Thursday, February 26, 2009

Las Vegas - Los Angeles / Boeing 737-800 (SWA132) / IFR

A quick flight from Las Vegas to Los Angeles. Very nice weather along the way. Things went smoothly and my flight very closely mirrored the real-world flight, which took place at the same time. We arrived within two minutes of each other at LAX. I had to encourage the aircraft to descend a bit on the arrival, but that isn't unusual.

ATC materialized as I was preparing to land, and PMed me. I don't like being interrupted on a 9-mile final that I'm flying by hand, so I disconnected and completed the flight offline.

There's still a terrible problem with flickering of ramps and runways on some of my payware scenery. I wish I could figure out what graphic settings affect this. Nobody seems to know.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Van Nuys - Los Angeles / Beechcraft Baron 58 (N2735W) / VFR

Just a quick flight from Van Nuys to LAX. Nice weather, not much traffic. Very smooth landing. Had to wait a bit to cross 25R/25L, but that was the only significant event during the flight.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Denver - Las Vegas / Boeing 737-800 (SWA3439) / IFR

Today I decided to fly from Denver to Las Vegas in some big iron, which is a 90-minute flight. This took me over the same area that I had flown on the way to Aspen, but it sure was a lot easier in a 737. Red Table was my transition from the departure out of Denver, and the mountains looked very nice and not at all threatening from flight level 400.

This early-morning flight was easy and uneventful. I almost dozed off after we got past the Rockies. The only difficulty was in the descent. For some reason, the FMS didn't take me low enough, fast enough, and I was obligated to make a really steep descent towards LUXOR on the arrival. I didn't really get down to the correct altitude until I was almost established on the ILS for landing (25R). However, I finally got aligned on the localizer and glide path, and I hand-flew the last few miles, landing reasonably well, albeit about 20 feet off the centerline (fortunately it's a wide runway).

Denver - Aspen / Cessna 182RG (N7166V) / VFR

I decided to fly from Denver to Aspen in one of my tiny Cessna 182s. I soon learned that I still don't have enough practice with mountain flying.

Denver is already a mile above sea level, but with runways that are three miles long, that's not a problem, at least for a small aircraft like mine. Just taxiing to a runway took forever: the taxi from the GA ramp to runway 25 is almost three miles long. But I finally got into the air and undertook a leisurely climb that would keep me clear of terrain by the time I reached the mountains. I planned to follow Interstate 70 most of the way.

Unfortunately, at some point, I ended up following the wrong highway, which I think was Highway 40, where it forks away from the Interstate. Road types are someone more difficult to distinguish in MSFS than in real life, but still, I should have noticed that I was no longer following a divided highway. The Interstate has an obvious division between opposing traffic directions, whereas Highway 40, while divided, has less of a median. But it's hard to notice this from above, and I ended up going the wrong way, heading further north than I intended. I let the aircraft climb at its own pace, and soon I was at 12,000 feet (with oxygen for myself—I had no passengers), so terrain didn't threaten too much, but still, I wasn't happy about losing the Interstate.

I was able to determine my position using the Denver and Red Table VORs, at least intermittently—I kept losing them with intervening terrain. I ended up fumbling around for miles, until I finally noticed the distinctive shape of the Dillon Reservoir beyond a ridge. I turned towards that and eventually picked up the Interstate again as it ran along the west side of the reservoir.

By this time, it was getting quite dark, but there were enough vehicles to allow me to spot the roads. The weather was extremely clear in most directions, and I could see mountains for miles, but there were a few cloudy spots that I had to steer around. As I reached the Interstate, I was at around 15,000 feet, and I could easily receive the Red Table VOR, and with only 30 nm or so to go, I decided to just turn towards the VOR. Before I actually reached DBL, I could see Aspen in the distance in the very clear air, so I just turned left towards the airport. I've been to the airport itself many times, so navigation was simple once I had it in sight.

Landing was uneventful and smooth. I was lucky in that the weather was very good and the winds weren't too bad. Looking at the terrain below, plus the primitive avionics of the C182, were sufficient to get me to my destination, but a lot of things could have gone wrong. I'll have to keep practicing until I get it right.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Practicing holds

Yesterday I took one of my Barons out for some practice doing holds. I had it parked at Phoenix, and I went out to the Stanfield VOR (TFD) just southwest of Casa Grande.

