Sunday, May 31, 2009

Redlands - Santa Paula / Cessna 182RG Skylane (N7049S) / VFR

Weather conditions were somewhat marginal for this flight. I had originally planned to go out to Catalina, but Catalina was below VFR minimums, so I settled for Santa Paula. As it was, I still had to dodge a lot of clouds along the way, especially over Van Nuys and Burbank.

All went reasonably well, though, until it was time to descend into Santa Paula. There were low clouds between me and the Fillmore VOR, so I quickly descended and zigzagged a bit to avoid them. As I crossed FIM I turned to a heading of 220, with the thought in my mind that it would be a straight line to Santa Paula. Unfortunately, I didn't bother to double-check which radial I should be on out of FIM, and 220 wasn't it.

As I flew along in the haze, I checked for landmarks proving I was going the right way. Highway? Check. Train tracks? Check. Riverbed? Check. Low hills to the south? Check. The problem here, of course, was that there are about 1,487 different airports in SoCal that would match these landmarks. I noticed that I didn't see much sign of urban blight on the way in, but I figured it was just haze blocking my view. Finally, I did see an airport—but it was way too big, and the runway was in the wrong place. I realized I was just about to bust the Class D of Camarillo airport.

I turned quickly northeast. I was above the Class D so I was safe, although I could picture ATC watching me on their scopes and wondering just exactly what I was doing. I scampered over the low hills (more low hills!) north of me, and as I flew over them, I spotted familiar scenery, and realized I now actually had Santa Paula in sight.

I made a ragged left base for runway 22 and managed to squeak in; I was already moving pretty slowly, fortunately. A crosswind complicated things further, but I got down all right, just barely staying on the runway pavement. Mission accomplished!

I considered going out to Catalina, but by then it was past six o'clock, and Avalon closes at 7 PM, so I skipped it.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Santa Paula - Redlands / Cessna 182RG Skylane (N7049S) / VFR

This flight, made just around sunset, was pretty routine, except for the weather. I had big fluffy clouds right on my route along the way, so I had to make multiple detours to avoid them (since I was VFR). In particular, a mess o'clouds right over VNY was a problem. I couldn't climb fast enough to go over them, and going under them would have put me into the Class C, which I wanted to avoid, so I made a big detour around them as I climbed from 5500 to 9500 over the hills. I finally got back on track just shortly before I had to turn towards the Pomona VOR.

I was still at 7500 after crossing Pomona, so I made a long descent beneath the haze to reach Redlands. Visibility wasn't great inside the haze, but it was still legal VFR, and I could still easily see well enough to make my landing, which was very smooth.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Santa Paula - Avalon - Santa Paula / Beechcraft Baron 58 (N3862S) / VFR

I flew one of my Barons out to Catalina island and back today, all VFR through busy airspace.

I slipped through the LAX SFRA both ways. I monitored SoCal Approach but didn't contact them (it wasn't necessary for these VFR flights). The flights went well, and I occasionally heard myself being called out as traffic to other aircraft.

I filed at 3500 on the way down to Catalina, although I climbed to 5500 briefly to get over the mountains north of Los Angeles. I zipped back down to 3500 in time to slip under the Class B and through the SFRA, and I stayed there until I was out over the water, at which point I dropped to 2500 while turning west. That put me only slightly above the elevation of Avalon, which had clear skies as I approached. The landing was quite good.

After picking up some virtual passengers eager to get off the island, I taxied back out to return to the mainland after a half-hour or so. The flight back was even more uneventful than the flight over. I'm fairly used to the airspace so I don't have to scramble as much, although it's still delicate whenever one is in the vicinity of LAX.

