Thursday, October 30, 2008

Oakland - Reno / Boeing 737-800 (SWA1191) / IFR

This flight was just like my previous flight … except that I flew it by hand.

The Oakland - Reno route is only 28 minutes long in the air, so I figured it would be a good practice run for flying the 737 by hand (which I've never done before from start to finish). I flew offline just in case the flight might end in tragedy.

All went well for most of the flight. I spent most of my time staring at the crosshairs of the flight director on the PFD. It was tough to trim the aircraft—it seemed to be just as difficult to get it level as it is in the Cessna. The phugoid movements are slower but still just as pesky. I flew with both AP and autothrottle off, so I had to adjust everything. I wasn't very good at staying on top of my FMC speed bug, but I did okay with the lateral and vertical navigation.

The issues came up as I passed over Lake Tahoe on my descent. There's a lot of high terrain around Reno. Fortunately, I did occasionally look up from the PFD to take a peek out the windows, and on one occasion when I saw radio transmission towers directly in front of me, I realized that perhaps I should pay more attention to terrain. Throttles full forward and a bit of nose-up pitch keep me clear of tragedy. After I got past the mountains, the terrain was much lower on the runway centerline, and since I had the ILS tuned (which I had fixed yesterday—the default FS 2004 scenery doesn't include the relatively recent ILS for 34L), I started lining up on that. Somehow, I had come in well below the glide path, but other than that, my approach was stable, and in the clear weather I could easily remain clear of terrain just by looking out the window.

Unfortunately, I was consistently below the glide slope most of the way, although my descent rate was okay. I kept trying to ease myself up into the glide slope, taking care not to do anything drastic … slow and easy is safer with a big jet. Mostly I increased power (I already had full flaps and gear down) and eased the nose up just tiny bit as the airspeed increased. I did get my aircraft at Vref for the approach.

In the last few miles of the approach I was nicely stabilized and aligned, except for being somewhat below the glide slope. I slowed my descent and finally moved into the slope, only to drift below it again. But I had the runway in sight and I mostly used the runway PAPI to correct my glide slope.

The landing was just a tad long, but very smooth. However, I came within about six inches of a tail strike, as I had the nose too high during the flare. I flared a little bit too much, too soon. But the touchdown was great. Still, as you can see from my picture taken just after the wheels touched, I had some very aggressive nose-up pitch on landing. I'll have to work on that.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Oakland - Reno / Boeing 737-800 (SWA1191) / IFR

I found a really short flight (28 minutes) flown by Southwest, flight 1191, from Oakland to Reno, so I decided to try it.

The SID was one of those that consists mainly of “vectors,” and the STAR was equally simple. No ATC online, so it was quite a simple flight. The only problem was that MSFS has no ILS for runway 34L, which I discovered on my approach. I had to fly it by hand, but since I was already aligned with the runway from the programmed approach, it was pretty straightforward and I didn't do too badly. After the flight I fixed the airport by adding the required ILS for 34L. I guess it is relatively recent (16R already had an ILS).

Monday, October 27, 2008

Phoenix - Grand Canyon / Cessna 182RG II (N7166V) / VFR

In most of my aircraft I carry fixed loads of passengers and cargo, particularly the big iron. It makes weight and balance less of a nuisance. When I'm not carrying passengers in the small aircraft, I carry ballast instead to even things out. I'm quite heavy and it makes a difference in a small aircraft if I don't put some sort of ballast on the other side. I don't like having to trim or constantly hold the controls to compensate.

This evening I flew up to the Grand Canyon with three of my mysterious but amiable passengers who were eager to see this wonder of the world. It was still sunny when I left Phoenix a little after 4 PM local time, but the sun soon set. By the time I was approaching Flagstaff, the sky still glowed but I had turned the cabin lights on. By the time we reached the Grand Canyon, it was totally pitch black outside (no moon tonight).

My passengers were somewhat alarmed to see me take oxygen as we climbed, but I like to have oxygen above 5000 feet, especially at night, and on this flight we'd be at 8500 or even briefly above 10,000. I have oxygen for pax, of course, but they weren't driving so they didn't need it. I did point it out to them, however.

I used VORs to find my way. After clearing the Class B at Phoenix, I climbed to 8500 feet and hopped onto the 359 radial from PXR. When I intercepted the 352 radial from FLG, I switched to that (effectively crossing FERER, although I'm not using a GPS). A few miles south of KFLG, at only about 1500 feet AGL, I took a shortcut across the south side of the field and intercepted the 274 radial out of FLG. I climbed to 10,500 feet. Then came the 349 radial from DRK (KACEE), up to BISOP while descending back down to 8500, where I switched to the 019 radial to GCN. Shortly thereafter I called up Los Angeles Center (working KGCN this evening) and announced my intentions. I was cleared straight in for runway 3 and asked to call on 3-mile final.

As I approached KGCN, it was really, really dark. I could get a rough idea of where the horizon was by the presence of lots of stars above it (the weather was clear, thank goodness). My happy passengers were busy chatting and perhaps a bit sleepy but I was quite anxious and alert. I had to squint around looking for something that resembled an airport. I had my charts and I knew I was clear of terrain, but since I couldn't see anything below, it still made me nervous. Finally, some miles ahead, I spotting a revolving beacon that I knew had to be KGCN.

Just to be on the safe side, even though I was VFR, I tuned the ILS for runway 3. I used this to help me align for a straight-in approach while I was still some 16 miles out. Eventually the whitish irregular light near the beacon started to look like it might be a runway. A few miles more and it was indisputably a runway. Still, it was floating in complete darkness, which made it hard to judge exactly where I was in relation to the runway. The ILS helped, although I still flew in by hand (the Nav-O-Matic can follow a localizer but since I was VFR I didn't avail myself of that).

There was some turbulence coming in. I tried to come in slow (about 60 KIAS) so that I had time to line up and stabilize my approach. There was a bit of gusty wind across the runway and the landing was less than perfect, but I got in okay. It was nice to see the landing lights finally illuminating the runway; they seem really bright on a dark night. I pulled over to the ramp and shut down and we disembarked for now.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Sedona - Phoenix / Beechcraft Baron 58 / VFR

I returned to Phoenix from Sedona just before noon, with my passengers. Weather was good, although Phoenix of course was already unpleasantly hot. I simply followed the Verde River back down into the Valley of the Sun.

The Baron puts such a heavy load on the sim with the avionics I've installed that the clock loses time rapidly. If I switch to VC view (I've turned off the VC aircraft, so it's “invisible”), the clock will catch up if it's less than 30 seconds off, otherwise I have to reset it.

