Friday, July 31, 2009

Vance Brand (Longmont) - Brush / Cessna 172 (N8210V) / VFR

I haven't been logging many of my test flights since my fleet expansion, but this one was interesting enough to log.

My first problem with this Cessna 172 was that I couldn't get the radios to work properly, and as it was nighttime, I couldn't find a switch to turn on the panel lights. Apparently Carenado designed this aircraft for FSX and then just hastily ported a version to FS9 as an afterthought, and some of the avionics don't work. I spent more than an hour working on the aircraft to get the avionics working. Finally I was ready to try a flight, although one set of radios still doesn't work quite right (the tuning knobs tune the active frequency rather than the standby frequency).

I started out in the evening from Vance Brand airport (KLMO), destined for Brush Municipal (7V5). This was to be a nighttime VFR flight via pilotage. I plotted a simple direct route beneath the Denver Class B on my TAC and sectional. I figured on a heading of 075 for 73 nm. The only real issue was dealing with wind drift.

The aircraft has an annoying tendency to gradually roll to the left, like so many small aircraft, and there's no autopilot on this airplane, so I had to regularly press a bit on the yoke or hold it to keep the aircraft on course. If I looked away at charts for more than a moment, I found myself in a shallow turn to the left. That was annoying but there isn't any way around it. I climbed to 7500 feet (the floor of the Class B went no lower than 8000 along my route), and managed to level off, although I had some trouble maintaining my altitude precisely. There was quite a bit of turbulence and I was regularly blown up, down, and sideways, although it wasn't as bad as some test flights I had done the day before in Arizona in one of my Cessna 152s.

After flying for some time through mostly darkness (there were buildings and things on the ground but nothing immediately recognizable), I started to have doubts about my real track over the ground. The aircraft has no DME, so I couldn't use that to find my position. I finally just plotted the radials from Mile High and Akron that intersected above my destination, set the two VORs appropriately, and tried to fly towards the needles, still maintaining mostly a heading of 075.

I was still not very comfortable after more minutes of flying, so I looked all around outside the aircraft for a body of water. There were several, including one that appeared to be right below me. That matched the Bijou 2 Reservoir on the TAC, and the other two bodies of water (Empire Reservoir and Jackson Reservoir) were in the right places. This put me only a few miles north of my planned track. I could also see the lights of an Interstate up ahead, and its path matched that of Interstate 76. The charts said that this Interstate would pass just north of my destination, and so I just followed the highway.

According to these charts, the Interstate would turn north as it passed the airport. I found the northerly turn, but not the airfield. The airfield is poorly lit. I decided to just head in the direction I expected the airport to be and wait. Sure enough, after a few minutes, I spotted a dark gray strip on the terrain, and as I got closer I knew that this had to be the airport.

Winds were really gusty on the way down. I landed a lot faster than I normally would just in case. The wind calmed just above the surface, though, so I was able to make a smooth landing.

It was an interesting trip.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Echo Bay - Kingman in steps / Cessna 152 (N703YL) / VFR

Testing out one of my new Cessna 152s, I did a lot of little flights. I started out at Echo Bay on Lake Mead. Then, in small hops, I went to Temple Bar, Las Vegas, Jean, Searchlight, Sun Valley, Needles, Lake Havasu, and Kingman, over the course of two days. The main thing I learned was that the Cessna 152 is by far the most Spartan and most anemic aircraft type in my fleet.

I'm quite large and that doesn't help. Larger aircraft don't care much, but a Cessna 152 does. At first I had a hard time getting the published rate of climb out of the aircraft, but then I realized that I was instinctively flying faster than I should for this aircraft, and when I reduced the speed to a slowpoke 65 KIAS or so, I was able to achieve about 700 fpm. At 80 KIAS, I could barely get 500 fpm. On other aircraft, though, these speeds are uncomfortably close to the minimums, so I had a naturally tendency to try to keep my speed up. Over the course of these flights I learned to fly slower (heck, I didn't have much choice in a 152).

I also tended to think of 120 KIAS as the cruising speed of this aircraft for some reason, when in fact it's the maximum. Cruising speed turns out to be more like 80-90 KIAS. Once I understood this, things went better. But this is a really, really slow airplane. I kept my hops short because it took forever to get anywhere.

At least the aircraft is easy to fly. Landing speeds are so slow that you can almost hop out of the aircraft and walk beside it as it touches down. Short runways are not an issue. However, with the extreme heat in the areas where I was flying (105-110° F), density altitude was a factor.