The landing at Santa Paula was heavier than I would have liked, but it was acceptable. I finished the flight parked in a spot only a little bit east of where I had started 90 minutes or so earlier.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Phoenix - Gila Bend - Phoenix / Cessna 182RG Skyland (N7109V) / VFR

I undertook a relaxing little flight out of Sky Harbor to dismal Gila Bend for practice, in one of my tiny Cessnas. I flew via pilotage alone, since I know the way by heart. I swing a bit north after downtown, pick up I-10 as it passes north of Avondale, turn onto State highway 85 after “the crook in the road” on the Interstate east of Buckeye, and then on down to Gila Bend, which I reached right at sunset.

About half an hour later, it was back up with some virtual friends as passengers, and I reversed the route. I was given a right downwind to runway 26, the same runway from which I had taken off earlier. All went well, with an extraordinarily smooth touchdown, and I taxied very sedately over to Cutter on the south side of the field.

Los Angeles - Phoenix / Boeing 747-4AA (N706ML) / IFR

This return flight to Phoenix was not nearly as smooth as the flight over to LAX, mainly because I was offered and accepted runway 26 at Sky Harbor right at the last minute, so I had to side-step to it by hand and, while the landing was acceptable, it was hard (about 700 fpm at touchdown, just above the threshold for a “hard” landing). Other than that, it was okay. It wasn't so long ago that I could barely hand-fly a 747 at all, so I'm improving.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Phoenix - Los Angeles / Boeing 747-4AA (N706ML) / IFR

Moving from the smallest to the biggest, today I flew one of my standard routes from Phoenix to Los Angeles in my new 747-4AA, equipped with Pratt & Whitney engines so that I could have it painted in Boeing livery (not available for the GE engines).

The flight went perfectly. I flew the aircraft by hand briefly out of Phoenix, and then again for landing. I'm happy to say that the landing was flawless (I checked it from multiple angles). I even managed to oversteer just exactly right on the taxiways in order to keep the aircraft from running off into the grass—that, too, proved to be well executed when I checked it.

I started from gate 23 at Phoenix, which I specially reserved for my use, and parked at the international terminal at LAX, also with special authorization (easy to get in a virtual world).

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Saba - Sint Maarten / Cessna 182RG Skylane (N7126H) / VFR

I managed to successfully depart from Saba with one notch of flaps in my brand-new Cessna, bound for Sint Maarten and Princess Juliana Airport.

The flight was uneventful, although I didn't realize until I was into my approach that I had forgotten to fully retract the flaps. Oh well, a bit of fuel wasted. The landing was well aligned and very smooth.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

St. Barth - Saba / Cessna 182RG Skylane (N7126H) / VFR

This flight ended in tragedy, I'm afraid.

All went well until it was time to land on Saba's tiny 1300-foot runway. On the first pass, I was just going too fast, so I went around. On the second pass, I was still a bit fast, and I took too long to touch down. I braked hard, but I was still going a few miles per hour as I rolled off the runway and over the edge of the cliff. The aircraft hit some rocks and was a write-off. I managed to survive.

I quickly recovered and had a new Cessna teleported to the island, with the same registration number. Ain't virtual reality grand?

I'll charitably assume that I nearly killed myself on this flight because it's so hard to land at Saba, and I got a bit overconfident (and I was rusty).

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Saba - Sint Maarten - St. Barth / Cessna 182RG Skylane (N7126H) / VFR

These were just short flights among the various islands in the vicinity of Princess Juliana airport on Sint Maarten. All were carried out uneventfully. Landing at Juliana was a lot easier than landing at Saba, that's for sure. By the time I got to St. Barth, though, it was getting dark, so I stopped there for now.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

St. Bart's - Saba / Cessna 182RG Skyland (N7126H) / VFR

In so-so weather, I decided to make a short but fairly challenging flight from St. Bart's to Saba, home of the world's shortest commercial airport runway. It's only about a 20-mile trip. The one runway of the airport at Saba is officially closed, but I got my virtual waiver to use it, anyway (normally only aircraft of the government-owned airline Windward Air—Winair—are allowed to use it).

