Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Salt Lake City - Phoenix / Cessna Citation X (N7446L) / IFR

When my lovely virtual copilot and I opened the aircraft for this flight, it was 21° F outside on the ramp and 32° F inside the aircraft. We wasted no time getting the APU up and running and warming up the cabin. As soon as our six passengers arrived (all good virtual friends of ours), we closed the doors to help things warm up.

Visibility at SLC was terrible: only about a quarter of a mile in fog. I couldn't see the taxiway leading away from the ramp. When it came time to taxi , I just inched forward slowly until I could see the taxiway lights, and then rolled delicately down Kilo to runway 17.

Just before take-off I got a cockpit warning that the rudder trim wasn't centered. I fooled around with it for a long time but couldn't get the warning to extinguish. However, it looked pretty well centered, so we departed with the warning, and we had no problems. I'll have to get that looked at.

It was very gloomy at SLC, but we eventually climbed above the clouds and fog, and things gradually cleared up as we neared Phoenix. Sky Harbor had practically unlimited visibility. We were vectored into a visual approach to 7R, although we set up the ILS just to be safe. I shut off the AP about 15 miles out and flew the landing myself, with excellent results.

As usual, we parked at Cutter. It was a lot warmer outside when we opened the door. “Warm” is about as cold as it ever gets in Phoenix.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Aspen - Denver / Cessna Citation X (N779YL) / IFR

This flight went pretty well most of the way. I've been flying Eaglesoft's Citation X 2.0 for a while now, and most of the time the FMS performs well, but sometimes it does weird things.

In this case I was lucky until I was nearly over Denver, going north to make a U-turn and come back into runway 17R. The VNAV wouldn't descend, so I had to force that by hand. Then, somehow, while I was looking at something else, VNAV commanded a 6000-fpm climb, which put me nearly into a stall and activated the stick shaker and so on. It took a while to get control of the airplane, and my full load of passengers was not happy. I had to wrestle with the FMS (which I eventually gave up on) and the autopilot to come around to land, and somehow I ended up landing on the wrong runway, 16R instead of 17R. Fortunately there wasn't too much traffic at KDEN, and ATC had just signed off. Still, the latter part of this flight was a mess.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Sedona - Phoenix / Beechcraft Bonanza A36 (N7418F) / VFR

Despite previous experiences that should have taught me a lesson, I got lost again on this daylight VFR flight out of Sedona for Phoenix Sky Harbor. Just look at the map (the blue line is the route I intended to follow, the red line is the route I actually followed).

I went up to 7500 after departing KSEZ, and intended to “follow the river.” The problem is that there are several rivers, or riverbeds, in the area. After starting out at first over Oak Creek, which was easy enough to track, I thought I was following the Verde River, but after a while, seeing that I was actually heading east, I realized that I had followed some other small river. I turned around and went west, but I apparently went too far and ended up over what eventually becomes the Aqua Fria (when it's flowing). All of this was complicated by a mist below me that occasionally obscured details on the ground, so I'd lose track of a riverbed and then pick up the wrong one beyond the patch of mist.

I finally just latched onto a handy radial out of PXR that would keep me clear of terrain and followed that into the airport, making a right downwind to 26 at Phoenix after I finally got over terrain I could recognize.

Altogether it was a messy flight, and I even overshot the final leg on my approach to runway 26 at Sky Harbor. I need to pay more attention.

[P.S.: I've been flying a lot and logging very little, so many of my recent flights don't appear on this log. I hope the billions of avid readers of this blog don't mind too much. — AA]

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Mack - Canyonlands / Beechcraft Bonanza A36 (N744TL) / VFR

A relatively uneventful flight in darkness, VFR. The weather was just above minimums. I knew the terrain was mostly flat and relatively low between my departure and destination, but I nevertheless cut things too close, especially during the approach—I was only about 200 feet above terrain at some points, as I could see the trees even in the darkness. There was a hill just before the airport and I didn't spot it until the last moment because I was lower than I probably should have been. I knew I was high enough to clear terrain, but not by much. I'll have to be more careful.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Seattle - San Francisco - Los Angeles - Las Vegas / Cessna Citation X (N779YL) / IFR

I bought another Citation X and had it delivered to Seattle, whence I flew it to San Francisco, then to LAX, then to Sin City. The blazing speed of the Citation made this practical in one day. The aircraft performed very well, and it was great fun.

I flew the first leg before sunrise, arriving at SFO in darkness during the evening, arriving at about 9 PM. I flew the next leg, to LAX, before dawn, arriving just as the sky was really starting to brighten up. The flight to Las Vegas was in the afternoon. I ended up at Signature in Las Vegas.

Sky Ranch Carefree - Phoenix Sky Harbor / Cessna 152 (N701YL) / VFR

This flight was so short I wonder why I bother to log it. It was in one of my 152s, which has been parked at tiny Sky Ranch in Carefree for a while. Even in the klunky 152, this flight only required about 20 minutes. Entirely visual and pilotage, of course. I know Phoenix well, so no need to bother with VORs and what-not (the 152 is not generously equipped, anyway).

I requested my clearance into the Class B as soon as I left the ground, since there isn't a lot of room for delay. Received it and proceeded towards Camelback Mountain, with instructions to make a right downwind for 26. It ended up that I was closer to the base leg than the downwind, which the tower noticed. They proposed a base for 26 and I took it, and I also got approval to land long, since my favorite parking spots in the shade on the north side of the field are at the west end of the runway.

The only real excitement was a jet on my tail that made it important to clear the runway quickly once I touched down. My chosen point of touchdown was ideal (I know the airport well), and I was able to scoot off to the taxiway in a flash, and it was only 200 feet or so to my parking place.

Various Citation X flights

I've been flying several of my Citations all over the place. N7929A has received quite a workout, in particular. Over the past few days, I've flown it from Los Angeles to San Francisco and back several times, plus a flight to Phoenix from LAX.

One of my flights from SFO to LAX had to be aborted and restarted endless times, because of a bug in the latest hotfix of Eaglesoft's Citation X. After checking it out on Eaglesoft's so-called support forum (thank goodness there was a thread on it), I learned of a workaround. Essentially, the pressurization system fails to activate if the current barometric pressure is above 29.92 inHg. As a result, the cabin pressure drops with the outside pressure and eventually you get a CABIN ALTITUDE warning, followed by an EMERGENCY DESCENT warning. Obviously, that's no way to fly. Fortunately, the workaround is easy: just set the altimeter to 29.92 until the cabin starts to pressurize (a few seconds), and then set it back to the local altimeter setting.

I don't know if Eaglesoft will fix this; we'll see. Usually add-on developers lose interest in their products after releasing them and making a couple fixes. They move on to other products, because it's more fun to write new code than it is to debug and fix existing code, and because there's no financial incentive to fix a product once people have already paid for it. Unfortunately just about all the add-on developers (and indeed, just about all small software companies) are this way. For similar reasons, support is often spotty, and Eaglesoft is no exception in that respect.

Nevertheless, the aircraft itself is a joy to fly, apart from that pesky pressurization problem, but that's easy enough to work around. Everything else seems to work pretty much as advertised. The FMS works very well, as do the other systems on board. It's a pity that things like ground power don't seem to be simulated, but you can't have everything, and the competition (Wilco) is certainly no better. I prefer Eaglesoft right now, despite their poor attitude (other add-on companies have poor attitudes, too).

Anyway … lots of flights in the Citation. It's such a fast aircraft that it's fun to fly. You can actually get somewhere in a reasonable amount of time in a Citation. I usually configure the FMS for maximum performance, so speeds of 525 knots over the ground are not unusual, and with favorable tailwinds, I can do a lot better. For some reason, there are often jet streams blasting their way down from SFO to LAX and then east, so if I fly in those directions, flights are short and sweet.

At any given time, I usually have one or two Citations resting at several of my favorite airports, including LAX, SFO, SAN, PHX, LAS, and so on.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Sky Ranch - Phoenix / Cessna 152 (N701YL) / VFR

Now that I'm wary of the extreme slowness of a 152, I make short flights, and this flight was very short. I've had a 152 parked at Sky Ranch in Carefree since July, and I finally decided to fly it back into Phoenix. Despite the very short distance involved (42 nautical miles over my actual route, 23 nm as the crow flies), it still took half an hour to fly.

I was surprised when ATC told me to stay at or below 2200 feet in the Class B, since this put me below most of the mountains in the area (I should think it put me below their MVA, too, but that's their problem, I guess). Fortunately, it was daytime and very clear, and I know the area well, and since this is only 1000 feet AGL, I had a great view of the city, such as it is. ATC had me swing way out to the east and southeast, which left quite a hefty safety margin considering that I wasn't doing better than 90 KIAS. Ultimately I was directed to 25L. I touched down just beyond the numbers and had come to a stop before reaching the first taxiway after touchdown, thanks to the anemic speed of the 152.

The most salient feature of this flight was the turbulence. From the time I took off to the time I landed, I was riding a bucking bronco. Gusts of wind banged me to and fro in the cockpit (but of course I was well strapped in) constantly. Vertical movements weren't as frequent but occasionally I found myself swiftly rising or falling for a few seconds. I wasn't really close to any of the mountains in the valley (I came within a few miles of Pinnacle Peak, and I was on the upwind side), but I guess the afternoon heat or something produced a lot of movement. Fortunately it let up as I descended to landing at Sky Harbor.

I parked at Cutter. In the virtual world, it seems that half the planes on their ramp are mine.

Gila Bend - Phoenix / Beechcraft Baron 58 (N744TL) / VFR

I don't know what it is about this Gila Bend - Phoenix route that attracts me. I could never stand driving it in real life. I guess it's just a familiar route that's easy to fly visually.

I had one of my Barons parked at this dusty, searing-hot little airport . (I always seem to have something parked there.) I picked a Baron because it's fast—192 knots in cruise—but not so fast that I'd be scrambling to stay ahead of it for the entire short flight.

