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Flight Log – Coastal VFR

January 29th, 2011 · 3 Comments · Gaming

Today’s flight was compounded by weather, but for the most part turned out okay. The plan was to take off from Aeroflex-Andover (12N) and head west to hook up with the Delaware River, then follow that all the way down to the Delaware Bay, at which point I would round the tip of Cape May and head northeast along the coast for Atlantic City International (KACY). Pretty simple right?

Well, even before I found I would have to deal with weather, there was the issue of airspaces. Namely, even at a normal cruise altitude of 2500′ I would still be passing through the airspaces of 5 airports. Rather than vary my altitude in order to hop over Class C/D or duck under Class B I just decided to make sure I requested clearance for all of them. This was also done so I wouldn’t have to worry about a low cloud ceiling and in the case of Philadelphia’s Class B I would have no choice but to request clearance at some point anyways since the Delaware River runs right by the airport, where Class B extends to the surface. Rather than try and pick out visual references to use to determine when I was in an airport’s airspace, I made sure to dial in to a nearby VOR/DME and determined at what distance from the DME I would need to radio for clearance.

So after getting all my airspace transitions planned out, I was able to depart from 12N with very good weather – broken ceiling with little to no wind that let me take off to the north as I had wanted. After climbing out I turned westward and started searching for the Delaware River. Luckily this isn’t a small body of water and is especially easy to find up here since it has carved itself out a valley (the Delaware Water Gap), so after topping a ridge line it was obvious the body of water snaking its way north/south was the Delaware. No sooner had I made this discovery than the weather completely closed in – visibility dropped to about 5sm and snow started falling. I could still see the river well enough to follow it, but I wasn’t willing to take the chance of losing it if conditions worsened and having to scramble to navigate by instruments.

So I did what any good VFR pilot should do and I promptly turned around. Within 2-3 minutes of heading back east I was back under broken skies with visibility greater than 20sm. I headed due east and then due southeast after a couple more minutes, and finally after about 10-15 minutes turned back westward to try and get back to the river. However after only 5 minutes I ran back into the precipitation. Immediately my airspeed dropped to 0 and I heard my engine start to lose power. Staying calm, I first began to turn back out. Once established in the turn I took my right hand off the yoke to flip the switches for both the pitot heat and the carb heat. Very quickly my airspeed needle came back to life and I heard my engine’s RPMs pick back up. Shortly after that I was back in clear air.

Well this was a problem, since I had based all my flight planning with being along the river, and now I was somewhere over north-central Jersey. After switching the heat back off and finding no recurring icing problems, I took a look at my weather radar, which I had completely forgotten I had. It showed the precipitation in two clumps – one immediately to my west and another about 10nm south just north of Trenton. In between was a narrow corridor I could have flown down, but I would have had to go west into Pennsylvania a ways to get around the bottom clump, and zooming the map out I saw more was coming out of the west, so I would have been trapped and had to land at some field in PA. Not good. So I checked to make sure I was tuned to the DME near Trenton Mercer (KTTN) and kept heading southeast to steer around both clumps of snow/sleet/rain. The weather map gives me a good approximation of my location, but it doesn’t update often and I can’t discern where I am exactly, so I was still relying on navigational aids to tell me how close I was to KTTN.

20nm out from the Yardley VOR I tuned in to KTTN Tower and started listening for traffic, since my flyby of the airport would take me across the approach corridor to one of the runways, but after listening to the traffic I confirmed that it wasn’t the active. The Class D airspace around KTTN extends in a roughly 5nm circle around the airport and the Yardley VOR was on the opposite edge of my approach so at 12nm I contacted KTTN Tower for Class D clearance and received it with the instruction to let the tower know when I was exiting the airspace. I passed by KTTN and finally was able to turn southwest again and follow the Delaware River. When my DME indicated I was 6nm away I radioed to the tower that I was exiting the airspace.

Next up I was supposed to contact Northeast Philadelphia (KPNE) to transition their Class D but decided to shift my route east of the river enough to skirt their airspace instead of plow through it. I also got confused by the DME distance increasing rather than decreasing since the closest VOR/DME I could use to gauge my approach into the Philly area was back east at McGuire AFB (KPNE only has a VOR). I did make this clear in my flight plan by saying “14nm from GXU” rather than “to” so I would know I was heading away from this DME, but I totally didn’t read it right while in flight, instead interpreting it as “away from” (as in “10nm away from” while approaching) rather than “traveling from”. Regardless, I skipped KPNE airspace and made straight for KPHL, Philadelphia International. After getting clearance through the Class B under my own navigation, I sat up and kept alert for traffic since I was flying through the approach corridor to the active. I spotted the MD-80 on final coming in from my 10 o’ clock a few seconds before ATC came to me with a traffic alert. I told them no problem, I had the traffic in sight and the MD-80 and I passed with a decent 500′ vertical separation.

Once past KPHL I tuned to my next DME, which was on the field at New Castle (KILG). 6nm out from the DME I radioed for my Class D clearance and got the same instructions as KTTN – which was to transition under my own navigation and report clear. No traffic got in my way this time and 6nm in the other direction I radioed myself clear and left behind the last airspace transition I needed to worry about for the remainder of the flight. Yay!

As I continued along the coast and rounded the tip of Cape May, I tuned into my final DME up at Atlantic City to know when I needed to radio in to KACY Tower for my landing intentions. However once I dialed in to the DME and looked at the distance indicator I was confused to see it increasing rather than decreasing. Then after a second I realized I still had the indicator set to my NAV2 radio when I had the ACY DME dialed into NAV1. Ooops! Flick of a switch later I had my proper distance ticking down. 20nm out I radioed the tower with intentions for a full stop landing and they cleared me to enter the pattern on left base for Runway 31. Since the ACY VOR is literally 50 feet off to the side of Runway 31, I set my NAV1 indicator to 310° so I would know when to turn final without having to eyeball the airport – visibility by now had dropped to about 10sm.

