Sunday, March 29, 2009

Butte, Montana - Seattle / Beechcraft Bonanza A36 (N3758W) / IFR

This was another marathon flight of over three hours (that's a marathon for me). I hesitated about it because aviation weather reports mentioned some moderate icing in the areas through which my route would pass, but I finally decided to try it, and just be prepared to find a place to land if icing became a problem (I've only had problems with icing a handful of times, but it wasn't pleasant).

I flew airways from VOR to VOR, with routing of CPN MSO MLP GEG EPH EAT SEA—a distance of 432 nautical miles. I had the whole route saved in my GPS, but I semi-hand-flew the route, with autopilot holding altitude and heading and me just adjusting the heading. I used the track info from the GPS to adjust for wind, since the predicted and actual winds aloft were pretty stiff at times (up to 50 knots). I tried to take care to follow all IFR procedures, although I still made mistakes.

During the time I was preparing my flight, the wind shifted, and it started coming from the north instead of the west. That suited me fine, as the obstacle clearance requirements for departures to the west were more stringent than those for departures to the north. After obtaining my clearance, I was off, as there was not much traffic at Bert Mooney airport. Per the obstacle departure, I maintained 800 fpm to 6700 while turning to fly direct to my first VOR, Coppertown. It was pretty cloudy and I was soon in the clouds.

I was supposed to be at 10,500 feet (MEA for the first airway leg of the route) before crossing CPN, and while I was prepared to hold, I didn't need to, as I just managed to squeak by. However, my first mistake was in climbing to 10,500 feet, which isn't an appropriate IFR altitude. I realized this soon enough and climbed to 12,000 feet. I was going to have to use oxygen in any case, so it didn't matter much. Then, after CPN, I had to climb to 14,000 for the MEA of 13,000—definitely oxygen country.

I had to remain at 14,000 for 76 miles, in a very stiff headwind that made my speed over the ground barely 120 knots. Thereafter, crossing Missoula, I was able to descend to 10,000 feet. When I got to Spokane (GEG) some time later, I was able to descend to 6000. But that didn't last long, because I had to be back at 12,000 after Wenatchee. At TAGOR I was able to descend again.

As I approached Seattle, the weather seemed fairly clear, and the scenery at sunset was very pretty, but the weather deteriorated quickly, and my plans for a visual approach went away. I was vectored into the ILS runway 34R approach, and for a long time I saw nothing outside the window, although I was fully established and not worried. The weather looked worse than it was, and I spotted the runway while still six miles out or so.

Landing was extremely smooth. I taxied over to the cargo ramp north of the tower, which I prefer to the transient ramp on the west side. I had started out with full tanks and had used about 60% of my fuel during the trip—still a very generous reserve.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

San Diego - Sacramento / Boeing 737-800 (SWA1976) / IFR

A quick flight to Sacramento mirroring Southwest Airlines Flight 1976. I departed somewhat late compared to the real flight, but the duration of the flight was roughly the same.

This flight was mostly uneventful, but it keeps me current on this aircraft. I noted once again that the FMC seems reluctant to descend the aircraft at times; disengaging and reengaging VNAV can cause it to “wake up” and resume the descent at a rate that will meet altitude restrictions. I'm not sure if this is the idiosyncrasy of the sim or an accurate simulation of a real-life characteristic of the FMC.

I flew the approach by hand. I'm doing better at this, although the winds were a bit gusty on the ground, which made things more difficult.

Las Vegas - Nephi - Bert Mooney / Beechcraft Bonanza A36 (N3758W) / VFR

This was an unusually long flight for me, flown in two legs, covering over 500 miles.

Inspired by a recent event near Butte, Montana, I decided to visit Bert Mooney airport. I happened to have one of my Bonanzas parked at Signature in Las Vegas, and I originally planned just to fly over to Perkins, on Lake Mead, but once I had come close to the airport, I just decided to keep on going.