I filled the main tanks, but not the auxiliary tanks, which is SOP for me in a Baron. I've yet to have a flight where I needed the tip tanks, since the main tanks give me nearly five hours of autonomy at a minimum. I took off to the west, as usual, and flew into a downwind leg to take me north towards Highway 85. Gila Bend Municipal Airport's airspace runs right into the Class D of the Air Force airport to the southwest, and I prefer to avoid that, although the tower is usually not open.

The flight was uneventful. I was directed into the downwind for runway 26 at Sky Harbor and landed long to save taxi time to the northwest ramp where I intended to park.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

San Fran—er, Half Moon - LAX / Beachcraft Baron 58 (N2735W) / IF—er, VFR

San Francisco International Airport was really, really busy this evening. There was a major event taking place on the West Coast in VATSIM and traffic was similar to real-world levels. I decided to take one of my Barons to LAX from SFO.

Unfortunately, I found myself waiting on the ground for nearly an hour for clearance. First I requested clearance and was apparently forgotten at the bottom of a list of more than a dozen aircraft on the ground awaiting clearance. Then controllers swapped positions and apparently lost track of things entirely. Big iron was regularly cleared before me. I called Clearance Delivery again once to ask what the holdup was, but I still never got my clearance. After waiting interminably for a clearance while everyone else moved around me, I finally cancelled the request.

I had Scotty beam my aircraft over to nearby Half Moon Bay Airport (KHAF), perhaps best known as the starting point of Jessica Dubroff's ill-fated cross-country flight. For me, its advantage was that it is very near to KSFO and is untowered, which meant that I could fly out of there VFR beneath the Bravo without waiting a year and a day for a clearance. And that's what I did. I managed to sneak out beneath the Bravo without any trouble, although NorCal Approach called me up after I was completely clear of the Class B for reasons unknown, and assigned me a squawk, which I dutifully dialed in. Later Approach handed me off to Oakland Center, and the latter controller was a bit bewildered when I called in, since I had not requested FF and I was VFR. But he offered FF and since I was already there, I accepted.

The rest of the trip was less confused. When I reached the limit of Oakland Center's chunk of sky, the controller cancelled flight following, as Los Angeles Center could not pick it up for workload reasons. So I continued on on my own until my planned route took me over the Fillmore VOR at 5500 feet, at which point I rang up SoCal Approach to get a Class B clearance. This was granted with no problem and I made my way into the Class B at 180 KIAS or so, dropping to 3500 and crossing the Los Angeles Coliseum, at which point ATC turned me towards the airport and cleared me well in advance for a landing on 24R. The landing went smoothly and I was given taxi instructions to my favorite FBO on the south side.

For this entire flight my fancy on-board TCAS was awash in traffic, just like real life, for once. It was very hard to see the traffic outside the window most of the time, but the TCAS warned me long before I could make visual contact and I spent a fair amount of time watching other aircraft to make sure I had no pending conflicts. ATC did their job well and nobody ever really came close. It was nice to see as many as two dozen aircraft within 20 miles ahead of me, though. It's very fun and realistic to have traffic that heavy.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

San Franciso - LAX - San Francisco / Cessna Citation X (N7446E) / IFR

The two legs of this trip were actually several days apart. The trip from San Francisco to Los Angeles went well. The return trip was a bit harrowing at the end, but otherwise okay.

On the return trip, some changes I made to the route along the way apparently confused the FMS. I've grown used to steep descents in the Citation, so when the aircraft didn't start down quite where I expected, I wasn't worried. After a while, though, I realized that I was much too high, and ATC was offline. I then switched to VS mode and made a stunning 9000-fpm descent to 2000 feet scarcely more than a dozen miles from the threshold. I couldn't do it fast enough and at a low enough speed to still consider landing, so I had to go around. By the time I came back around to 28R, I was all nicely configured to land, and landing was without incident.

In the old days, I might have tried to make it on the first pass. But these days I realize that I'd never do stupid things like that in real life, so I went around. Even the harrowing descent is something that wouldn't happen in real life (even though it would be technically possible). I was still afflicted a bit by get-there-itis, but I'm getting better. Just have to keep asking myself “Would I actually do this in real life?” The vast majority of the time, the answer is yes, as I'm a very safe pilot. But these aberrations still occur and must be curtailed, for the sake of realism.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Agua Dulce - LAX / Cessna 152 (N705YL) / VFR

This was a very short flight that took a long time, thanks to the fact that I was flying a pokey little Cessna 152. One thing I can say about this aircraft is that you have plenty of time to plan ahead. It's really hard to “get behind” an aircraft that is only making 90 knots on a good day. You can see the field for hours—days—before you reach it, like a picture on a wall.

As I'm accustomed to flying something a bit more performant, I often make things worse in the 152. For example, several miles from the field, I'm at full flaps and Vref—the only problem is that this configuration has me flying at about 50 knots, and it takes forever to reach the field at 50 knots. So I'm puttering along and looking at my watch and wondering when I'll actually get close enough to land. I need to remember to keep the gas pedal floored, so to speak, until I'm practically on top of the airport, and then slow down for landing.

Most of the ATC I deal with only sees a 152 once in a blue moon, so they probably are surprised by its slowness, too. VFR is much less common on VATSIM than in real life, and Cessna 152s are perhaps the least common of relatively recent GA aircraft to be seen.

Anyway, I finally got into LAX, drifting downwards onto the runway while big iron roared around me in every direction. The landing was glassy smooth and took place at just over walking speed. I'm sure the overpowered jets around me were grinding their teeth with impatience. At least in the USA tiny planes still have the right to land at big airports. In snooty Europe the controllers would probably just laugh at a Cessna 152 asking to land at CDG or Heathrow (in fact, Heathrow, at least, specifically prohibits it).

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Aspen - Phoenix - Sedona - Scottsdale - Montgomery / Cessna Citation X (N725YL) / IFR

Yup, I've been all over the place in my various Citations lately, testing things out, getting used to the aircraft, etc. I find myself mostly flying the Eaglesoft version of the Citation, for various reasons. N725YL is one of the Eaglesoft variants.

The flight from Aspen to Sky Harbor took longer than I anticipated, mainly because of strong headwinds at altitude. I know I should have checked the winds before departure, but I loaded so much fuel (more than twice the amount I thought I might need) that headwinds were nothing more than an extra expense. I had to put up with 70-knot headwinds practically the whole way. They were present from FL190 up to FL420 or so, so it was hard to fly above or below them. Even at the impressive speed of the Citation, it still took two hours to get to Phoenix, which is more than twice what I could expect under ideal conditions in still air.

Later I flew from Sky Harbor up to Sedona. That was quick and easy. Landing went okay. After a short time I flew back to Scottsdale. I was surprised when the controller at SDL had me enter the pattern, since I was IFR, but that's okay, as visual conditions prevailed.

From Scottsdale I finally flew out to Montgomery, not realizing at the time that the Citation exceeds the published weight limits for the airport. I managed to escape any penalties, but I haven't yet moved the aircraft from that field. The runway is a bit on the short side so it may be a challenge to fly out of there.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Latest flights

These past days I've not had as much time as before to log my flights. As you might expect, my first priority is to fly, and then log when time permits. So I've done a lot of flying, but not much logging. I guess it's not too much of a problem, given that nobody reads this blog, anyway. But I'll try to summarize recent activity.

I've been practicing a lot with both the Eaglesoft Citation X and the Wilco Citation X. These are two very excellent add-on models of the legendary Cessna Citation X business jet, which is the fastest civilian aircraft in the world right now. Flying both of the add-ons gives some interesting insight into what's realistic and what isn't. That is, both models follow the real aircraft slavishly, but there are tiny differences in the implementation that reflect development choices and/or specific information sources.

The add-ons have their differences, but overall they are so similar that it's hard to call one better than the other. The Wilco Citation has throttles that are very difficult to set to fuel cutoff, for example, but the Eaglesoft Citation has tiny controls on the pedestal that are hard to manipulate. Both models, though, simulate the behavior of the real aircraft—the differences are often just in the ergonomy of the model. Another example of this is the availability of “pop-up” displays on the Wilco model, whereas they are not available on the Eaglesoft model. There are differences in the details of how the FMS behave on each model, too—but then again, that can be true from one revision to another on the FMS of the real Citation, too!

Anyway, I've been flying these all over the place. Most of my time so far is on the Eaglesoft, but I'm trying to build some up on the Citation. Both are fun to fly, and since they are modeled after the real thing, they both behave in pretty much the same way, except for the sim-specific ergonomics that I mention above. Time will tell which one I prefer. I rationalize the two models by pretending that they are two slightly different revisions of the real aircraft (the differences between them are so small that this is entirely plausible).

I've been doing a lot of flights in the Great American Southwest, as usual. The Citation X fills an important niche, so I've been putting a lot of hours in with this aircraft. I do occasionally fly my Dakota or Baron, too, as well as the Bonanza (although it's been a while for that aircraft—I should take it for a spin), and my three Cessnas, the 152, 172, and 182. Not much big iron lately, though.

Individual flights lately have been too numerous to describe individually here. Overall I'm still improving at hand-flying the larger aircraft; I don't have any trouble at all with the prop aircraft, even without an autopilot. Large aircraft are different beasts and you really have to stay ahead of them, but to some extent they all resemble each other, so skills transfer reasonably well.

My fleet has grown to the point that I can constantly rotate through different types of aircraft, which gives me broad flying experience and lots of interesting variety. And I've become quite an old hand at ATC communications, so that goes pretty smoothly. Simulation gets better every day!

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Catching up

I'm very much behind on logging flights, but I'm definitely not behind on flying. Lately I've been flying all over the place, mostly in one of my Piper Dakotas, or in one of my Cessna Citation X bizjets.

