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Flight Log – Airplanes Aren’t Lawn Darts

February 6th, 2011 · 5 Comments · Gaming

This past week I developed 4 small private turf field airports. What’s notable about them all is I realized that I didn’t need to use an actual runway for them. There’s no AI traffic flying in and out of these airfields so the sim won’t care if there’s no actual hard-surfaced runway on them. And this is good because FSX can’t do anything with runways except make them flat and level – including grass runways. This is rather unrealistic since when you’re landing on grass you’re landing on raw terrain with bumps and hills – not big ones mind you but enough to jostle you around a bit and make you take caution not to foul up your gear in soft ground. Unfortunately while taking away the runway provides bare terrain to land on, FSX does not simulate soft ground, so there are still limits. But as you can see above, terrain alone makes things extra challenging.

Here is the flight log for today’s trip.

If you’ve seen previous logs of mine (really “plan” would be a better name) then you may notice some additional notation next to the VOR listings. I’ve included the navaid’s Morse Code ID so that I can start getting into the habit of verifying the navaid prior to using it. This is a real world exercise that lets a pilot know they are 1) tuned in to the proper navaid and 2) that the navaid itself is functioning properly and can be trusted to navigate by. I’ll admit I forgot to check the ARD code prior to using it, but I remembered to listen for VCN and SBJ. This is also something I’ve known to do for a while, just never added it to my cockpit duties. Taking it slow, and all that.

So the flight started from my previous destination Atlantic City International Airport (KACY) in the wee hours of the morning. I actually sat on the ramp for about 45 minutes waiting for the sun to come up, spending the time on my laptop going through one of the AOPA’s online interactive safety courses – these come with a free AOPA membership and are really good stuff. Once I saw the horizon brightening I began my pre-flight and within 30 minutes I was fueled up and taxiing to the active. I saw a bunch of traffic depart ahead of me while I was sitting on the ramp so I had no one in front when I reached the runway and was cleared for immediate departure.

My first destination was several miles due west, a farm field known as Thomas Browne Airpark (61NJ). Its runway was a decent 2000′ but the challenge here was that for either approach you need to thread between large power line transmission towers that run around the airport. (Unfortunately I couldn’t model the wires). Lining up for the runway I actually ended up flying over one of them, which steepened my descent angle considerably at the very end. Still, I came down into a stall several feet above the runway and thumped down at only 45kts with full flaps. It was harder on the gear than I needed to be but I figured I might as well practice short field landings regardless since my last destination would require it.

After taxiing back and taking off, I climbed to FL35 (3500′ – although you don’t technically use Flight Levels this low, I like the notation) as I headed east to intercept the 020° radial from VCN. After tracking that for 22 nautical miles I could proceed by any radial towards ARD. In plotting my course on the sectional chart, this path would keep me below the Philadelphia Class B airspace, and I would pass over the KTTN Class D airspace. However all that nice planning got thrown out the window when I saw low clouds in the distance. A quick check of the weather over Trenton showed the ceiling to be broken at FL34. I couldn’t remember what VFR minimums were for cloud separation in Class E/D so I ducked down to FL24 to give myself 1000′ (turns out I only needed 500′ separation). Now at this altitude I could track to ARD earlier since I would pass under a Class B shelf I would have had to avoid at FL35 but I would also duck in and out of KTTN Class D airspace while passing over ARD since they have an approach corridor extending in that direction. So I just kept an eye on my DME and radioed for airspace transition, got approval and then 4 minutes later I told them I was out.

Next stop was another farm field, at Windward Farms (4NJ0). This field was even longer at 3600′ although when building it I realized it’s really more like 3000′ of usable runway for takeoffs, and landing it’s more like 2700′ after you clear the trees at the thresholds. So I set up for another full-flap landing and pretended it was even shorter. Once again I managed to hold off and stall above the runway without floating halfway down. I was feeling pretty good about the flight so far – I guess this is where I started to become over confident. After taxiing over to say hi to the sheep grazing in the pasture, it was another taxi back for departure to the next airfield.

While I tuned to a VOR station to navigate to my next stop, Herr Mountain (5NJ2), once I was up in the air and headed in the general direction I recognized the large ridge line that half-encircles the Round Valley Reservoir the airport is based right next to. So I just flew VFR and ignored the navaid, soon passing over the airfield, spotting the sock and setting up for my landing… on the wrong runway. I’ve done this before, though not in a while. I set my heading bug on my directional gyro for the runway heading but I flew opposite it. Minor case of dyslexia? Either way, I entered a downwind leg thinking it was an upwind leg and flew the whole pattern and didn’t realize my mistake until I was turning base. But given the wind was minor (7kts) and was more cross-wind than tail I decided to just stick with the approach. The runway here is a generous 2800′ but once again I deployed full flaps and slowed to stall on final. However this time I stalled way too early – I would guess about 25-30 feet above the ground. The result was I fell out of the sky without being able to hold my nose up, so I landed pretty much on all three wheels simultaneously and the uneven terrain pitched my tail up and dug my nose into the ground, and I slid for a few feet, twisting 90 degrees before coming to rest with my nose buried in the dirt. You see the result above.

