Wednesday, December 31, 2008

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

This aircraft had been sitting patiently at Tacoma-Narrows since last month. I decided to take it up today. The weather was iffy, as usual for this neck of the woods, but it looked like it would stay VFR all the way.

Initially I was going to swing directly through SeaTac, but I saw a lonely tower controller at Paine and so I decided to make a detour there. Things got a little bit worrisome north of West Point, when the weather started getting really misty, but I was still above minimums (barely). The tower directed me to a right downwind to 16R, and I finally spotted the airfield about 4 miles out. Landing was without incident. Paine Field has a nice big runway (16R), thanks to Boeing's presence there.

After sitting at Paine for a while, and without topping off the tanks this time, I decided to fly back down to Seattle, per my original plan. It couldn't be a simpler flight, as it's practically a straight line from 16R at Paine to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, and it's only 29 miles, and flying there takes you right over downtown Seattle. Simple and easy. I was instructed to make straight in to 16C.

Landing was pretty good, but the wind was gusting terribly near the surface, and I was practically inverted by a few of the gusts. I kept my approach speed high and cautiously made my way down, but it was still a rather bumpy landing. I taxied over to my favorite spot north of the tower and parked. The weather was a little clearer but quite windy, with the clouds zooming to the east overhead.

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

Two textbooks flights—I'm starting to get good at this. Nice weather helped (a bad Internet connection did not). I had no passengers on these flights.

The flight out of Gila Bend was by pilotage before dawn. As usually, I followed the cars on Highway 85 up to Interstate 10, and then turned east (when you're eastbound you don't need to follow the Interstate, the brilliant glow of Phoenix is impossible to miss). I made straight in to 7R and taxied over to Cutter Aviation, where I parked and had the tanks topped off (I like full tanks).

Shortly thereafter, as the eastern sky grew bright, I made my way to hoity-toity Scottsdale Municipal Airport. Winds were favorable and I just swooped over Camelback Mountain and made straight in to the airport. Taxied my modest POS Cessna to an isolated spot way behind the Citations and Learjets and self-consciously secured it to the ramp. They pay more on fuel for a flight than my aircraft is worth new. Oh well. My other airplane is a 747! (I mean my other airplanes.)

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

I'm happy to say that this was s textbook flight, everything went right, even though it was night VFR.

I filed PKE055031.BXK262042.GBN285039.GBN as my route. This would take me over very low terrain, which was important because the desert is completely dark at night and the moon isn't out. I wanted a big margin between me and terrain, so I filed for 7500 feet, which would keep me thousands of feet above everything on my path.

I worked out my route on SkyVector so that I had headings to fly and fixes to find. I was able to fly almost exactly the runway heading out of Lake Havasu to reach my first fix, PKE055031, then from there I turned towards my second fix, BXK262042, and managed to reach it within a mile or so. Then it was from there on a heading of 142 to the GBN 285 radial, which I met 39 miles out, just as planned. A gradual descent towards the airfield follow, and I made a very nice right base into the airport, with a very gentle touchdown. Everything went just fine.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Seligman - Lake Havasu / Cessna 182RG II (N7049S) / VFR

This flight of just over an hour took me from Seligman to Lake Havasu. Neither city has much to recommend it, but the flight was pleasant. I even flew over the speed traps in Kingman.

This was mostly pilotage; I essentially followed Interstate 40 for most of the way, first at 8500 feet, then down to 5500 after I left Kingman. The weather was very clear. My Internet connection was working well enough to let me fly online with real-time weather, for the first time in several days.

The landing was extremely smooth, at almost exactly noon local time. This tiny Cessna is so slow that you can practically read a book during the approach and still land on the numbers.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Los Angeles - Las Vegas / Boeing 767-300ER (DAL7741) / IFR

I piloted the fictional Delta Airlines Flight 7741 from Los Angeles to Las Vegas once I was reasonably confident that I was back in the groove somewhat with the 767. It's easy to see why real-world airline pilots are restricted to flying certain aircraft types at a time: it's easy to forget procedures and mix up procedures if you try to fly twenty different aircraft concurrently.

Anyway, I picked a fictional flight because I couldn't access any Web sites to check for real flights with my malfunctioning Internet connection. I filed on VATSIM with text only because I suspected that my connection wouldn't support voice channels. As it was, I was disconnected no less than five times during the flight, which only lasted ninety minutes from gate to gate (including a long time preparing at the departure gate).

I felt bad about using text with ATC because it was a really busy night, and a lot of the traffic was clueless, not following instructions, doing things wrong, not replying to ATC or replying so slowly that other calls were delayed, and so on. Sometimes there are nights like that, when every incompetent pilot seems to decide to fly on the same date in the same airspace. There were some good pilots, too, but they weren't the ones taking up the controllers' time.