At first I used the autopilot. With HDG and ALT modes enabled, it was easy and straightforward to fly the hold. Then I switched off HDG and steered by hand. The results were still good, although my holds were slightly shorter than the autopilot holds; I'm not sure why (I examined the route trace later in MSFS). But when I turned off ALT, I had problems. The path was still okay, but I was all over the place in altitude. I still need to work on that. I don't really see a reason to fly holds by hand if you have a good autopilot, but I just wanted to practice a bit to make sure I could. If I can manage to do it well in the Baron, I'll try it in the Cessna 182, which doesn't have an ALT hold to begin with, and thus requires more care in holds.

Los Angeles - Van Nuys / Beechcraft Baron 58 (N2735W) / VFR

This very short flight shuttled one of my Barons from LAX to Van Nuys airport. It's only about 10-20 minutes. The wait on the ground to get clearance, taxi permission, and take-off was longer than the actual time in the air. An airliner not far ahead of me loitered on the runway for a long period before starting his roll after getting take-off clearance, which slowed things down, but there was a significant amount of traffic in general. I had full tanks and was in no rush, so I didn't care.

I was told to fly heading 250 and then 270 after departure. I was directed to 25L, which is on the south side (where I was parked). The trick is to get to Van Nuys, which is north of LAX. ATC had me fly way out on the assigned heading, and then, when I was well clear of the airport, they let me turn north. From then on it was just straight to VNY, where I was given a right downwind to the famous 16R.

I overshot a little bit on base. Sideways visibility in the sim is somewhat limited compared to real life, although I can “turn my head” in several ways to look to the left and right. I try to look at the runway and spot some landmarks that align with the extended centerline, and then turn so that I'm over those, but I still ended up pointing to 16L instead of 16R. It was easy to correct, though, and there was no other traffic. The landing was very smooth.

San Jose - Los Angeles / Boeing 737-800 (SWA1408) / IFR

This was a short little flight from San Jose to Los Angeles, mirroring the real-world SWA1408. I like short flights, as I don't enjoy lingering at cruise for hours at a time, in virtual life or in real life. Plus, this flight out of San Jose is a change of pace, given that I spend so much time flying around between Las Vegas, Phoenix, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and San Diego (when flying airliners).

The departure was the SJC9, which involves almost a 180° right turn to the south from 30R (the runway I was assigned). You have to stay at or below 5000 until told otherwise. The reason for the sharp turn and the altitude restriction is that you have to avoid interfering with traffic arriving at San Francisco International. The Class C over KSJC ends at 4000, then the overhanging KSFO Class B to the north starts at 6000.

The rest of the flight was unremarkable.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

San Franciso - Tracy / Beechcraft Baron 58 (N2720V) / VFR

Just a 20-minute flight back to Tracy from SFO. I had forgotten that I had another of my Barons already parked at SFO. Now I have one at SFO and one at Tracy. My vast fleet spans the globe! (Almost.)

This flight was uneventful. SFO had aircraft lined up for take-off. I had two 747s in front of me, so I had to wait a long time in position before ATC let me depart. No sign of wake turbulence when I finally departed.

I just made a right downwind departure and then jumped on the 062 radial from SFO out to about 38 DME, at which point I turned towards Tracy and made a right downwind for 25. Both take-off and landing were very smooth. Weather was pretty cloudy, with just a tad of turbulence.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Paris (LFPG) - London (EGLL) / Boeing 747-400 (N705ML) / IFR

I have some great airport scenery for a number of European airports, but flying in Europe is a constant source of frustration. Part of it comes from the hodgepodge of regulations that change every few hundred miles along national borders (especially for VFR), but most of it comes from the sheer lack of documentation. Finding anything resembling charts, plates, or general information is extremely time-consuming, with little bits and pieces here and there on the Web and some things that are simply missing entirely. And there's no place to look up real-world routes, either, nor is it possible to hear any ATC from most countries. It's like the Dark Ages, compared to the U.S.

Nevertheless, this was one of those rare occasions when I decided to fumble my way without adequate paperwork from one European city to another (I don't fly across the pond because it takes too long). Today it was from Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris to Heathrow in London. It was a rainy, cloudy day (not to be confused with a dark and stormy night). The procedures and AIRAC in the aircraft are up to date, but I have no documentation telling me which procedures to fly (this was offline), and Europeans like to have a procedure for every combination of transition and runway, with no apparent rhyme or reason to their naming strategy.

Anyway, I finally found something on SimRoutes, then picked a departure and arrival that looked okay. Every arrival into Heathrow seems to include some bizarre, serpentine path near BIG, which I promptly abbreviated to a fairly straight line to the approach. The flight was less than an hour long, and it was pleasant enough. But not knowing so many things about the flight eroded my enjoyment considerably. That's one reason why I flew offline (but there wasn't any useful ATC online, anyway).

