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Flight Log – Weather Wise

February 13th, 2011 · No Comments · Gaming

I made three major changes to my flying on this trip:

  1. Logging flight time. I’m not going to actively log hours, as right now that is entirely meaningless for me, but I have started getting into a habit of sticking to a flight schedule. This is because 1) at some point in my virtual aviator career I do expect to be logging meaningful hours and sticking to set schedules and 2) it ensures I stay within forecasted weather conditions
  2. Longer trip legs. I now cannot fly a trip leg shorter than 60nm if I can help it. I’m tired of departing one airport, flying the pattern at the airport next door, and landing again without ever transitioning to enroute cruise flight. It’s a nice little challenging activity but ultimately is not indicative of usual flying in any sense, where you’re generally traveling simply from point A to point B. I don’t mind a little pattern practice every now and then, but neither to I want to continue to mix it with regular flights.
  3. Preflight weather forecasting. I use both and the NOAA Aviation Weather Center to check conditions both enroute and at the destination airport for the scheduled time of travel through that area. This info gets filed in my flight log so I can have it for reference in the event that I cannot get a good up-to-date weather report while in transit, I have something to fall back on. It also obviously affects how I plan my route.

You can view the completed log for this trip here.

Logs now start with my departure information that include time and weather for departure, as well as any radio frequencies I need to know. For smaller airports this will generally just be a CTAF, but at larger airports like Newark it would include things like Delivery Clearance, ATIS, Ground, Tower and Approach/Departure. I also check the wind forecast and select a takeoff runway – in the case of towered airports this is a best-guess and includes the most likely assigned taxi route to that runway.

Due to wind forecasts showing stronger breezes blowing in by midday, the first leg of the trip was only around 40nm because this was an airfield that required as little wind as possible to complicate the approach and departure. Thankfully, at the time of departure a check of weather stations around the area showed no wind at all. Leaving Newark was uneventful, although I did wake up a little late this morning so while I estimated my departure time (ETD) to be at 7am I actually pulled on to the runway with takeoff clearance at 7:13am (ATD). Still, I managed to nail my arrival at Parker Airport (70NJ) right on the numbers, arriving at 7:43am, which was 13 minutes after my estimated arrival (due to the late departure from EWR). It was a bit dicey landing at Parker since it is right behind a ridge to the east and thus the light from the rising sun is blocked in the early morning and the field was still fairly dark. Luckily from testing the airport during development I knew how to fly the tricky approach and made it down without any problems. This is one of the hardest airports I’ve built in terms of skill needed to land/depart. Check out the description page over on the MSE Airports site to find out why. Part of the difficulty is artificial I admit, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less challenging.

Since I had to depart the way I came in and didn’t have to taxi back, I was able to get out quickly enough to get back on schedule, matching my estimated departure time with my actual one. My next leg was around 57.2nm (these are all estimates based on plotting done on SkyVector, but are close) and had me hopping from VOR to VOR to drag out what would have otherwise been a 17.7nm direct flight. It just gave me more chances to practice my radio navigation. Still a problem – remembering to toggle the DME back to NAV1 for the third VOR leg only when I happen to notice the range increasing. But at least I remembered to check for the Morse Code signals for each one. Funny story – I tried to do this on the ground back at 70NJ and sat there for like a minute wondering why I wasn’t hearing anything before realizing I was too low to pick up the beacon *facepalm* Sometimes this works though so can’t blame me for trying, just have to remember to check the gauge to see if it’s even reading a signal first! I arrived 7 minutes late to Mount Pleasant Landing Strip (67NJ) and I attribute this to the higher cruise altitude and the fact that I was only going about 80-90kts by the time I crossed over STW already at pattern altitude. I could have probably made a later descent and faster pattern. Also, since I had no weather reports I mistakenly chose to fall back to the no-wind report I used for 70NJ (which is much closer to a weather station) when instead I should have fallen back on the weather data I collected during preflight. So I simply overflew the field without bothering to check the sock and landed on that left-pattern runway. It felt like a bit faster approach than I had planned so after landing I taxied to the sock (which is through a path in the woods off the runway) I saw that I had landed with a small tailwind component in keeping with forecasts winds. So I had to taxi back to the far end of the runway for takeoff. All this made me depart 5 minutes late.