The flight was mostly easy. I flew only about 1500 feet over the water so I didn't worry about my altitude too much. I do have survival gear on board but since I'm surrounded by inhabited islands at close range, hopefully I'd be rescued promptly if I went down.

The challenging part was at Saba. The tiny runway at this nominally international airport is only 1312 feet long, and ends in steep cliffs that drop to jagged rocks at either end.

Prior to making the “real” flight, I had “simulated a simulation” to practice at the airport. I had survived all of my practice take-offs and landings, including one go around that I was constrained to do after I was unable to stop on the runway and rolled off the cliff (by immediately selecting full throttle I was able to pick up enough speed to avoid a crash). So by the time I made this “simulated real” flight, I was reasonably ready.

The key was simply to go slowly and touchdown as early as possible. The wind was pretty strong and gusting from the south, although visibility was good. I touched down over the numbers at about 60 knots and braked as strongly as I could, and came to a stop just beyond the (only) turnoff to the tiny terminal. With this airstrip you feel as though you should have an arresting hook hanging from the airframe.

All went well and I taxied over to the terminal. The FlyTampa scenery for this island is a dead ringer for the real airport; the resemblance is astonishing and it's hard to tell the two apart (I looked for some YouTube videos of real landings and I had to watch each of them for a bit in order to make sure it was truly a real aircraft and not just a simulation with FlyTampa scenery).

The aircraft was also a pleasure to fly; Carenado's Cessna 182 is great.

Redlands - Santa Paula / Cessna 182RG Skylane (N7049S) / VFR

I'm pleased to say that this was a textbook-perfect flight to Santa Paula. Always at the right altitude, always right on course, everything under control … and I never used the (primitive) autopilot on the aircraft. Landing was very smooth, despite the less-than-ideal circumstances of Santa Paula. There was some traffic around, including some other GA traffic in my vicinity around Van Nuys, but I had no problems. I conducted the entire flight well clear of Class B, C, and D airspace, so no contact with ATC was necessary (both REI and SZP are uncontrolled).

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Santa Paula - Redlands / Cessna 182RG Skyland (N7049S) / VFR

A routine little flight from the small Santa Paula airport to the small Redlands airport, which took about 45 minutes. I flew entirely by hand, and held my altitude and course pretty well. However, after crossing VNY, I made a mistake and tried to follow the 095 radial to POM, when I should have been following the 095 radial out of VNY. I noticed that I was drifting over the mountains and the needle still wasn't lining up, and finally I figured out what was wrong and returned to my correct course.

Landing was very smooth at Redlands. It was just starting to get a bit foggy so I suppose I landed just in time. And I left Santa Paula at dusk, which I interpret as meeting the restriction of no night operations at that airport.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Big Bear City - Santa Paula / Beechcraft Baron 58 (N3862S) / VFR

This is a flight I know well, and I completed it without any problems. It was VFR and I didn't ask for flight following, but I did monitor ATC all the way, since the SoCal airspace is crowded.

I'm a bit rusty on the Baron but I did okay. I bounced slightly on landing. Landing at Santa Paula is difficult. But I got down okay. Weather was good, except for a bit of mistiness right near my destination that I had to avoid.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Flagstaff - Valle / Beechcraft Bonanza A36 (N3759W) / VFR

I was inspired to make this short flight by the discovery that Bedrock City, a Flintstones-themed amusement park of sorts, still exists in Valle, a tiny town on the highway that leads from the Grand Canyon to parts south. I visited this park ages ago, as a small child, and it looked to be hanging by a shoestring back then, and yet it's still in business today. And, at least when viewed from a satellite, it looks like it's still hanging by a shoestring. But I decided to fly over to Valle to make a (virtual) visit to the place.

The flight was VFR under excellent weather conditions. I had a route planned but ended up just following highways up to Valle, making a turn at Clark (KCMR) in Williams. It was quite a short flight. Bedrock City is very close to the airport and easy to spot from the air on the way in.