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.

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