Phoenix - Sedona / Beechcraft Baron 58 / VFR

I'm expanding my fleet. I now have two each of a Cessna 172R, a Cessna 182RG II, a Beechcraft Baron 58, a Beechcraft Bonanza A36, a Boeing 747-400, a Boeing 737-800, and a Boeing 767-300ER. The idea is to have enough aircraft scattered about so that I can fly them consecutively, that is, so that I can take off from the same airport at which I last landed for each aircraft. I can pretend that I took a flight as a passenger to get from one aircraft to another.

This morning I decided to take a couple of virtual passengers with me from Phoenix up to Sedona, in Baron “A” (N2734W). It was a nice morning and tolerably cool even in Phoenix (20° C); Sedona was better still at around 16° C (that's 60° F for those of you still doing things the old-fashioned way).

Phoenix Approach signed on while I was taxiing to runway 8 and sounded a bit sleepy, but they got me cleared and into the air okay. The trip up to Sedona is short and mostly scenic, and I know the way quite well, but it's always reassuring to have my Baron panel chock full o’instruments. I was cleared up to and maintained 8500, and I turned towards the Verde River valley, heading towards Horseshoe Dam. I navigated mostly visually and checked terrain altitudes on the ST3400 TAWS that I installed; with the TAWS I could have done exactly the same thing on instruments at night without compromising safety. In any case, at 8500 feet, there were not too many terrain issues, but I stayed over the valley just to be extra safe.

I've been to Sedona many times, and there are some handy waypoints that can help me into the airport. MINGY is handy for getting up there, but there are several IFR waypoints that are useful for VFR: I aim first for BOWSU, then EXUTY, then turn east to LYRIT. Runway 3 is then right ahead of me. Although the weather was clear, it can be difficult to spot the airport, so using the waypoints to double-check keeps things safer.

After flying the Cessnas for a while, I note that the Baron is definitely faster and more slippery—it takes a more delicate touch to bring it in smoothly. I did manage to get down to about 80-90 KIAS on the approach; I'm trying to make my approaches slower, although this could be problematic if I have an engine failure while going very slowly, so I can't be as daring as I am in the Cessnas.

Landing was without incident under clear blue skies. I disembarked my passengers and filled the tanks for next time.

Las Vegas - Jean - Furnace Creek - Las Vegas / Cessna 182RG II / VFR

This was an afternoon flight with multiple legs, in my creaky little Cessna 182.

I started in Las Vegas, at the Signature terminal, right where I had parked the aircraft after my last flight. I was given 25R and a left crosswind departure, and I departed uneventfully with one passenger for Jean airport, only about 20 minutes south of Las Vegas. After making my crosswind, I turned towards Interstate 15 and followed that south at about 4500 feet. It only took a short time to leave the Class B, and I declined flight following because Jean was only about ten minutes away. In no time, I was landing at Jean with my passenger.

At Jean I picked up two more virtual friends and topped off the tanks—I like to have full tanks for every departure. Then it was off again, this time back to the northwest, and through Columbia pass into Pahrump Valley. North of Kingston peak I turned west through a break in the mountains and then continued northwest. For a while I figured I was following the path of the Amargosa River, but the terrain looked too high, and by checking the charts and various VOR/DME readings carefully, I realized I was further west, just east of the tall mountains that include Funeral Peak. Knowing this, I adjusted my course to continue northwest beneath the Shoshone MOA.

Furnace Creek is hard to spot from the air, or at least the runway is. I knew it was roughly on the 182 radial from Beatty, at about 23 DME. I actually passed slightly north of the field and had to turn around and come back. A quick descent and one quick final turn and I landed without incident.

It was hot at Furnace Creek. After dropping off my three passengers, I filled up again and prepared to return to Las Vegas. This time I wanted a different route. I decided to go north of the Spring Mountains and towards Indian Springs. I calculated that I could fly a heading of 020 out of Furnace Creek, then turn to a heading of 081 upon intercepting the 167 radial from Beatty. Thereafter I could just follow highway 95, taking care to remain south of the highway, lest I stray into the ultrasecret box of R-4808 or R-4806. As it was, I almost crossed the highway and entered the box, but I noticed and turned at the last minute.

Following the highway took me around the Spring Mountains and then southeast back into Las Vegas. I was able to stay at 5500 the whole way—I wanted to avoid having to climb way up high to get over the mountains. It seemed a little bit faster than the other route, although it was slightly longer.

I called up Las Vegas Approach when I was about 30 miles out of LAS. I was cleared into the Class B and told to expect 19R and to report the field in sight. After turning east and working my way around the Strip, I was able to see the airport, and I was cleared to make straight in and asked to report a 3-mile final. ATC cleared me to land before I had a chance to report final, and I made my way in to a very nice landing.

From there I taxied right back to Signature and parked. All in all, some pleasant flights. They'd be a lot harder to do at night, though. Furnace Creek in particular has an unlighted runway surrounded by soft sand.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Las Vegas - Seattle / Boeing 737-800 / IFR

This was a simulation of Southwest Airlines flight 570, from Las Vegas to Seattle—a flight of about two and a half hours, which is really long for me. There was substantial traffic at KLAS and one harried controller serving all of ZLA at times, and it took a while for me to get my clearance. I finally got it and taxied out to 25R, but I was about 20 minutes late on my scheduled departure time (which was the same as the real flight, of course).

Nevertheless, I picked up time in the air, and landed at almost the same moment as the real flight. I always manage to get places faster than the real flights. It must be due to a combination of things, as I've seen no glaring differences between my flight procedures and theirs. I fly more lightly loaded, but I maintain the same airspeeds. It could just be traffic and congestion in the real-world skies, which can delay things a lot, especially at departure time.

I also got direct Coaldale (OAL) shortly after departure, plus an uninterrupted climb to my cruising altitude of FL400, which helped my time a bit. I don't know if the real flight had either of these. There could be differences in winds aloft, too, although ActiveSky tracks winds pretty well.

