Saturday, February 25, 2017

A Nutters Flight to Chicago O'Hare...........

Saturday morning (at least for me) slowly faded into the afternoon and after a Facebook message to the group, the planning stages began for a trip from Orlando (KMCO) to Chicago O'Hare Airport (KORD).  Danish was lucky enough to pick O'Hare Airport as our destination where as luck would have it, there was an event scheduled to begin at 2359 Zulu.  A few of the folks had already completed earlier flights and since my weekend was coming to a close with a botched arrival the previous evening during the FNO event with Oakland ARTCC, I was ready to redeem myself.  I was determined to figure out my issue with the Airbus A321 and flying into a busy event was a good way to sort my issues (most likely pilot induced but more on that later).  A quick trip to FlightAware provided a real world flight plan and each of us began to prepare for the flight.

We populated our respective gates at KMCO, Airside 3, and after being convinced to ditch the automated checklists with the F/O with the Aerosoft Airbus series, I quickly downloaded an Airbus checklist and started to prep for the flight.  Now granted, I also own the BlackBox Widebody Airbus series which has provided the opportunity to fly the larger variants without an automated F/O.  Having said that, I believe Aerosoft did a great job adding a virtual F/O that assists with operating the aircraft and working through the checklists during the flight.  It adds to the realism and provides some much needed help in a busy, terminal environment.  I'm also a big fan of FS2Crew with some of my other add-ons and again, it brings realism to the flight deck.

The cockpit preparation was completed and the virtual bags and passengers began to show up for the ride  which would take place on an Airbus A321.  American Airlines (AAL) 54 was my call sign for the flight and today's flight would have 170 virtual souls on board.  The VATSIM network was beginning to pick up with on-line controllers and a quick call from each of us to Jacksonville Center had our IFR clearances obtained.  The flight plans were entered into our respective FMC's/MCDU's and we would be departing 18L via the MCCOY 1 with the Savannah (SVH) transition to the north.  I entered the necessary data into my Airbus take-off performance calculator which calculated the Vspeeds along with an engine flex temperature.  Before long, the passengers and bags were on board, the doors were locked, and the jetway was retracting from the side door.  A call to the ground crew via the intercom began preparations for push-back as the APU came to life.  I slowly pushed back from gate 55 as Mr. Graham began his push from gate 57.  Engine # 2 and # 1 were respectively started and came to life as the push back truck slowed to a stop on the center line, completing the push back.  Danish and Mr. James also began to push back from their respective gates and final preparations and taxi checklists were completed.   

A conga line was quickly formed as each of us exited Airside 3 and made our way down taxiway C to holding point B1 for 18L.  Danish was the first to line up and depart 18L and the surrounding skies were covered in beautiful "cloudai" which allowed for some great screenshots during the departure.  The MCCOY1 departure would be a well choreographed departure handled by Mr. Jacksonville Center.  Another kudos to the controllers in the VATSIM world and the controller for Jacksonville Center did a great job handling inbound flights, outbound flights, departures, landings, clearances...all while keeping things in order. 

I was # 4 in the departure order and soon we were each climbing to our respective cruise altitudes while being provided headings and "direct to" waypoints to continue the MCCOY1 departure to the north.  The climbout was fairly uneventful and this flight provided some beautiful visuals along the eastern coast, thanks to Orbx's Vector + the North America openLC.  As I reached my cruise altitude, we settled into an organized track and we transitioned to Atlanta Center and as luck would have it, it is was time to start changing cruise speeds for spacing.  After a short time at Mach .74, the spacing was properly established and I was back to Mach .78 which kept me far enough behind Mr. Graham but also allowed me to keep a visual with his contrails.