I've lost track of the places I've been, I'm afraid. I've been around Wickenburg and Phoenix a lot with one of the Dakotas (N9708W), then up to Sedona, down to Phoenix, up to Payson, and so on. Right now that Dakota is parked in Phoenix, after a flight up to Payson and back. The flight up to Payson was a bit awkward, as I ended up following I-17 at dusk, instead of Highway 87, and got way off track. The trip back down to Phoenix was easier, mainly because I decided to just make a beeline to PXR at 8500 instead of bothering with pilotage in the darkness.

I've been around a bit in another Dakota (N9706W), too, and it's currently parked in Van Nuys after a short trip from Santa Paula.

Most recent activity, though, has been in one of my Citations, N7446A. Eaglesoft came out with its much-awaited FMS update, and now the full FMS works in the aircraft. I've been flying my virtual family to and fro for several days.

For example, I picked up my parents at Montgomery, then flew them up to Van Nuys, where we met up with my aunt and uncle. From there it was off to Sin City—fabulous Las Vegas, Nevada—where we picked up another aunt and uncle. Then I flew them all down to Phoenix. The Citation is so amazingly fast that this was practical in just one day. I then flew the Citation to San Diego, picked up my sister and brother-in-law, and flew them to Phoenix as well. Then, last night, I flew everyone to Las Vegas (the Citation will hold eight passengers). So I've been putting a lot of hours on that airframe. There are still a few bugs in Eaglesoft's model, but for the most part it flies really well, and is a pleasure to pilot.

I tend to reserve the daylight hours for VFR flights, and evenings for IFR. Yesterday afternoon, I took one of my Cessna 152s back to Phoenix from Lake Havasu. Talk about contrast, after flying the Citation! I planned the shortest route I could, essentially east to Highway 93 and then down through Wickenburg and back to Phoenix … and it still took nearly 2 hours, at an exceptionally lame 80 knots. And with no autopilot I had to keep my eyes out the window and/or on the instruments. The few times I looked away to check a chart, by the time I looked back I was well into a slow left turn.

Then in the evening it was back to the Citation, for a trip to Las Vegas. That took only about 40 minutes, and went very smoothly. I sometimes reach 650 mph over the ground in the Citation—about seven times faster than the 152. Amazing that both aircraft were built by Cessna!

I have more trips in the Citation planned for the coming day or so, as I redistribute family members back to their homes. But during the day I plan some VFR and pilotage … I'm getting better at it all the time.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Phoenix - Sky Ranch - Wickenburg - Phoenix / Piper Dakota (N9708W) / VFR

At the request of virtual friends who needed a lift, I made a very short flight from Sky Harbor (KPHX) to Sky Ranch (18AZ). Sky Ranch is a small, private airpark in Carefree. I've been there several times so I know the way: unless traffic dictates otherwise, it's usually just a matter of turning north after departure and crossing Scottsdale Municipal, then going up a bit further to Carefree. It's a lot faster in the airplane than on the ground.

From Sky Ranch, I then flew northwest to Wickenburg, sliding beneath the Class B and then following Highway 60 up to E25. Then, in the evening, I returned to Phoenix, landed long on 26, and parked on the northwest ramp instead of at Cutter.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Marcus (Ajo) - Phoenix / Piper Dakota (N9708W) / VFR

I decided to return from exciting Ajo to only-slightly-less-boring Phoenix, via a southerly route that avoided the restricted areas on three sides of Marcus airport, the airport that serves Greater Ajo. As it was, my left downwind departure was perilously close to these areas, although I think I managed to stay clear of them.

I proceeded back down to Ajo, only a short distance from the airport, then turned to 079 or so to head east. When I intercepted the 198 radial out of Stanfield (TFD), I turned onto that, went to TFD, then contacted Phoenix Approach and turned towards PXR. ATC gave me vectors and altitudes before I reached the Class B, which is a bit odd, but VATSIM controllers handle such a preponderance of IFR traffic that they seem to forget VFR procedures. Similarly, I was cleared for a visual approach to 25L, whereas strictly speaking I should have been directed into the pattern instead. I didn't say anything, as I got safely down onto the ground either way.

I landed a bit long to save time, but then drove past the taxiway to Cutter while I was trying to set my trim back to neutral, so I had to make a U-turn on Hotel to get to the FBO. Other than that, all went well. When I parked, the last bits of light from sunset were disappearing from the sky to the west. The weather was good, apart from intense heat.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Tucson - Ajo / Piper Dakota (N9708W) / VFR

(I've skipped a couple of unremarkable flights.)

After having come down to Tucson earlier in the day, I decided to go wandering along Highway 86 to the west, through parts of Arizona I've never been to before. The highway passes through some towns with really bizarre names, like Haivana Nakya, Chiawuli Tak, Vainom Kug, Maish Vaya, and Wahak Hotrontk—I assume these are aboriginal American names (Tohono O'odham?), since they don't look like any European languages I'm familiar with. The first part of my route also took me just north of Kitt Peak, with its 23 different telescopes.

There wasn't much to see, which is typical of all southern Arizona, but at least it was scenery I had never seen before—a different expanse of dirt and cactus, in other words. Following the highway was pretty easy, except in a couple spots where several roads split off in different directions.

I considered landing at Sells for a stopover, but ultimately decided to just continue on non-stop to Marcus Airport just north of the exciting town of Ajo, Arizona. I had to be reasonably careful when approaching the airport because there are restricted areas on three sides, including R-2301E and R-2305, which are only a bit more than a mile from the airport.

Landing was uneventful, as you'd expect for a deserted airport just north of Ajo, Arizona.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Lake Havasu - Phoenix / Piper Dakota (N9708W) / VFR

I decided to bring the Dakota back to Phoenix. This time it was just a fairly direct route. I flew east until I caught up with a major highway, then followed that down to Wickenburg and thence on to Phoenix. I parked under those nice ramadas at the northwest corner of the field, after landing on 26.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Phoenix - Eagle Roost - Western Sky - Avi Suquilla - Lake Havasu City / Piper Dakota (N9708W) / VFR

For this flight with multiple legs, I decided to just fly along Highway 60 from Phoenix to tiny Eagle Roost Airpark, then wander west, following the highway until I got tired of flying randomly. I went up to Wickenburg at 6500 (leaving 4000 after clearing the PHX Class B and the ATC restriction that went with it), and continued to Eagle Roost, which is along Highway 60. After a very brief stop there, I took off again and went to Western Sky, also along Highway 60. After an equally brief stop there, I took off and turned north to follow Highway 72 to Avi Suquilla. Then, after a stop there and some refueling, I flew along the Colorado River up to Lake Havasu City.

All in all, it was good pilotage practice, and the weather cooperated wonderfully (apart from the heat).

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Phoenix - Prescott - Phoenix / Piper Dakota (N9708W) / VFR

Another flight in the Dakota. The ST-30 autopilot is primitive but nice, since it takes up no extra space and provides the essential autopilot functions in two axes. No GS tracking or intercept functions and no automated climbs or descents to capture an altitude, but what it does do still saves a lot of work.

I joined the 359 radial out of PXR on the way out, and flew that up to MAIER, and then towards KPRC. The weather was good and the flight went uneventfully.

The only excitement on the return flight, which followed the same route, was some developing thunderstorm activity northeast of Phoenix. It was in my way on the way back down from MAIER, so I had to swing wide around it. It didn't cause me any problems. There were quite a few lightning strikes in the skies surrounding me but I was in clear VMC all the way to landing in Phoenix. I was assigned 8, then 7R for traffic; the latter put me right next to Cutter, so that's where I parked.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Santa Monica - Palm Springs / Piper Dakota (N9715W) / VFR

This was a routine flight from Santa Monica to Palm Springs, just for practice. Everything went well and normally, so there's not much to day. The Dakota is fun to fly, being a cross between something quite primitive like a 172 or 152 and something more sophisticated like a Bonanza or Baron.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Phoenix - Carefree - Phoenix / Cessna 152 (N706YL) / VFR

I try to find very short flights for my Cessna 152s, because they are extremely slow airplanes, only about 50% faster than a car. I made a round trip to Sky Ranch in Carefree to, uh—to drop off a virtual friend, yeah, that's it.

ATC offered an intersection departure, but given the heat I elected full length from runway 8 (massive overkill—even in the hottest weather I wouldn't need the full length of 8 in a Cessna 152). A simple left crosswind departure helped me towards Scottsdale, which I crossed at 3500, and then on to Sky Ranch, which took a surprisingly long time to reach (the slowness of the 152 always amazes me). Landing went just fine.

Not long thereafter, I made my way back to Phoenix. ATC guided me towards a right base to runway 26, and I requested a long landing to avoid the very long taxi to the northwest ramp (in the 152, I'm down and stopped barely past the numbers, so it's a looong taxi to the ramp). Usually it doesn't occur to me to request a long landing, but this time I remembered. I touched down just short of the taxiway that led to the ramp, still with plenty of runway remaining. That was a change of pace—I haven't landed long like that anywhere in months.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Phoenix - Coolidge - Phoenix / Cessna 152 (N706YL) / VFR

Coolidge, like so many towns in Arizona, has nothing to recommend it. I only decided to make a round trip out to its airport because it was within reasonable flying range of my Cessna 152.

I was directed to make a right downwind departure from 26. Since I was heading southeast, I turned south and crossed the airport at midfield at around 3000 feet to avoid getting in the way of traffic. From there, I eased my way east onto the 125 radial from PXR.

Since I have no DME in this tiny plane, and only one VOR, I tuned the Chandler NDB on the ADF so that I could more easily find the airport. The bearing to the ADF makes a very shallow angle with the PXR radial, so it's not very precise, but it's better than nothing. I seemed to fly for a long time without seeing anything, but finally, sure enough, I saw the field, and I made an uneventful landing.