I had a bit of excitement on landing, as I had been cleared for the ILS runway 16C approach, but since I was coming in fast (due to a 210-KIAS restriction to the outer marker imposed by Seattle Approach), I was overtaking a United flight in front of me. At the tower's request I slowed to Vref, but that took time, and ultimately I was asked to side-step to 16L, which I did by disengaging the AP and autothrottle and firmly grasping the controls myself. Taking over the throttles manually on the sim is delicate, because the sim doesn't move the throttles physically in response to autothrottle commands (the real aircraft does, however). So you have to reposition the throttles physically to where the autothrottle was holding them, and invariably this makes it difficult to hold a speed initially. I drifted somewhat below the glide slope while struggling with this but I got back to the slope shortly thereafter. The landing was bumpy but okay. In the excitement I had failed to check where the real flight was parking, so I just found an empty gate and pulled up to it.

Some of my cabin crew noticed the departure from the glide slope (or rather felt it) and made oblique comments on it after landing. Passengers didn't know any better.

Grand Canyon - Las Vegas / Cessna 182RG II / VFR

This was a fairly long flight (by my standards) from Grand Canyon Airport, the airport that serves Grand Canyon National Park. It's only a few miles south of Grand Canyon Village.

I made this simple: direct to Peach Springs (PGS), then up to MEADS, then into Las Vegas. I flew most of it at 8500 feet (Grand Canyon Airport is at 6600 feet). Once I got out over Lake Mead (where MEADS is), I descended to 6500, then as I cleared the hills next to the lake, I descended to 4500, and by then I was cleared into KLAS (a left base for 19R). Another very smooth landing, despite a lot of turbulence higher up. I parked at the Signature terminal.

The aircraft bounced like a bucking bronco most of the way, in moderate turbulence. My altitude varied by as much as 400 feet. At first I tried to keep it steady, but I finally gave up; there was just too much turbulence, too many updrafts and downdrafts.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Santa Monica - Phoenix / Beechcraft Baron 58 / VFR

This was quite a long flight. I first attempted it yesterday in my Cessna 182, but I got tired of constantly retrimming the aircraft every 60 seconds (the autopilot doesn't have any altitude modes), and the prospect of doing that for nearly three hours didn't appeal to me. So I decided to leave the Cessna in Santa Monica and take the Baron instead, which has a sophisticated autopilot and a ton of fancy avionics—plus it's significantly faster than the C182.

So I worked out a route for this flight, which was practically cross-country by my standards (around 330 nautical miles). Out of Santa Monica I'd turn east and join V186 to Pomona, then from there to Palm Springs, then Thermal, Blythe, Buckeye, and finally Phoenix. Although the Baron has a nice GPS and autopilot that could fly the entire route automatically, I decided to fly in heading mode and set the headings myself. I started out at 3500 to stay below the LAX Class B, then up to 5500 once I was out of it. Around Palm Springs I climbed to 7500 and stayed there until I was just west of Buckeye. Then it was down to 5500 again, and finally down to 3500 to stay below other traffic on the way into the Phoenix Class B. ATC gave me a left downwind to 25L, and landing proceeded uneventfully. I parked on the Cutter ramp on the south side. It was a really long and tiring flight, at least for me. My virtual passengers were happy, though, as we made the trip in just under two hours, whereas it would have been seven or eight hours by car. And we practically flew directly over Interstate 10 the whole way.

The Baron has such a heavy suite of avionics aboard that it slows down the frame rate, and the NT virtual DOS machine that the Reality XP stuff starts slows things down even further. After two hours the sim makes funny noises, too; I'm pretty sure that some add-on, somewhere, is leaking memory or something, especially during task switches. The clock runs slow in the Baron, meaning that the CPU is pegged when I'm flying this aircraft. But it's such a luxurious and pleasant aircraft to fly that I like it anyway. Great for IFR, with just about every instrument you could want to feel safe and cozy.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Why We Sim

People (especially real-world pilots) occasionally ask me why I settle for flight simulation instead of actually going out and getting a real pilot's license. The assumption seems to be that, given a choice between flying a real airplane and flying a simulator, flying a real airplane is always preferable. However, the reality is that there are many persuasive reasons to sim (even for those who have a pilot's license).

One key reason is cost. Where I live, getting a private pilot's license and an instrument rating (I don't consider a PPL worthwhile unless an IR comes with it) costs about $50,000 (yes, you read correctly!). Renting an aircraft might cost $300-$500 per hour. Buying a new twin-engine Baron (the kind I routinely fly in simulation) would cost over a million dollars. And then there are things like fuel, insurance, and airport and ATC fees. It's a very expensive hobby, especially on this side of the pond.

In contrast, my entire investment in flight simulation has cost only a fraction of one hour of rental time in a small airplane.

Another problem is the time and paperwork required to become a pilot for real, even for purposes of leisure. You have to find the time to fly around with an instructor—an instructor who typically knows and cares very little about instructing and is just trying to build up hours so that he can become an airline pilot one day. You have to solo. You have to stay current. You have to pass all sorts of exams. I hate tests and exams.

Simulation requires no specific instruction or exams, although serious simmers will obviously study.

Then there are the medical requirements. The FAA and its brethren in developed countries still expect pilots to be as robustly healthy as astronauts. Airline pilots have to have a medical exam every six months; if the doctor finds anything he doesn't like, the pilot's career ends. That's quite a sword to have hanging over your head. And with my luck, I'd fail the exam. And where I live, you need a second-class medical for an instrument rating; third class isn't good enough. Just being nervous about the exam (and how can one not be nervous, with one's flying career on the line?) is enough to make me fail it. I don't need that kind of stress.

No scary medical exam for simulation.

Then there is the need to travel. See, real airplanes leave one airport and land at another (usually). Meaning that when you finish a flight, you're in a different place. I don't like being in a different place. I can't stand to travel. I want to start and finish in my apartment. That cannot happen in real life. Even if you just go out for pattern work, you still have to travel to and from the airport. There are no general-aviation airports within easy reach of public transport where I live, and I don't have a car. And what if I don't want to do pattern work? And what if I want to fly from somewhere else, somewhere other than the handful of nearby general-aviation fields? Can't be done in real life.

However, in simulation, I can start from any airport, finish at any airport, and never even leave home. No need to go outside, no need to commute for hours, no need for hotels or rental cars. If I want to fly from Los Angeles to Seattle, I can. In real life, though, I'm thousands of miles from both cities; I'd have to fly as a passenger all day just to get to one of them, and all day again to get back home. There's just no comparison.

And then there's the weather. In real life, you take what you get. In simulation, you pick the weather you want. Even if you're a stickler for real-world weather, as I am, you can pick your departure and arrival airports to match the kind of weather in which you wish to fly. And you can always change the weather in the sim to anything you want. If you want to practice instrument flight, you can set up hard IMC; if you don't want to be disturbed by clouds, you can set up severe-clear VMC.