 The setting sun slowly made its way behind the clouds and the evening sky was upon us.  We were a little early for the event at O'Hare and after leaving Indianapolis Center's control area, we were switched over to unicom since Chicago Center had not gone live.  The various positions began to populate at KORD and it was time to program the necessary information for the descent and the checklist was completed. Each Nutter reached their respective TOD points and we began the ride down via the WATSN 3 RNAV arrival for a westerly runway.  Chicago Center came on line as we each continued our descents and the radio traffic was beginning to pick up as flights from various locations were arriving into Chicago airspace.  The Chicago controllers handled the traffic in a very organized fashion as each of us was handed off to the approach controller and directions to intercept the localizer for the ILS 27L approach.  The final checks were made for my aircraft and the other Nutters were touching down and vacating 27L while I enjoyed the view of the Chicago Sky Line (after looking at my screenshots, I discovered that I did not have my openLC lights activated so that was a bummer-the new night lighting is very well done courtesy of Orbx).  While on approach, I experienced an issue similar one to the prior evening while flying in the FNO into KSFO.  I noticed that the set altitude was not  holding after reaching it with theV/S (vertical speed mode) mode on the main panel.  I was able to rectify the problem by removing the V/S mode and I'm thinking this is what happened the prior evening.  Anyway, with the problem rectified, the runway was clearly in sight and I was able to land my A321 and I exited the runway to the left onto taxiway "bravo."  A frequency switch to ground had me taxiing to my gate of choice and tonight, O'Hare also had a staffed ramp frequency for guiding aircraft into the ramp area.  This was a welcomed addition and added to the immersion at the termination point of my flight.  AAL 54 was parked at the gate and as the jetway attached, the respective doors were opened and the ground crew began removing the bags as passengers moved onto the jetway.  Another great group flight had come to an end and thanks to the Chicago ARTCC for hosting a fun event.   

The view from Mr. Graham's flight deck (openLC lighting activated)


Thursday, February 2, 2017

Delivery Flight of N661US (DAL 1 KPAE to KATL)

On Tuesday evening, January 31st, PMDG released their much awaited and hyped 747-400.  Granted, I wasn't very excited about the 747 as it went through its development phase.  Meh, another long haul jumbo jet that had been done before by both PMDG and other developers.  The screenshots, beta updates, and possible release estimates were flooding the Internet and while I did read the updates, I still wasn't convinced that I would be buying it.  Mr. Randazzo, the founder and spokesperson for PMDG began posting updates on the Avsim forums about final touches being made on the Queen and the ground crew was preparing her for departure.  And of course, the peer pressure from the The Nutters was ever present, as well as the "release stream" going live on Twitch.  The price tag of $228,000,000.00 had suddenly been reduced to $114,000,000.00 on PMDG's web page and the time was nearing for the hangar doors to open.  My personal excitement began to increase and the 747 hype was beginning to fill my inner flight sim geekness which at this point, there was no fighting it or going back.  Once the release was announced...the purchase was made and I too was the proud owner of the virtual PMDG 747,  also referred to as the "Queen of the Skies."

I am a member of FlyVirtual, a virtual airline that upon release, set up delivery flights for the 747-400 from KPAE, Paine Field, also known as Snohomish County Airport, to a pilot's home base.  For me, that would be KATL, or Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.  Yes, the 747 in the real world has been in operation for many years and many large carriers are beginning to either retire or drastically reduce the size of their 747 fleets.  It is the end of an era for such an iconic aircraft as carriers begin to move to newer, more efficient aircraft.  But, since this hobby, as I'm so often told, "isn't real," we can rewind the virtual clock and enjoy a hop across the United States as N661US is delivered to KATL for long haul operations. 

Flight preparations were completed and today's delivery flight would take approximately 4 hours and a quick look at the weather would have us departing to the north off of 34L from KPAE.  A quick walk-around was completed and as I've heard so many times this week, the PMDG rendition of the 747-400 is simply stunning.  The model, textures, system modeling, and animated ground services really bring The Queen to life and PMDG didn't miss anything with this one.  PMDG has an extensive history with developing aircraft for flight simulators and as each new release comes to life, their dedication and love for aviation shows in their products. 