The third leg was VFR up to a point, and then radio navigation to get me to the airport. Here was my best chance of hitting bad weather, but it didn’t look like it would be any worse than light flurries. Still, I checked all vectors along my route north following the Delaware River and found I could divert at any time direct to SAX without worrying about terrain or airspace. I did end up hitting the precipitation right where I ran into it on my last flight, but visibility stayed at around 10sm so I plowed on to my VFR end point and then turned to intercept the nearest radial to SAX. After a few minutes tracking towards the VOR I was back in the clear air again and weather continued to remain as predicted, although winds stayed lower than expected. No arguments there! I arrived at Vliet Airport (6NJ1) only 2 minutes after my estimate (minus the 5min departure delay) which I attribute to having to fly a long downwind leg since it was over a ridge line that forced me well above pattern altitude and I wanted more time to descend on base and final and keep my speed low. I could have stuck closer to the field on my downwind to avoid the ridge in that case would have still went out far to make my base/final turn easier to line up. Also, in order to overfly the field in the direction of my travel and check for obstacles (not a good idea to fly direct into an unattended airport), I had to fly the full pattern to land as upwind as possible. Still, I managed to focus too much on clearing trees before the runway and didn’t manage my approach speed properly, landing a little too fast (around 65kts, which is normal landing speed) and almost halfway down a runway only 1300′ long. The 172 POH says I need 1335′ when clearing a 50′ obstacle, and there are 30′ trees at the runway threshold. Plus these figures are for hard-surfaced runways and grass can be really, really bad when it comes to braking. So I wasn’t able to slow down enough before running into trees at other end of the runway. But I popped into Slew so I wouldn’t crash and reload.

Departing from Vliet I sure was glad I took the time to taxi around the dirt pile at the end of the runway and give myself a few extra feet. POH says I need 1630 feet to clear a 50′ obstacle and again I’m dealing with 30′ trees at the end of the 1300′ runway. Let’s just say I don’t really want to know how close I came to those trees! (If anyone wants to yell at me, I just checked this landing/takeoff performance data now :P) Once established in cruise and enroute, I called up flight following from McGuire Departure since I would be transitioning through a very busy area of airspace. Once again the handy-dandy Turnpike VFR route kept me clear of airspace and exclusion zones, up until the point where I had to request Class B clearance from Philly Approach. I had an alternate route handy in case ATC denied my request, but unfortunately (or fortunately if you consider the convenience of it rather than the realism) they never do. In fact while in real life you would contact approach or the tower several miles out to request clearance prior to entering, in FSX you don’t get the option to request clearance until you actually penetrate the airspace! So I was cleared through no problems and flew the pattern to land at my final destination of Spitfire Aerodrome (7N7). Normally at a field with a CTAF I would have no problem making a straight-in approach if my initial arrival vector allows for it, but in the case of 7N7 it is laid out where AI craft have to taxi across the runway in order to reach the ends for takeoff. Due to a limitation in FSX AI, aircraft do not hold short when crossing runways. Nor to they announce taxi intentions. So a flyover of the field was needed to ensure no aircraft were in the process of taxiing before I could consider landing. I managed to arrive a good 15 minutes early, but I buffered a decent amount of extra time in case I needed to divert around the Class B airspace.

I also planned an alternate destination, but I forgot to pull up a weather forecast for it. Planning an alternate is good practice, but in my opinion – for sim flying – it’s not always a requirement. If you’re managing fuel on a long trip, it’s important to know what other airport you can reach at the end of your flight if needed. If you see weather is forecasted to be bad at your planned destination, it can be good to know a suitable airport to divert to that is outside this bad forecast. If there are airspace restrictions around the airport that complicate your arrival or end up making it impossible, it’s nice to know a good place to set down outside this area. Another benefit to planned alternates is simply having all the needed information ready should you need it rather than having to fly the plane while planning. But I figured while I was expanding the log to include other things I might as well start listing an alternate as well.

All told, despite the landing snafu at Vliet the flight went off as planned. Actual weather either matched or bettered forecasts, and my time estimates were pretty accurate. I’ll be away next weekend, so I might try to squeeze in some flight time during the week instead. We’ll see! At the very least there are helis based at 7N7 so I will probably take the Dodo out for a spin.

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