Then there's the choice of aircraft. In real life, you can only fly what you are certified to fly. If you like to fly tiny Cessnas, this isn't a problem, as any licensed pilot can fly those. But if you like to fly 747s or Concordes, you have a problem. Even real-life airline pilots can only fly the big iron when and where their employers dictate; they cannot take a company 737 out for a pleasure ride. Military aircraft are also out of reach (although I'm not interested in those).

In simulation, you can fly anything you want. I routinely fly Cessnas, Barons and Bonanzas, 737s, 747s, and 767s. Nobody can fly with this degree of freedom in real life, not even airline captains.

In real life, you must respect regulations and worry about safety. The dedicated simmer does the same, but in simulation you always have the option of suspending regulations or throwing caution to the wind if you want to try something special. For example, the airport on Santa Catalina Island closes in the evening. If you fly there after hours, you pay a big fine, or worse. But in simulation, you can choose to ignore or observe this restriction; if you really want to land on the island at midnight, no problem. Or if you want to try to glide a 767 to a landing with no fuel or engines, you can do that in simulation; in reality, it's out of the question.

Simulation also lets you fly when you want, in comfort. You don't have to worry about the cockpit being too hot or too cold, or too noisy. You don't have to postpone going to the bathroom until you land, and if you get too tired to fly, you just stop the flight. In real life, these are all potentially serious problems. In a real airplane, if you start to nod off over the mountains, you might die. If you get tired while flying over the mountains in simulation, you stop the sim (or you pause it, if you want to resume later) and take a nap.

Some pilots, especially private pilots of small planes, enjoy sensations. I don't. I don't like roller-coasters or sudden movements. I don't necessarily find these objectionable, but they don't thrill me, either (that's why I'd unhesitatingly turn down a ride in a fighter jet). The fact that my sim doesn't move physically is more of an advantage than a disadvantage, although movement would certainly enhance realism and I probably wouldn't refuse it if the opportunity to have it came up (as long as I could shut it off when I didn't want it).

I'm a procedural person. I like flying in zero visibility for an hour, using just instruments, and then breaking out of the clouds at the last minute and seeing that I'm perfectly aligned over the runway. It's an intellectual exercise. At the other extreme, aerobatics bore me, even just watching them. Fortunately, sims are superb at simulating instrument flight, even if they are very poor at simulating aerobatic flight.

In summary, then, while it's true that simulation isn't the same as real life, it's also true that simulation has advantages over real life. I like the idea of flying in real life to a certain extent, but there are parts of it that don't appeal to me. I don't like the idea of spending huge amounts of money and time just to get the opportunity to fly a tiny tin can (the big iron being permanently out of reach). I don't want to travel or commute. I don't like written, practical, or medical exams, which stress me uselessly. I don't want to be constrained to tiny airports in one small region of the globe. I want to be comfy in the cockpit, not freezing or sweating or thinking about landing as soon as possible just to find a restroom. The list goes on and on.

I also can take heart in the fact that simulation will only get better in the future, whereas flying for real will only get more and more difficult and unpleasant.

I've flown as a passenger in big planes, which was fun (although the hours spent at airports before and after the flight were not, and long flights can be very boring). I've never flown in a small aircraft. Maybe someday I'll try one of those “discovery flights,” maybe not. Right now, though, simulation gives me the parts of aviation that I like most, without the irritations that the real thing would also impose.

Catalina Island - Santa Monica / Cessna 182RG II / VFR

Just a short flight to bring my Cessna back to the mainland, with just me aboard. The wind was from the east so I was able to take off in a straight line and head for Seal Beach. I planned to go through the SFRA but drifted a bit east because I forgot to switch the second VOR to Santa Monica. Once I did that I turned back west and flew north through the SFRA. No ATC online so I just descended into Santa Monica after the SFRA and landed without incident, although the landing was slightly bumpy. I had to descend from 4500 to the field level in the pattern so it was pretty steep (I actually did a slip part of the way to get down quickly enough to land).

Skies were clear except for some clouds and fog off the coast. In real life I would have needed a pop-up IFR clearance to get through that mist, but with no ATC online, I didn't see the point. Plus there was virtually no traffic in the air (verified via ServInfo) and the aircraft is equipped for instrument flight, so I just navigated through it. I stayed at 3500 until it was time to turn north then climbed to 4500; by the time I approached the shoreline, the skies were clear.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Las Vegas - Avalon (Catalina Island) / Cessna 182RG II / VFR

This was an unusually long trip for me; I don't generally like long trips in any type of aircraft. But it was moderately interesting, and it certainly kept me busy, since the Cessna doesn't have an altitude hold function in its simple autopilot. I spent most of the flight trying to maintain my altitude. Sometimes the air was calm and I could trim to a very precise altitude for minutes at a time, but most of the time there were updrafts and downdrafts periodically that kept me constantly adjusting things. I can't say that it was fun, but it kept me busy, and I suppose it was a challenge of sorts.

When I wasn't struggling with the altimeter, I was trying to follow my route. Since the Cessna is devoid of fancy avionics, I made do with VORs. It's good practice—it's easy to get spoiled and lazy with glass cockpits and GPS units.

I worked out a route via VORs and waypoints, and all of the waypoints were intersections that I could locate using VORs. I started out by intercepting the 166 radial out of LAS, with the second VOR set to BLD and dialed to the 213 radial. When the needle centered on the second VOR, I turned from 166 to 213. After being on that radial for a while, I captured HEC and dialed in the 212 radial and followed that to the VOR. The rest of the trip was similar, going from HEC to APLES, then PDZ, then SLI, and finally out to Catalina on the SLI 202 radial. I gave the waypoints (CRESO and APLES) in the flight plan, but I actually navigated to them using VORs, not a GPS. Airway intersections are usually locatable using radials alone. Other random waypoints are more difficult or impossible to find without a GPS, but fortunately you usually don't need those.

My initial altitude was 6500. I was able to sneak between the mountains near Wheaton Springs easily enough at this altitude, but later on, ten miles out of HEC, I had issues with terrain, so I started a climb to 8500 well in advance (it was slow). I stayed there until I entered the Los Angeles basin after crossing Lake Arrowhead, then descended to 6500. Once I was clear of the hills, I descended further to 4500 in order to stay under the Class B at Seal Beach (I had flight following already, but I didn't want to have to enter the Bravo airspace if I didn't have to).

