For this flight I decided I was going to fly in and out of some of the airports I've been designing recently to get some use out of them. I also decided I was going to finally start paying attention to check lists. FSX has a "kneeboard" you can call up in flight to see important speeds, check lists, etc - but I realized that these are just HTML files, so I simply found them in the FSX directory and loaded them into Firefox for easy reference in another monitor. I also started the practice of better pre-flight preparation during the planning stage. SkyVector does a lot of work for you in laying down waypoints and such, but to actually reference it during flight takes a bit too much attention. So I created a flight plan log that contained all the need-to-know info for each leg of my trip - a leg being from one airport to another.
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I had several issues on this flight, so much so that it took me two days to complete it and I finally just flew half of it completely over again. First, I crashed twice trying to land at Eagle's Nest (31E) because I didn't clear the trees properly. It's important to remember that you're dropping even as you travel forward while on final approach, so being above the trees doesn't necessarily mean you'll stay above the trees. The crash threw me all the way back to northern Jersey where my last saved flight originated from - this makes we wish FSX had an auto save! The second issue was my graphics card started to act up - perhaps because it was overclocked although on my previous flight in the Jet Ranger I had no problems at all. Third, I suffered some sort of mechanical (aircraft) or gameplay error that made my elevator trim stick at full down. All the restarts and resets on Sunday frustrated the hell out of me so I said screw it, and I redid the whole flight today.
Leg 1: KFRG to KHPN
The first leg called for a north departure from Republic (KFRG), so I called up the tower and got my taxi clearance behind a Grand Caravan making for Runway 14 as well. I was headed for Westchester County (KHPN) at the border of NY and CT - it wasn't an airport I had gotten to yet in scenery design but it was on the way and let me practice a touch and go. I traveled via Deerpark VOR, which means that once I departed KFRG I swung around north and picked up a radial (the 324) that guided me straight for the airport. I cruised at 25oo feet to stay below LaGuardia's 3000 foot Class B airspace floor, and I wasn't traveling far anyways. Crossing over the water between Long Island and the NY mainland I contacted the tower at KHPN and got clearance to make straight-in Runway 34 for a touch and go. I descended to the 1400 foot pattern altitude about 5 miles out until I intercepted the glide slope then took her in.
Leg 2: KHPN to 12N
Climbing out of Westchester I turned west to track to the Sparta VOR. As I climbed to my cruise altitude of 4000 feet, I leveled off at 3900 and contacted NY Approach for clearance through the Bravo airspace. I got my clearance and continued my ascent. In case I had been denied clearance (I'm not even sure the sim will do that) my alternate plan would have been to descend back to 2000 feet until I was 19nm out from Sparta, which would clear me of Class B and I could ascend up to cruise altitude. Once I crossed over Sparta I started my descent to 12N's pattern altitude of 1600 feet. 12N (Andover) was an airport I didn't have to do any scenery design for since I found some great freeware scenery for it that I couldn't match. I crossed the airport just as I hit pattern altitude and entered a right traffic pattern on the upwind leg. You're not supposed to cross Lake Lenape on Downwind so I made sure to stay east of the lake. You're also not allowed TGL (touch and go landing), so I had to come to a full stop landing. The first time I flew in I parked and shut down because of graphics problems. The second time things were going okay so I simply turned around at the end of the runway and departed back out the way I came in.
Leg 3: 12N to KBLM
This next leg was my longest at 68nm via two VORs - Solberg and Robbinsville. If you look at my flight plan log you'll notice Solberg doesn't have a track for me to follow, that's because I don't need to stay within a certain corridor while flying, so simply tracking from one VOR to another I can align with whatever radial I want. From the VOR to the airport however, I need to align with a certain track to guide me towards it. Because of the length of the leg I upped my cruise altitude to 5500 feet. Another reason I chose this is because I follow the Quadrantal Rule - which isn't even required for VFR flights (or in the US, for that matter) but I like imagining flying roads in the sky, and this helps me choose which elevated highway to travel on. Since KBLM does not allow TGL on the weekends, I had to perform a full stop landing, then taxi up to the other end for departure back out the way I had come. On the second attempt (Monday) this rule wasn't in effect but this is where I noticed the elevator trim problem, so I taxied to park to restart the sim.
Leg 4: KBLM t0 31E
Leaving KBLM behind it was time for a bit more hardcore VFR flying - none of this VOR nonsense. I flew to the coast and followed it until I crossed over Barnegat Inlet to start descending along a heading of 249 until I spotted the airport. Eagle's Nest (31E) has a pretty tricky approach for Runway 32. Not only is there a broadcast tower just left of the approach corridor, but you have some pretty tall trees immediately before the runway threshold. I crashed into those trees on the first two attempts and even on the third attempt I was nervous about my clearance. It's just one of those things that is difficult to gauge in the sim without a lot of practice. So you really have to trim up for a short field landing since you are literally dropping onto the runway after clearing the trees. I didn't trim fully so I didn't even let my nose gear touch before pouring the power back on to climb out - narrowly avoiding the trees on the other end of the runway! I will have to pay closer attention to runway lengths in my pre-flight planning.
