Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Stanford - Great Falls - Conrad / Cessna 182RG Skylane (N7199V) / VFR

Just for a change of pace, I teleported one of my Cessnas to Montana, and flew from the tiny airport of Stanford to Great Falls, and then to the tiny airport of Conrad. It took about an hour, and brought a change of scenery. Weather was clear but too hot, as usual (it seems to be impossible to escape the heat even in simulation).

Monday, June 29, 2009

Castle Well - Gila Bend / Cessna 182RG Skylane (N7109V) / VFR

The sun had set only moments before I started out on this short little trip from the tiny private airstrip of Castle Well, one of those little airpark communities where everyone has his own taxiway to the runway. It's hard to find the airport even when flying, and it doesn't even appear on the sectional (although it's on the TAC).

The runway is only 1400 feet long, so I throttled up with the brakes on before rolling. I had to climb briskly after rotating to avoid a pole that was just beyond the runway (in real life, there is a highway with some poles not too far away from the field, but much further away than in the sim).

After take-off, as darkness fell (which happens quickly in the desert), I just aimed straight for the Buckeye VOR, which easy enough because runway 17 very nearly points at it. I went up to 4500 feet in good VMC. After crossing BXK, I turned to GBN and eased my way down to 3500 feet. A few miles out of the airport I veered east, in part for lining up with runway 22 at Gila Bend (essentially a right base), and in part to put more space between me and terrain, because there are some hills just west of the radial I was on, and I couldn't see anything on the ground, just some lights from cars and the lights at the airport.

Landing was extremely smooth and uneventful. It was a nice, short flight. I held altitude and course pretty well.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Phoenix - Los Angeles / Beechcraft Baron 58 (N3862S) / IFR

This two-hour flight went fine most of the way, but I messed up badly once in SoCal.

The route was V16 almost the whole way. Up to 6000 to start, then later on, up to 8000. I had filed V16 all the way to PDZ in SoCal, but the last legs between PSP and PDZ would have taken me to at least 14,000 feet, and I didn't want to gulp oxygen for half an hour (nor did my virtual passengers). So I asked ATC to amend the flight plan to take V388 between PSP and PDZ, which crosses DEWAY and has a MEA of 9500 instead. That was approved, so I was able to limit my altitude to 10,000 at most during the trip. I was brought back down to 5000 after ACINS, in part due to my request.

Things got messy when it came time to do the approach. I was told way in advance that I'd get 25L, so no problem there. But somehow, when it finally game time to capture that localizer, I just didn't manage. I got the AP modes screwed up or something, and I actually managed to blow through the localizer twice. I could sense ATC's patience wearing thin, and I was at first cleared for a visual approach (translation: the controller was worried that I'd never get my act together for the ILS), but the weather had just deteriorated, so I was sent back onto the ILS. This time, I managed to line up partially by hand, and then I got all thes modes right on the AP and got fully established. The rest of the approach was fine. A couple miles out I turned off the automation and landed by hand, a tad low but still very smooth.

I taxied over to Mercury Aviation and parked, fuming over the poor approach I had made. I guess I need to stay more current.

Gila Bend - Buckeye - Castle Well / Cessna 182RG Skylane (N7109V) / VFR

Inspired by a video I saw on YouTube, I decided to fly from Buckeye, a tiny, dusty, hot little airport in the desert, to Castle Rock, an even tinier, equally dusty, and equally hot private airport east of Wickenburg. However, I had the aircraft parked in blazingly hot, dusty, and tiny Gila Bend, so I had to start there.

Both legs were uneventful. For the first, I just check which radial to ride on for Buckeye and pretty much followed that, watching for Highway 85 below me. Landing at Buckeye was uneventful, apart from the heat (but it was hot everywhere).

After staying overnight in Buckeye, I flew the target leg the next day, and it was only about a 20-minute flight. Castle Well is really tiny, with a short little runway, but I did just fine. In the sim, the scenery looks very bland and desolate, but as the video proved, in real life, the scenery is … very bland and desolate.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Tucson - San Diego / Boeing 737-800 (SWA450) / IFR

This was a pretty smooth flight, mirroring the real thing, except that I started out about half an hour late. The same clouds and IMC that was so worrisome in my Bonanza just looked pretty from the flight deck of a 737. I didn't manage the descent as well as I might have liked, and I established late on the localizer, but other than that things went okay. I landed by hand and it was quite smooth. I was very irritated to see flickering in the KSAN scenery again, though. Nobody anywhere on the Web seems to know what causes this or how to fix it.