I started out over Black Canyon and overflew Hoover Dam, because I like Hoover Dam. Then it was back out over the lake and up towards Perkins. As I got there, though, I thought to myself, “Why not just keep on going?” and so I did. I followed Interstate 15, which, by a happy coincidence, runs directly from Las Vegas up to Butte. I ended up going through St. George, then Cedar City, then up further north until I reached Nephi, a tiny airport not too far south of Salt Lake City, where I took a stopover for rest and refueling.

Later on, I continued up from Nephi. The weather got down to minimums as I approached and flew through Salt Lake City, and at times I could barely see the Great Salt Lake, even though I was practically over the eastern shore. The bad weather continued with snow flurries up through the mountains, and only gradually cleared. I flew on and on, doggedly following Interstate 15 for most of the way, and occasionally losing it, although the GPS and my charts helped me pick it back up. I got lost once and had some trouble dealing with some rather substantial mountains not too far south from my final destination. I finally got to Mooney, though.

Total time in the air was about 3.5 hours, which is a very long time for me. But it was interesting. Now I have to figure out where to go from Mooney. I think I'm closer to Seattle now than I am to Las Vegas, but I already have another Bonanza parked in Astoria, Oregon.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Las Vegas - Desert Rock / Beechcraft Bonanza A36 (N3785W) / VFR

A bit after sunset, I made a short flight on my own to Desert Rock, a DOE airport perilously close to the forbidden “Box” (R-4808N) that is home to Area 51. It's not a difficult flight and I know the way.

I was sent back along Hotel to 19R, and from there I made a right downwind departure over the Strip and up to KVGT, where I joined the El Cortez transition westbound and caught up with the infamous Highway 95 that leads to Dreamland (almost). By staying west of that highway and following it, I could stay safely out of restricted airspace and still be led directly to Desert Rock. I tuned the Mercury NDB (which is at KDRA) just to be extra sure. I made my way at 6500, since 4500 is a bit tight at night.

Landing at KDRA was uneventful and very smooth. I had a bit of trouble getting in on frequency to cancel flight following, but other than that, all went well. Thank goodness I took care to get permission to land in advance, so no big guys with guns were there to meet me.

Phoenix - Thunder Ridge - Carefree - Stellar - Estrella - Hangar Haciendas - Phoenix - Las Vegas / Beechcraft Baron A36 (N3785W) / VFR

Over the course of a day or so, I flew around various “airplane communities” picking up and dropping off a number of virtual friends. I started out from Sky Harbor in Phoenix, and followed Grand Avenue (which becomes Highway 60) all the way up to Circle City, a tiny town right across the highway from Thunder Ridge airport, my first destination. Amazingly, the airport is not in the sim database (even though just about every dirt strip in the world is in the database), so I had to add it myself. It's just a strip with a few homes. It was hard to spot from more than a mile or two away, but I found it and landed safely.

From there, it was off to Sky Ranch at Carefree, another aviation-oriented community north of Phoenix and just south of the Desert Forest golf course. This field, too, is hard to spot from a distance, even though the name of the airport is painted in big letters on the runway. There's rising terrain off either end of the single runway, so you have to be careful. I landed with no problem, however.

After a break, it was time for my next destination, Stellar Airpark. Since this was south of Phoenix and I was north, I had to sneak through the Class B. I asked for and got the west transition route over Sky Harbor. At Ahwatukee, I turned east towards the airpark, which, unlike many other aviation housing developments, is open to the public. I stayed on the public taxiway and paused for a while to switch passengers.

Then it was off to Estrella Sailport, an airport near the mountains of the same name, further south, that caters to gliders. I took great care to watch for traffic at this airport, as there are many tow planes and NORDO gliders moving about. Per the directory notes on the airport, I landed on the one paved runway (the others are reserved for gliders). It was still early and there wasn't too much traffic.

From there, still on the same tank o’gas, I took off again and made my way to Hangar Haciendas, under the Bravo airspace. Another excellent landing—I'm getting quite good at landing the Bonanza.

