This morning I was up early again and had some time to kill before the day's planned activities, so I decided to hop into the Cessna 172 to fly up north to an airport that could give me a chopper to take over Manhattan later on in the day. Consulting Sky Vector, I found that Teterboro (KTEB) has a helipad, which was my first choice to begin with even before I checked. So yey!
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KBLM to KTEB
Before loading up the flight though, I rustled through my scenery library and pulled out some KTEB custom scenery I had downloaded to install first. Well... that didn't go so well. I still don't know what I was doing wrong but I couldn't get FSX to recognize the scenery files at all. I will need to look more into that. For this flight I just shrugged and went with the generic but passable default airport scenery (just like at KBLM).
I filed an IFR flight plan just to get some practice with ATC guiding me through the Class B airspace to the airport. Departure from KBLM was a little rough - my left rudder pedal brake got jammed on and I kinda swerved off the runway during my take off roll. Erm. Ooops. Luckily while there were other aircraft at the airport, none of them were taxiing at the time. So I technically took off from the grass but then climbed and headed out no problem. I guess I could have aborted the take off since it was early in my roll but... oh what the hell I didn't crash did I?? Okay then. Any take off that leaves the ground is a good take off, dammit.
So ATC guided me up north, telling me to stick to 2500' and 340° heading, blah blah blah. They gave me a couple of seemingly random direction changes and then when they instructed me to change frequency, the ATC window wouldn't give me any options to respond. After 4 tries to contact me and getting no response, they canceled my flight plan and told me to get the hell off their frequency and back to general. So I thought my radio had broke - until I contacted Teterboro tower to request landing clearance. They came back fine and told me to make straight in for Runway 6 visual approach.
Errrr... okay. I was all ready to intercept an ILS glide slope, not make a visual approach. I was just passing KEWR so I hastily consulted the sectional chart on my laptop (aka "flight computer" eh? eh?) for visual navigation aids and found that following a river running just north of KEWR would let me intercept the Runway 6 glide path at a nice 45 deegree(ish) angle. ATC radioed in to tell me I was cleared to land, so I continued to follow the river until I had the airport in sight, then took her in for a landing. I came way short - barely crossed the runway threshold before setting her down - and I think I might have buckled the landing gear a bit too... but, any landing you can walk away from is a good landing, dammit.
Of course then I got completely lost trying to taxi to my parking spot despite having an APD open and ready. Maybe the taxiways in the game weren't the same as in the real-life APD? I might have to fix that. It didn't help the taxiways were only labeled at the runway intersections either. Finally I just turned on the progressive taxi (the game's equivalent of asking ATC to guide you like a little kid) to make it to my parking spot so I could shut down. Stressful flight!
Back to ground school
Later in the day I sat down for about an hour or two of ground school to get myself back up to speed on helicopters. If you don't know, helicopters are pretty insane flying machines. They are inherently unstable beasts that require more attention than an airplane - we're talking constant control adjustments to pitch, yaw, roll and throttle. So after going over some great resource material at Hover Control, I sat down to actually plot out my Manhattan flight. Remember - I'm working hard to keep things real and actually learn more about flying than just how to handle an aircraft. Therefore, my next task was to figure out how the hell to understand this helicopter chart.
Like any aeronautical chart, it's layered with what appears to be more information than is possible to process at once. It really is amazing that people in actual cockpits can reference these things - but I suppose it comes with practice just like anything else. While I tried finding instructional material on the internet without much success, I remembered that - duh! - the Manhattan scenery came with a user guide, which gave me all the info I needed, coupled with the chart's Legend, to figure it out.
In the process, I learned that in my earlier flight along Manhattan, I broke quite a few laws, although I did get some things right, like staying to the right side of the East River as I flew by Manhattan instead of the left (think of the rivers as streets for aircraft. South-bound stays to the west side, north-bound to the east side). Mainly the laws I broke were height related, along with failure to properly announce my location and contact certain airports when entering their airspace. Luckily for me, the FAA is pretty lenient in this world. (And by "pretty lenient" I of course mean nonexistent).
Anywhoo, if you'll reference the chart you can see the route I planned to follow, which was a departure from KTEB along the Echo Route to the GWB, catching the Hudson River route south to The Lady (Statue of Liberty), then hopping over to the north-bound Hudson River route, cutting across Central Park and then south-bound along the East River route to the Downtown Manhattan/Wall Street heliport (KJRB).
By the time I finished ground schooling, planned my route, and dusted off and set up my HOTAS, the sun had already dipped below the horizon and full night was just beginning. I had hoped to fly around in the day and land at dusk, but... oh well. Sitting on the pad I contacted the Teterboro tower to request takeoff clearance - and they told me to taxi to Runway 19. Well, so much for bothering to simulate ATC on this flight! (technically, you can "ground taxi" by flying low and slow along the ground. I dunno if the game's ATC knew I was in a heli and wanted me to ground taxi, or was just giving me plane flight directions. I decided the latter). Still not ready to deal with VATSIM though.
Upon take off I tried to practice a little bit of hovering - and of course nearly spun into the ground flying backwards. Screw that. I pushed up the throttle to transition into proper flight and decided I can practice hovering later. I kind of steered the heli in the general direction I was suppose to be going, all the while giving people on the ground the impression that some drunk guy who didn't know how to fly had stolen a helicopter. But I managed to find what I figured had to be Route80 snaking it's way east and following it I soon came to the George Washington Bridge. Checking to make sure I was below 1,100' like I was supposed to be, I hung a hard right and started down the Hudson. Luckily this little heli can't go anywhere near the maximum 140kts airspeed in this area, so I didn't have to worry about that.
I did, however have to worry about crashing into the ground, as I fought to attain stable flight. About halfway down the Hudson I finally achieved a sense of equilibrium before I ended up a mess of spare parts (both human and mechanical) strewn upon the earth. Had I been still simulating ATC, I would have by now also tuned to the Hudson River general frequency and reported myself passing noticeable landmarks like the Holland Tunnel ventilator towers. Again tho - trying not to crash.
I approached The Lady and managed to descend and stay under the 500' ceiling mandated in the area. I did a close fly by as I banked back north past Governer's Island towards downtown to begin my loop around Manhattan. Just after I passed Ground Zero (I could see the construction cranes working on the Freedom Tower), I noticed a lack of RPMs. This is bad. I opened up the throttle all the way and staved of descent for a few seconds, but then I began to autorotate as I fell towards the Hudson.
Luckily rescue crews were quick to respond to my little disaster. I'm sure it will be on the news tomorrow.
"DRUNK MAN STEALS HELICOPTER, CRASHES IT IN HUDSON RIVER - STORY AT ELEVEN!!!!!"
I decided afterwards to go back to Teterboro and practice some hovering, and spent about 15 minutes just trying to keep the damn helicopter in one spot. By the end, I was able to at least keep it over the helipad, if not perfectly stationary (and I will also admit the helipad is actually pretty damn big). I even practiced a few small loops around the airport and landing again - although one of my landings was so hard that after I bounced back down to the ground, my engine completely died. And I was just thinking after surviving that landing how tough they had built this thing...
Heli crashed, computer didn't!
One good thing was that I didn't experience any issues with my PC locking up due to heat, most likely since I took measures to ensure better airflow through my case. Although I tried my best to tweak my graphics settings, I couldn't bump the framerate any higher than 10FPS - which, actually didn't seem to be so bad flying around with. I'll continue to experiment to see if I can squeeze out some more frames. Hopefully my next flight over the city will end better. I suppose crashing into a heliport instead of the Hudson could be considered better... somehow...