfortunately, the Grand Canyon contains a Special Flight Rules Area with all sorts of restrictions applied to it, which was put in place after the nuisance of constant helicopter and fixed-wing overflights of the canyon at low altitude became intolerable. Today, you can only overfly the canyon in certain ways at certain altitudes—zipping down below the rim for a thrill ride right above the Colorado is no longer an option. Even companies that make provide tours of the canyon as their business are subject to heavy restrictions.

For my small Cessnas, the options are limited. You can overfly any point in the canyon as long as you're above 14,500 feet MSL, but that's mighty high for a Cessna 182, and it would require that both I and my passengers strap on supplemental oxygen, which takes the fun out of things a bit. 'Course, even the rim of the canyon is already above 5000 feet MSL (KGCN is just above 6600 feet), so I usually have the oxygen handy at least for me, but imposing it on passengers doesn't go over that well.

Another option is to fly through one of the special corridors set up across the canyon. Even those require you to be at least at 10,500 feet, though, so oxygen is still a factor. Some sectors of the canyon let you fly as low as 9000 feet, but then you're quite a distance from the canyon itself in many cases. No matter how you look at it, you have to fly high to get across the canyon. So I'm debating whether to actually fly across it, or just fly around it. I guess that depends on where my passengers would like to go next. We've been to Sedona and Prescott, but not Flagstaff. Maybe we can take a ride down there. We'll see.

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