Saturday, October 30, 2010

Phoenix - Los Angeles / Boeing 737-700 (SWA2406) / IFR

Lots of flights have come and gone, and as usual I've been too lazy to log them all, but some have been more interesting (and thus more “loggable”) than others.

This flight was a mirror of the real world Southwest Airlines Flight 2406, from Phoenix to LAX. As usual, my mirror was nearly identical to the real-world flight. Inevitably some discrepancies creep in, but I'm always impressed by the extent to which the simulated 737 tracks the performance of the real thing.

There are some compromises, of course. I fly a 737-800, whereas the Southwest flights are usually 737-300s or 737-700s—Southwest is thinking about acquiring 737-800s, but it hasn't actually done so yet. And at my end, I've only installed PMDG's 737NG aircraft, which gives me a 737-800s and 737-900s. I fly the -800 but I log on as the real submodel for the benefit of other simmers on the network. The performance is different, of course, but not enough to be a big issue.

This flight went swimmingly. As always, the greatest challenge of the flight is to get airplane back down on the ground (as in real life). I like to restrict the FMC airspeed in the descent to 280 KIAS, because it seems to make it easier to stick to the descent path, although it makes the flight a tiny bit longer. Energy lost before or early in the descent is energy I don't have to shed as I struggle to finish the arrival and start the approach.

Still, the FMC occasionally complains and sometimes kicks me out of VNAV with the dreaded DES PATH UNACHIEVABLE. If I'm unable to avoid this, I switch to V/S and adopt my own, somewhat more aggressive descent path until I'm back on the FMC path. It works pretty well. One thing I don't know is how closely these nuisances match the real aircraft. I know that some real airliner FMCs have trouble following a descent path, too, but I don't know if the 737-800 FMC is better or worse than my simulator's version thereof.

I was a bit spooked during my approach. ATC was offline, putting me in the highly unrealistic position of announcing on CTAF for LAX. I dutifully made my announcements, but not everyone was so diligent. Less than 20 miles out, another pilot advised me that he was in front of me, heading for 24R, just like me. Sure enough, a glance at the TCAS showed traffic ahead, closing fast. He assured me that he was at 140 KIAS in his airliner, and I was slightly above, but even after slowing I soon could see him very clearly in front of me, no TCAS needed. Finally I decided to side-step to 24L with his tail rapidly looming larger in my windshield. This entailed hand-flying the rest of the approach and landing, but I surprised myself by doing very well, with a smooth landing, although I landed a little further from the threshold than I would have liked.

This quick maneuver was exciting in a way, but stressful too. Rattled as I was, I turned at the wrong place at Terminal 1 and didn't park at Gate 13 like I was supposed to. Oh well. At least I averted tragedy.

When ATC is online, of course, this doesn't happen, since we are all coordinated by controllers. I suppose in a sense it's impressive that traffic to LAX doesn't all end up in a twisted mass of virtual metal when ATC is offline, because sometimes there's a lot of traffic.

Despite the excitement, I arrived at the gate at about the same time as the real-world flight.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Montgomery Field - Los Angeles / Beechcraft Baron 58 (N701TL) / VFR

This flight promised to be fairly routine, and I got lazy and complacent. It got “exciting” (if that's the word for it) when the weather deteriorated.

First, I couldn't get a clearance into the San Diego Class B out of Montgomery. Not a problem, though, as I had plenty of time and fuel. I just turned east after departing from 28L and stayed below the Class B until I reached its eastern edge, then slipped up north. My original flight plan was direct to ROBNN and then V186 up to Los Angeles. My slight detour took me around the eastern boundary of the Class B and then to ROBNN, where I resumed my original route at 6500 feet and requested flight following.

Things went well for most of the flight. The weather was clear, great visibility, a lot of traffic in the area but nothing worrisome. After crossing the Paradise VOR I turned west and requested a clearance into the LAX Class B so I could land at Los Angeles. I was cleared into the Bravo and told to stay left of a heading of 250, altitude my discretion. I left 6500 for 4500.

ATC told me to take the Mini Route northbound for midfield at LAX. I did so and was handed off to LAX Tower. That's when the trouble began.