After switching passengers again, I was off … back to Sky Harbor to pick up some additional virtual friends and some fuel. I made a right base to 7R, allowing me to quickly zip over to Cutter Aviation. Another pause while the tanks were topped off, plus three passengers, and I was ready to go out on the final leg of this long trip, to Sin City.

By this time, the wind had changed, so I took off from runway 26. I wanted 26 so that I could turn immediately originally, although I ultimately decided to make straight out to BXK. I was cleared to 4500 initially, then brought up to 6500 before I left the Class B. Just before reaching the Buckeye VOR, I turned to follow Interstate 10. After following that northwest for a time, I turned towards Parker and Lake Havasu, and starting following the Colorado River north after I reached it. After quite some time, I ended up over Hoover Dam, trying to contact Las Vegas Approach.

I finally got through to ATC as I turned west over FLYES (over Lake Mead). I was restricted to 4500 and told to maintain VFR, and then ATC sort of forgot about me. I ended up flying right over the airport, right above 25R, and then rejoining right traffic. After wandering like this for a time, I finally gave up and turned south towards Jean, an airport at which I'd be able to land without waiting for ATC. But Approach called me up just as I turned over Interstate 15 to go south, and told me to contact Las Vegas Tower, which I did. It was a bit strange, not the usual procedure.

The tower cleared me to make a left downwind to 25R. I descended rapidly to below 1000 feet AGL, then made a sharp turn to base and another to final. There was a Citation behind me six miles out, so I was given approval to land long (given that I was parking at Signature). To my own surprise, I actually managed to do this correctly. Not only was I properly aligned with 25R when I rolled out of my turn, but I was at a good altitude, and I was able to float along the runway for a large part of its length. I finally touched down at the far end and was cleared to cross 1L and 1R to Hotel; I veered out onto Alpha to clear the runway and then made my way over to Signature, which is just off Hotel on the west side of the field. The Citation was just seconds behind, so it was pretty interesting, although the ATC during the approach earlier had been confusing.

After parking, I shut things down for a couple of hours to rest. My passengers were off to the Strip, so I didn't see them again.

Seattle - Astoria / Beechcraft Bonanza A36 (N6835W) / IFR

I decided to try the flight out to Astoria again. The Seattle area has pretty reliable IMC much of the time, and when I started out, conditions were just above VFR minimums. I flew the same route as on the previous trip, out to CARRO and then down to OLM, and from there along V187 to AST at 6000.

As I approached AST, I turned to a heading of 077 towards the PEN NDB. I started my descent to 4300 feet as I began a procedure turn just beyond PEN. It was quite easy to get down to 4300 feet and stay within the recommended 10-nm radius for the turn. Establishment on the ILS was very smooth. Winds were a bit gusty, but visibility improved as I descended, and I had the field in sight a few miles out. About a mile out, I disengaged the AP and hand-flew the landing, which went very smoothly.

So it went well this time. I shall look for other IFR procedure challenges in the future.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

North Bend - Rogue Valley / Beechcraft Bonanza A36 (N7365F) / IFR

A short flight from North Bend on the coast of Oregon to Rogue Valley, about 90 nm inland. There was a lone controller online at KMFR, but by the time I actually got into the air, he was gone.

The flight went very smoothly, strictly by the book, all lateral and vertical navigation respected. I hand-flew laterally up to about OTH, then switched to AP until I reached MOPIO and started my descent from 9000 to 5000 by SAMIE. I then engaged the AP again for the ILS runway 14 approach, and disengaged it about a mile from the airport and hand-flew the landing, which was glassy smooth, I'm happy to say.

Weather was reported VFR at the destination airport, and it was, but I was worried for a bit because I had quite a bit of clouds on the way in at 9000.

Seattle - Astoria - Seattle / Beechcraft Bonanza A36 (N6835W) / IFR

The flight out to the small airport of Astoria, Oregon, on the Pacific coast, was largely uneventful. I took off from 16R at KSEA and rapidly headed southwest to CARRO, then to the Olympia VOR, then straight out on V187 to Astoria. My initial altitude for this IFR flight was 4000, and I requested and obtained 6000 after I was well clear of the Seattle Class B.