Phoenix - San Diego / Beechcraft Bonanza A36 (N7365F) / VFR

This flight went just fine most of the way, but things got messy towards the end.

The weather was hot but otherwise favorable out of Phoenix. I made straight out off runway 26, swinging slightly north to follow I-10 and then down Highway 85, as usual. I couldn't decide whether to use pilotage or navaids, and eventually drifted between both. Following I-8 out of Gila Bend is easy enough, but you have to take care to stay north of the Interstate, otherwise, at some points, you'll end up in Mexican airspace (especially after Dateland). I stayed at 4500 during this time and used the AP intermittently to make it easier to keep a course against a substantial headwind that seemed to come and go.

After crossing the Imperial VOR, I could see heavy clouds lurking on the opposite side of the mountains. The weather for KSAN and surrounding airports had been marginal VFR when I left, so I kinda expected that some IMC might get in my way. Unfortunately, I hesitated a long time before doing anything, and by the time I actually requested a pop-up IFR clearance, I was already in IMC (in real life, I never would have procrastinated like that, but sims occasionally make you lazy). I had a route from KTUS to KSAN in the GPS and I activated that. I noticed, though, that it was a VFR route, missing the IAF of the LOC 27 approach at KSAN, which was at RYAHH. ATC was not online so I was on my own. I rerouted myself from CANNO to RYAHH, but by then I was acutally crossing CANNO. Then, somehow I managed to hit the avionics switch on the panel and turned off all the avionics (EHSI, GPS, radio panel, autopilot, VORs, etc.). I had to turn that on and wait for it all to boot up and keep the aircraft level and straight at the same time, in fog. I was soon badly messed up. Fortunately I knew the terrain a little and knew how high I had to be. I eventually aimed for RYAHH at 5000, and from there clumsily made my approach. The AP was such a pain to set up again that I just turned it off and flew by hand.

Fortunately, as I descended, I got below the clouds, and I was able to cancel IFR and proceed visually, making straight in to 27. I had the ILS tuned, but by this late time, it was easier to just fly by hand and aim for the field, which I had in sight. I know the approach so it wasn't too troublesome.

I finally laned, very smoothly, without hitting anything. Nevertheless, I kicked myself over all the mistakes I had made, letting the situation get away from me. I made it because I knew the area a bit even without being able to see it, but it was still very careless of me. I was not a happy pilot as I parked outside Jimsair.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Gila Bend - Phoenix / Beechcraft Bonanza A36 (N7365F) / VFR

A routine flight from the blistering heat of Gila Bend to the blistering heat of Phoenix. It was cooler in the air but still a furnace on the ground. Only 11 AM and already 91° F on the ramp. I'm so glad it's just a simulation!

Anyway, the weather was pretty clear, and I had no trouble finding my way to Phoenix by pilotage, along my usual route of Highway 85 and then Interstate 10. Landing was very smooth and without any problems, on runway 8, straight in from 3500 feet.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

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

This was a short and frustrating trip through borderline VMC, with constant problems with the sim (probably) because of VATSIM or network issues (plus some ActiveSky problems). I spent the whole trip dodging clouds, and much of the time I wasn't quite legally VFR. I had radio problems, too. Not a good experience.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Portland - Seattle / Boeing 747-4AA (N705ML) / IFR

A highly unremarkable flight, except for the slight scrambling I did towards the end. The route was BTG.OLM6. I was given a shortcut and had to move fast to get down to my assigned altitudes in the much shorter distance that I had with the shortcut. After becoming fully established on the ILS for 34C, I flew the remainder of the approach and landing by hand. Once again I ended up with more nose-up pitch than I'd like in the flare; I'll have to work on that.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Phoenix - San Diego / Boeing 747-4AA / VFR (!)

Today I had a hankering to try an experiment: Flying a 747 VFR from Phoenix to San Diego, by pilotage at 4500 feet (as one might fly a small Cessna). Mission accomplished!