After departing SLI, I waited until I was over water and then descended to 2500. This works out well for Catalina because it's about 900 feet above the field elevation. I was lucky enough to have fairly clear weather, so I could see Catalina already from SLI. I know where the field is now, so I just aimed for that, which was practically at my 12 o'clock.

Landing was pretty good. Once again I took care to slow down, coming in at about 60 knots (I'm still not brave enough to go below that). Compared to big iron, that means I'm practically standing still, so landing is a breeze. It was a bit gusty at Avalon but I still managed to land very smoothly. I stopped fast so that I could taxi directly over to what passes for a terminal at the airport. By then it was almost 7 PM, so I just barely made it before the closing time of the airport (big fines if you land after closing time). The entire flight took about an hour and 50 minutes.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Las Vegas - Phoenix / Boeing 737-800 / IFR

Still in Las Vegas but in a different airplane, I started at gate C24 as Southwest Airlines Flight 1574 (which started from the same gate). I was late pushing back, but the real flight was delayed as I taxied out, so I would end up arriving earlier than the real-world flight, as usual. I was told 19L when I got my clearance, but the tower changed this to 25R by the time I was ready to taxi. I accepted an intersection departure, which was a little bit tight but I got away with it. In my clearance I was cleared directly to FL290, my cruise altitude, but Departure amended that to 19000. A few minutes later I got FL290.

Albuquerque Center was online when I departed, but soon disappeared, as usual. I had no ATC until I arrived at Phoenix and was taxiing to the gate, at which point Approach signed on. It was too late to use ATC then, so I just taxied in silence to my gate, C8 (the same as real life, although I arrived much earlier).

I hand flew the last mile or two of the landing. The landing wasn't very soft but nothing broke.

Perkins - Las Vegas / Cessna 182RG II / VFR

No sooner had I dropped off my mysterious virtual passengers (three of them) than I was taxiing back out for a trip to Lost Wages. Fortunately I just land, fuel up, and take off again, without visiting the Strip. I usually park at Signature on the west end of the field. Sometimes I can see those spooky JANET 737s parked nearby. Sometimes I hear them on the radio, too. They just fly into the Box and disappear, then they reappear at some later time.

Once again I headed out over the lake. The shadows were getting longer by now. Since I was going to LAS, I had to call up ATC while I was over the lake and ask for clearance into the Class B. In the clear afternoon air I already had the field in sight by the time I go my clearance, so I was instructed to make straight in for 25R. Shortly thereafter I was cleared to land, and I made another glassy-smooth landing—it's easy to do in a Cessna.

The taxi to the Signature terminal was almost as long as the flight, trundling down between 25L and 25R and then crossing the other two runways. I finally parked and shut down.

Bolder - Perkins / Cessna 182RG II / VFR

I was looking for a nice little flight this afternoon and this seemed as good as any. I planned a 180° turn after take-off in order to avoid the Las Vegas Class B, and that worked nicely. I climbed to 5500 and made my way out over Lake Mead; in the FP I had mentioned following the shoreline, but in fact I stayed mostly in the middle of the lake, until I cut across the hills to Echo Bay and then up to Perkins, which saved some time.

I'm doing better and better at maintaining altitude. Sometimes I'm right on the dot for many minutes at a time. Unfortunately, pesky updrafts and downdrafts sometimes mess up my perfectly trimmed altitude, and I have to retrim or tweak the throttle. Still, I'm much better than I used to be.

There was a small amount of turbulence just before I arrived at Perkins. Not a big deal. Very smooth landing. It seems that the lower I can get my landing speed, the smoother things go, which I guess makes sense. I'm also trying to configure flaps and lower gear later so that I don't waste a lot of fuel coming in like a slowpoke while still 15 miles out.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

San Diego - Los Angeles / Cessna 182RG II / VFR

My virtual passengers were clamoring for another plane ride, so no sooner had I landed at Lindbergh Field and fueled up than I was ready to depart again, this time for Los Angeles.

Jimsair is right near runway 27, so ATC just had me taxi over to the runway. My instructions were to make a right crosswind to the shoreline and to stay at or below 3000 feet. I heard the other Cessna making an intersection departure just before me. I hoped that our paths would not too closely approach.

Take-off was uneventful. The tower removed the altitude restriction, handed me off to SoCal Departure for flight following, and I was on my way. My routing was roughly MZB.OCN.SLI, but I mostly just followed the shoreline, taking care to avoid the restricted areas around Camp Pendleton. I followed the shore until I was due south of Seal Beach, then turned north and called SoCal Approach again for a clearance into the Los Angeles Class B, which I promptly received with instructions to remain at or below 4500 feet.

Once in the Bravo, I was briefly vectored to the northeast for spacing, then turned back towards LAX. There was other traffic and it was called out to me by ATC, but visual contact was always negative—it's so hard to actually see aircraft out the window sometimes. Finally I was pointed towards 24R, and I called the tower on a five-mile final and got cleared to land. I saw a jet airliner rolling into position on 24L as I landed. Initially ground directed me towards the gates, but I pointed out that I needed to go to Mercury Aviation south of 25L, so I was given instructions to taxi over there, waiting briefly at the runways for traffic.

All great fun. It's nice when there's a bit of other traffic in the sky.

Phoenix - San Diego / Cessna 182RG II / VFR

This was an unusually long flight for me, but I like the route because I know it well from real life (in cars and planes). The scenery between Phoenix and San Diego is rather grim and boring, just empty desert for the most part, but since I know the area from the real world, it's interesting to spot the landmarks as I go. Microsoft Flight Simulator has rather Spartan scenery outside of airports, but the important stuff is retained, and if you squint it still looks uncannily like real life.

I left the blistering heat of Phoenix Sky Harbor via runway 8, followed by a left downwind departure to the west. I quickly found Interstate 10 (the Papago Freeway) and followed it out to the “crook in the road” that has an exit to Highway 85. I followed this south to Gila Bend (unlike most other pilots and ATC, I actually know how to pronounce the name of this sun-baked little hamlet), and then picked up Interstate 8. I followed that west at 4500 feet, past Dateland, through Yuma, through El Centro, and so on. All of these places are deadly dull in real life, and the trip in a car past all of them takes seven hours. In a Cessna it's 2.5 hours, which isn't bad. By commercial airline, it's 50 minutes—but that excludes the 3 hours lost at each end in the hellish environment of the airports.