The return trip took place at night and at 4500 instead of 3500, but other than that it was pretty much the same thing. Up the PXR125 and then a right base into runway 26 (there was no conflicting traffic so I was able to cross the centerlines of the other two runways). I parked in almost the same spot I had left earlier in the day.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Wickenburg - Phoenix / Cessna 152 (N706YL) / VFR

Good weather and the smooth execution of procedures born of habit graced this flight. I simply took off from Wickenburg, turned towards Highway 60 / Grand Avenue, and proceeded into Phoenix at 3500 feet, VFR. Phoenix Approach cleared me into the Bravo just as I was about to cross into it, then I was given a right downwind entry for runway 26. All went smoothly. I parked on the northwest ramp again, under one of those nice awnings.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Gila Bend - Phoenix / Beechcraft Baron 58 (N705TL) / VFR

I managed to scoot over from Gila Bend back to Phoenix just before a thunderstorm on this flight. When I started out, there was lightning over the Superstitions; by the time I parked on the ramp, there was lightning on all sides. Fortunately, no heavy weather with it, at least at my altitude, and clear skies all the way to touchdown.

This was pilotage, as usual. This time I picked the right highway (on the right, which was right) and followed it to I-10, then into Phoenix. Very smooth, no problems at all, very clear weather, despite the looming clouds to the east and above me. I was worried I might hit some turbulence, but at 5500 feet I felt nothing, and indeed the cloud deck was quite a distance above me.

There were a couple flashes of lightning every second by the time I parked, on all sides. I was unsuccessful at getting a picture of it, though. (Yes, MSFS simulates lightning and thunder very realistically!)

Phoenix - San Carlos - Phoenix - San Carlos - Gila Bend / Beechcraft Baron 58 (N705TL) / VFR

Rustling up a pretext for a flight, I decided that I had volunteered to transport some vital McGuffin to the San Carlos Apache Reservation. I took one of the Barons I had parked at Cutter Aviation, and made my way VFR to the reservation and back.

The flight was pretty straightforward, conducted mostly by pilotage, using charts and the TAWS in the cockpit. I departed 26 and made a right downwind to intercept the 062 radial from PXR, then over the various lakes on the Salt River, then down along Roosevelt Lake and further on to the San Carlos Airport. I stayed at the airport overnight, then flew back out to Phoenix along the same route the next day. I then transported yet another McGuffin to the reservation, and turned around and flew right back out, this time all the way to Gila Bend.

Everything went very well, no problems at all. The Baron is easy to fly after you've made a couple flights in the 152 or 172. I'll probably doze off the next time I fly one of my 747s.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Phoenix - Wickenburg / Cessna 152 (N706YL) / VFR

Well, this flight went perfectly, from start to finish. Not that there was a whole lot that I could mess up, but still, I was happy.

Still parked on the northwest side of Sky Harbor, I started up and asked for my clearance into the Bravo and a taxi to the active runway. I was assigned 26, which is right next to the GA ramp where I was parked, albeit at the opposite end of the runway. I prefer that because it lets me turn north after departure without crossing any other traffic. Instructions were to remain at or below 3500.

Departure went very smoothly. I flew the runway heading until I was past downtown, then turned northwest looking for Grand Avenue, which leads all the way out to Wickenburg. To my surprise, just as I was wondering if I'd spot it, I saw it right in front of me. I followed that all the way out. I asked for and got approval to climb to 4500, as 2500 was a bit tight and 3500 wouldn't be quite right for a northwest heading.

I'm much better than I used to be at trimming my various aircraft, and I managed to hold my altitude with great precision after tweaking the trim for only a short while. There weren't any significant changes of heading, as Grand Avenue just goes all the way up, although it's not always referred to as Grand Avenue. I don't have DME on the 152, and I have only one VOR and an ADF, and no NDB was handing to plot an intersection to help me find the airport, but the weather was clear, and the landmarks on the chart were good enough. I knew that the railway that parallels Grand Avenue would turn west just beyond Wickenburg, and I knew that the city itself was on the avenue, and that the airport was west of that. But in any case, in the clear air just before sunset, I easily spotted the beacon at Wickenburg long before I got there.

My descent and approach went very well, too. When I rolled out of my turn from base to final, not only was I lined up with the runway, but I was on the glide slope as well! Flying in to land was a piece of cake, and I managed to touch down so smoothly that I almost didn't feel it.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Gila Bend - Phoenix / Cessna 152 (N706YL) / VFR

For some reason, I keep messing up when flying from Gila Bend to Phoenix. I confuse Highway 80 with Highway 85, and usually only after checking my heading and radial from GBN do I figure out that I'm going the wrong way. I'd get to I-10 eventually either way, but Highway 80 is the long way, and it's harder to follow. (In the sim, Highway 80 is a bit more obvious than Highway 85; in real life, they are very similar but 85 is busier.)

I eventually found my way, and from then on things went okay. Landing straight in on runway 8 was uneventful and extremely smooth, and I parked under one of those nice shady ramadas.

Phoenix - Gila Bend / Cessna 152 (N706YL) / VFR

I just can't resist flying the same routes over and over. They're like a comfortable old blanket or something. This flight was no exception, being from Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport to the tiny Gila Bend Municipal Airport.

It was hot, as always, but the weather was very clear. I had my Cessna 152 parked on the Cutter ramp on the south side of the field. Departures were on 25L, so I just called in to taxi and was sent to H7 via Hotel. From there I departed, climbing to 2500 (I was cleared for VFR at or below 3500). This being a totally VFR flight, I turned slightly north after passing downtown, and picked out Grand Avenue below me, and then Interstate 10, my standard path out of the city. I later realized that at 2500 I was busting the Goodyear Class D—oops!

I asked for flight following, but I got a trainee Center controller who didn't seem to understand. His voice also tended to trail off into a mumble at the end of a transmission, so I wasn't sure if I had FF or not, even after asking several times for a repeat. He had not given me a squawk, so I figured I didn't. As I approached Gila Bend and started my descent, I canceled the request for flight following, but Center acknowledged it as a cancellation of flight following, so I don't really know what the situation was.

I know this route well enough that I don't feel too nervous flying it at night, even in a 152. I followed I-10 out past Avondale and Goodyear Airport, then out of the city until I came to “the bend in the road,” a little crook in the interstate towards the south where it joins Highway 85. Then it was left on Highway 85, and then south along the highway to Gila Bend.

It was totally black except for the highway. There was a full moon but it was off to the east and didn't seem to illuminate very much. Anyway, I got down to Gila Bend and easily recognized the beacon in the darkness, so I swung around to the east (using the TAC to check that I remained clear of terrain) and made my descent for a very nice landing at Gila Bend.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Santa Paula - Big Bear / Beechcraft Baron 58 (N3862S) / VFR

Night flight from Santa Paula. Actually, the sun was setting as I left Santa Paula, but it was almost completely dark by the time I reached Big Bear.

I flew via POM, slightly off-airway for a time, as it's shorter than going to PDZ. I stayed at 7500 most of the way, but since it was nighttime, I climbed to 9500 to get into the mountains. This was handy, because even with my TAWS I went a little too wide over the mountains and didn't come in over the lake by crossing the dam; if I had stayed at 7500 I would have hit something. At 9500 I was at least 1000 feet above terrain; at 7500 I would have been 1000 feet below it.

Other than that, nothing remarkable. The landing was very smooth.

Cannes - Nice - Cannes / Cessna 152 (N801YL) / VFR

I made a small round trip just for fun from the little airport at Cannes to the much larger airport in Nice, and back again. I don't often fly outside the U.S. because the regulations change at every border (especially for VFR) and they are extremely hard to look up.

The flight from Cannes to Nice is very short, even in an anemic Cessna 152. Not much in the way of navigation is required; just turn left at the shoreline, fly past a largish mountain, and set up your approach for Nice. I don't even remember if Nice allows VFR traffic in real life, but this was offline so it didn't matter.

Landing at Nice went without incident. A few minutes later, I flew back to Cannes, and that went okay, too.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Auburn - Firstair - Auburn / Cessna 152 (N708YL) / VFR

For some reason, I never seem to be able to get into the cockpit before late afternoon or sunset. This two-leg flight was no exception, as I began it only a short time before sundown, and it was getting pretty dark by the time I finished it.

In my crusty little Cessna 152, I left Auburn and climbed to a mere 2000 feet (less than 3000 AGL, VFR). Having plotted out my route in advance, I started out on a heading of 018 towards Lake Youngs, which I easily spotted after take-off. From there, I turned to 357 towards the south end of Lake Sammamish. I had to make a tiny detour between the two low mountains that separate Renton from Issaquah, then back towards the lake. I followed the lake north and finally intercepted the SEA006 radial, which I followed up to Firstair. It was a short flight and quite pleasant.

The return flight, which I began right at sunset, went equally well. Again I stayed at 2000, and I retraced my initial route to get back to Auburn. No problems encountered. I held my heading and altitude quite well both ways.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Soldotna - Merle K. (Mudhole) Smith / Beechcraft Baron 58 (N704TL) / VFR-IFR

Inspired by a story about a helicopter pilot who went down in weather in this area some years ago, I decided to try a flight from Soldotna, Alaska, to Cordova. They are about 160 nm apart.

I filed and started out VFR, but there were clouds east of my departure airport that I just couldn't get around, so I obtained a pop-up IFR clearance to my destination. By then I was at 11500 trying to get over the clouds, but I requested and got 9000 after being cleared.

Unlike the flight of the helicopter pilot that inspired me, my flight was uneventful—but my weather was pretty bad, too. It deteriorated as I continued east, with solid cloud layers above and below me and mostly a lot of mist ahead of me. I couldn't really see anything useful, although occasionally I did catch the vague outline of land and water below me. Fortunately, my Barons have all those fancy avionics and are certified for entry into icing conditions, so I was good. And I did pick up a little bit of ice, but nothing serious.