After prepping for landing, I waited until the needle started to swing center and banked 45° to swing around and align with the runway. Again, the VOR isn’t on the runway so the horizontal alignment was of course off, but I wasn’t planning on making an instrument approach, this was just helping me line up for final. As I came around and spotted the runway I switched over to visual approach and lined up for final. The tower cleared me for landing and I took her down without any problems, although my approach slope was pretty sloppy. Luckily winds weren’t much of a factor either. After landing I should have braked for the first taxiway but instead I rolled way out and ATC had to ask me twice to exit the runway. Finally I was able to turn off, contact Ground and head off to park on the General Aviation ramp.

All in all it was a good flight. I’m really glad the weather threw in some problems I had to work around – that’s always stimulating exercise! I forgot to mention that only minutes after I cleared the Philly airspace some nasty IFR weather moved in. And by the time I was on the ground at KACY I couldn’t have traveled any farther north even if I wanted to! So it was even nicer to “squeak by” the bad weather and still make it to my final destination without having to divert. There was no planned Alternate in my flight log you will notice – luckily I have all the tools at my disposal should I need to plan an alternate on the spot (no, I’m not talking about the Pause button!). There really wasn’t a question at anytime along the route as to whether or not I could have made it to an alternate airport, so choosing one beforehand wasn’t completely necessary, though some hard core flight planners would argue otherwise.

For the first time, I actually tuned the radios myself to the proper frequencies needed to contact the airport towers – usually I just let the ATC interface do it for me. However it turns out that even if you tune to the proper frequency, the ATC menu doesn’t recognize this and you still have to hunt through the Nearest Airports listing to select your airport. Once there it at least doesn’t ask you if you want to tune in. I can understand this happening for CTAF, but if I’m tuning into a tower there’s really no confusion as to what airport I want! Anyways, I’m going to continue to do this because eventually I will be moving away from the default ATC and will need to tune my own frequencies. So better start practicing now!

Since I’ve become more comfortable with flying and procedures in general, in addition to tuning COM radios I’ve also disabled FSX’s automatic mixture control, which means the red knob on my throttle quadrant now requires my attention as well. However this will be an easy thing to become accustomed to since I don’t really need to mess around with the mixture too much as I fly low and am at sea level, so I can just leave it at Full Rich and usually be okay. Still, I’ve been making sure I remember to keep an eye on the EGT gauge now.

Finally, I realized recently – in an “oh duh!” moment – that I can hook up my Saitek X52 HOTAS at the same time as my Saitek Yoke in order to get access to extra buttons to assign functions to. I can’t believe I didn’t think of doing this before – I really do feel like an idiot 😛 Now I have things mapped out so that the only interaction I need to do with the mouse in the virtual cockpit is turn the starter key and set the fuel tank feed. Both of these things are done on the ground before/after taxi (well, the fuel selection might be needed under some rare in-flight circumstances, true). In short it’s now way easier for me to control the aircraft and its systems – even turning on individual lights! – without having to futz around with my mouse and alternate cockpit views to see the controls I want.

Next weekend I expect to have some more small airports modeled, so I will be flying to them – wherever they may be. Here’s hoping the weather is better!

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3 Comments so far ↓

  • Colin Henry

    Being a Real-life pilot, I’d say have alternate airports at hand before you take off. When I go up, I have a Garmin G1000 avionics system on board which has the ability to track multiple VOR/DME beacons at once. It also comes with fuel range rings, showing me all airports in range with the available amount of fuel. As far as airspace transitions go, I probably would’ve flown higher to avoid a few of them and use the beacons I’d have laid out in my flight plan to navigate. Then I’d use the G1000 to confirm my path and as a visual reference utility. The GOS also has the airspace borders mapped out. Let me know if you have any Q’s about anything

  • Gaiiden

    Haha see I knew the lack of alternate would cause some consternation 😛 You forgot to mention you’re an FS pilot too – don’t forget your roots son!

    I knew I had *available* alternates, but I understand that’s different than a *planned* alternate. If I had to file a flight plan (VA, VATSIM) then yea I would have made a planned alternate. I get that it’s just good practice regardless though 🙂

    So, since you’re guaranteed airspace transition in FSX (I’m pretty sure the AI never denies you – right?) it’s not that big a deal to transition through. Also if I do happen to get in some plane’s way it’s not like the virtual FAA is going to fine me 😛 So yea I can understand it would actually be easier IRL to go up and over. Actually this was good practice for me using DMEs to track my location too. As you read I did have a little trouble so the airspace transitions were an excuse to practice.

  • Gaiiden

    Haha see I knew the lack of alternate would cause some consternation 😛 You forgot to mention you’re an FS pilot too – don’t forget your roots son!

    I knew I had *available* alternates, but I understand that’s different than a *planned* alternate. If I had to file a flight plan (VA, VATSIM) then yea I would have made a planned alternate. I get that it’s just good practice regardless though 🙂

    So, since you’re guaranteed airspace transition in FSX (I’m pretty sure the AI never denies you – right?) it’s not that big a deal to transition through. Also if I do happen to get in some plane’s way it’s not like the virtual FAA is going to fine me 😛 So yea I can understand it would actually be easier IRL to go up and over. Actually this was good practice for me using DMEs to track my location too. As you read I did have a little trouble so the airspace transitions were an excuse to practice.

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