I had seen low clouds hovering around LAX as I turned west, but I could see the ground clearly, and in fact I could see the airport. The conditions given to me by ATC had been a bit ominous, but I carelessly assumed that if I could see the airport from where I was, surely it would stay clear during my approach and landing. That was a stupid move, since the weather report clearly mentioned fog and very poor runway visibility.

ATC asked what I wanted to do. Like an idiot, I said that I could see the field so I could continue. They cleared me to follow an MD-80 (!) in my little Baron. The MD-80 was landing on 25L. I was told to side-step to 25R (!), which I did. That's when all hell broke loose.

First, I ran right into wake turbulence from the MD-80. I knew that would happen, but for some reason I dismissed it. As if that weren't bad enough, with me struggling to hold the aircraft upright, the visibility suddenly dwindled to nothing as I descended lower and fog was in front of me instead of below. That, too, I should have known better about, since I know that fog can suddenly creep up like that, and I had the weather at LAX to prove it.

The runway looked misty as I descended. As I watched, descending through about 200 feet, it faded out of sight, and I could see nothing at all. I told the tower I was going around. The aircraft was bouncing around so badly that I wondered if I was going to make it, and on top of that I had to rely on instruments to stay level. Nevertheless, I did manage to get level and climb again on a heading of 250 given to me by the controller, up to 2000.

Once I had the aircraft under control, I told the tower I wanted to go IFR and try again. This in itself was reasonable, except that the visibility was still too poor at LAX for any instrument approach that I could do in my Baron (no autoland on this aircraft). As ATC turned me east to try again, I figured I had been stupid enough already, so I asked for the weather at Van Nuys. Fortunately, Van Nuys was clear, so I asked to divert IFR to VNY. I was given a heading of 360.

As I crossed from one valley to the other, the sky cleared again. I saw the airport and told ATC so, and I was cleared for a visual approach. Only in my confusion I didn't realize I was looking at Whiteman, not Van Nuys—the latter airport being hidden by a few clouds. I soon discovered my error and quietly made my way around the clouds, and then I could see Van Nuys clearly. As I descend and prepared to make a left base onto 16R, I was cleared to land. The landing went uneventfully under clear skies.

I taxied very nervously to the ramp and shut down, reflecting on the many mistakes I had made. Several factors caused this: (1) I had prepared for a VFR flight, not an IFR flight, both technically and psychologically; (2) I hadn't checked the weather at LAX adequately; and (3) I had forgotten that my Baron cannot land in zero-zero conditions or anything approaching those, even though it's equipped for IFR … and the visibility was really bad at LAX. There were other oversights, too, such as accepting an approach and landing behind an MD-80 on a parallel runway.

I'm sure I would have been more careful in real life, but would I have been careful enough? I don't know. I fly so often in good weather (mostly in SoCal and Arizona) that I have little experience in hard IMC, and hardly any experience with truly poor visibility at airports that rules out the kinds of instrument approaches that I can safely carry out in a small aircraft like the Baron. I need more IMC practice, and more discipline, as I am getting dangerously sloppy.

Thank goodness I had the fancy avionics that I did. My mistakes would probably have been fatal in one of my other, smaller aircraft with simpler instruments. The EFIS and TAWS displays on the Baron told me where I was even in zero visibility. They also told me, unfortunately, that I was drifting all over the place as I gave up my landing attempt, in part because of the wake turbulence I was struggling to deal with.

I might try to fly the Baron back to my original destination (LAX) when the weather improves.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Salt Lake City - Gillespie / Cessna Citation X (N726YL) / IFR

This afternoon I flew the return trip from KSLC. Again I filed the most direct route I could, specifically, EDETH1.BERYL V21 CRESO V538 TNP V208 JLI ROBNN. With the winds at KSEE when I filed, I expected I could make the RNAV 17 approach, whence the inclusion of ROBNN.

All went well on this flight, which I flew for maximum speed. The winds had changed by the time I reached SoCal, though, so ATC told me to expect a visual to 27R. On my way to ROBNN, ATC vectored me towards BARET, and then turned me in the direction of the field. It was a bit hectic for a while. Without vectors, it's a pain to change things in this aircraft; fiddling with the FMC can quickly become frustrating. But since I had vectors, I was saved; I was afraid I'd get direct BARET or something.