It took a looong time to get from Echo Bay to Kingman, but I finally made it. There's only one VOR, no DME, one comm and one nav radio, etc., so things are really primitive. This aircraft seems destined for short daylight VFR hops; I'd be very nervous trying to fly cross-country at night, or in anything other than clear weather. I can see why it is used so much for training.

After landing in Kingman I had temporarily exhausted the novelty of “roughing it,” so I stepped up to a better-performing aircraft for the next few flights.

My expanding fleet

Over the past few days I've been checking out some new additions to my vast fleet of aircraft. I now have 35 airplanes in the fleet, scattered at various airports throughout the United States (mostly in the Great American Southwest). They range from very large aircraft to very small aircraft.

At the large, “big iron” end, I have two 747-4AA aircraft. There really isn't any domestic 747 service in the U.S. today, with the airlines' bizarre business models, so I usually fly these as my own private aircraft. Flying a 747 is like being on an ocean cruise. It's very relaxed and there's a lot of automation.

I have two Boeing 767-3AAR aircraft, which I sometimes fly on long- or short-haul routes, occasionally mirroring real flights, but often just on my own. The 767 is also a very nice aircraft to fly, although the avionics on the 300 aren't as fancy as those on the 747-400.

I also have two 737-8AA aircraft. These I fly most often to mirror real-world flights, mostly Southwest Airlines flights, because they have frequent flights all over the U.S. to choose from.

The 747s and 737s are PMDG models; the 767 is a Level-D model.

At the other end of the spectrum, I have a variety of small general-aviation aircraft. The smallest are new acquisitions, three Cessna 152 aircraft. I have five Cessna 172s, and seven Cessna 182s. All of these are Carenado models except for two of the 172s, which are Flight1 (and kind of hokey, so I don't use them any more). I also have three new Piper Dakotas from Dreamfleet, which join my six Beechcraft Baron 58s and five Beechcraft Bonanza A36s from the same development house; they are all beautiful aircraft.

Finally, to fill in the middle range of bizjets, I've acquired three Cessna Citation X twinjets. The learning curve is steep on these, and Eaglesoft, which developed the models, is still working on the FMS, so they aren't quite ready for production service yet, although I've been practicing with them without using the FMS lately.

So that's nine different types of aircraft overall, enough to keep me pretty busy. The check-out flights I've been doing lately are not “official,” so I haven't been logging them, but I'll start logging some “real” flights soon enough.

It's quite a challenge to try to remain current on all these aircraft. The bigger they are, the more systems they have to memorize. There's not much to worry about on a Cessna 152, but the jets are a handful, and right now it looks like the Citation is the most complicated of the bunch, surprisingly.

The variety spices up flying. One day I'm dozing off on the heavily automated flight deck of a Jumbo Jet, the next day I'm struggling to climb out of an airport in a Cessna 152 that doesn't even have a full IFR suite, and I'm wondering just exactly who managed to get the prototype 152s to their published service ceiling of 14,000+ feet when I have trouble getting 500 fpm at sea level.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Phoenix - San Diego / Boeing 737-800 (SWA2302) / IFR

I mirrored Flight 2302 from KPHX to KSAN on this flight, and arrived at the same time as the real flight, departing and arriving at the same gates as well.

All went smoothly, except that I forgot to engage the autothrottle for take-off. I looked at the switch but forgot to actually flip it. On the take-off roll, I set 70% N1 manually, then pressed the TOGA switch to let autothrottle take over. I saw TOGA on the PFD and it seemed vaguely not right, but I didn't think it through. It was only after I heard an overspeed annunciation and saw that I was at 315 KIAS below 10,000 feet that I realized that the A/T was not engaged. I engaged it and slowed down, but it was a minute or two before I could get the FMC back on the climb profile.

Also, while entering my route, I added and removed things one too many times, I guess, and all the waypoints I needed for the approach and arrival were not there, so I added them by hand on the way in.

The landing was very smooth, albeit not perfectly centered (I hand flew the approach because the LOC 27 approach has no glide slope). The very annoying flicker of the airport surfaces marred my arrival. It's very frustrating and I wish someone knew exactly how to fix it (it's not always like that).

I parked at the gate slightly before the real-world flight. However, I had left on time, whereas the real flight was a bit late getting started.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Aspen - San Diego / Beechcraft Baron 58 (N2751W) / VFR

This was one of the longest flights I've undertaken in a long time; I'm not sure if it actually set a record.