The interesting part arose as I neared Astoria. The approach plate for the ILS runway 26 approach mystified me. There was no ATC coverage by this time, so I had to negotiate the arrival and approach myself. I continued on V187 until I was a dozen miles or so east of the field. But then I wasn't sure what to do. Should I fly to AST, turn around, fly to the NDB, then descend and make a procedure turn to capture the ILS and come on in to runway 26? Or should I turn north and take the DME arc back to the ILS and come in that way. There are three IAFs on the plate, one at the NDB that sits on the ILS path, and two at the ends of two DME arcs 19 nm from AST.

Turning around twice seemed awkward, so I decided to fly out towards the northern DME arc and join the IAP there. The MSA was 4300, and I had begun descending as soon as I was within 25 nm of AST, so I was at about 4300 before reaching the arc, and once on the arc, I descended further to the suggested 4000 feet. It was a challenge to hold the arc but I did okay. As I approached the ILS localizer centerline, I turned to the west and armed the AP for the approach, which it immediately captured. The approach thereafter was routine, with me turning off the AP about a mile out of the field and completing the landing by hand in slightly gusty winds.

I'm trying to find out how this procedure should be flown. I tried asking about it on a newsgroup, but that was the usual waste of time because there are very few qualified instrument pilots on the group, and lots of noisemakers. I'll try asking in some other venues. The documentation I have (FAA manuals and such) don't make it clear how I should fly this, or I've missed the relevant passages. I've included a picture of the plate here (it's government-issued, not copyrighted) in case anyone would like to send me feedback with suggestions.

Later I flew back from Astoria to SeaTac, but that was easy. I proceeded in over OLM and received the Elliot Visual, which was pleasant to fly. I parked over in the transient area now that the new runway area is finished (I've also routinely parked in the cargo area north of the tower, but it looks like GA aircraft are expected to be in the transient area instead.)

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Bandon - Seattle / Beechcraft Bonanza A36 (N6835W) / VFR

Real-time log:

Tired of following the shoreline, checked location of Interstate 5 on chart, set GPS to COBUR to take me to meet up with I-5 north of Eugene, well inland. Climb to 3500.

Lots of clouds inland, climbing to 5500 to avoid them and turning temporarily north. Managed to get around the big fluffy ones, still some misty patches. Turned back towards COBUR, setting HDG mode to make it easier to stay pointed to the waypoint. Fern Ridge reservoir and Eugene visible ahead.

Up and down, back and forth over Eugene, trying to avoid clouds, which are all over the place. Finally I got past the clouds and found some clear air, as well as Interstate 5 beneath me. Turning north to follow the highway, down to 4500.

It's a bit misty below but I can still make out the highway. I've set VOR1 to UBG, which is almost aligned with the highway, just to be safe. Clear skies ahead, some high clouds but they won't be a factor for me, the weather radar shows them and I can see them in front of me some miles ahead. On the chart and up ahead the Interstate is relentlessly straight north up until Millersburg or so.

The weather is improving over Salem. Hard to follow the Interstate but I can see it continuing north of town up ahead. Visibility much better now.

I've crossed a river the name of which I don't know (doesn't seem to be named on the chart), and I can see Portland up ahead. Still following the Interstate. Weather is pretty good VMC, visibility many miles. Tuning BTG on VOR2 in case I lose the Interstate through Portland.

No difficulty following the Interstate through Portland, passing just west of the airport, could easily see the highway the whole time.

The Interstate was easy to follow in contrast to the surrounding terrain. I was unable to see Mt. St. Helens as I passed west of it near Silver Lake, as it was obscured by clouds. No clouds in my way, though, fortunately. I've tuned OLM for safety.

Winds are from the north, entering Class B from the south, turning east and planning a straight-in approach to 34C. Very smooth approach and landing, and taxi over to the GA ramp off of Golf. Nearly half of my full fuel load used on this trip.