Because of the tediousness of setting up the ILS and the fact that I was cleared for a visual approach, I just ignored the needle, turned off the autopilot, and hand-flew the approach once ATC turned me towards the field. The approach and landing were very smooth—I guess I'm getting better. The air time was 85 minutes, just one minute longer than the trip out to KSLC. And the time from gate to gate was also just one minute more than the trip out.

All in all, a good exercise.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Gillespie - Salt Lake City / Cessna Citation X (N726YL) / IFR

Inspired by some family events, I decided to make a round trip in one of my Citations between Gillespie Field in El Cajon (San Diego) and Salt Lake City. Gillespie (KSEE) is a general-aviation airport that can accommodate bizjets; I had Scotty beam my Citation over to the airport.

I was mainly interested in how quickly the trip could be made by air. By car, it can take up to 16 hours or more to reach Salt Lake City from San Diego. I was confident that a Citation could beat that, but I wasn't sure by how much. Commercial flights take about an hour and fifty minutes to make the trip, but the Citation is a lot faster.

I filed the most direct route I could, and I had my preflight and most other things finished by the time my virtual relatives came out to the airplane. At 0006Z, they were aboard, and five minutes later we were airborne.

Things went quite well, except for the approach. The inbound localizer frequency for runway 35 (which I had requested because it is right next to several FBOs) had changed—I don't know when—and I only discovered this while trying to get established. After the flight, I updated the airport in MSFS, but during the flight I had to try to look up the old frequency in order to make my approach. I finally gave up and requested a visual approach, since the weather was fine.

Total elapsed time for the trip was 1:24. Air time was just 84 minutes. We burned 3722 pounds of jet fuel with just two people on board, so the total cost of the flight was a good $6000 or so, but that's the price you pay for speed.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Bishop - Imperial / Cessna Citation X (N726YL) / IFR

Trying to break out of routine, I flew from Eastern Sierra Regional Airport (KBIH) in Bishop, California, to Imperial County Airport (KIPL), near the southern shore of the Salton Sea. It's about 300 nm as the crow flies, but you can't really fly like a crow because of vast amounts of restricted airspace that get in the way. I took a slight western detour around the restricted stuff and the flight was about an hour.

It's good to get off the beaten path, for both me and ATC. ATC sees a constant stream of 13-year-olds flying into and out of LAX in this part of the country, and they probably get tired of seeing the same old arrivals and departures day after day. My flight was just a bit unusual, which broke things up, for all of us.

Bishop is a small airport and the runways are just barely long enough to allow a Citation to depart on a hot day. I prudently took off with flaps 15 and throttled up with my feet on the brakes just to be extra sure. As it was, we left the runway with plenty of length left over.

I was sloppy on this IFR flight. On the way up after takeoff, I realized that I really should have followed the obstacle departure for the airport, although weather was very clear so I wasn't really in any danger. The mountains nearby are potentially worrisome if visibility is limited. I messed up even more on the way into Imperial. The only published approach is a VOR/GPS circling approach, which got me all confused as I neared the airport. Fortunately, the weather was severe clear, so I canceled IFR as I got closer and just kinda sorta entered the pattern for runway 32, and landed successfully. There was no other traffic at the time so I got away with this.

Sunday, August 8, 2010


I've been terribly remiss in logging my flights. It's not that I'm not flying—I fly almost every day—but I've had trouble summoning the energy to actually log each and every flight. Many flights are routine, so there isn't a lot to say. I have the distinct feeling that if I actually piloted for real, I'd find putting things in my logbook to be terribly tedious as well.

Anyway, on an otherwise routine flight to Sky Harbor out of McCarran, in one of my Citations (N7446E), I actually ran across a thunderstorm, which is rare in the generally clear weather of the Great American Southwest. I had already seen reports of thunderstorm activity moving north during my preflight preparation, and on the ramp at McCarran (Signature, my favorite semi-virtual FBO), I had noticed storm clouds and a lot of lightning to the north, albeit well out of my intended path. But on the way to Phoenix, I came across some isolated thunderstorm activity, right down to the anvil-shaped cloud up ahead.