The flight was practically a straight line from Soldotna to Cordova, although I had filed BROIL.NOWEL.JOH. Part of this was off-airway, which was no big deal for VFR but a bit more of a concern for IFR. I just checked the quadrant altitudes on the en-route chart to make sure I was clear of terrain before requesting an altitude. Actually, 7500 would have been fine, but 9000 was even more fine, giving me almost three thousand feet above the highest terrain.

I was very happy on this flight because I executed a superb IFR approach to runway 27 at Cordova. I didn't have ATC online, so I had to fly the approach myself. Once over Prince William Sound, I requested 5000 and flew along until I was just southwest of the airport. I then turned northeast until I had GIPRE at a bearing of 092, just like the plate says. I turned to 092, descending to cross GIPRE at 4700, then descended per the plate while making a procedure turn to come back. All in all, every step was properly executed; as I rolled out of my procedure turn, I was already aligned with the ILS and just beneath the glide slope. I made most of the approach from there on autopilot, but I got the field visually a few miles out and turned off the automation to fly in by hand in nearly-calm winds. Touchdown and taxi to the gate were fine.

I parked just before sunset, although at this latitude in summer, “just before sunset” lasts for quite a long time.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Santa Monica - Phoenix / Beechcraft Baron 58 (N705TL) / IFR

Time for some more cross-country IFR.

I'm a creature of habit, so I chose KSMO to KPHX (yes, as a matter of fact, I do insist on using ICAO airport codes!). This was a night flight, but flying my Barons SPIFR at night doesn't bother me, with all the fancy avionics I have in them.

I filed a departure and arrival, too, which is exceptional for my small GA aircraft. I took the PEVEE1.TRM departure out of Santa Monica, and the BLH4.BLH arrival into Phoenix Sky Harbor. All of the en-route portion of the flight was at 11000, since I had to be there to get over the mountains and the BLH4 (intended for jets and turboprops) also specified a recommended altitude of 11000 at the gate.

All went well. On the way out of SMO I was surprised to hear ATC conducting a PAR approach. It brought back memories of the old movie Airport, in which the heroes ask for a PAR approach for some strange reason (I guess a PAR provides more exciting dialogue and more suspense than an ILS).

ATC was offline in ZAB, so I cleared myself for a Freeway visual approach. Only problem here is that I had no ATC to assign altitudes. After ARLIN, where I'd normally get vectors, I vectored myself northeast to intercept the localizer for 7L (even though I planned a visual approach, I like having back-up), and cleared myself down to 3100 from 5000. That was a bit iffy because there are a few spots in the terrain that reach up past 3100, but I know the area pretty well and I have TAWS on board so I wasn't too worried. At one point I did see terrain below me in the darkness, scattered trees and stuff, but the radar altimeter said I was 2000 feet above and the TAWS showed no terrain problems ahead so I continued on.

The weather was very clear, hot, and calm at Sky Harbor (something about that name—Sky Harbor—sounds appealing to me … I picture little planes tied up to cloud banks in a sky-high version of a pleasure harbor). I let the autopilot line me up until I was 11 miles out or so, then switched it off and flew the rest by hand. Landing was smooth and without incident, and I taxied across 7R and over to Cutter, my favorite FBO (probably because they have the old Phoenix tower from the 1950s as decoration). They've also been in Phoenix for as long as I can remember.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Santa Paula - Santa Ynez / Cessna 152 (N702YL) / VFR

I try to find short flights for the 152, since it is so incredibly slow. This evening I flew from Santa Paula to Santa Ynez, a distance of only about 59 nautical miles. It still took nearly an hour.

The flight went perfectly in every respect. I flew at 4500 feet all the way. The only problem—there's always something!—was that I had the sun blazing into my eyes almost every single step of the way. So it was hard to admire the scenery. All I could do was squint through sunglasses. Why do I always seem to have the sun in my eyes? But other than that, it was perfect.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Montgomery Field - Santa Monica / Beechcraft Baron 58 (N705TL) / IFR

It was time for a little IFR practice, so I fired up one of my Barons at Montgomery Field, and flew to Santa Monica with some virtual passengers. I flew the TEC route SANN9 at 6000.

The main problem with this flight was a change in the location of POPPR, one of the waypoints on the TEC route. It used to be northwest of SLI, now it is southeast. Unfortunately, my aging GPS database still has it northwest, which I only discovered while reviewing the route after take-off, so I had to define a user waypoint with the new location.

This illustrates a problem with simulation for the moment: it's not always possible to have updated navigation databases on the sim, which makes using updated, current procedures potentially difficult. Most waypoints and stations don't move, but some do, and procedures get updated, deleted, or added in other ways. There's no way to update the basic sim database, and the GPS units I use (Garmin units implemented by Reality XP) have proprietary databases that Garmin doesn't update. So with time, inevitably things drift.

I managed to complete the flight, though. After I redefined POPPR in the GPS unit, I was cleared direct ELMOO and then for the VOR approach to runway 21 at Santa Monica. All went well and I landed at KSMO without incident.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Corona - Oceanside / Piper Dakota (N9706W) / VFR

After resting a bit in Corona, I decided to make a quick flight to Oceanside. It only took about half an hour. The descent into Oceanside was rather steep, but the landing was pretty smooth.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Santa Paula - Corona / Piper Dakota (N9706W) / VFR

So I was standing around at Santa Paula again, debating which aircraft I should take up for a spin among the several of my fleet that are sitting here at the airport. Suddenly, a man runs up to me, whom I recognize as famed Dr. Clayton Forrester of Pacific Tech, and asks me to take him to Corona, which somehow doesn't surprise me. That gives me an excuse to fly, and we hop into one of my Piper Dakotas, N9706W, sitting on the ramp.

I'm getting to know V186 by heart, and I quickly set up a route to the Fillmore VOR and then along V186 to PDZ, at which point we'd slip over the Class C and drop down to land at Corona.

The night is very clear, and we take off without incident, making a left downwind departure and then direct to FIM. Night operations are prohibited at Santa Paula (the runway isn't even lit), but with someone as renowned as Dr. Forrester, it was easy to get an exception made. I find it puzzling that KSZP has a left-handed pattern for runway 22, because there are mountains south of the field, whereas none to the north. I guess noise abatement is more important than safety of life. It's always a challenge to clear those hills, and in this case I had to pull up substantially when I realized that they were right in front of me (maybe that's another reason why the airport doesn't allow night operations?).

After that, it was just a matter of cruising along V186, which we did at 5500 feet, high enough to keep us out of the Class C airspaces at Burbank and Ontario. When we got do PDZ, I turned to 130 degrees and flew clear of the Class C below us, then descended briskly to to 2500 feet and turned around towards Corona. I looked for Lake Matthews to help me orient myself, but I couldn't see it in the darkness … however, I could see Interstate 15 and the Riverside Freeway, which I knew intersected just southeast of Corona Municipal, and that helped me get my bearings. There's also a dry wash of sorts east of the field (I don't know if it has a name), and I could see the darkness of the wash to help me.

Anyway, the beacon at the airport was easy to spot, and we landed without incident. Dr. Forrester hitched a ride to the Puente Mall to deal with those pesky Martians, and I decided to dematerialize here for the night.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Big Bear - Santa Paula / Cessna 152 (N709YL) / VFR

Since I practically have the Big Bear - Santa Paula route memorized, I figured I could risk an evening flight in the extremely Spartan Cessna 152. I survived, but I still messed it all up.

With no DME and only one VOR, navigation is a challenge in the evening. I started out at sundown, so I still had light at Big Bear. I made my take-off and took note of my anemic climb rate, but that wasn't a problem because I was over the lake, with plenty of room to gain altitude. Passing over the dam, I turned into the valley through which Bear Creek runs. It was misty and only marginally VFR, but I know the way out of the mountains, so I did okay. So far, so good.

I entered the valley below the mountains and had my one-and-only VOR set to the 258 radial inbound to Pomona (which is on V16). I had a terrible time stabilizing my altitude, even though I've done well in some previous flights; there must have been some turbulence or updrafts. I finally got that sorted out, and I held my course reasonably well, given that there was a substantial wind and I was drifting significantly.

Beyond Pomona I experienced my first period of confusion. I'm not used to the slow speed of the 152, and I seemed to be flying forever after crossing POM. I was sure that I had busted the Class B at some points. I set my VOR to the 275 radial inbound to VNY after POM, and for good measure, I set the ADF to El Monte. Everything checked out, but I still felt that I was too far west, and the thought of getting into trouble for wandering into the Bravo worried me. The needles didn't seem to move for a long time, even as I flew ever west. I told myself that the instruments don't lie, so if they say I'm clear of the Bravo, I'm clear of the Bravo—assuming I wasn't messing up in the way I was using them, of course, which was still an open question in my mind.

Finally, finally, the needles started to move. The ADF had been pointing resolutely west without any obvious motion for quite some time, but finally it started to turn. And the needle on the VOR finally started to ease its way towards the center. This was quite a relief since it proved that I really was still east of the Bravo and out of harm's way. It took ages for the needles to move far enough to where I was ready to turn onto V186, but they finally did. My speed was only about 85 KIAS, very modest compared even to, say, one of my Dakotas (140 KIAS) or even one of my 172s (120 KIAS).

I got myself centered on V186 and proceeded to VNY. But here again, I encountered the same problem I had with POM: How do I know how far I am from the VOR? The rate at which the needle moves is one indication, but it doesn't change much until you're practically on top of the VOR. When you lose the VOR, you know you're passing over it, although it might be a little late to make plans by then. It was frustrating.

My workaround was to find some NDBs and tune the ADF to locate them. I used El Monte while passing POM. On the way to VNY, I used Pacoima. By watching the changing angles on both the VOR and ADF, I could get a fair idea of where I was in relation to the VOR, roughly. This helped warn me of my pending overflight of VNY, so I could prepare for the next station (Fillmore). The switch to Fillmore went well.