I flew (with my virtual friends and passengers again) from Aspen all the way to San Diego, a trip of about four hours. The first part out of Aspen was at 14500, and as I cleared the mountains we descended, although I stayed at 12500 for most of the trip, until some clouds threatened around Twentynine Palms and I descended to get clear of them.

This being a very long flight, I just put everything into the GPS and let the autopilot fly most of the way. It was mainly VOR to VOR, but there was a long stretch to Tuba City during which I just let the GPS do its thing, without double-checking the VORs. The excellent VMC meant that there was little risk of a problem, and there are tiny airports all along the way, even through most of the desert—and we were high enough to glide to one of them if a problem arose.

There were no problems, in any case, and the weather cleared as we got past Thermal, at which point I began my descent. I went direct from Julian to VYDDA and made a very smooth, straight-in approach with an extremely gentle landing on runway 27 at KSAN. I parked at Jimsair and we all got out and raced for the restrooms. It was still vastly shorter than it would have been in a car, which would have taken around 17 hours of driving (not including breaks), and at least 50% greater distance.

I still had 1/3 of my fuel left at KSAN, and I had only filled the main tanks (not the tip tanks). That's about six miles per gallon, which doesn't sound very economical until you consider that we were also getting to our destination at least four times faster than we would have in a car. Total trip length on the flight plan was 666.6 nautical miles (oo-wee-oo!).

Greeley County - Aspen / Beechcraft Baron 58 (N2751W) / VFR

With two virtual friends eager to visit Aspen, I set out from Greeley in excellent weather. I skirted the Class B to the west at 8500, then gradually climbed to a dizzying 14500 to get over the mountains, with my passengers and myself dutifully huffing oxygen along the way. The weather was very clear and the scenery was very impressive. Although I monitored ATC I didn't really need to talk to them until we neared Aspen. I've been to Aspen before and we were in excellent VMC, so I called in a short distance east of Red Table and was quickly directed towards the airport, which I could easily see as I passed the mountaintop on which the Red Table VOR is located. I was promptly cleared to land and landed with no problem at all, having done this approach (in good weather) many times.

My passengers were happy despite the awkwardness of having to use supplemental oxygen. Oxygen isn't legally required for passengers below 15000 but I strongly recommended it anyway.

Denver - Vance Brand - Greeley County / Beechcraft Baron 58 (N2751W) / VFR

Having my Baron parked at Denver International, I decided to explore a bit around the region. I first flew out to Vance Brand (KLMO) northwest of Denver, and then, some time later, on to Greeley County. Both of these were very short flights, so not much to say about them. The weather was nice and the flights went well.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Hackettstown - Sky Park / Beechcraft Bonanza A36 (N6835W) / VFR

Not long after landing at Hackettstown, wanderlust drove me to move on, so I decided to fly up to an even smaller airport, Sky Park, in Red Hook. Again this took me east of the hypercrowded Class B airspaces over NYC and its airports. I filed for 3500 via SAX.HELON.TRESA, and eventually climbed to 5500 for better visibility.

The airport was tiny indeed but I was able to locate it and land safely. As with the previous flight, it was raining for most of this flight, but it wasn't cold (about 14° C at altitude). It was completely dark for this flight, as it was well after sunset, but I had terrain below to guide me in addition to VORs.

With this flight and its predecessor, I flew mostly by autopilot and GPS to lighten the workload in the poor VMC and nighttime through which I was flying. The Bonanza is pretty well equipped.

Sullivan County - Hackettstown / Beechcraft Bonanza A36 (N6835W) / VFR

With lots of traffic around New York this evening, I made a little flight in one of my Bonanzas from the small Sullivan County International Airport in Monticello to the even-smaller Hackettstown Airport in the town of the same name. It's amusing to see the former called “international,” but that's more of an administrative issue than a real-world issue (I don't think too many international flights start or end at Sullivan County).

The weather was very marginal VFR, but it was still light out and I didn't feel like filing IFR, and the terrain is quite flat. I filed HUO.SAX.BWZ. At 3500 feet, I was just below the cloud deck, and it was misty but still legal for VFR. The flight went quite smoothly, despite some occasional thunder and lightning in the distance.

The landing at Hackettstown was moderately challenging simply because the airport is so little. I had to come in right over the trees. The airport seemed very sparse in the sim, but it turns out that it looks the same way in real life.

