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).

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