Apart from my need for text and the problem of disconnections, I'm happy to say that my flight went okay. I flew the LOOP4 departure correctly (which already set me apart from part of this evening's crowd, it seems): the departure requires a heading of 250 until SMO160 below 3000, then 235 until vectored to LAX. Some FMC databases just point to LAX, on the assumption that the first part of the departure will be hand-flown, but if the pilot doesn't know how to hand-fly it, and/or doesn't bother to actually read the departure plate, there's a problem. Anyway, I flew the first part of the departure with the MCP alone, then, when I got my vector to LAX, I turned to LAX with the MCP and once I was pointing in that direction I let the FMS take over.

The flight was very smooth, which is not surprising since I was missing current weather. The FMS followed the descent profile perfectly but seemed to have trouble with the speed constraints; I adjusted speed manually on the MCP in consequence. I got the expected “cross CLARR at one tree thousand” and did as I was told, although the FMS didn't reduce my speed, so I had to do that myself (it's sometimes hard to respect a descent constraint and a speed constraint, the laws of physics can get in the way). Then I was instructed to descend via the KEPEC2 arrival (the one I had filed), and later I was cleared for a visual approach, which I could easily accept in the surrealistically clear weather (clear even by KLAS standards). I nevertheless set up the ILS for 25R. I turned north over Hoover Dam (passengers always like to see Hoover Dam, especially lit up at night) and down to 4300 or so, then to 4000 with LOC armed, which was soon captured. With the full approach engaged, I notice some phugoid-style adjustments of the autothrottle—not enough to feel much, but I see and hear the engines changing a lot. But the approach was clean, and I turned off the automatics a few miles out and hand-flew the approach … the 767 is very easy to fly by hand. Touchdown was soft but not perfect (by my standards). I taxied over to and swiped a Southwest gate (C21, I think) for my arrival.

I could only hear snippets of voice communication with my bad connection, but the frustration with some of the traffic in ATC's voice was clear. I'm glad I managed not to cause any trouble beyond the inconvenience of text and five disconnections (neither of which I had any control over).

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Various flights offline

I flew around a bit in a 737-800 and 767-300ER today, but offline. My Internet connection has been so bad these past few days that I couldn't even sign on to log my flights. I couldn't get any charts or online weather, either, so I flew using existing flight plans that I had, through severely clear skies.

I'm rusty on the big iron again. My simulation of Southwest Flight 950 in a MTOW 737-800 went okay (although I left half an hour late), but I messed up some procedures on my 767 flights, which were charters. I did the same KPHX-KLAX route several times to get it right.

I'm actually posting this quite a bit later than the date shown because I couldn't post anything at all last night, but I like to keep things in chronological order.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Santa Monica - Montgomery Field / Beechcraft Bonanza A36 (N6835W) / IFR

After dropping off two passengers and resting a bit, it was time to take my remaining two passengers back to San Diego and Montgomery Field. I filed IFR with a TEC route for this, as it was still crummy weather. The flight was largely without incident, but there was a lot of turbulence, especially coming into Montgomery Field, with gusting winds all the way down to the surface. Landing was a challenge, but it was smooth.

I still had to work without charts and even without voice transmission because of my Internet problems.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Palm Springs - Santa Monica / Beechcraft Bonanza A36 (N6835W) / IFR

Time for the return trip. I shifted the passengers around to move the center of gravity forward a bit; otherwise we were fully loaded just as before.

I changed the flight plan going back, replacing DEWAY with KBNG. This took me off the airway up to PDZ and also more centrally through Banning Pass, where the terrain is at only 2200 feet or so. Thus, I didn't have to fly back at 12,000 feet; I settled for 6000 feet instead, and then slowly climbed to 8000. As I approached PDZ, I asked for lower again, 6000 or below, and was given 4000, which suited me fine.

The weather was cloudy and at times I couldn't see anything outside the window. I suppose this might have disconcerted my passengers, but since I've been flying IFR for 15 years or so, it doesn't bother me at all (as long as I have my instruments!). After PDZ we were offered direct ELMOO, which I accepted, and after that we were cleared for the VOR runway 21 approach at Santa Monica. All went well and we landed quite smoothly in rain and mist.

Santa Monica - Palm Springs / Beechcraft Bonanza A36 (N6835W) / IFR

Well after midnight, we went back to the airport. This time, in addition to myself as pilot, we had my virtual parents and my virtual aunt and uncle, for a total of five people. Loaded with sufficient fuel for an hour and a half of flying (versus an expected 45-minute flight to Palm Springs), we were at the very limit for take-off weight for this tiny airplane. I put my mother in the copilot's seat because she likes to be in front, but that left us with a CoG right up against the aft limit, so next time I'm afraid she'll have to take a different seat and I'll have to put someone heavier up front instead of in the back.