Along the way, I saw a sort of conga line of Southwest flights heading east, all from and to the same airports. It was obvious that this was a party event for young males, wherein they all fly in a line from one spot to another and use the flying as a pretext for chatting. Unfortunately, they took some of their inane chat onto the frequency, to which I and a supervisor objected. There are private frequencies for pilots who cannot get through a flight without dreary small talk. They were on practically the same path as me, but ten times higher, so they weren't a factor for traffic.

Anyway, it was all pretty routine most of the way, and the weather was clear. I decided to stay at 4500 even west of Ocotillo. The weather was clear and I still have air beneath me, but I wouldn't have tried it in lower visibility or IFR (indeed, I couldn't do it legally IFR). I followed the highway as far as Pine Valley and then turned west towards BARET, carefully threading my way past terrain that at some points was higher than my own altitude. By this time I had called up ATC to get cleared into the San Diego Class B. Given instructions to call when the field was in sight and to remain at or below 4500, I proceeded to Barrett Lake and then turned towards Lindbergh Field.

There was other traffic on the way in, particularly another Cessna that was doing touch and go operations at Lindbergh Field (unthinkable in real life, but okay in simulation, where traffic is lighter). The Cessna seemed to be having some trouble following instructions. It landed ahead of me for a touch and go, but dawdled on the runway, and finally ATC had me go around, which was quite interesting because I hardly ever do go-arounds. I reentered a right pattern per ATC instructions, with the other Cessna somewhere behind me (I had overtaken him on my go-around). I was rather nervous about this other aircraft, given his trouble with instructions and his proximity to me, and given that he was behind me where I couldn't keep an eye on what he was doing. I had images of midair collisions running through my head. As I completed my downwind and turned to base, he was still messing around with the crosswind, so I figured he was out of the way. I had been cleared to land and I set down quickly (but extremely smoothly, which made me happy) and got clear of the runway as soon as I could.

From there I taxied to Jimsair and parked. By this time the sun had set.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Avalon (Catalina Island) - Los Angeles / Cessna 182RG II / IFR

With all $100 hamburgers consumed, my virtual passengers and I piled back into the aircraft for a return trip to LAX. It was well after sunset and the sky was nearly dark, so to be safe I filed IFR with a TEC route, which in this case consisted of just SLI. With clearance from SoCal Departure in hand and a release for departure, we taxied out to 22 and left the island. I turned to make direct for SLI and checked in with SoCal Departure. We were directed to maintain 5000, and we moved uneventfully towares SLI. As we reached the shoreline, ATC took us down to 3000, and in the clear weather we confirmed that the field was in sight. ATC asked our pleasure and we replied that a visual would do well for us, so we were cleared for the visual runway 25L approach, and told to make a final of less than 2 miles. I released the autopilot and started a gentle descent and turn towards the runway centerline. I did have the ILS dialed in, but it wasn't necessary to use it.

SoCal handed us off to LAX Tower, and they asked me to call on 5-mile final, which conflicted a bit with what SoCal had asked. I said nothing and continued heading for the 2-mile final. As it happened, before we reached the centerline Tower cleared us for landing on 25L. We could see and hear a departure on 25R as we came in.

Since visibility is limited in the sim and “turning your head” is difficult in a sim, I turned at an angle to the centerline in order to be able to see the threshold, and then turned onto final as I got to the centerline. I was very well positioned and nicely slow, so landing was a breeze, as gentle as a whisper. A quick stop (I wasn't going very fast at touchdown), and a handoff to ground took me to Mercury Aviation on the south ramp, where I shut down for the evening.

Santa Paula - Avalon (Catalina Island) / Cessna 182RG II / VFR

Emboldened by my success on my previous flight, I immediately fueled up, loaded my virtual friends back into the aircraft, and filed VFR for Avalon, on Catalina Island.

Catalina is fun in several ways. The weather isn't always clear, so sometimes it's a challenge just to find the island. The airport itself has a runway situated between 1600-foot cliffs, so you don't want to undershoot or overshoot. It's a very tiny airport with no fuel and very little else.

Anyway, I decided to go FIM.VNY then through the LAX SFRA, then on roughly to WILMA and out over the water to turn west to SXC. I planned to stay out of ATC's space so that I didn't have to use the radio. All went well up to VNY. After VNY things got difficult, because I wanted to stay above the Burbank Class C at 5500, but I had to be below 5000 as I approached SMO. And I couldn't go in a straight line from VNY to SMO because I'd be passing from a Class C with a ceiling of 4800 to a Class B with a floor of 5000, and 200 feet between them would just be cutting things too tight. So I headed west out of the BUR Class C and then descended at breakneck speed to 3500 before turning south to SMO. Ideally I'd be able to do this before intercepting the 132 radial at SMO, but I was still heading down as I passed it, and had to turn back to line up with it. I wanted to be on that radial for the SFRA.

The SFRA started out okay, with me at 3500 squawking 1201 southbound through the area, and of course it was easy to stay below the 140-KIAS limit. Unfortunately, as I moved towards the SFRA, I inappropriately twirled the VOR to point to the opposing radial, which meant that the needle deflected in the opposite direction of the way I needed to fly. By the time I noticed this (by noticing that I was nearly over the threshold of 24R/L), I had strayed from the corridor, but nobody said anything. I corrected and headed out to the shoreline south.

In the old days, this would not have happened, but I'm rusty in the use of VORs and steam gauges these days. The Cessna has only a single-axis Nav-O-Matic autopilot, so I spent a lot of time trying to stabilize my altitude (every time I got it stable, changing winds would mess things up).

Anyway, once clear of the shore, I continued until I intercepted the 202 radial to SXC, then turned onto that. My clumsy mistake in the SFRA had rattled me and the workload was quite high with a limited autopilot. Fortunately, the weather was very clear and I could see Catalina easily even while still over the mainland. I ended up flying visually towards the spot on the island where I knew the airport to be.

By gradually moving down to 2000 feet, I put myself only slightly above the field elevation. I knew it was near the north end of the main island, so I just aimed in that direction. By the time I spotted the field, I was a bit north, so I turned left and made a right base for runway 22. When I announced this, I was surprised to hear another aircraft announce inbound as well. Fortunately, I had been slowing up and I was quite stable, and turning to final and landing was quite smooth. No sooner had I finished my rollout and cleared the runway than I saw the other aircraft, also a Cessna, crossing the threshold. We both parked on the ramp, next to each other.

I sent my passengers to buy some $100 hamburgers and prepared for my next flight.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Big Bear City - Santa Paula / Cessna 182RG II / VFR

More Cessna practice. This flight went extremely well, whereas I've had trouble on this route before (and not just in the Cessna).