This wasn't a commercial flight; I flew my own, private 747-400 in this case (N705ML). The 747 is huge but always a pleasure to fly. We went through a great deal of moderate turbulence, though, with the wings wagging most of the way.

I did an autoland at Heathrow as visbility was marginal. I nearly put one of the main gear in the grass trying to turn onto Golf for gate 322, as I was following the wrong stripe on the ramp and failed to look out the left window. It was raining at Heathrow, just as it was at Roissy, with practically identical weather. It was clear at FL280, though.

Telluride - Aspen / Beechcraft Baron 58 (N2751W) / VFR

I started out from Telluride SVFR, because it was misty indeed, but it cleared up shortly after I left. I didn't feel too nervous about this because the Baron has a boatload of avionics, include TAWS/GPWS that can keep me from hitting things even in zero visibility. I flew MTJ.DBL and by the time I reached V361 the weather was VMC, which it remained for the rest of the flight. I started out at 12500 and climbed to 13500 after turning east to DBL. I later skipped DBL and turned directly to the IAF of the ILS for runway 15.

I did surprisingly well on this flight. Followed my route well, take-off was smooth, and approach and landing were right on the money, with a very smooth touchdown and rollout. It helped that I could see the field from miles away in the clear afternoon air.

I thought I was mostly alone, but two other aircraft ended up behind me, both jets. Why does everyone fly jets into Aspen? Anyway, I was way ahead of them so I had plenty of time to land and park before they arrived.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Los Angeles - Las Vegas / Boeing 737-800 (UAL353) / IFR

This was a crack-of-dawn flight out of LAX, through lots of clouds. The sun rose while I was en route. It was quite nice.

Nothing special to report. Despite the duplicate VORs that I've discovered in various procedure files, this flight went okay—the duplicates only affect VORs, and most of this route was waypoints.

The real-world flight left early and arrived before me. I also had trouble finding the gate, since I have no maps of the gate layout at most airports. I just found an empty spot at Terminal D.

Still a problem with flickering textures on the add-on airports, and still no idea what causes it.

San Francisco - Los Angeles / Beechcraft Baron 58 (N2735W) / VFR-IFR

This flight to Los Angeles was two hours long, which is a long time in my book.

It was getting dark as I left KSFO. I took 28R, like most pilots who had checked the wind (ATC was offline), but some were taking off on 1L and 1R, so you had to keep your eyes open. Right downwind off 28R and then I crossed the field to make my way to OSI on V25, which I would follow all the way to VTU.

I started VFR, but updated weather from LAX made it sound like it might soon be IFR, so on the way to RZS I asked for a pop-up IFR clearance to my destination. I rarely ask for pop-up IFR clearances, so it was a refreshing change for me … and for ATC, which doesn't handle a lot of pop-ups, either (at least on VATSIM). I was ultimately cleared direct RZS direct VTU direct SADDE direct SMO, at 6000. Everything went very smoothly. I took the ILS approach to 25L, but in fact visual conditions prevailed and I could have done a visual approach, too. In any case, it perked both me and ATC up, since it was out of the ordinary. On VATSIM, at least, traffic tends to be overwhelmingly big iron on a handful of routes (the ones that pilots who can only push buttons on the FMC can handle). Pop-up IFR into LAX is quite unusual. I'll have to do it again sometime.

Lots of turbulence on both this flight and the preceding flight. No flickering of scenery, which was interesting.

Tracy - San Francisco / Beechcraft Baron 58 (N2735W) / VFR

This was a short flight from Tracy to San Francisco. I didn't bother to file a flight plan. Excitement was limited to having an Airbus only a few miles in front of me on final to 28R. I was close enough to see the aircraft rolling out as I approached. I forgot to worry about wake turbulence, but I didn't feel anything.

Friday, February 6, 2009

San Francisco - Los Angeles / Boeing 737-800 (SWA273) / IFR

This flight went find, until I started in on the SADDE6 arrival. I had gone a long way without reaching T/D and ATC asked me why I was not descending. I looked at the ND and discovered that FIM wasn't were it belonged: it was way south of SYMON, instead of way north. As a result, I was overshooting SYMON and not descending. I made direct for SYMON and that helped, but it was a very steep descent into the airport as ATC gave me vectors to the 24R approach. Somehow I managed, but later I discovered that the latest procedure files are all messed up.

