Friday, April 3, 2009

Los Angeles - Phoenix / Boeing 747-4AA (N705ML) / IFR

Time to stay current on the Jumbo Jet. I did this with a familiar flight from LAX to Sky Harbor in Phoenix.

All went smoothly, except that I asked for a pushback in the wrong direction (maybe I should blame the ground crew for that, eh?). I was at gate 122 at the Tom Bradley International Terminal. (I know this is for international flights, but I got special permission from the airport to use this gate for my private 747—aren't sims great?) I was pushed back facing south, which had me staring at people staring back at me with bewilderment inside the main terminal. Not to worry—I made a stunning U-turn on the ramp … fortunately nobody else was in the way, although I think someone steering a jetway might have wet himself as my wingtip swept past him.

With that behind me, literally, I made my way out to trusty 24L for my HOLTZ9.TRM departure. Traffic was light and nobody was in my way as I rolled along Echo to my departure point. I tried not to forget any of my procedures (I have no easy way of bringing up and reading off checklists, unfortunately). Flaps set, TA/RA set and transponder mode C, and so on. Cleared for take-off, I flew the take-off by hand up to a few thousand feet, then let the FMC take over. I'm getting better at following the needles.

It was foggy off the coast and for a while I had zero visibility, but I rose out of that quickly enough at 5000 feet (my initial assigned altitude). As I turned I was cleared to 10,000, and then shortly thereafter to my cruising altitude of FL330. The 747 is a pleasure to fly.

Since this was my private aircraft, I cranked the cost index up to 200 to get to Phoenix more quickly, and a slight tailwind helped. I was making about 515 knots over the ground at 302 KIAS, which isn't bad. Weather was superb.

I've learned little things from flying these aircraft over time. I know that if I crank up the CI, descent will be more of a challenge because of extra airspeed. I tend to change my descent speed to my current cruise speed before I reach T/D, because otherwise the aircraft will allow itself to speed up in the descent and then it becomes a problem to slow down. I was at 302 KIAS in cruise, so I set the descent speed to 302 KIAS (ignoring the Mach—by setting KIAS I give myself a built-in gradual decel). At T/D the aircraft kept me at that speed on the way down, and then I intervened and reduced it little by little after the automatic decel to 240 below 10,000.

My route took me north of Gila Bend, and as the sun started to set, I spotted Highway 85 up ahead, with Gila Bend off to the right and Buckeye off to the left. In big iron with an FMC, sometimes you don't really know where you are, unless you check your position against charts and/or you recognize the terrain below (I did both). Unlike my recent flight at 3000 feet or so in my Bonanza, I was descending through 8000 or so as I crossed the highway this time, and my arrival took me south of Phoenix instead of coming in from the west. I was told to expect a visual to runway 26, and in the excellent weather I could see Ahwatukee beneath me almost straight ahead, and South Mountain with its huge collection of transmitter towers just on my left.

I could fly this with my eyes closed (almost). The arrival had me gradually descending to 5000, about as low as I can go on the approach I had set up via CERUN. This waypoint takes me only about 5 miles west of the Superstitions, which are just above 5000 feet in height. It reminds me of a flight that I did once that ended tragically on those very rocks, thanks to my own stupid mistakes. But in this case the FMC was very reliable and the path safe, and we missed the Superstitions by a generous margin as I was cleared for the visual approach to runway 26.

As I slowed to 190 and turned north, I armed the localizer on the MCP, and as the FMC turned me west, the localizer came up (“it's alive!”). I wasn't too far below the glide slope, so I armed approach right away and started slowing for landing. Unless ATC objects, I have my own schedule of reductions in airspeed, and usually by the time I'm a few miles from the threshold I'm at Vref. Winds were around 220 gusting to 18, and I could see the autothrottles going up and down to try to compensate for gusting winds. Nevertheless, at about 500 feet I disengaged the AP and took charge myself. It was frustrating but I managed to land okay, although that first touchdown of the main wheels was quite a bump. You have to stay cool with a big 747 or you overcorrect and get into trouble, that's for sure, and I took care not to overreact to the gusts. Anyway, once down, I turned around and got onto Tango to take me to the old Terminal 2, where a gate was waiting for me.

The landing was just after sunset, and Phoenix looks really pretty at night, given its vast extent and pretty lights and the fading colors of the sunset. Too bad the city is such a blazing hot dump once you're on the ground. The nice thing about flying to Phoenix in a sim is that I'm not actually in Phoenix when I'm done!

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