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.

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