Weather was mostly clear with just a cloud or two here and there, even in the mountains. I took off west over the lake even though the winds didn't favor this; with the mountains and the short take-off run that I needed (even with three passengers), I consider this safer than a take-off to the east. I had no trouble getting to 8500 by the time I reached the opposite end of the lake, and that was higher than I needed to be to clear terrain, by far.

On this occasion, in the afternoon, I easily found my way south through the steep little valley at the west end of the lake. As I cleared the valley and turned towards Pomona on V264, I descended to 6500. Surprisingly, I was quite good at holding my altitude pretty exactly (within 20 feet!). The night was very clear and I had no problems at all with visibility, and there was a fair amount of traffic in the area. I didn't bother with flight following, but I did monitor Center and SoCal Approach.

After Pomona I turned onto V186, as usual, and stayed at 6500 until I was outside the Burbank Class C airspace. Then it was a gradual descent to 4500, at which point I was more than half way to FIM. I had a hard time staying on course to FIM in this tiny Cessna with its Spartan avionics, but it didn't matter much because I recognized the terrain below. I was able to spot the airport from quite a distance away, and thanks to some careful preparation to get my speed down, I was able to come in for a very nice landing despite the substantial obstacles short of the runway. Usually my landings at KSZP are bumpy, but this one was perfect.

After pulling onto the ramp, I was in the mood for another flight.

Tacoma-Narrows - King County / Cessna 182RG II / VFR

A tiny flight from KTIW to KBFI, just to stay up to date in the Cessna 182. Seattle often has interesting weather, and I wanted to have a few clouds around. Still VMC, though. The flight was only about 20 minutes long and I conducted it almost entirely by pilotage. I'm landing very well in the Cessna these days, and I've gotten much better at maintaining altitude.

Perkins - Boulder / Cessna 182RG II / VFR

This evening, at dusk, I made a quick flight from Perkins (a tiny airfield northeast of Las Vegas) to Boulder City. Perkins supposedly has ultralight activity around the airport, but I didn't expect to see any at this time of day, since it was already getting quite dark.

I'm becoming increasingly wary of nighttime VFR, as I've been killed several times over the years as a result of taking stupid risks in the dark. This evening I had the sectional next to me, held by my virtual passenger (three passengers with me on this flight), and I followed a route that took me out over Lake Mead, since I could at least see this in the darkness below me, and it doesn't have any pesky mountains to rise up and swat at my aircraft. I headed roughly for Echo Bay, then eased my way between the two peaks in the Black Mountains to join the 214 radial from BLD. However, part-way across the lake I could already see the field, so I was able to just aim for it, carefully avoiding any black areas that might be hiding mountains (there shouldn't be anything on the east side of Boulder at 4200 feet, but I'm getting more and more paranoid).

Landing was completed without incident. My passengers got a great view of Hoover Dam all lit up from the airplane as I entered a right base for runway 15.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Las Vegas - Los Angeles / Boeing 737-800 / IFR

As Southwest Airlines Flight 265, I went from Las Vegas to LAX this evening. There was ATC all the way. As usual, I landed well ahead of the real flight, although I left early, too (because I had to go to class shortly after the flight).

Everything went smoothly. ATC imposed no altitude restriction on departure, which is unusual, and it told me to just climb via the departure, but Center did give me an initial restriction of FL190 after the handoff … otherwise I would have climbed all the way to my cruise altitude after the departure.

I came down faster than I would have liked, despite a small headwind, but I still managed to do things smoothly, and I hand-flew the touchdown. Taxied over to Gate 1 (just like the real flight), and I was done.

Los Angeles - Las Vegas / Boeing 737-800 / IFR

Trying to work with the wind instead of against it, I flew from Los Angeles to Las Vegas today. Strangely, the winds aloft seemed to mysteriously change direction again, and I still had a headwind flying to Las Vegas.

I tried tweaking the FMC along the way, changing between MAX RATE and MAX ANGLE, and so on, but I just messed things up, probably in part because the flight is so short. For example, I filed FL290 in emulation of Southwest Airlines Flight 802, but the FMC insisted that I could go no higher than FL270 and still meet my climb and descent paths. After messing things up, I actually only got up to FL250 before it was time to come back down. ATC was not online en route, though, so I was able to experiment.

I landed by hand, not ideally, but I got to my gate intact. I noticed flickering on the airport, which hadn't been there before. I tried all sorts of things to make it go away, then finally I rebooted. My theory is that something gets messy after a while and affects this, but I really don't know. Next time I'll just trying logging off Windows and logging back on.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

San Francisco - Los Angeles / Boeing 747-400 / IFR

I haven't flown the Jumbo Jet in ages, so this morning I flew from San Francisco to Los Angeles in the 747-400, a trip of only about an hour. I flew as Virgin America 924, even though Virgin America only flies the Scarebus, as far as I know.

Everything went smoothly, starting out at gate 93, then off 01L on the PORTE3.AVE. Oakland Center signed on as I reached 17000, so they were with me until AVE. I took myself down through the SADDE6 arrival. The only anomaly I had was trying to stay at the speed that Virgin had filed for the real world flight, which was 405 KTAS; it's hard to keep the Jumbo Jet moving that slowly, so I finally gave up and accelerated to 485 KTAS. A 50-knot tailwind helped even more (the same wind that got in my way when I departed Phoenix on my last trip).

I parked at the Tom Bradley terminal because I wasn't sure off-hand which gates in the other terminals could accept heavies. Just before I left the aircraft I watched a 767 and a JAL 747-400 take off.

Phoenix - Los Angeles / Boeing 737-800 / IFR

Time to fly the big iron again. This evening I flew from Phoenix to Los Angeles in my 737-800, in Southwest livery, although there were no real-world Southwest flights at this hour. The only ATC available was tower control at PHX and LAX.

The flight was mostly uneventful, as the majority of flights tend to be. At least I didn't hit a mountain as I had with the Baron a day earlier; I'm still not happy about that accident. Anyway, ATC gave me a slight change in routing for my clearance, asking for PSP as my transition instead of TNP. I accepted, even though this messed up the legs along the way a bit (which I fixed). I should have asked for a readback of the entire route, since changing the transition also took it off the airway and had other effects. Additionally, the SEAVU2 that I had filed for LAX was not valid after midnight; I discovered this in mid-flight and changed it to a RDEYE2 arrival.