Once again I filed IFR because of the variable wind conditions. There's no TEC route to PSP from SMO, apparently, so I cooked one up, which was extraordinarily time-consuming because it took 20 minutes to bring up every Web page I needed (and some of them never came up, so I couldn't check winds aloft or things like that).

This flight went very well, except for the irritating MEA of 9500 on V388 towards PSP. That would require an eastbound altitude of 11,000 feet, with everyone on oxygen (I take no chances), not to mention a 10,000 foot descent to reach Palm Springs. After creaking my way up past 10,000, I decided that made no sense, and asked for and got 9000, which is already high enough, especially through Banning Pass. It was still quite a sleigh ride on the descent, trying to get down to the field. Fortunately the wind favored us and I was able to make a straight-in approach (just compensation for the terrific 45-knot headwind we had to put up with aloft).

The landing was very smooth. I hardly needed any nose-up trim on the way down because our CoG was so far aft, but I didn't see that as an advantage.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Montgomery Field - Santa Monica / Beechcraft Bonanza A36 (N6835W) / IFR

On this trip out of Montgomery Field, I took my virtual parents to see my virtual uncle and aunt in Los Angeles. The destination was Santa Monica, the closest airport to where the latter live.

Internet problems prevented me from picking up charts and plates, so planning was quite long. Eventually we piled into the Bonanza (which I had teleported to KMYF, since it had been parked in Sioux City). I filed IFR because of the misty weather, and used a simple TEC route to get to where we wanted to go.

The flight went very smoothly, apart from a bit of turbulence as we approached LAX along the coast. I had filed for 6000 per the TEC route and stayed there until after Seal Beach, at which point I descended to 2000 because KSMO is extremely close to KLAX and you're crossing the former only a minute or so after crossing the runways of the latter. LAX Tower materialized as I crossed LAX but I was already setting up for landing and wasn't about to drop everything just to say hello to them. The landing involved quite a rapid descent and I wasn't perfectly aligned with the runway as I came in, but the touchdown itself was gentle.

Phoenix - Gila Bend / Beechcraft Bonanza A36 (N3758W) / VFR

I flew this VFR by pilotage, since my malfunctioning Internet connection prevented me from accessing any charts or documentation. Fortunately, I know the trip between Phoenix and Gila Bend very well. I had this Bonanza parked at Cutter and it was just me this time, so I taxied out to runway 8 (because it suited my departure plans better than 7R or 7L) and made a left downwind departure over downtown Phoenix, then over to Interstate 10. I followed I-10 to the “bend in the road” where it joins Highway 85, then south to Gila Bend.

The weather was clear and everything went very well, except for the Internet connection (which also interfered with weather updates). The landing was superb.

Kingman - Sedona / Beechcraft Baron 58 (N2720V) / VFR

I flew back from deadly dull Kingman today. It was not very satisfying because I had no charts, plates, or documentation, thanks to my Internet problems (1-2 kbps instead of the 8000 kbps fraudulently advertised by France Télécom/Orange). But I felt the urge to fly. I just went by instruments and memory; Kingman and Sedona aren't that far apart (at least in terms of physical distance).

Lots of snow everywhere, so the terrain was bland in a way and pleasant in a way. I filed VFR and noted Interstate 40 and Interstate 17 as my route, but actually I made direct PGS then direct FLG for a while (on the PGS092 radial) and then finally turned south a bit and picked up I-40. I turned southwest of KFLG and picked up I-17 briefly before turning towards Sedona. I almost missed the airport (lack of charts again), but I saw it on the EHSI and TAWS, which was better than nothing. Had I been looking in precisely the right direction I might have spotted it out the window, although it was kind of misty outside.

My first day of vacation is shot thanks to France Télécom. I hope things improve so that I can fly more.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Sedona - Kingman / Beechcraft Baron 58 (N2720V) / VFR

I'm not exactly sure how this Baron ended up in Sedona, given that my log shows it last in Phoenix, but there it was, so I flew it to Kingman. My Internet connection has been malfunctioning all month (thanks to incompetent France Télécom), and I wasn't able to plan this flight with my usual care, since so many resources were inaccessible.

I departed SVFR from Sedona, where visibility was miserable and it was snowing, in the hope of finding better weather up higher. The weather reports along the way showed clearing towards the west. However, after reaching my cruising altitude and still not seeing VMC, I filed a pop-up IFR to PGS and abandoned my plan of just following I-17 to Flagstaff and then I-40 to Kingman. I started at 8500 but was soon obligated to climb to 12,000 (oxygen included) to meet the MEAs along my route.