I started to feel some substantial turbulence while still far away from the storm. I negotiated some deviations from my route with ATC and detoured to the east for a while, watching the storm out the windows. Normally, the Citation X would have weather radar, but Eaglesoft's model doesn't simulate this (Wilco's does, but Wilco's model is undesirable in other ways). Not a bit deal, though, since I could see the clouds right outside.

After about ten minutes of flying well to the east of the bad weather, I eased my way back towards my filed route. Every time I felt the turbulence pick up, I backed off. Eventually I got around the storm.

Other than that, the flight was routine. No hail or icing or anything, as I gave the thunderstorm a wide berth. It did make the flight interesting.

Monday, June 28, 2010

San Juan - Sint Maarten - San Juan / Cessna Citation X (N7447E) / IFR

I handled this flight poorly, too, as it involved one of those extremely rare occasions when I've been obligated to take a missed approach.

I fixed up a pretty good route out of San Juan, JETSS1 SLUGO ULUBA1 at FL290. The flight went very well, until it was time to land. Sint Maarten was fogged in. I took the RNAV approach to runway 10, but try as I might I could not see the runway in time, and took the missed approach. Unfortunately, the FMS seemed to have trouble with the missed approach procedure, and so did I.

I eventually got vectored out to where I could try again. On this try, I could actually see the runway, but only after I went missed again. I decided to try one more time.

On the third try, just when I was about to give up, I saw runway lights, and I was able to come in for a reasonable landing. I had enough fuel to go back to San Juan, but I really wasn't relishing the thought.

Another large jet went missed as I did, but a third simply landed visually at extremely low altitude. Either he had way different weather than what I had (certainly possible in simulation, if he doesn't have real weather set up the same way), or he was violating a stack of regulations. In fact, I'm sure he was violating regulations irrespective of the weather.

Anyway, I was displeased with the behavior of the FMS. I wish I had a complete manual for it. I flew everything after the first missed approach with the autopilot alone, and by hand.

For the return trip, things went more easily, since the weather in San Juan was good and the weather at Princess Juliana airport had cleared up. Unfortunately, I noticed that I had a student controller waiting at San Juan Approach, with the ominous warning in his comments that he would “not tolerance disobediance (sic),” so rather than be bossed around by a junior-high student, I completed the flight offline. I parked right where I had started earlier in the day.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Phoenix - Casa Grande - Phoenix / Cessna 152 (N706YL) / VFR

I haven't been logging flights for quite some time, but I'm still flying (or should I put that in quotation marks to please “real” pilots?).

Anyway, this was a very short flight, which is the only sort of flight that I undertake in pokey Cessna 152s. It started at fabulous Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, and ended in Casa Grande. I didn't fly it very well, considering how short the distance was (31 nm).

My intention was to fly from the Phoenix VOR (PXR) to the Stanfield VOR (TFD), then turn east to reach the field. It seemed more elegant to follow an airway, even over this short distance. Unfortunately, I didn't exactly time my progress and the very slow airspeed of the 152 again misled me into thinking that perhaps I was flying too far. I used the CHD NDB to try to triangulate my position but it was very awkward. Finally I decided to turn off the airway and head east to intercept the 143 radial out of PXR. I had flight following and Center asked why I was turning east when I had my destination field just ahead (odd to hear that from Center—it must have been a slow day). Center said the field was now at my 2 o'clock, so I turned right 60 degrees, and after a minute or two I could make out the hangars. I then landed without incident.

All in all, a poor performance for a 32-nm trip. Yes, I could have flown by pilotage, but the objective was to practice with radio navigation aids. I deliberately ignored Interstate 10, which leads almost in a straight line between KPHX and KCGZ.

For the return trip, I just followed the highway, which was quite easy in the perpetually hot but clear weather of the Great American Southwest.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Imperial - Los Angeles - Phoenix / Cessna Citation X (N219AG) / IFR-VFR

Yesterday I wanted to try a flight that was out of the ordinary, so I bought another Citation X and had it delivered to Imperial (KIPL). From there, I planned a short flight to LAX and loaded a couple of happy virtual passengers on board. ATC in the virtual world deals over and over with the same routes, even more so than in real life, so I wanted to give ATC something other than a SADDE6 or RIIVR2 arrival, for once. I filed NICKK V458 JLI VISTA2 at FL240.