I still get flickering of the ground at add-on airports, too, and I don't know why.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Los Angeles - Santa Barbara - Bakersfield / Beechcraft Baron 58 (N2734W) / VFR

This was a pleasant, short flight from Los Angeles to Bakersfield via Santa Barbara (hardly a straight line, I know, but it was just for fun).

I left Los Angeles turning north along the shoreline, and followed the Pacific Coast Highway and/or the shoreline for most of the way, except to skip around the restricted airspace southwest of VTU (R-2519).

At Santa Barbara I did some touch-and-go operations then a full stop, and shortly thereafter I left again for Bakersfield, which I flew to directly. At Bakersfield I did a single touch-and-go, then a full stop, because the visibility was right at minimums.

My pattern work is terrible in the Baron. When I'm aligned in the pattern, I'm too high or low. When I'm at the right pattern altitude, I'm misaligned. I need a lot more practice.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Las Vegas - Phoenix / Boeing 737-800 (SWA1643) / IFR

This flight was routine and smooth, mirroring the real-life flight almost perfectly, with only two minutes or so of difference for the departure and arrival times.

SWA1643 had a funny route, so I followed it. Everything went pretty well, and the weather was nice. However, I had a devil of a time trying to meet a speed constraint on the MAIER2 arrival into Sky Harbor: when I pressed the MCP button to intervene on the speed, and tried to switch from Mach to KIAS, it just refused to switch. I had to guesstimate and constantly adjust the speed as I descended. I'll have to look that up and see if there are conditions under which the MCP refuses to switch to KIAS.

Other than that, all went well.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Las Vegas - Desert Rock - Las Vegas / Cessna Skyland 182RG (N7166V) / VFR

I undertook these flights late in the day, starting out from my preferred Signature FBO at the west end of the field (they have a lot of parking for small aircraft). Winds allowed me to trundle over to runway 1L and take off directly towards my destination of Desert Rock, a tiny, private airport perilously close to the restricted airspace of the Nellis range (which includes Area 51, although that is quite far from the border of the airspace).

I know from experience and charts that as long as I stay south and west of Highway 95, I'm good. Drifting to the other side of the highway can put me directly into the forbidden box, so I always keep that highway on my right when going out to the nearby airports. I spent most of the time at 6500 than descended considerably lower as Highway 95 turned west. I used the Mercury NDB to double-check my route, as it is very close to Desert Rock. The airport itself was hard to see until I was only a few miles away.

I landed very smoothly and taxied over to the small ramp. The airport actually is inside the range (but not inside restricted airspace) and belongs to the Department of Energy. Of course, I took care to obtain permission from the DoE before landing. You can get permission for all sorts of things in virtual skies.

I took a nap for about two hours while the aircraft was tied down outside, and then went out to fly back to Las Vegas. It was dark by then. Flying in the dark always makes me nervous, as I've said before, but since I know this area from previous flights and had just flown through it, I wasn't too worried.

Winds were from the northeast, so I took care to immediately turn right to avoid the bad boxes after take-off. I scurried over to the south side of the highway and then followed it into Las Vegas. There are some power lines in parallel with the highway on the south side that I could just barely see in the darkness (mostly the towers, that is), and I used that to help make sure that I didn't drift towards the very high terrain off to my right (some of the mountains reach 10,000 feet). All went well and after passing North Las Vegas I made a right downwind onto 25R at KLAS. The landing was very smooth indeed, and I taxied back over to Signature. It occurred to me a bit too late that I could have landed long and saved time; I'll think about that next time.

Phoenix - Las Vegas / Boeing 737-800 (SWA852) / IFR

This was a very nice little flight from Phoenix to Sin City. My simulated flight almost perfectly mirrored the real-world flight, with nearly identical departure and arrival times. The weather was blazingly hot (I'm glad I didn't have to endure it for real), but it was clear.

I've been making an effort to hand-fly take-offs and landings for longer periods in the large jets, and I'm getting better at it. Flying big iron is very different from flying small aircraft, of course. You have to anticipate a lot more in a large aircraft, since it takes a while for it to respond to anything you do. For example, if I increase power to reduce my descent rate in an approach, I already start backing off even before the full effect of the power increase becomes apparent, because it takes a while for the aircraft to actually do what I've asked. If I wait too long, my descent rate diminishes too much, and then I can easily get into a vicious circle of overcorrection. On a small airplane, this is far less apparent, and you can nearly adjust things in real time, although no aircraft reacts instantly to anything.

Anyway, all went well on this flight … except that some American Airlines plane (looked like a 767) was blocking my assigned gate (C24) at Las Vegas, which peeved me a bit. I parked at C22 instead.