Surprisingly, while my engine did grind to a halt, FSX did not seem to register this as a crash. Not that I was complaining – it allowed me to reload my plane at the airport and not all the way back at Atlantic City, which was the last point I had my engine stopped.

I took off from Herr Mountain without bothering to attempt another landing. I could have made it easier if I wanted to and used the full runway length. No, best to get on to the final airport and retry that if I had any trouble since it was the one where I really actually had to use short field landing techniques. The trip was short, as Peters Airport (4NJ8) is only 5nm from Herr Mountain. It’s on a private property and within 2nm of  Solberg-Hunterdon (N51) so after spotting the sock and picking a runway I had to take careful notice to maintain my pattern height and direction so I wouldn’t cross paths with any traffic in N51’s airspace. I tuned to the local CTAF to make sure I knew of any departures or arrivals to N51. After setting up on final with full flaps I approached over the trees and thought I was going to set her down perfectly until I heard the stall horn and realized there was a rather large terrain dip right before the actual runway threshold I was dropping straight into. So yea, you guessed it. Nose down in the dirt again. Once more, FSX did not register a crash so I reloaded at Herr Mountain and made the flight again, this time on final I allowed just a bit more travel down the runway to hit a smoother patch of terrain. A few seconds before touchdown the stall horn sounded and I bumped down in one piece. I let her roll out without brakes and found I still almost hit the end of the usable runway terrain. Whoa!

I taxied back and up a small hill on the other side of that terrain dip that crashed me the first time and used that to get some extra acceleration on my takeoff roll, further aided by holding in the parking brake while I let the RPMs build up prior to starting the roll. I managed to get airborne well before the trees on the opposite end and climbed out without a problem, turning northwest to backtrack a few miles. I was going to follow Rt 78 east to Newark International (KEWR) but I wanted to make double-sure I had the right interstate, and back near Herr Mountain Rt. 78 and Rt 22 (the other major road I could have confused 78 with) run side by side before branching off so it’s easy to see which is which. After confirming my visual aid I spun back around east and tracked it until I passed over the intersection of Rt 78 and Rt 287, at which point I contacted NY Approach for radar services and then further along I tuned to Newark Tower to request a full stop landing. They cleared me to enter the pattern left downwind for Runway 29. I ended up slotting in front of another aircraft flying in direct (all AI aircraft fly direct) and for some reason my approach to Runway 29 was very messy. I don’t think it was the wind but it certainly was not one of my better descents – ironic being that this runway has PAPI lights and everything to help guide you in.

I’m really glad the fields I built up this past week provided some unique challenges for this flight. While I wish I hadn’t ended up plowing dirt a few times, I’m glad that at least FSX didn’t think it was bad enough to total my aircraft. Very glad too I don’t have to actually pay to replace my undercarriage and propeller blade! Next weekend I hope to have some new fields finished up to fly to with weather as nice as today’s – it was in the low 40’s on the ground! Still, climbing out of Browne for FL35 I had to switch on carb and pitot heat for a short while. But at least the snow is melting…

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5 Comments so far ↓

  • Colin Henry

    Good flight cuz. Yeah most fsx people forget that in real life you always listen to the navaid morse codes to make sure everything’s in order. As far as landing on the wrong runway, remember to use those charts! Those being the VFR sectionals AND the airport diagram itself (you can usually find them online). Short field landings were fine, but we usually don’t stall the aircraft itself to put it down, we fly in slower than normal, full flaps depending on altitude and just let the stall horn scream until we hit ground. Also, on short field operations, always keep light back pressure on the yoke to get the front end from digging in and creating more usable surface area on the wing. Since fsx doesn’t simulate soft fields this won’t make a difference, but it’s a procedure I was taught to use in real life. One more thing. When flying VFR, in real life I always file plans with ATC, consisting of routes and intended cruise altitudes and such. This allows the controller to accurately and effectively guide you through airspace transitions since they know your route.

  • Gaiiden

    Well, the wrong runway was completely my mistake – it had nothing to do with charts or anything. I selected the proper runway to land (this is an untowered unattended field) given the wind I then just read my heading bug setting backwards. Kind of like when I used to get To/From radials backwards.

    Regarding the stalls, I guess you’re thinking I’m stalling from angle of attack? I’m just doing what you said, slowing down until lack of airflow stalls me just above the ground.

    Thx for the reminder on the back pressure.

    Yea you have to file VFR plans for VATSIM too I believe.

  • Colin Henry

    I usually come in with some angle of attack, but not a monster flare like most people think. I’ll just fly it in as slow as possible to the ground WITHOUT stalling. The stall horn still makes noise well before you drop your speed that low, but I never let it drop off to the point of actually stalling the aircraft.

  • Gaiiden

    Ah ok, as far as I know in the default 172 when that horn goes off, you’re dropping like a rock 😛 So slight operational diff from real life. I wonder if some aircraft like Carenado are modeled more accurately

  • Colin Henry

    They’re a little better, but there’s not much one can do to enhance it. When it comes to flying an aircraft that slow with such a small margin of error, it’s a lot more about feel than anything else, and you can only get so much of that in a simulator. Carenado won’t do much as far as stall warnings, but the way those planes behave in the air is MUCH more accurate.

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