The weather was quite poor and turbulence moderate along most of the way; I only started to see some clearing around Peach Springs. From that VOR I followed the 207 radial to KIGM, and the weather cleared, so I descended gradually and landed without any trouble.

Kingman is a completely uninteresting place, so I plan to fly somewhere else as soon as time (and Internet connection conditions) permit.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Sedona - Pilot's Rest - Seligman / Cessna 182RG II (N7049S) / VFR

Tremendous Internet problems caused by France Télécom have made it extremely difficult to fly for a month now. For example, since December 18, I've had a decent Internet connection only for a few hours; the rest of the time it either doesn't work at all or “works” at around 5 kbps (1600 times slower than the speed that FT advertises for the line, and ten times slower than an old-fashioned dial-up modem).

I need the Internet connection to look up charts, to check weather and airport data, and of course to connect to VATSIM if I plan to fly online. All of this requires something a lot faster and more reliable than a dial-up modem from the 1980s.

I managed to fly from Sedona to Pilot's Rest, and then to Seligman, in my crusty little Cessna. The weather was good. I just hopped onto a radial to the Drake VOR, veering north a bit to avoid the mountains around Jerome, and then turned north to Pilot's Rest, a tiny little gravel strip that I find endearing because of its charming name. After sitting there for a while (there are no services available at this private airstrip), I started back up again and flew to Seligman, about 43 miles north of DRK. I had never been to Seligman before. I discovered that I had not been missing anything.

That's all I could manage. I have some free days for flying coming up because of holidays (which is very rare), and unless FT gets its act together, I'm worried that they will be wasted due to the negligence of this ISP.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Iowa Falls - Sioux City / Beechcraft Bonanza (N6835W) / VFR

I'd love to say that Iowa is filled with thrilling scenery, but it isn't. I figured I'd try a flight outside the western U.S. for once, but Iowa probably wasn't the best place to do it, as there is nothing to see. I filed for Iowa Falls to Sioux City, and the most exciting part of the flight was watching the autopilot and GPS go from one waypoint to the next. The Bonanza doesn't have a terrain warning system, but you don't need one in Iowa, where the terrain is always at the same altitude.

I think I'll try to find a more interesting part of the country in which to fly. I suppose I'll keep Iowa in mind for pattern work, as there are lots of small airports and nothing in the way.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Sedona - Phoenix / Beechcraft Baron 58 (N2720V) / IFR

Another rushed return trip to Phoenix, IFR because of poor weather conditions in Sedona (although my Internet connection is effectively down most of the time lately so it was difficult to get current weather). It proceeded uneventfully and I landed in Phoenix again without incident.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Phoenix - Sedona / Beechcraft Baron 58 (N2720V) / VFR

This flight did not end well (and that's an understatement). Being rushed by the constant intrusion of real life, I became careless.

I started out from Phoenix in good weather with two virtual friends aboard. I conducted most of the flight on autopilot. Things went well until my descent into Sedona, where visibility was almost nil in blowing snow (and remember, I filed VFR). I would have made it okay had I not forgotten to turn off HDG mode in the AP in my rush to land. I didn't remember to do this until I was practically over the threshold, and so I ended up crunching the airframe a bit to the left of the runway shortly beyond the threshold. Everyone survived, but the aircraft had to be written off. I'll have it replaced with a new one with the same tail number tomorrow.

I hate being rushed when I'm trying to fly.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Las Vegas - Phoenix / Beechcraft Bonanza A36 (N3758W) / VFR

After seeing my virtual relatives for a time, I returned to the airport to fly my Bonanza back to Phoenix. It was an easy flight in good weather. On my arrival in Phoenix I was directed into a right downwind for 26, and some big iron was directed to follow me. I guess I was too pokey for the guy behind me because ATC cancelled his clearance and vectored him around the block while I landed. I never actually saw him (and ATC never pointed him out to me, probably because he was behind me).

After landing I taxied way over to Cutter to park the aircraft.

Montgomery Field - Las Vegas / Beechcraft Bonanza A36 (N3758W) / IFR

This evening I took my virtual parents, plus my virtual sister and brother-in-law, to exciting Las Vegas, where another virtual uncle awaited. We took the Bonanza, which was just barely sufficient to carry us all there. The combination of a full load, limited fuel capacity, and a lot of IMC along the way made the flight challenging.

The weather briefing predicted marginal VFR and strong winds from the west for most of the flight, so I decided to file IFR. My route out of Montgomery Field would be JLI V514 GFS G528 LAS, at 9000 feet. When we arrived at the field around 5 PM local time, the weather was very cloudy and misty and there was a brisk wind from the west, as predicted.