The flight took far longer than expected because of headwinds. At one point I had 120-knot headwinds along the way. I considered this surreal and perhaps a fiction invented by the sim, but no, when I looked at the real winds aloft in real time at NOAA's Aviation Weather Service. There were extremely high winds just about at the spot where I was flying—just my luck. It seemed to take forever to get into LAX.

I finally did arrive. I was on the RDEYE2, which I couldn't recall having ever previously flown, and I went for 06L, although I later discovered that 06R is preferred for “suicide ops” arrivals (this ominous nickname refers to operations at LAX late at night for noise abatement, when the airport has take-offs going in the opposite direction of landings in order to avoid creating noise over residential areas … an inherently dangerous way to handle flights). Because of unsteady surface winds (gusts of 20 knots on the METAR), I elected to autoland “for currency,” and did so without incident. I had left gate C18, typically used by Southwest, and I taxied to gate 14, also used by Southwest, just for that extra dab of realism.

Chandler - Carefree / Beechcraft Baron 58 / VFR

After the unfortunate events of yesterday, I tried again today, having resurrected myself and my three virtual passengers for the trip. I had a shiny new Baron waiting at Chandler for me, too.

I elected to start from 22L with an extended left crosswind departure, thence on a heading of 078 (due east) south of Williams at 3500. Once I was safely out from under the Bravo airspace, I turned north and scampered around Williams Gateway, and climbed to 4500. Things went very well (although it was dusk so I could still see a bit). I headed to Rio Verde using the visual waypoint (VPRVC), then towards Sky Ranch, flying a bit to the north so that I could line up for runway 24.

I encountered no problems other than a lot of turbulence and gusting winds, which made the landing quite rough, but I got down okay. One of my passengers was a bit queasy from the movements of the aircraft in turbulence.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

(Virtual) Factual / Probable Cause


On October 10, 2008, at approximately 2030 Mountain Standard Time, a Beechcraft Baron 58, [redacted], was destroyed during collision with terrain while en route from Chandler, Arizona (CHD) to Carefree, Arizona (18AZ). The instrument-rated private pilot and three virtual passengers were briefly, but fatally injured. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed for the flight. A visual flight rules (VFR) flight plan was filed for the personal flight conducted under 14 CFR Part 91.

The pilot departed VFR from Chandler under ATC control from runway 22R, and in the absence of departure instructions from ATC, made a slow, irregular right turn through more than 180 degrees to assume a southeasterly heading. According to radar information from the Federal Aviation Administration for an aircraft identified as the accident aircraft, the aircraft entered the Phoenix Class B airspace briefly during this turn, apparently by accident, and without a clearance from ATC. The aircraft left the Class B airspace shortly after assuming its southeasterly heading. The Chandler tower controller terminated radar services for the flight and released it from the frequency during the departure turn. There was no further ATC communication with the accident aircraft.

The aircraft turned roughly east and continued in this direction between Pegasus airfield and Chandler Heights until nearly reaching the perimeter of the Mode C veil for Phoenix, at which point it turned roughly north-northeast and proceded gradually northward just outside and below the Phoenix Class B airspace. Transponder data indicate a climb to 3500 feet while beneath the Class B, then to 4500 feet after clearing the Class B and turning north. A few miles south of the highest point in the Superstition Mountains east of Apache Junction, the aircraft, which had been on a heading that would bring it into conflict with the mountains, began a sudden turn to the west, but the turn was not sufficient to clear terrain and the aircraft impacted the mountain at its highest point, at an altitude of approximately 4500 feet, 500 feet below the rising mountain peak.


The probable cause of the accident was the failure of the pilot in command to maintain adequate situational awareness during nighttime VFR flight in the vicinity of mountains, aggravated by overconfidence in the ability of extensive avionics to prevent accidents during flight in complete darkness. The Class B incursion may have resulted in part from the pilot's inability to obtain an up-to-date airspace database for the aircraft's onboard GPS.

Payson - Coolidge - Chandler - Carefree / Beechcraft Baron 58 / VFR

Tonight's flights ended in tragedy, I'm afraid.

I took the Baron out for some nighttime VFR. First, I flew alone from Payson to Coolidge. The Baron is loaded with fancy avionics, including a luxurious ST3400 TAWS, so I figured I could safely carry out the flight despite the mountains and darkness. Sure enough, I arrived safely in Coolidge. From there, it was a very short hop to Chandler, which was uneventful. I picked up my virtual passengers in Chandler, and we set out for Sky Ranch at Carefree, a very tiny private airport. Unfortunately, I was too careless and confident by then. First, I busted the Bravo airspace over Phoenix on my departure from Chandler, although ATC didn't say anything. Then, in my zeal to get there quickly and avoid the Class B, I ignored the GPWS and then tried to turn to avoid a displayed conflict with the Superstition Mountains, but I hit the highest point of the Superstitions when my turn was too slow to avoid it. The last thing I saw was a dark silhouette growing in front of the windshield with terrifying speed, and then it was all over.

This was my first crash in quite some time. I just wasn't paying attention, and I put too much trust in the fancy gauges, and I was in a rush to arrive and very concerned about staying well clear of the Bravo, which was very crowded (there were many arrivals just a few thousand feet above my head, streaming into Sky Harbor). It wasn't pretty. Hopefully I wouldn't be so careless in real life; I'm pretty sure I would not, with so much more at stake. But it goes to show how complacent one can get.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Catalina Island - Aqua Dulce Airpark / Beechcraft Baron 58 / VFR

This was the return trip from Catalina Island with my virtual friends. The weather was nice and the flight was uneventful. I tiptoed through the SFRA and around the ATC-mandatory airspaces and landed without any problem at Agua Dulce.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Agua Dulce Airpark - Catalina / Beechcraft Baron 58 / VFR

Time to brush up on VFR and GA, so I took the Baron out to Catalina Island to pick up some virtual friends. There was a fair amount of traffic in the area, but I flew silently through the airspace, VFR all the way, carefully avoiding any airspace that would require ATC interaction. I squeaked through the LAX Bravo via the SFRA, following it with great precision, then continued on that heading and turned west after passing the shoreline and Angel's Gate. The weather was clear so getting out to Catalina wasn't too difficult (it's much more of a challenge in poor weather, which isn't unusual). Catalina is a bit problematic in that there are no navaids at which you can aim (SXC is significantly skewed with respect to the airport), so good visibility is a great advantage. The 1600-foot drop-offs at either end of the runway motivate you to get the landing right. Fortunately, I landed without incident, despite some gusting winds over the field.

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