I had started my flight at about 7500 feet, only about 1000 feet AGL. As soon as I cleared the mountains, I started a descent to 6500. I stayed there until I crossed VNY, then I started a 500-fpm descent as I continued on to Fillmore. I know from the chart that there's nothing above 3000 feet on the way to FIM, so I could descend 3500 feet on the way, and I need to descend because Santa Paula is practically at sea level. My plan was to fly to FIM, then outbound on the 267 radial for about 6 miles (roughly 5 minutes of flight), then turn to 220 to head to KSZP. But I started messing up on the way to FIM.

It was the same problem that confused me: How far was I from FIM? It was dark, so it was hard to see landmarks. No DME, of course … and this time, no friendly NDB to cross-check with. Again, it seemed to take forever to reach the VOR. I flew and flew, gradually descending, and starting wondering just what was going on. At about four miles from the VOR (although I didn't know my distance at the time), I foolishly thought that maybe I'd better turn. Like an idiot, I turned to 220, thinking I'd be heading to KSZP. In fact, I was still 10 nm southeast of KSZP.

I flew and flew, with increasing anxiety because nothing looked familiar. There were dark spots among the lights, which could be the airport (KSZP has no beacon or runway lights). There were bigger dark spots that were probably rising terrain. This didn't reassure me. I found something that looked like the airport, but as I approached it, I realized that wasn't it. I kept looking in all directions for something familiar, and finally I realized that I was lost.

I tried setting the VOR for the 250 radial out of FIM, which crosses the airport, but I couldn't seem to get on the radial (here again, it was the slow speed of the aircraft that tricked me into believing that I was doing something wrong—had I just flown longer, I would ended up on the radial).

After a while, I gave up on that radial, and groped back and forth a bit trying to see something that looked like an airport. Finally I did see a fairly large airport (too large to be Santa Paula), and realized that I was looking at Camarillo. So now I knew roughly where I was. I tuned the Ventura VOR, and headed for the 344 radial, which crossed Santa Paula. This time I tried to be patient, flying doggedly west, reasoning that I had to hit the radial sooner or later. Sure enough, I did. When I reached it I turned carefully north to 344.

There were hills in front of me that made it hard to determine if I was going in the right direction for a time, but I recalled that Santa Paula is just north of some hills. The chart said that some of them peaked at 2700, and I was somewhat below that, so I climbed to 3500 or so. The mountains were mostly dark silhouettes, but I could see city lights beyond, and I remembered that the spot ahead of me that remains stationary in my visual field is the spot towards which I'm flying, so I put some lights at that point to be sure I'd clear terrain. At one point, I could vaguely see trees below lit by my landing light, so I was only clearing terrain by a few hundred feet, but that was enough. After I got past the hill, I could see the two dark riverbeds that merged just southeast of KSZP, and I figured I was nearly home.

Sure enough, the closer I got, the more everything fell into place, and this time I was certain that I was approaching KSZP. I made a left base approach to the airport, kind of messy and crooked, but I landed very smoothly at very low speed. From there I parked on the ramp.

The lessons learned here were that I should not yield to speculation and not assume that I've messed up if nothing in the instruments indicates that I have. The slow speed of the aircraft made me worry, but the instruments always showed which way I was going, and so, for that matter, did the landmarks outside the window. In the future I'll try to be more patient in the 152, and more confident in my navigation, and not assume that I'm lost when I'm actually not (since assuming I'm lost may lead to me getting lost!).

Carty's - Beluga - Falcon Lake / Cessna 152 (N708YL) / VFR

Breaking out of my recent rut in terms of route selection, I decided to do some flying in Alaska today, with a brand-new Cessna 152 that materialized at Carty's Airstrip, a private field nine nautical miles north of Kenai Municipal Airport in Alaska. (I hope the virtual version of the owner, Mr. Carty, didn't mind.)

The weather was cool (thank goodness) as I set out for Beluga Airport, a mere 29 nm to the north, almost all of it over the waters of the Gompertz Channel. The flight and landing went perfectly. I managed to hold course and altitude very precisely. I carried a virtual passenger with me across the water, as flying to Beluga saves having to drive all the way around the water (I don't think there is any kind of ferry service).

Encouraged by this, I shortly thereafter set out for Falcon Lake, near Anchorage. That went well too, until it came down to actually finding the airport. There are a couple of very small fields within a few miles of each other in the area, and I finally landed at what I thought was Falcon Lake. I think I was actually at the field next-door, on another farm. They are both scarcely more than flat strips, but Flyway is east-west and that's how I landed, so I think that's where I am. The airstrips are only about a mile apart.

Maybe I'm choosing airports that are too small. It's hard to tell sometimes on the chart. Still, I'm within a mile of where I expected to be, which is pretty good in an area the size of Alaska.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Big Bear - Santa Paula / Beechcraft Baron 58 (N3862S) / VFR

For relaxation, I decided to fly a Baron out of Big Bear, on a route sufficiently familiar that I couldn't mess it up too much.

The Baron has a very nice Sandel TAWS, making flight through the mountains much easier and safer. After departure on runway 26, I used the TAWS during this night flight to help verify that I was following my chosen route, which leads along Bear Creek through the valley below the dam towards the Los Angeles area. That went pretty well.

The rest of the flight went very well, up to landing at Santa Paula. Once again, I came in faster and higher than I should have. My descent left something to be desired, and I landed with a single slight bounce, but that's significant on such a short runway. Something about the approach to Santa Paula makes it difficult, at least in a fast aircraft like the Baron. But nothing broke and I got down all right.

Beatty - Tonopah / Piper Dakota (N9702W) / VFR

I almost got it right on this flight, which was a very simple flight, difficult to mess up.

I proceeded to LIDAT after take-off. I used the GPS and HSI to aim for it, in addition to the heading I had calculated from the chart (I couldn't fly direct to TPH because of restricted airspace). At LIDAT, I turned to 350 to go north. From there, I planned to intercept the 206 radial inbound to the Tonopah VOR.

I messed up as I headed north. I was going north, all right, but I had the VORs mistuned—again. So I was chasing needles that were pointing the wrong way, again. I finally discovered that I had not swapped frequencies for VOR1 just as I crossed the radial that was supposed to lead me to TPH. Fortunately, I was only about twelve miles from the field by then, and I actually had it in sight, just north of the VOR. I was well positioned for a left base, so I made that into the airport.

Tonopah had fuel, which was good because I was running low after hopping from one tiny airport to the next. This was also one of the rare airports in the area with instrument approaches, although fortunately I didn't need those.

Another job not-so-well done.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Big Bear - Ludlow - Shoshone - Beatty / Piper Dakoa (N9702W) / VFR

I made multiple stops at several tiny airports during this evening flight, conducted not long before sunset.

I started at Big Bear, where I had finished a previous flight in one of my Piper Dakotas. My first leg took me from Big Bear to a private strip called Ludlow via the Hector VOR. That went pretty much without incident.

My next leg took me to Shoshone, via Baker (both are small airports). I plotted my course with the aid of VORs, but I confused the frequencies for Daggett and Hector and ended up flying too far east for a while. Comparison of the terrain outside the window with the charts made it clear that I was going the wrong way. I eventually managed to overfly Baker, and then going up to Shoshone went a little better.

After landing at Shoshone, I had just enough light outside to make another flight to Beatty. That involved simply flying roughly northwest (a heading of about 310) until I intercepted the 126 radial from Beatty, and then to the VOR and the field. It went okay.

It was getting pretty dark by the time I reached Beatty, so I stopped there. None of these destination airports seems to have any fuel, so I'll need to fly somewhere and fill up, soon.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Santa Paula - Big Bear City / Piper Dakota (N9702W) / VFR

Off to Big Bear in yet another Piper from the same Santa Paula airport. There's something soothing about flying familiar routes.

SoCal was busy this evening. I actually saw traffic out the window, which is unusual by day unless it's something big. It's true that I was at 7500, which would put me closer to other heavy traffic than I would be at 3500. I was flying without flight following and I tried to keep my eyes open, and I monitored SoCal Approach (at least) to help.

All went well for most of the flight. This Dakota has more gadgets than the Cessna 182, particularly a more functional autopilot, two-axis with a connection to the installed GPS 430, so I can automate a lot of the flight, which is handy when the airspace is crowded (you don't want to wander off your planned route too much).

There was a bit of heightened concern as I turned north from REANS to go over the mountains. By that time, the sun had set, and the mountains were just looming dark silhouettes against a darkening sky. I tend to get mixed up in situations like this, so I stared at the chart a lot to make sure I'd be following the right path through the mountains to the lake. It's only a short distance, but that doesn't make it any less hazardous.

I knew that a heading of 003 from REANS would help me through the mountains, but I had no way to navigate this with instruments, so I had to estimate by looking out the window. I anticipated and made my turn, only to realize that I was a bit too far west, so I turned slightly east. After peering into the darkness without much result for a while, I finally realized that there was a mountain directly ahead, and so I turned sharply west and got back into the Bear Creek valley that I was looking for.

In addition to this, I was at only 7500 feet, which is enough to clear terrain, but only if you follow the right path (you clear Big Bear Dam about about 700 feet). So I had a few minutes of nervousness finding my way up the valley (it didn't help that a Cessna crashed here back in February of this year, although nobody was hurt). Once I got back into the valley, it only was a minute or two before I saw the lake on my right, and after that, the approach over the lake and the landing were easy.

Saba - Sint Maarten - St. Barth / Cessna 152 (N707YL) / VFR

Saba, the smallest island in the Netherlands Antilles portion of the Caribbean, measures only five square miles, and yet it has an airport—a very tiny airport. I decided to fly out of this airport today in one of my Cessna 152s.

The airport's name—Saba-Juancho E. Yrausquin Airport—is longer than its tiny runway, which measures only about 1300 feet. I was just able to get off the ground about ten feet before the end of the runway during my departure to Princess Juliana Airport on Sint Maarten, 28 miles to the north. The runway ends in a cliff, so you always have some open air in which to pick up speed if you don't make it, but I don't find that reassuring.

