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.