I accidentally filed 192 KTAS for my speed for this flight (copying and pasting an old Baron flight plan), when in fact for the Bonanza it's more like 164 KTAS, but that's no big deal.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Lake Havasu - Wickenburg / Cessna 182RG Skylane (N7109V) / VFR

My virtual guests were finally ready to fly back from Dullsville Lake Havasu, and wanted to seek out the Hassayampa River in Wickenburg, so I flew them there in the Cessna I had left parked at the airport (after Scotty beamed me to KHII from Denver, of course).

The flight went well. This was one of those very rare flights that I've flown direct, as there was no significant terrain or unusual airspace between Lake Havasu and Wickenburg, and it was only a 85-nm trip. I just set my heading to 110 with the Nav-O-Matic, and set out at 7500 feet for E25. I verified my position by watching for Alamo Lake, which I passed over exactly as planned, and then used the Needles and Buckeye VORs to steer my way to the airport.

Landing was very smooth. The heat was oppressive.

Aspen - Denver / Beechcraft Baron 58 (N2751W) / IFR

I filed IFR for this early morning flight because I knew it would still be rather dark and difficult to see terrain below. As it turned out, it wasn't so bad, with the sun rising during the flight, and the weather was excellent.

I filed the LINDZ5 departure out of Aspen, and the LARKS6 into Denver. My little Baron was just strong enough to meet the climb constraints for the departure, with my two virtual passengers. We had to climb from the airport elevation (7820 feet) to 16000 at 462 feet per nautical mile, which I just barely managed. Then it was up to 17000 for the rest of the way over the mountains, with me and my passengers enjoying supplemental oxygen.

At MURFE I was able to get a descent to 15000, then down to 10000 after SIGNE to pick up the ILS runway 25 approach at ETHAL. Everything went very smoothly, right to touchdown on runway 25. I was (semi-)surprised to hear “Air Force One” on the frequency, apparently inbound for ILS 26 (which is why I took 25, to avoid turbulence) … but then again, in the world of virtual flight, with its abundance of youthful male pilots, it's not unusual to encounter Air Force One, or fighter planes with scary Hollywood names like VIPER or KILLER, and so on. As long as they follow the regulations, I don' t care. Because of the plethora of Air Force Ones on VATSIM, though, the Presidential aircraft does not get any special consideration in virtual flight (otherwise the country would be peppered with TFRs for every seventh-grader who wanted to pretend he was the personal pilot of the POTUS).

After landing on 25, I taxied—forever, it seemed—over to the general aviation area. Denver International is so huge that I think you sometimes spend more time taxiing to parking (even if there are no other aircraft in your way) than you do flying to the airport.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Echo Bay - Desert Rock / Beechcraft Bonanza A36 (N3759W) / VFR

After loitering around Echo Bay for a time (very boring), I decided to visit the Department of Energy's airport just on the border of the Nellis Range. The DOE is always happy to let me visit their Desert Rock airport.

The wind was still from the east, so I took off over the Lake Mead and stayed over the water as I moved towards Sin City, mainly because it somehow seemed cooler over the lake (it was blistering hot at Echo Bay). I was cleared into the Las Vegas Class B and I advised that I wanted to make the Cortez transition, which was approved at 4500 feet.

The Cortez transition starts over Wash Marina, which is hard to spot apart from a small expanse of concrete, and right now it's pretty far from the water. I had the coordinates, though, and put those into the GPS just to be extra sure. From there, I was to cross the El Cortez Hotel, which is mighty hard to spot (it has a hokey sign on it, but I still had trouble spotting it)—fortunately I had coordinates for that, too. From there, I turned towards North Las Vegas Airport. After crossing the airport, I slipped to the west side of Highway 95 (the “E.T. Highway”) and stayed on the west side all the way up to the Mercury NDB (which is out of service, but I've been this way before so pilotage sufficed). I know that as long as I'm on the west side of the highway, I'm not in restricted airspace.

I made a smooth landing at Desert Rock, this time checking to see that the wind was in my favor. Desert Rock is just as bleak as Echo Bay, but I scarcely intend to linger here. I did manage to fill the tanks.

Valle - Echo Bay / Beechcraft Bonanza A36 (N3759W) / VFR

This Bonanza has been sitting at Valle Airport (40G) next to the Flintstones amusement park for almost a month, so I figured it was time to brush up. I decided to fly with some virtual friends to Echo Bay (0L9), next to Lake Mead.