Loading everyone inside was a problem. I spent some time trying to figure out weight and balance so that we would be within limits and I wouldn't have to constantly trim for any lateral imbalance. I couldn't avoid the lateral imbalance entirely with five passengers, but it turned out not to be too much trouble. Unfortunately, I messed up the CoG calculations and put too much weight aft, which I would discover after we departed.

Another problem was fuel. Usually I depart with full tanks, just for safety and simplicity, but that wasn't possible in this case. The most I could load was 32 gallons. I calculated that this would be somewhat more than necessary for the trip (including reserve), but it still made me nervous, given that I usually have the tanks topped off. The tanks were just above that orange band on the gauges that you're never supposed to go below for take-off.

Anyway, after fussing over weight and balance for a while, I was satisfied that all was well and that everyone was optimally seated. We were cleared direct JLI, then as filed, with a climb directly to our requested cruise altitude of 9000 feet. There was a segment on the route with a MEA of 12,000, but since I have nice RNAV capability on the aircraft, I went with the MOCA of 7800, which allowed me to stay at 9000 the whole way and avoid asking my passengers to huff oxygen along the way.

We were given 28R, and I waited longer than usual for rotation just for a comfort margin, finally leaving the ground just short of 100 KIAS (substantially slower than that on the ground, since we had a hefty headwind). I noticed an unusually steep nose-up attitude while climbing out, combined with an unusually low airspeed, but I attributed this (incorrectly) to overall weight and a high take-off speed, when in fact it was a center of gravity that was very close to the aft limit. I engaged the AP and set a climb speed of 1200 fpm initially, which I gradually dialed down to keep our airspeed around 100 KIAS. I turned directly towards JLI as well. We reached 9000 feet about 20 miles short of JLI, which was in line with my expectations. Crossing JLI, I switched to GPS NAV mode instead of HDG.

The winds along the way were fierce (for a small plane) and we were crabbing as much as 25 degrees into the wind at times. The weather cleared and we got a nice view of Palm Springs at night as we approached TRM, but the winds did not let up. After GFS, they were blowing at around 65 knots for a time.

Surface winds at KLAS were 020 at 4 as we approached, and we were initially cleared for the 01L visual approach. I tried to tune the ILS for back-up, only to discover that my KLAS scenery didn't include this relatively new ILS. Fortunately, visibility was excellent as we descended and I could easily see the field. Unfortunately, the winds shifted substantially on the way in, blowing strongly from the west, and so we broke off the approach and made for 25L, for which I do have the ILS, but we didn't need it as it was easy to turn and land on 25L visually.

There were some very gusty winds on the way down, and the slightly bouncy landing was enough to elicit some expletives from the passengers, but we got down all right. I taxied over to the Signature ramp and we were done.

We left Montgomery Field at 18:17 local time, and got in to Las Vegas at 19:55. That's pretty good time—way better than taking a car. And I still had 12 gallons in the tanks when we arrived, so my fuel calculations were fine. I need to work on W&B, though.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Portland - Seattle / Boeing 747-400 (UAL5776) / IFR

Just for practice I flew from Portland to Seattle this morning, attracted by the terrible weather. It was a simple and short flight, PTLD5.BTG.OLM6, and I flew it at FL200.

The major source of excitement was a RA that I received on the TCAS from a small aircraft that came quite close while I was heading north from FOURT to come around and land on 16R. I disengaged the AP and descended as commanded. No real danger, though. I never actually saw the aircraft visually.

It was pretty windy aloft, too. Even descending through 10,000 feet, I recall seeing winds of around 65 knots, which is more than usual.

Santa Monica - Montgomery Field / Beechcraft Bonanza A36 (N3758W) / VFR

Early in the morning I returned to Montgomery Field with my virtual parents. Weather was below minimiums at some airports, but not at the airports that interested me, and weather along the way was pretty good, apart from some mist (but still above minimums).

I flew a TEC route, SMON22, but at 3500 most of the way instead of 5000. When I found myself in some fairly heavy mist just north of Camp Pendleton, I climbed to 5500 and got out of it.

The descent and landing at Montgomery Field were without incident, although my altitude was rather low as I came in over La Jolla (about 1800 feet).

Thursday, December 11, 2008

San Diego - Santa Monica / Beechcraft Bonanza A36 (N3758W) / VFR

I had this Bonanza parked at Jimsair at KSAN, and since many of my relatives live in SoCal, I decided to take my virtual parents in San Diego to see my virtual uncle in Los Angeles.