Leg 5: 31E to 19N
As I climbed back out from 31E I turned west after passing 500 feet AGL for a heading of 294. This would put me in the direction of Camden County (19N). Still following the Quadrantal Rule, I climbed to 4500 feet to give me a better view since I needed to spot some landmarks to ensure I was on the right track. Very soon I was able to see Hammonton (N81) out my left window right where it was supposed to be. Then I flew just north of Atsion Lake - I was right on track! Thus assured of my course, I began my descent as I passed N81. Throughout the flight I was playing around with decent profiles, and have found that the 172 can descend without risk of overspeed at 75% power at 500 FPM, and at 50% power at 1000 FPM. This means I can start heading down to pattern altitude and keep my speed upwards of around 120kts simply with trim settings. I hit the 1200 foot pattern altitude as I was crossing north of the airport for Runway 05, so I entered the left pattern on Downwind. This airport had no restrictions on TGL so I put her down and picked her back up. I remained in the pattern and departed along the downwind leg.
Leg 6: 19N to 17N
This leg was the shortest, only 6nm, so I only climbed to 2000 feet for the short trip. Departing 19N on the downwind leg set me up perfectly for a nice 45-degree entry into the right pattern for Runway 09 at Cross Keys (17N). Because of skydivers, I had to vector east of the drop zone, but that was exactly where I had to go anyways for my pattern entry. Yes, I could have flown straight in for Runway 27 but there was little or no wind and I wanted pattern practice. Plus, Runway 09 is a more difficult approach over trees, although they do not come as close to the runway threshold as at 31E. I had originally planned for a TGL at this airport, but graphic issues once again made me taxi to park and shut down. It was cool flying into this airport since it was one I had already modeled and also one I've been to in real life once for skydiving.
Leg 7: 17N to 26N
The last leg of the flight I undertook at dusk to add a bit of variety to the scenery. More clouds had moved in since I landed at 17N and the winds had picked up a little bit, but the weather was still more than fair enough. I departed from 17N on Runway 27 and turned southeast to track towards the Cedar Lake VOR, then outbound on the 144 radial. It was back up to 5500 feet and I was going to skim the Class C airspace of Atlantic City Int'l so I paid attention to my location in order to contact ACY Approach at the proper time to request clearance. Once again, I had an alternate route planned in case I was denied, but they let me through with no problems. Once clear of Class C I tuned to the Ocean City (26N) traffic and announced my position. I was planning to enter the pattern at base and make a short turn to final, but when I was about 4-5 miles out another Cessna radioed in that he was 4 miles out making for the same runway. All AI traffic in the sim flies straight-in approaches, so I immediately looked out and spotted him. Less than a minute later a Piper radioed in that she was 10 miles out. So I decided to just overfly the airport, enter the patter on Upwind and just fly long legs to give the incoming traffic time to land. As I was flying downwind I cruised past the Piper on final, and as I turned final she announced clear of the runway - great timing! I had a messy approach this time - I was so caught up in planning around the other traffic I forgot to run my Before Landing checklist before turning final! So I was trying to hold my approach while setting things up. Made it down in once piece though and taxied to a parking spot with no trouble.
Checklists and Fast Approaches
I'm still forgetting my checklists at times, but I'm getting better at it. When I forget, I don't feel too bad as priority numero uno is flying the aircraft - it's useless referencing a landing checklist when you plow into a mountainside, after all. Once or twice I would be halfway through my climb to cruise and realize my trim was still set. Or I would land and realize I forgot to turn on my fuel pumps and landing lights - or forget to turn them off while climbing/cruising. Again, the good thing about a 172 is that all these things won't cause you to crash and die (well okay, the engine dying on takeoff due to a fuel flow failure and not having the pump activated can get messy). Fixed gear FTW.
The other thing I got accustomed to this flight is keeping my speed up on approaches. I flew all my patterns at around 100kts. When I turned final, I cut my engine to 25% and began to trim up the aircraft. For short runways I would set 10% flaps on downwind, which is possible since the 10% flap speed is 110kts, then go more flaps on final. For runways with more than enough length I would just set 10% flaps on final. This profile worked great for all of my approaches and helps when you're trying to slot in with heavy traffic.
I'm going to hang out in Ocean City for a while, enjoy the last of the nice beach weather for the season. I'm going to whip some more airports into shape in the meantime and do some more field hopping next time out. It was a lot of fun plotting, planning and flying this trip - even with the difficulties involved with the flying part