Nevertheless, I managed to get to Sint Maarten easily enough. Even in a Cessna 152, the flight was short. I didn't have time to climb very high, which meant that I wasn't within gliding distance of land, but I was surrounded by populated islands so I would not be far from help if I had to ditch (even so, I'm not sure I would have flown with this aircraft in real life).

Not having any fancy avionics, and not having any charts for this region, either, I just set my one nav radio to PJM and headed for that, dodging clouds periodically. About half-way there, I spotted Sint Maarten, and from then on it was easy to visually approach the island and enter a right base for runway 10. Landing was very smooth—the 152 is so slow that it's hard to make any mistakes.

I parked in a quiet corner of the field and took a break, then taxied back out to runway 10 and took off again, this time heading towards St. Bart's.

By now it was nighttime, and I can't recall having tried to land at St. Bart's at night before. I found the island easily enough, but I got disoriented again and flew past the field before I spotted it below and turned around. I crossed the field and then entered a left base for runway 10. It was a bit challenging to make the necessary rapid descent in the darkness, although I could see just enough to know where I was going. Landing was good. I didn't want to fly any more in the darkness in the 152, so I taxied over to a quiet corner and parked.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Waimea - Dillingham / Beechcraft Baron 58 (N2735W) / VFR

I filed a flight plan for this flight that kept me as close as possible to land, although I wasn't necessarily within gliding distance of land at all times. The flight was scenic and the weather was so-so, although I had to swerve to avoid clouds now and then. All went well except for a brief bust of the Class B around Honolulu when I failed to start my descent from 8500 quickly enough; fortunately I was not given a telephone number to call. Landing was smooth even though I landed with a slight tailwind.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Arnold - Panola County / Beechcraft Bonanza A36 (N7418F) / VFR

I picked another pair of tiny airports around Memphis for this night flight, and this went so-so. It's really dark at night! I'm glad the terrain is fairly flat.

My original flight plan took me from the airport to the Holly Springs VOR, beneath the Memphis Class B, at just 2500 feet. After starting out, though, the little bit of mostly rural terrain I could see in the darkness looked too close for comfort, so I turned to get out from beneath the Class B and climbed to 3500. After HLI I started descending again, since the destination airport had an elevation of only 221 feet, and I landed smoothly and uneventfully. Apart from my rather jagged path and frequent altitude changes, all went well. It still makes me nervous to fly in the dark without lots of expensive avionics, though.

Tunica - Mc Neely / Piper Dakota (N9706W) / VFR

This night flight from the tiny airport of Tunica (not to be confused with Tunica Muni, which is right next-door) to the even tinier airport of Mc Neely went reasonably well, until it was time to land.

Right about where I felt I should start looking for the destination airport, I spotted a lit runway where I expected to see Mc Neely, so I landed there … only to discover that I was at Bernard, another private strip. Bernard has runway lights; Mc Neely doesn't. I was further confused by the chart, which shows Mc Neely with just one runway, when in fact it has two. I had seen these two strips in the darkness, barely, before landing, but I figured the single lighted strip was the right place.

Upon realizing my error, I turned around, took off, and landed at Mc Neely, which was only a mile or two away. The landing at Mc Neely was rough. The runway I picked was turf and barely visible in the darkness. I got down okay, but I don't consider this a very successful flight.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Pauma Valley Air Park - Warner Springs Gliderport / Piper Dakota (N9704W) / VFR

Just seventeen miles to cover, and I still messed things up.

I looked at the chart, and decided to make a very brief hop to the Warner Springs Gliderport, on the other side of Lake Henshaw. It was very easy: all I had to do was follow the San Luis Rey River through a small valley and then turn over the lake. But somehow I still got disoriented.

I took off to the west, and made a left downwind departure. I knew from my planning that I should head due east, 090, out of the airport, and follow the valley. But once I was in the air, I saw several things that looked like valleys, and I wasn't sure which was right. After flying for a minute or two in what looked like the right valley, I decided it was the wrong valley, and made a U-turn back towards the airport. Crossing the airport, I carefully headed out on exactly 090. This time I saw a river, a highway, and some power lines, just like the chart showed. And sure enough, after flying for a while (at only 3500 feet, then 4000 feet as the terrain rose a bit), I saw the lake appear behind the hills, and I turned towards it.

Even then, I was going towards the wrong shore. I looked at the GPS and the chart again, and turned further to the left, and finally I spotted runway lights in the distance. Thereafter I managed to land without incident.

Once again, the engine died after I set it to idle, but I was at only 2800 feet this time. I still haven't figured that out. And I forgot to squawk Mode C during the trip, even though I was just inside the Mode C veil. Oh well.

I considered another flight, but the sun was setting and I don't feel good about flying this aircraft through the mountains in the dark.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Big Bear - Pauma Valley / Piper Dakota (N9704W) / VFR

Tired of shuttling between Santa Paula and Big Bear, I decided to fly down to some other tiny airport in SoCal, and I picked Pauma Valley Air Park on the chart. This is a tiny private field owned by a country club. I obtained permission to land there (permission is always granted in the world of virtual flight), and I was off, making my usual sharp turn through the mountains at the west end of Big Bear Lake, then to REANS, then over Hemet and French Valley airports, then to Pauma Valley.

My destination airport is tiny and I had never been here before, so I almost missed it, but I finally spotted the field. At the time of my flight, I didn't realize that the field had a golf course right next to it (duh!), or that would have made it easy to find. I was confused by what looked like another, even smaller strip, but I picked the one aligned with my heading (because the chart showed that Pauma would be aligned with me). I couldn't find the other strip on the charts, if that's what it was.

By the time I found the field, I was quite high. I turned to base and final in one 180-degree turn, slipping at the same time to get down to a reasonable altitude (I started at around 5500 and the field is at around 750). I aligned fine with the runway, but I came in quite fast and floated for a while in ground effect again. I finally touched down and stood on the brakes, and came to a full stop just inches from the end of the runway (see my photo). I'm not sure if that's good or bad in terms of airmanship!

Santa Paula - Big Bear / Piper Dakota (N9704W) / VFR

I've discovered some things about the HSI, but I'm having other trouble with the Dakota.

I tried the flight from Santa Paula again. As before, the HSI was pointing any old way when I climbed into the cockpit. I turned on battery power and the HDG warning flag immediately disappeared, even before the gyros spun up. Still more mysteriously, the HSI failed to align itself automatically, even though the slaving switch was set to slave. This seems to be a possible discrepancy between the sim and real life; I need to investigate more.

I aligned the HSI by hand after switching to free mode, then set it back to slave.

The flight to Big Bear was uneventful. Landing was very smooth. Managed to stay clear of terrain with no problem in the late afternoon, with good visibility.

Another mystery has come up, though. The engine dies after I set it to idle after touchdown. I tried playing with the mixture control but that doesn't seem to help. I'm not sure what the problem is. True, I'm at nearly 7000 feet MSL at Big Bear, but still … I don't have this problem with other aircraft. So I have to look into that, too. I got around it by not setting the throttle to idle, but that wasn't very elegant.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Santa Paula - Big Bear City - Santa Paula / Piper Dakota (N9704W) / VFR

I'm still getting used to Piper's answer to the Cessna 182. I have a better avionics suite in this Dakota than I have in the 182, but in many ways they do seem to be similar. This was my first logged flight online, after a number of test flights conducted offline.

I did pretty well. I've been spoiled by that nice Sandel EHSI in the Baron and Bonanza, and while the Dakota has a Garmin 430, too, it doesn't have the EHSI, so I'm still trying to get used to using a more traditional instrument to fly with a GPS.

The trip over to Big Bear was pretty easy. After a short break up in the mountains, around sunset, I set back out to return to Santa Paula.

That, too, was moderately successful, except for one mystery: Somehow, my DG got off—way off—during this leg.

I first noticed it coming out of the mountains. I knew I was heading west, but the DG said 330. Hmm. It's the kind of DG that doesn't need to be corrected by hand constantly, supposedly. I double checked the magnetic compass, and it said 221, which sounded right and was nowhere near where the DG was. I couldn't figure out what was going on.

Finally I switched the DG to FREE and aligned it myself, then switched it back. It seemed okay for the rest of the flight, but I really need to find out what happened. While I was fooling with it, I was all over the place in terms of heading and altitude. Fortunately I was VFR and didn't really stray into any airspace that would get me into trouble—and that's not easy in SoCal. When I finally realigned the DG, I was way south of Pomona, way off course, and I had to turn northeast to get back to POM and over to V186.

After that, things went smoothly. Some questionable visibility descending towards FIM, but I did okay. The landing was problematic, and I came in too fast and floating in ground effect for a long time, and ran off the end of the runway slightly. No harm done to the aircraft, but quite embarrassing.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Avalon - French Valley / Cessna 172 (N9828W) / VFR

Despite the usual mistiness over the water, I was able to fly VFR from Avalon back to the mainland, ending up at French Valley (Temecula). The route was extremely simple: I just followed the 063 radial from SXC at 5500 feet, until I had the field in sight. It took a good 40 minutes or so. Both take-off and landing were extremely smooth.

Santa Paula - Avalon / Cessna 172 (N9828W) / VFR

For once the weather was completely clear out to Catalina, so I flew one of my little Cessna 172s from Santa Paula out to the island. I flew to FIM and then directly to SMO, then through the SFRA and out to the island. All went well, and the landing at Avalon was pretty well executed in clear weather. I did a lot of the flight visually (except for the SFRA), and I know where the airport is on the island so I could just steer towards that without the need to use navaids.

Grass Valley - Los Angeles / Beechcraft Baron 58 (N2754W) / IFR

Grass Valley is a town in California with a tiny airport, Nevada County Airpark, from which I started this flight to Los Angeles. I know it best as the birthplace of the Grass Valley Group, a company that was formerly very well known for its video equipment (it's not quite so famous now as it used to be, probably thanks to multiple acquisitions).