First I flew from KSAN to KMYF without bothering to file. It was only a five-minute flight. There I picked up my parents and we filed VFR to KSMO. It was a very nice trip although I had a hard time balancing the aircraft laterally with three people inside; I hate it when differences in balance create roll tendencies in the aircraft (I guess I could have trimmed it out, but I was on autopilot most of the time). I had issues with the S-Tec 55X and that occupied me for a large part of the flight; I'll have to review the manual. The landing at KSMO was smooth and uneventful.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Tucson - San Diego / Beechcraft Bonanza A36 (N3758W) / VFR

An unusually long flight from Tucson to San Diego, flown mostly on autopilot along V105 and V66. I did stray from the airway over the mountains east of San Diego to follow I-8, which led me through lower terrain and eliminated any need to climb above my constant cruise altitude of 6500. It was dark when I started out, and the sun was up and shining by the time I finished a bit over two hours later.

Phoenix - Tucson / Beechcraft Bonanza A36 (N3758W) / VFR

This flight is psychologically significant because one of parents flew the same route on the same kind of airplane many years ago for business on multiple occasions. I like to recreate it just to see how much it resembles real life. Anything, this was a very smooth and easy flight that followed V105 all the way down to Tucson, meaning PXR to TFD to the ALMON intersection and then to TUS. Everything went like clockwork. Made a left downwind to 28R at KTUS.

Whiteriver - Phoenix / Beechcraft Bonanza A36 (N3758W) / VFR

A quick flight back from Whiteriver to Phoenix. It was daytime so I took the “scenic” route, over Roosevelt Lake and down the Salt River Valley. Landed on 26 and taxied to the northwest ramp without incident.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Simultaneous Close Parallel

I just finished watching the FAA training videos for Precision Runway Monitor (PRM) approaches, also known as simultaneous close parallel approaches. There are two versions of the video, one for GA pilots, and one for air carrier pilots. I couldn't see any difference between the two apart from some of the visuals (PFDs for the big iron, simple AIs for the GA pilots). The videos were interesting and will come in handy if I ever encounter enough traffic to justify simultaneous approaches. I answered all the questions in the questionnaire correctly.

There were a couple of weird things. For example, although the video discusses how to handle a simultaneous RA and breakout instruction, the illustration with a PFD shows only the breakout, not the RA (which would normally be annunciated visually with an overlay on the attitude display). Stranger still, both videos were available with closed captioning, which seems a bit odd for something intended for pilots who have to understand ATC on the radio. Maybe it's just one of those bizarre government things. I'm sure it comes in handy to deaf simmers, however, so it's not a bad thing.

Now I just have to find an airport with simultaneous approaches in use, which isn't easy in the virtual world. Not that I'm chomping at the bit to try them out, as they look quite tedious, especially the verbose written documentation that accompanies these types of approaches (and may vary from one airport to another).

Phoenix - Whiteriver / Beechcraft Bonanza A36 (N3758W) / VFR

After thinking about Hawley Lake, a place in Arizona that is regularly the coldest spot in the State, at all times of year, I developed an urge to visit the place—virtually, of course (given my distaste for travel). Fortunately I had a Bonanza parked at Sky Harbor, so it was a simple matter to fly to the nearest airport to Hawley Lake, which turns out to be Whiteriver (E24), a small GA airport belonging to the White Mountain Apache Tribe and on their reservation.

I recklessly elected not to file a flight plan (reckless because it complicates S&R if something goes amiss, and there are lots of mountains along the way), but it was a simple flight: all I had to do was ride the 065 radial out of PXR to 101 DME. It was getting dark but I could still make out the terrain. However, 101 nm is just outside the normal service volume for a high-altitude VOR like PXR at my cruising altitude (9500 feet), so to be safe I also tuned SJN and watched carefully for the 216 radial. I chose 9500 for my altitude because it provided terrain clearance throughout the flight, although I dropped to 7500 once I had visibly cleared some of the larger mountains. PXR stayed with me all the way, but in any case by the time I left 9500 I had the field in sight in very clear weather.

Landing was without incident.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Montgomery Field - Phoenix / Beechcraft Bonanza A36 (N3758W) / VFR

I would have preferred to fly this route during the day, but there just wasn't time. So I filed VFR for a nighttime flight from Montgomery Field in San Diego to Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport.

I figured at first that I'd follow Interstate 8 all the way to Gila Bend. I noticed, though, that this meant following quite a winding route, part of which even slips through some restricted airspace. I didn't have a lot of time for this flight and many other matters were competing for my attention, so I eventually decided to go direct HAILE and then follow the Victor airways to IPL, BZA, and so on, with a turn at MOHAK shortly after which I could follow I-8 directly to Gila Bend. I climbed as high as 7500 over the mountains as I left SoCal, but then went back down to 5500 and then down to 3500 after Gila Bend. I followed the highway from Gila Bend to I-10 east of Buckeye, as usual, and then on into Phoenix. Wind was calm so I took runway 8 and managed to swing right over to the GA ramp near the threshold. The weather was very clear, with lots of stars, and a very faint glow to the east, even though it wasn't even 4 AM yet.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Shoshone County - Seattle / Beechcraft Bonanza A36 (N3759W) / IFR

So I decided to fly back to Seattle from Shoshone County, but in a Bonanza that I had teleported to the airport for my convenience. This time I filed IFR. Of course, given the way my luck runs, the weather turned out to be very nice and clear for almost the entire trip.