It took half a dozen calls to ATC to get my IFR clearance. After sitting on the ramp for half an hour with my passengers waiting patiently, I finally got my clearance, essentially as filed with an initial altitude of 8000. And so I promptly departed. It turned out that FL240 was a bit ambitious, because by the time I reached it at JLI, it was time to descend (fortunately that worked out fine, since FL240 is the recommended crossing altitude for JLI on the VISTA2 arrival).

The rest of the flight was uneventful. The VISTA2 arrival includes vectors after SLI, and ATC swung me way out to the east and then back, but I had no problem with that. ATC had its hands full with many pilots of marginal competence, so I probably wasn't even noticeable.

After landing we taxied over to Landmark, as usual with my Citations and smaller stuff.

Some hours later, I began the second part of my trip, but this was more experimental. I decided to fly VFR to Phoenix. I filed a VFR flight plan for SMO POM PSP TRM BLH BXK PXR at 14500. I was curious to see how practical it might be to fly a Citation X business jet VFR at low altitude.

I imagine I was puzzling to ATC but I got my clearance into the Class B and was soon off from 25L. I didn't file a SID or STAR and was simply vectored east, from which I made direct for POM. The climb to 14500 was very fast, of course, and the TOD was practically over Phoenix. I made a very nice visual landing at KPHX on 7R and parked at Cutter.

It turns out that the fuel burn wasn't that bad at lower altitude, about 50% more than at a good cruising altitude by my estimate. Not cheap, but not as bad as I had feared. I went through about 3400 lbs of jet fuel for the trip. At higher altitudes I'd be closer to 2200 lbs, if I recall correctly (I usually just put 7000 lbs on board for every trip, which covers just about any route I'd normally fly with plenty of reserve).

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Las Vegas - Grand Canyon West / Beechcraft Bonanza A36 (N7226Z) / VFR

This was a short flight that I made with four virtual passengers in order to take them to that worthless tourist trap, the Grand Canyon Skywalk. Getting there by car from Las Vegas takes 3½ hours; by airplane, it's only 30 minutes. The short ride from the airport to the tourist trap is still dusty, but I just stayed at the airport.

The flight is easy and I stayed at 5500 feet most of the way, climbing briefly to 7500 to get over some mountains southwest of the airport. The sim version of the airport is a bit more challenging than the real thing, since an error in the database puts very high hills just north of the airport, whereas in real life it's mostly flat. Nevertheless, I managed to descend over those hills to a smooth landing. There's no fuel or other services at the airport, so I'll fly back out on my own shortly, leaving my virtual passengers to enjoy paying through the nose to greedy aboriginal residents to see that over-hyped skywalk (funny how a land can be sacred when someone else wants to develop it, but suddenly becomes non-sacred when the owners want to cash in on it).

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Las Vegas - San Diego / Cessna Citation X (N7446G) / IFR

[Note: Lately I've been so remiss on logging my flights that I've thought that perhaps I should just log flights that are unusual in some way. — AA]

This flight was a return flight to San Diego after I took some virtual relatives to Sin City yesterday. It was mostly routine, but there were a few interesting details.

I had trouble getting VNAV to respect the altitude constraints in the route again. In particular, it didn't want to climb after reaching the 7000 constraint on the BOACH2 departure. I had overshot 7000 in V/S mode, which may have played a part in this. I finally got it to start climbing again and reached my cruise altitude more or less on schedule.