I flew this offline because I had to bend some regulations in order to do the flight (the main one being flight over 250 KIAS below 10,000 feet). I flew practically the entire flight by hand, except for a few stretches where I let ALT HOLD and HDG HOLD modes take over to let me relax a bit. I followed the highways, at just 4500 feet and 320 KIAS. I followed Interstate 10 out to the “bend in the road” above Highway 85, then followed the latter down to Gila Bend, then picked up Interstate 8 out to San Diego. It went pretty quickly at 320 KIAS. As I approached the mountains east of KSAN, I climbed briefly to 6500 feet. Then it was back down, then south to intercept the centerline of runway 27 at KSAN (I didn't use the ILS), then on in to the airport. I stabilized the approach for a brief period with the autopilot, then shut everything off and took over manually. The landing was very smooth, I'm happy to say. The nose-up pitch in the flare was a tad excessive, but no tail strike. I guesstimated all the speeds based on past experience.

The experiment was a success. It proves that low-altitude VFR flights by pilotage can be done in a 747, although it's not very practical, very legal (at least with the exceptions I made), or very efficient.

Frankfurt - London / Boeing 767-300ER (N715ML) / IFR

I must be getting back into practice with the 767, because this flight from Frankfurt-am-Main to Heathrow went very well.

There was one slight problem, though. Out of curiosity, while cruising over the continental coast approaching the English Channel, I tried to open a cabin door. On the real aircraft, this isn't possible, as the 767 has “plug” doors that are held tightly shut when the cabin is pressurized. To my surprise, though, the door opened on the sim. That didn't seem very realistic. But then I was even more surprised to hear an alarm in the cockpit that I hardly expected.

It seems that the sim doesn't prohibit you from opening a door (perhaps it simulates the Superman strength that would be required to open a door against five tons of force while in flight), but it accurately simulates the consequences. The alarm I heard was accompanied by the CABIN ALTITUDE annunciation. A quick check of the pressurization panel reveal that the aircraft had depressurized—which is to be expected if you open a door! Another annunciation told me that the oxygen masks had dropped in the cabin. These are not good signs.

However, with careless abandon, I strapped on my mask and continued on at cruise altitude, taking care to close the door. Normally depressurization requires rapid descent, but I didn't want to mess up my flight profile. I just closed the door, shut the outflow valves, set pressurization to max auto, and waited for the cabin to repressurize, which it did after five minutes or so. It was soon back to 10,000 feet and I could take off the mask, and shortly thereafter it was back to where it had originally been. However, I was unable to restow the oxygen masks, which had to wait for a maintenance crew on the ground.

Landing was very smooth and without incident, except for the cursing threats of passengers back in the cabin who intended to file virtual lawsuits against me for opening the door in flight. Oh, well … I'll have to be more careful about those doors in the future, eh?

Monday, June 8, 2009

Phoenix - Las Vegas / Boeing 747-800 (SWA964) / IFR

This flight from Phoenix Sky Harbor to Las Vegas McCarran airports went very well. I'm more used to the 737 than I am to the 767, and I didn't forget too much (I know I should read checklists, but it's difficult when you're the only pilot and you already have your hands full flying the aircraft).

This was CHILY1.IGM.TYSSN2 at FL280, just like the real-world flight. The real flight, however, was delayed and had a gate change, whereas I left on time. The weather was nice, apart from the blistering heat in Phoenix that makes it such a dump to live in (although it looks nice at night from the air). In fact, I was at the gate in Las Vegas at just about exactly the time that the real flight should have been there, had it not been delayed.

I hand-flew the approach from about 5 miles out. Despite some slight gusts in the wind, I landed pretty smoothly. I heard no applause, though (in Europe, passengers often applaud a landing, which shows how totally backward and clueless they still are with respect to commercial aviation).

My photo was taken from the captain's seat at the gate, right after I came to a complete stop, with engines still running.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Phoenix - Los Angeles / Boeing 767-300ER (N715ML) / IFR

It took forever to make this flight successfully, mainly because of problems getting the route into the FMS.

The standard route for KPHX-KLAX is BXK2.BXK.J4.TNP.SEAVU2, which is what I tried to enter. Try as I might, though, I couldn't get the FMC to accept J4 to TNP. I finally looked up some advice in an online forum to see how to do this. It's a lot easier on the 737 and 747.