Essentially I just flew direct to the Peach Springs VOR, then rode the 290 radial until I was over the lake, then turned north to Echo Bay. All went well, and I was able to stay at or below 6500 for the whole trip.

My only mistake was landing on runway 24 at the tiny Echo Bay airport. I didn't bother to look at the windsock at the airport, and in fact I was landing with a significant tailwind, so it took quite a while to touch down, and the runway was short. The landing was just a tad bumpy, testifying to my lack of currency in the Bonanza, but otherwise all was well. I parked and my passengers went off to have fun at the lake.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Sedona - Lake Havasu / Cessna 182RG Skylane (N7109V) / VFR

Late in the afternoon, I set out from Sedona again with my virtual pax, this time heading towards Lake Havasu.

I planned to fly more or less to the Drake VOR, then roughly west-southwest to get past the mountains, then slightly north again to get to KHII. It went pretty well. I didn't want to fly too high, so I climbed to about 7500 feet west of DRK and made a slight detour around the mountains west of Jerome and then headed back towards the VOR.

After crossing the VOR, I wanted to pick up the 246 radial and head out over Bagdad. I set the Nav-O-Matic (I can't believe that's its real name—what was Cessna thinking?) to 246 and maintained about 7000 (less than 3000 AGL). I kept drifting south off the radial (which was just as well, because terrain was lower), and finally got back to the radial only as I reached Bagdad.

Over the Bagdad airport I turned to 270, which I figured would take me through the mountains where I could turn and head towards Lake Havasu (ignoring winds). Somehow, though, I ended up drifting over the southern part of the Hualapai Mountains, and I had to climb a bit to stay in my comfort zone. Then I saw a big lake off in the distance, and incorrectly assumed that it was Lake Havasu. It wasn't until I was about 40 miles from the Needles VOR (which I was now tracking) when I plotted my position on the chart and realized that the lake was just east of Needles (it didn't have a name on the chart, unless it's technically part of Lake Havasu?), so I turned to 210 to head further south towards Lake Havasu, which was visible when I looked for it.

Assuming the winds would be from the west, I selected runway 32 and announced a right downwind thereto (although it has a left-hand pattern, but nobody else seemed to be in the pattern). I did pretty well in the pattern, and the landing wasn't too bad considering the crosswind of 10 knots or so. I don't plan to linger in Havasu City as it is blazing hot, and I long to again dance the skies on laughter-silvered wings.

Phoenix - Sedona / Cessna 182RG Skylane (N7109V) / VFR

With some virtual friends aboard, I left Phoenix VFR via runway 26. I was cleared for 5500 or below with a right downwind departure approved. I made my pattern turns but had my VOR set to the wrong radial. I had intended to fly over Camelback Mountain and up towards Carefree before turning towards the Verde River (in order to clear the Class B sooner), but I went too far and ended up heading directly north to Scottsdale, then making straight to Bartlett Lake from there.

Flying over the Verde River valley in excellent VMC, I was able to stay at 5500 feet for the whole flight. This put me pretty low and I had to take care to stay in the valley, but I did all right. I set my VOR to Flagstaff and followed a radial up to LYRIT (based on my DME), then turned towards the airport. The landing was glassy smooth; my passengers scarcely realized we had touched down.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

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

I haven't flown in a while, and this was a very pleasant early morning flight from hellish Gila Bend to hellish Phoenix. Fortunately, my cockpit was fully air-conditioned with an automagic system (virtually STCed) that has no effect on aircraft performance, so I didn't have to deal with the 110° F heat outside the aircraft. Except with respect to performance calculations, that is. At 110°, the density altitude at Sky Harbor was 4660 feet, which is closer to the actual altitude of Sedona (4800 feet) than that of Phoenix. Fortunately, both airports have runways that are more than long enough for my small Cessna, even in hot weather.

I flew by pilotage exclusively, as I know this area very well. I climbed to 3500 feet and headed north until the bend in the road (Interstate 10), at which point I turned east. I could already make out the downtown area of Phoenix, and I knew that the airport was just to the right of that, so it was easy to make my way in. I was cleared into the Class B and made a straight-in approach to runway 8. The landing was so smooth that I almost didn't hear the gear touch.

From runway 8, I taxied over to Cutter Aviation on the other side of the field and parked there.