I flew one of my Bonanzas. I haven't flown a Bonanza in months. It was a nice change. A Bonanza is in roughly the same performance class as a Cessna 182, only slightly better—and the Bonanza isn't assembled out of spit and baling wire, the way the Cessna is. It's a luxurious little airplane. I have nice avionics on it, almost the same set as I have in the Baron. The one thing missing is the ST3400, but the Bonanza has weather radar, which can come in handy. The GPS is smaller (a GNS430 instead of a GNS530), but I upgraded the autopilot and some other stuff. It's very comfy to fly.

Anyway, off I went from Shoshone County, flying airway V2 for most of the way, at an altitude of 8000, meaning I had to sniff oxygen all the way (I don't like to take chances). I found some virtual locals who needed a lift to Seattle, so I took them along.

The weather was nice. My route looked different from 8000 feet, but I recognized the way I had come earlier in the day in the Baron. ATC, which shined by its absence throughout most of the flight, as they say in French, suddenly materialized as I turned to final for 34L at SeaTac and called me up. I wasn't about to suddenly start talking to ATC during a critical phase of flight after two hours with nothing on the air, so I just disconnected and finished the flight offline, taxiing over to the ramp on the north side of the tower.

Seattle - Shoshone County / Beechcraft Baron 58 (N2751W) / VFR

I tried planning this out last night, but the weather was so bad that I gave up.

I had been reading about Wallace, Idaho, a small silver-mining town whose claim to fame is that it was used as a shooting location for the movie Dante's Peak. As I read about it on Wikipedia, I had a sudden hankering to visit it—not for real, of course (I hate travel), but by air, in one of my fleet of aircraft. So I looked at the area on Google Maps, and gradually worked out a route that would take the Baron I had parked at SeaTac out to the nearest airport to this tiny town, which turned out to be Shoshone County Airport (S83), just north of Smelterville (what a great name for a town, eh?), although it's usually associated with Kellogg, Idaho.

I looked at the low-altitude en-route charts, and quickly felt discouraged by the sky-high MEAs. I decided to plan a flight under VFR. My first attempt was unsuccessful, as the weather was hard IMC most of the way. That was yesterday afternoon. This morning (Seattle time) I tried again.

So I figured that first I'd ride the 096 radial out of SEA until about 28 DME. That would put me just southeast of Hanson Reservoir, in a valley that's plenty low. From there I'd follow the valley visually through Stampede Pass, where I could spot Interstate 90 and follow it until I had a clear path to the Ellensburg VOR (I could have followed I-90 for the entire trip, but it would have been significantly longer). I'd depart Ellensburg on the 086 radial out to FEBUS (25 DME), then ride the 213 radial to the Moses Lake VOR.

Departing Moses Lake, there would come a long leg direct to the Spokane VOR (GEG). I'd depart GEG on the 052 radial until 31 DME, then turn and follow Interstate 90 east, which would be right below me. The Interstate would take me the remaining 31 nm or so out to Shoshone County Airport.

Executing this route went mostly as planned. I departed 16L, made a left crosswind, then joined the 096 radial and rode it southeast as planned. When I go to my next working waypoint, I started following the valley. Unfortunately, at 5500 feet, I ran into mist and couldn't see anything. In theory, I should have filed for a pop-up IFR clearance, but since there was no ATC online and I had all the avionics one could want (except weather radar, drat!), I just continued on using the Sandel ST3400 to navigate through the valley.

After a bit of this I decided to descend to 3500 to see if I could get below the clouds. I knew this was safe because of the charts and the TAWS terrain display. Sure enough, as I descended, I squeaked out of the clouds. Being at less than 3000' AGL, I went down a bit further to improve visibility and get a statutory margin between me and the cloud deck. I found I-90 and turned east, following it carefully. When I knew I had no terrain between me and the Ellensburg VOR, I went direct.

After ELN, visibility got really good. I continued to follow the interstate across the Columbia river, and suppressed an urge to follow the river north to visit Grand Coulee dam (it looked close on the chart, but I knew it would be a major detour). After continuing along the interstate for a while, I just made direct MWH and then GEG, as terrain was very flat.