Things went well after that, and I didn't really have any problem until my approach. I knew that visibility was very poor in San Diego (about ¼ mile in fog at times), but I was still careless on my approach to runway 27. The approach is localizer-only, so it was up to me to manage my descent, but I tried to improvise rather than calculate the proper rate of descent and my descent was uneven. Worse yet, however, I shut off the A/P and attempted to fly in by hand without following the localizer needle. Part of this is a problem with the aircraft, though, as there's no easy way in the Eaglesoft Citation X to look at the instruments and look outside at the same time—unlike many vendors, Eaglesoft doesn't provide pop-up instruments. With the limited visibility of the sim, it's very handy to have an unobstructed VC view of the outside with just a pop-up PFD so you can follow the needles and keep track of essentials. I tried to switch back and forth between 2D cockpit with the instrument display and VC with just the outside world (I don't use the VC cockpit instruments), and it didn't work very well. I wish Eaglesoft would set up pop-up instruments.

I was way misaligned with the runway when I finally made visual contact, but I managed to scoot back over and landed very smoothly, although I landed long and needed almost the whole runway to stop. From there I went back to Landmark and parked.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Central Jersey Regional - John F. Kennedy / Beechcraft Baron 58 / VFR

The weather right now at John F. Kennedy Airport is terrible: rain, fog … and extremely high winds. The METAR looks like this:

METAR KJFK 132351Z 08035G64KT 5SM -RA BR BKN014 OVC021 09/07 A2949 RMK AO2 PK WND 07064/2347 SLP986 P0000 60033 T00940072 10111 20094 56026

If you're not familiar with aviation weather reports, this report says that the wind is blowing from the west northwest at about 41 mph, with gusts of up to 73 mph or so. This is terrible weather for a takeoff or landing, and real-world pilots aren't at all happy to fly in such conditions. But when it comes to weather, virtual flight is almost the opposite of real flight, because bad weather is something you take care to avoid in real life, but it's a challenge to which you are attracted in simulation.

This being so, naturally I had to make an attempt, at least, despite the “danger” that awaited me at KJFK. I had Scotty teleport a Beechcraft Baron to Central Jersey Regional Airport, about 15 minutes away from KJFK, and I set out to fly into KJFK. My route was simple: MABLE.NANCI.KRSTL at 4500. I dispensed with ATC and flew offline, since this was just a “training” flight. I flew solo, unwilling to put any virtual passengers at risk on a flight like this.

Things went pretty well along the way, in marginal VFR conditions, although I had to descend to 2500 to stay legal for VFR. I had a terrible headwind, around 35 knots. With the winds at KJFK, I picked runway 4L for my landing.

I set the ILS for 4L but didn't really use it. The visibility was actually okay as I turned towards KJFK, and I could see the field easily. The descent was delicate, and at times I was crabbing 40 degrees into the wind to stay aligned. Even so, it seemed that I was going to make it. But then, at about 40 feet, I hit some sort of windshear: up into the air again, and then suddenly slammed back down onto the runway from about 10 feet before I could do anything. The gear collapsed, but I survived.

Most real-world flights were diverting, although an Iberia flight landed successfully during this time. I don't feel so bad, since I absolutely would never attempt this type of landing in real life, and so there's no reason to be able to do it in simulation. Nevertheless, it's an interesting change from my usual flights.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Lake Tahoe - Vacaville (Nut Tree) / Beechcraft Baron 58 (N2720V) / IFR

I've had a Baron parked at Lake Tahoe for ages. Today I flew from there to Nut Tree Airport in Vacaville, which is just north of Travis Air Force Base in NorCal. I took four passengers with me.

The weather was mostly light IMC, although it was pretty solid IMC while departing Lake Tahoe. Fortunately, the Baron has a boatload of expensive avionics installed and is certified for entry into known icing conditions, so I was well prepared. I couldn't see much of anything for the first eight or ten minutes of the flight, but the weather cleared as we got out of the mountains. (The picture shown here was taken over Auburn, looking southeast towards the mountains.)

There was a low cloud deck that came in below the mountains and looked like fog, but it wasn't, since once I got under it it was pretty clear. We had some significant turbulence along the way that upset the tummies of some of my passengers a bit, but we all got through it without any airsick bags. I offered some oxygen to my passengers at the beginning of the trip because we had to climb to 11,000, but all declined (I used it, though—you can't be too careful).

The MEA was 11,000 as far as AUDIO, but as soon as I could I descended. I don't like being up where the air is too thin in an unpressurized aircraft.