This flight was very pleasant, over green hills most of the way, and just west of Yosemite. Lots of fluffy white clouds that didn't cause any troubles. The landing at Los Angeles was also smooth and uneventful, although I wasn't very graceful about maintaining altitude while intercepting the localizer.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Escalante - Los Angeles / Beechcraft Baron 58 (N2751W) / IFR

Having landed in the tiny town of Escalante and having rapidly exhausted the novelty thereof, I undertook a return trip to civilization, namely, Los Angeles. I filed IFR from CABER to LAX (Escalante has no instrument departure procedures, so I picked up the clearance after I was in the air and approaching CABER).

This flight was a bit disjointed, because I interrupted it shortly after beginning in order to sleep in real life (I was up late, as usual). If I were a total purist, I would have landed, but I was getting sleepy and I didn't want to go to the trouble of starting a whole new trip, so I just paused it and went to bed, just a bit east of Las Vegas.

I picked it up again the next morning. Even so, the break disturbed my situational awareness a bit and it took a while to get back into the swing of the flight. Since I interrupted the flight, I was offline and had no ATC, so I was on my own. I had initially climbed to 11000, the MEA at CABER, and then shortly thereafter to 14000 to meet some MEAs later on the route. After passing over Sin City, though, I was able to descend to 12000, although I kept the oxygen flowing. I briefly descended to 8000 but then had to climb to 12000 again for another MEA east of Pomona. On crossing Pomona I descended to 6000, then to 4000, and by that time I was east of LAX and almost aligned with my chosen runway (25R), I descended again to 2000.

The landing was very smooth and I taxied over to my favorite parking spot, which I think belongs to Landmark or Mercury (I haven't been able to find out for sure).

Phoenix - Escalante, UT / Beechcraft Baron 58 (N2751W) / VFR

Inspired by a Facebook wall post, I decided to try flying up to Escalante, a tiny town in Utah that happens to have a small municipal airport.

I filed VFR via a couple of waypoints that would take me up over Prescott and through the Dragon Corridor over the Grand Canyon in the Grand Canyon SFRA before taking me to Escalante. The distance was about the same as a flight from Phoenix to San Diego, but I do PHX-SAN all the time and I was looking for variety.

All went well. Cleared into the Bravo and departing from runway 26, I immediately turned north, climbing to 4500 initially and then more gradually up to 8500 as I left the Bravo, for terrain. Unfortunately I found myself heading right into a cloud layer, so for a while I bounced between altitudes looking for clear skies, going from 8500 to 12500 and back down again at various intermediate altitudes. Finally I just made a wide swing around the clouds, ultimately rejoining my filed route at KACEE. As I approached BISOP I climbed again to 11500 to pass through the Dragon Corridor of the Grand Canyon SFRA. (The name of the corridor sounds a bit ominous, but it's just named after a specific landmark in the corridor.) I went direct CABER, descending after I was clear of the Paria Plateau, and then down to Escalante at 5744 feet, swinging slightly east to stay clear of Canaan Peak.

The landing was very smooth, weather was good, and it was a nice change of pace.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

San Diego - Phoenix / Beechcraft Baron 58 (N2751W) / VFR

This evening I decided to fly back to Phoenix in the Baron I had parked at Jimsair in San Diego. I filed BARET IPL BZA MOHAK GBN ALLIS at 7500 VFR. I was given no restrictions in my clearance into the Bravo on departure, only a squawk, which was odd but I had no problem with it.

I flew almost entirely on autopilot (my Barons are chock full of cool avionics), and I nearly dozed off during the uneventful night flight. Flying the Baron is such a breeze after having to do everything by hand in a 152! For landing I was given a left downwind to 25L, which conveniently put me right next to Cutter, where I parked. The landing was a bit harder than I would have preferred, but still acceptable, and no harm done.

Wickenburg - Phoenix / Cessna 152 (N706YL) / VFR

It dawned on me while looking at a chart that Grand Avenue, a diagonal street that runs northwest from central Phoenix, turns into a highway that leads all the way up to Wickenburg—so I decided to fly from Wickenburg to Phoenix just by following this highway/street. It worked pretty well. It took a while—everything seems to take a while in a 152—but it worked out okay. I eventually came in over Sun City West and Sun City, and had a bit of trouble spotting the transition from highway to Grand Avenue, but I eventually had to turn east, anyway, in order to make my downwind for runway 26. Landing was without incident, and I parked at Cutter, my favorite FBO (even though I've never been there in real life!).

Monday, August 3, 2009

Gila Bend - Wickenburg / Cessna 152 (N706YL) / VFR

I don't know what it is about Gila Bend, but I seem to find myself going to or from its little airport an awful lot. The city is a hellhole, like most tiny towns in the deserts of the Great American Southwest. It's often the hottest spot in the State of Arizona (just as Hawley Lake is often the coldest). It's a place you pass through without stopping while driving between Phoenix and San Diego.

I guess the airport is convenient for me, and it's in a geographic area that I know only too well. Plus, I can fly to and from the city in a sim without suffering the extreme discomfort of 115° F temperatures. In real life, this might well be too much of an ordeal to endure.

The town is named after a bend in the nearby Gila River (which usually has only about a quart of water flowing through it), and the first word in the name is pronounced “heelah,” although many out-of-towners in aviation don't know this. There's a waypoint and an arrival named GEELA into Phoenix, which makes me think that the person naming it didn't know about the customary local pronunciation of Gila Bend (and the Gila River), or perhaps didn't want to risk confusing people unfamiliar with the local pronunciation (pilots flying in from other cities most likely wouldn't know about the peculiarity of pronunciation).

Anyway … where was I? … oh, yes, I left Gila Bend in one of my clunky little 152s and headed for Wickenburg. The distance between them was 62 nautical miles, and at the lame speeds of the 152, that meant about 40 minutes in the air. I headed for the Buckeye VOR, then headed back out on the 349 radial and found the airport easily enough. There wasn't much wind and the weather was very clear. I did encounter some turbulence near Wickenburg, though.

It was 110° F in Wickenburg when I landed, with gusting winds, and the landing was a bit rough because of the gusts.

Wickenburg is a dump, too. Sorry, but it is. I'm glad I'm only landing there, not visiting there. However, Wickenburg does have one redeeming quality: the Hassayampa River flows through it. Unlike the Gila River, this river has water in it, but it flows mostly underground (!). It comes above ground in Wickenburg and flows gently through the town. That still doesn't compensate for high temperatures, though, and the airport is several miles from the river.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Avalon - Santa Monica / Cessna 152 (N705YL) / VFR

After verifying that the weather was VFR (it was marginal VFR), I teleported one of my Cessna 152s to Avalon Airport, on Catalina Island, and flew to Santa Monica. The trip is about 43 nautical miles, half of that over water. I don't know that I'd feel comfortable flying a 152 over the ocean in real life, but in simulation, where failures occur only when you allow them to, there was no risk.

Take-off was to the west, as usual, and I made a downwind departure towards the mainland. On my single VOR I tuned Seal Beach, and flew towards that for a while, trying to avoid clouds. The weather cleared as I neared the mainland, and I turned roughly towards FERMY after reaching the breakwater before the Queen's Gate reporting point. I had been as low as 2000 feet (not good, I know, but there's no way I'd get high enough quickly enough to glide to the mainland while over the water, anyway), and climbed to 3500 as I came in over the mainland, in part to avoid the Class D airspaces at Torrance and Long Beach, and in part to prepare for my transition through the LAX SFRA, which requires 3500 feet northbound. EDIT: No, that's not right, I should have been at 4500 northbound! Aarrgh, huge mistake! I have a telephone number to call. — AA

I happened to land almost exactly on the SMO312 radial, which is the required radial for the SFRA, so I just followed it in. No need to worry about being below 140 KIAS for the SFRA in this aircraft, since I can barely get to 100 KIAS. I switched the transponder to 1201 as I silently sailed over LAX, then switched it back for my dramatic descent into KSMO. Santa Monica is just north of LAX and I was at 3500 feet, so I descended with a slight slip in order to get down to pattern altitude as quickly as I could, after being approved for a left downwind entry (the pattern was empty, anyway).

The landing was very smooth. I was surprised at how well it went. I guess it's hard to make too many mistakes at only 50 knots. The weather was nice and clear in Santa Monica (although it's now low IFR as I write this, several hours later). Getting lost wasn't much of a risk here as I know the SoCal airspace and geography quite well.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Black Diamond - Harvey / Cessna 152 (N707YL) / VFR

I flubbed up another exercise in pilotage with this flight.

The plan was simple: fly from Black Diamond airport (95WA) to Harvey (S43), below the Seattle Class B. It's practically a straight line north, but I still messed it up. All I had to do was stick to a course of 337 until I got to the Snoqualmie River, then turn slightly to around 321 and proceed to Harvey. The whole trip was only a measly 36 nautical miles, over land that is only a few feet above sea level. The weather was very clear and I could see for dozens of miles, it seemed. I was never at more than 2500 feet, so I had a good view of the ground.

Nevertheless, I lost my way. Take a look at the track of my flight here. Not exactly ruler-straight, is it? I did well enough up along Lake Sammamish, in part because I had that big lake as a reference point. But then, as I continued north, I got confused. At first I thought I was too far south, then too far north, then too far west, and so on. I saw rivers and highways and other features that I thought I recognized, but I still got confused.

I tried working with VORs. The 152 has only a single VOR receiver. I used SEA initially then switched to PAE. I knew that Harvey was on the 080 radial from the chart, but I couldn't seem to get to the radial. It felt like it was taking too long to get there, so I turned around, and then turned around again.

All in all, this was a pretty sorry performance. And this was under good conditions. I'm not sure how I finally managed to locate the airport. Thank goodness the weather was good and I departed with full tanks, and I was in an area with lots of airports and flat terrain.

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