I eventually ended up over Spokane, then it was across the State line and almost up to Coeur d'Alene. I found my turning point and the interstate again, and turned east to follow it through the mountains. After a surprisingly short time, I recognized my destination airport ahead (thanks to my previous look at Google Maps).

Although the airport is very small and surrounded by low mountains on three sides, I managed to land without any problem. Drawing upon what I've learned in the Cessna, I slowed the faster Baron down to about 90 KIAS with full flaps and trim set to the take-off range (substantially nose-up). I managed to fly a nice downwind right over the interstate, then turned base and final east of the field. I passed quite closely over a good-sized hill east of the field, and in retrospect it occurs to me that an engine failure would have been very unpleasant on that turn to final, but fortunately my engines are exceptionally well maintained and have never failed me up to now. Anyway, after clearing the hill I put the nose down to pick up some speed, which I then bled off after crossing the threshold and flaring, so I touched down quite nicely. It seemed to be slightly below freezing and I had some concern about stopping, but it turned out that the runway was plenty long and I wasn't going very fast, so all went well.

Now I'm contemplating perhaps an IFR flight back, even though the idea of having a cannula stuck in my nose for the duration doesn't appeal to me. I know, I know: Macho pilots don't use oxygen unless they can see the Andromeda Galaxy in daylight—but I'm not macho. I prefer being alive to being studly.

Monday, December 1, 2008

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

Yup, this is essentially a rehash of my earlier flight. I repeated it because the weather had deteriorated wonderfully, leaving visibility at zero at some locations, and only around 1/4 mile at others. I just had to try flying through that!

So I repeated the QXE280 flight. At cruise altitude I could see lots of stars and the clouds were below me, but during the departure and arrival, I couldn't see anything at all the majority of the time. Many airports, including my destination, were below Cat I minima, and so for the first time I flew a Cat II approach because it was required, rather than just for currency or for practice. By the time I finished my rollout, I could hardly see the turnoffs onto the taxiways. It was tough just getting to a gate, as I couldn't see the gate until I was almost rolling into the jetway. I went slow and made it okay. That was the most dangerous part of the flight, as the rest of the flight was a piece of cake in the mighty 747-400, with all its fancy systems. Visibility or not, you always know where you are in a 747.

I had considered and discarded the idea of flying the route in a Baron again; the Baron cannot make Cat II approaches. Some other small GA aircraft had to divert far away just to find a field with minimums they could handle.

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

Seattle was all foggy and misty, so naturally I had to fly there. That's a key difference between simulation and real life: In real life, you avoid bad weather, and in simulation, you look for it. Anyway, when Scotty beamed me into the cockpit of Cessna N7109V, parked in a cargo area at KSEA, I could hardly see the other side of the ramp. Perfect IFR flying weather!

So I filed IFR from Seattle to Tacoma-Narrows. Winds were from the north, so I planned to fly north a bit, then west, then south until I hit the 227 radial from SEA, at which point I'd turn towards KTIW and capture the ILS for runway 17.

Shortly after I turned onto the southbound leg of my trip, Seattle Center came online, so I checked in and got vectors for the approach. Visibility was essentially zero outside the window. I tuned the ILS and captured it, but getting onto the localizer and glide slope in zero visibility was really tough. I was fighting to keep the needles centered all the way. When I finally reached the field, I was several hundred feet west of the runway, so I made a sharp turn, roughly aligned myself with the runway, and called in a missed approach to ATC. I was directed to climb to 3000 on runway heading, where I stayed for a while. ATC then vectored me back around for another try. All of this was still in zero visbility.

I think this is the first time I've ever gone missed on an IFR approach because I couldn't see the runway in time. By the time I saw it, I was too far off.

After being taken a fair distance back out, ATC brought me back in to intercept the localizer. I was getting increasingly anxious because the visibility was really, really poor, just barely at minimums. I had plenty of fuel but I didn't cherish the thought of going missed again, or diverting to some other airport (none of the ones nearby had better weather, anyway). I managed to stay on the needles a bit better this time, but I still came in about 100 feet west of the centerline when finally I saw a few glimmering runway lights come into view. There was still time to line up, so I did, and by then I had a clear view of the runway and landing was straightforward and smooth (lots of fog, but hardly any wind). Nevertheless, it was a nerve-wracking experience. The avionics in the Cessna are not fancy and it's hard to shoot an ILS by hand in nil visibility. It was nearly sunset by the time I landed and I don't think I'll try this again today in the Cessna, but I might try it with an aircraft with better IFR instrumentation, such as the Baron or Bonanza.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, November 29, 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Landing was easy and without incident.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

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

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

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 24, 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 23, 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, November 22, 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 21, 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Various flights

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

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

Sunday, November 16, 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, November 15, 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 14, 2008

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 10, 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 9, 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, November 8, 2008

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 7, 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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