Little River - Arcata - Bandon / Beechcraft Bonanza A36 (N6835W) / VFR

More low-altitude flights along the shoreline as I work my way up the coast.

At 2500 feet I'm consistently below a cloud deck and I have pretty good visibility. The scenery is nice, with waves breaking along occasional narrow beaches and impressive rock cliffs. I lose sight of the highway for a while and cannot find it on charts or out the window, but it's hard to miss the shoreline.

I stayed in Arcata overnight, then continued on to Bandon the next day. I've flown some 800 nm since leaving Furnace Creek in my trusty Bonanza. I have lots of ballast on the opposite side of the aircraft so that I don't have to trim the ailerons just to fly in a straight line—I hate it when the aircraft has any tendency to roll to either side in cruise.

The same cloud deck has followed me all along the coast. We'll see if it clears for subsequent flights. I think I'll try to make it to SeaTac on my next leg.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Furnace Creek - Eastern Sierra - Placerville - Little River / Beechcraft Bonanza A36 (N6835W) / VFR

Today was a bit of a marathon, with several connected flights starting in Furnace Creek (in Death Valley) and ending on the Pacific Coast at Little River Airport. I made intermediate stops at Eastern Sierra Regional Airport in Bishop, and Placerville, roughly on opposite sides of Yosemite National Park.

The flight from Furnace Creek to Bishop was mostly uneventful, but I had trouble picking up the VORs I wanted to use, and ended up using BTY for reference longer than I had intended. I managed to work around the mountains so that I wouldn't have to fly too high, and found my way to Bishop mostly visually, with a bit of help from the BIH VOR once I was able to receive it.

After a restroom stop and some fuel (the two things I generally require at every stop), it was off north towards Placerville. I followed a curvy path east of the mountains up to NIKOL, then turned west and depended on pilotage with a chart the rest of the way. Mono Lake was one of my waypoints and was very easy to see, and up from there I looked for other lands, roads, and cities that I expected to see on my planned route. The terrain made me nervous, and I eventually ended up at 10,500 feet with oxygen, at which point I realized that my circuitous route to Placerville could be straightened a bit, since I was already over the mountains with Lake Tahoe plainly visible just west. I flew over the lake to Tahoma using the Squaw Valley VOR to help me find the right point on the western shore of the lake to continue my flight. After getting around the terrain at Tahoma I turned to the Hangtown VOR and arrived uneventfully at Placerville.

From Placerville I took off again and proceeded northwest to ILA. I had trouble picking up the VOR for a while so I used Hangtown to guide me until ILA was within range. From there I continued west to the Mendocino VOR (also had some trouble picking that up), and finally straight from there to Little River. The weather was good all the way. I couldn't actually see KLLR until I was almost on top of it, thanks to the hills and my descent, but I made it okay.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Los Angeles - Phoenix / Boeing 747-400 / IFR

Today I took one of my private 747s out of the hangar and went for a spin ’twixt Los Angeles and Phoenix.

The weather was excellent in Los Angeles as I started out from the west parking area at LAX. No need for a pushback in this area as I can just go straight forward after boarding. Winds were from the west, as usual, so I was assigned 24L. After a long, smooth taxi, I managed a nice take-off on the HOLTZ9 departure that I filed, and I flew it by hand for a few thousand feet before letting the computers take over.

The flight was uneventful through pleasant skies with scattered clouds, plus an incredible crosswind in excess of 100 knots at FL330. I noted that the aircraft continued to climb through my MCP ALT setting, which was weird, and since I was looking at a chart as it passed through FL330, I'm not sure how it go into that state. Anyway, I brought it back down to FL330 and descended via the GEELA2 arrival, with ILS runway 8 assigned. I fixed the legs so that I went directly from HYDRR to ALLIS.

As I came in over the east side of town, I switched off the computers and flew the approach by hand. I did pretty well, especially in the flare—I checked it afterwards by viewing it from multiple angles. I taxied over to Terminal 2 and parked. Another job well done! I like flying the 747; it's luxurious even in simulation.