Even after getting the route part worked out, I still had the impression that the FMC wasn't following the route properly, and it didn't seem to be respecting altitude constraints. It's hard to know how much of this is the real aircraft, how much of it is the simulation, and how much of it is me. I hand-flew quite a bit of the approach without any difficulty, and the landing was smooth, but the systems on this aircraft are frustrating. Maybe I'm just out of practice.

Sint Maarten - San Juan / Boeing 767-300ER (N715ML) / IFR

The time had come to make myself current on my 767 flying skills, so I undertook a brief flight from Princess Juliana airport to San Juan, Puerto Rico, which is about half an hour. As usual, I had become very rusty on the aircraft, which I haven't flown in months, and the flight was a long string of mistakes as I tried to remember what I had forgotten.

The biggest problem was the FMC. On the 767, the biggest problem is always the FMC (at least for me). I finally got some sort of route forced into the FMS and made my departure from TNCM (which was mostly empty, fortunately). I hand-flew the departure and noticed how easy it is to hand-fly the 767. I waited quite a while before I finally engaged VNAV and LNAV.

Encouraged by this, I spent even more time hand-flying on the way into San Juan. I turned off the automation as I came over land and flew the rest of the approach by hand, watching the needles mostly. The landing was very smooth and I scarcely moved from the flight director's indicated path.

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

Just to break things up a bit, I went down to Eloy and then to Gila Bend. Not a very eventful flight, but peaceful. I'm much better at holding headings and altitudes when flying by hand these days, so it's not quite as exhausting as it used to be.

Getting to Eloy was just a matter of leaving the pattern and following the PHX143 radial out to just west of Eloy. I picked Eloy because it was at the edge of the TAC (as good a reason as any, right?). I had to look close to find the airport, but I located it in plenty of time to do my approach. Landing was smooth.

Shortly thereafter I was off to Gila Bend on V94, which simply means west to the Stanfield VOR and then to the Gila Bend VOR. No problems encountered, much cooler aloft than on the ground. Landed smoothly at dusk.

Monday, June 1, 2009

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

This flight didn't go very well at all.

It started well enough. It was too late to go out to visit Catalina, and Catalina was reporting less than 1/4 mile visibility, so I couldn't go there VFR, anyway. I picked Blackinton Airport, in Valley Center, one of those aviation housing developments. Being in a virtual world, I magically obtained permission to land there, despite the ominous R on the runway, along with the word PRIVATE painted in the middle. That was the easy part; getting there turned out to be the hard part.

My route took me through the LAX SFRA and then down along the coast to Oceanside, where I'd turn east and then north to land on runway 35 (the only runway allowed for landing). The problem was that there were just too many clouds, and I was VFR. The weather looked okay when I checked it before departing, but it was only VMC in a marginal sense after I got in the air.

On the way out of Santa Paula, I managed to stay beneath the cloud deck. Flying through the SFRA was no problem, although I had clouds looming on either side. But then, on my way down the coast, I seemed to have big clouds constantly right in front of me. I made big detours to go around them. I had planned to climb to 5500 but that put me right smack in the clouds, so it was back down to 3500 and out over the water. I can't even remember all the gyrations I tried to stay out of the clouds. I'm sure ATC must have wondered about my constant changes in heading and altitude. But the regulations say I have to stay clear of clouds.

Eventually I found myself way out over the water, at 1500 feet (!), abeam the San Onofre nuclear plant on the shore, and with clouds thick and just above me. I couldn't climb over them, as there were no breaks. I eventually turned east and returned to the mainland just south of Oceanside, then scooted over to my airport. Unfortunately I wasn't completely legal part of the time, because I was at only 1000 feet AGL over some built-up areas. But I couldn't go higher because of the clouds, so I was stuck. Fortunately, below the clouds, the air was clear, but I was pretty low, and the GPWS kept irritating me with warnings.

As if this weren't enough, I somehow had the airport's location incorrectly coded in my GPS unit (I had entered it as a user waypoint). The GPS pointed one way, and the EHSI pointed another. I trusted the EHSI (in part because it matched my paper route), and sure enough, I soon had the (very tiny) field in sight.

My landing was messed up by a huge tree just short of the threshold (which is not there in real life). I had to fly over the tree and then drop like a rock to reach the runway. I came pretty close but broke something on landing. It sounded and felt like a tail strike. The aircraft is being repaired (at amazing speed) as I write this.

All in all, mostly frustrating. The weather was supposed to be better. It was VFR, but only just barely.