Anyway, we got in safely. Weather was VMC below 4000 or so, so I made a visual approach to runway 20 at Nut Tree, with ILS as back-up.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Santa Paula - Avalon - Palm Springs - Big Bear - Montgomery / Bonanza A36 (N7421F) / VFR-IFR

Among the zillions of flights I've flown and failed to log, I recently took a couple of virtual friends around SoCal to various points of interest in one of my Bonanzas. These flights were notable because I installed a free upgrade of Active Sky that is supposed to improve weather depiction, and it definitely does seem to do that (although Active Sky was already quite spectacular in its weather depictions).

Anyway, we started out at Santa Paula in fairly nice weather. To stay out of ATC's hair, I flew to FIM and then SILEX, which lines me up with the Santa Monica VOR on the same radial inbound that I need outbound to cruise through the LAX SFRA. We squeaked through the SFRA without any trouble and then headed out over the water to Catalina. I stayed at 3500 even though this would not allow me to glide to land in the event of an engine failure, because I have great confidence in this airplane, and because staying within gliding distance would require that I climb to almost 10,000 feet in ten miles, and then descend again, which is very difficult with a fully loaded aircraft. In real life I probably wouldn't have even made the trip in a single, but who knows?

The weather stayed good all the way out to Avalon. We parked there overnight as the airport had closed by the time we arrived (technically we arrived after it closed, but a special exception was made for us).

The next day we headed out to Palm Springs. This was with four passengers and myself, and a small amount of luggage, so I couldn't fill the tanks, but we had plenty for the trip. I flew SLI PDZ DEWAY and then PSP. Once again the weather was nice, with some turbulence around Banning, which is typical. I landed on 31L and parked at Signature.

Our next leg was right around sunset, from Palm Springs up to Big Bear City (the picture shown here was taken during that flight, near Banning Pass). I know the path to Big Bear via the valley on the west end of the lake, over the dam, so that's the route I took, even though it was a bit of a detour. I thought of following the highway around the other side, but I've never done that before and didn't want to do it at dusk, and I'd be poorly position for landing, anyway, since approaches over the lake are preferred. Everything went well and it was pretty dark by the time we landed. We had one less passenger, having left one at KPSP

The final leg I flew on my own, leaving my passengers at Big Bear. This started out IFR because it was night time, OKACA1.OKACA. I had to go up to 11,000 for the departure and MEA so oxygen was necessary (at least by my standards). After crossing Julian, I canceled IFR and started down to 6500 and then 4500 feet, since terrain was no longer a factor (I followed the valley down towards El Capitan Reservoir just to be extra sure). The take-off was a bit hairy because I forgot to sync the heading bug before turning on HDG mode, but I corrected that quickly. Landing was very smooth in clear weather.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Salt Lake City - Brigham City / Cessna 152 (N701YL) / VFR

[Note: I've been flying a lot, but I've been very negligent in logging all my flights. I don't think anyone reads this blog so it probably doesn't matter. — AA]

Tonight's flight in an incredibly slow Cessna 152 was another screw-up, I'm afraid. Once again the extremely slow speed of the aircraft threw me, although I made other mistakes as well.

The weather along my route was just barely legal for VFR. I departed Salt Lake City on runway 35, right next to the FBO, and stayed quite low as I headed out over the lake. The clouds were right above me so I couldn't climb to my originally planned altitude of 5500. And I couldn't really fly over houses at 400 feet, so I stayed just off the shoreline.

With clouds above and unfamiliar terrain below, I got lost pretty quickly. I tried following the shoreline, although the shoreline isn't constant in SLC because the lake rises and falls. I tried comparing what I saw to the charts, but a lot of the curvy parts of the shoreline looked the same. I worried that I was going too far. Finally I saw what I thought must be my destination airport, Brigham City, but after I landed I realized that I was at Hill AFB (there was no ATC online at the time, so no radar back-up). That's what I get for trying to fly a 152 under such conditions. I had miles of visibility under the cloud deck, but I just didn't know what I was looking at, not being at all familiar with the SLC area.

Better luck next time, I suppose. I'm starting to think that the poorly-equipped 152 is not a very good choice for anything other than very short flights in severely clear weather during the day.