I hopped into the flight deck which sits quite high above the ground and began entering the necessary data and route into the FMC.  The doors were closed as a few VIP's and ground crew from Delta Airlines boarded the jumbo jet and we were almost ready to go.  The APU was fired up and due to our parking position, push-back would not be necessary for this early morning flight.  All systems were in check and the engines slowly came to life as the fuel switches were activated.  The sounds for the 747, both internally and externally, are done extremely well, which adds to the realism for the virtual pilot.  Other various Boeing jets were parked on the tarmac as well, as I slowly made my way to taxiway "A" toward 34L.  The 747 is a large jet to taxi which will take some practice, especially while trying to keep the speed in check.  PMDG also modeled ground bumps, shakes, etc in the cockpit which again, adds that extra touch of immersion in the cockpit.  Runway entry procedures were completed as I turned onto 34L and the throttles were advanced forward, beginning the short roll down the runway.  Since the airplane was light for today's flight, Vr was quickly achieved as the four Pratt & Whitney PW4056 engines powered the plane down the runway.  "Rotate," was called out and the giant, albeit graceful and gentle jumbo lifted into the morning sky. 



At this point, I was flying on VATSIM and no controllers were on-line.  I had departed on Unicom when suddenly, that familiar contact tone came across the headphones.  Seattle Center had gone on-line just before departure and I began my climb west of the airfield, while climbing to an initial altitude of 5,000' above the Pacific Northwest.  I dialed in the new frequency and made contact with the Seattle Controller.  Vectors were provided to my first waypoint and my journey began to FL390 toward KATL.  The climbout was very bumpy and PMDG also modeled turbulence shakes in the cockpit and things were rattling and shaking while climbing to altitude.  A quick check of the Active Sky 2106 weather map listed various airmets in the area which reported moderate turbulence which matched conditions in the simulator.  After passing 10,000', the landing lights were turned off and the final "after take-off" checklist was complete.  I began to enjoy the outside and wingviews of my new ride and the iconic Mt. Rainier was spotted off the right side of the aircraft.  Things finally smoothed out after clearing transition altitude and FL390 was quickly reached.  LNAV was finally captured as I neared the Baker City VOR (BKE) and now, it was time to sit back, relax, and enjoy the flight.  Much of the U.S. was covered in thick cloud cover with a few open areas in the clouds showing the snow covered terrain below the jet.  I departed Seattle's ATC coverage area and the remainder of the flight would be conducted on Unicom with a few text messages to other 747 pilots flying on the network. 

After a few hours at FL390, it was time to start preparing for the descent into KATL.  The airport was reporting winds out of the southwest at 4-5 knots and I entered the KOLTT1 STAR into the FMC with an ILS approach onto 26R.  Top of descent or TOD was reached and like the 777, the 747 allows "wind requests" from an Active Sky flight plan which is a nice feature.  The 747 handles very well in the descent, at least the few flights that I have completed to date.  The rate of descent and VNAV path was solid during the descent and the speed was handled very well.  A few other virtual pilots were also approaching KATL so I slowed my descent and extended my downwind to create plenty of time/space for my arrival.  I flew south of the Atlanta sky line as I continued my downwind approach to 26R and The Queen responded beautifully to the heading inputs, flap deployments, and further descent to 5,000' for the initial approach fix.  I turned base for 26R and the localizer was captured as the 747 turned onto course to capture the glideslope.  The glideslope was captured as further flap deployments were made and the landing gear was lowered, all while slowing down to final approach speed.  The airport was fully insight as the final landing checklist was completed.  The autopilot was disengaged and the descent down the glideslope was very steady with very few inputs needed on my part.  The auto throttle was left engaged during the approach and as the aircraft crossed the threshold, the sounds of the throttles moving to idle was very apparent as the airplane slowly touched down on the runway.  The spoilers deployed, reverse thrust was engaged and the 747 slowed very quickly for a quick exit to the left, vacating RWY 26R.  

I completed my taxi to the Delta hangars and the Delta folks were anxious to see one of their new birds delivered to the base.  The aircraft was quickly secured, emptied, and the shut down checklists were completed.  PMDG did a great job with their rendition of the 747 and I look forward to future flights with the iconic aircraft. I've had the opportunity to fly on 747's in real life during trips to the far east and I'm hoping to re-create my past flights with AirChina and United Airlines from the US to China in future blog posts.  Until then.........

Software Used:

FSX with DirectX 10 enabled (Steve's DX10 fixer)
PMDG 747 Queen of the Skies II
Active Sky 2016 with Active Sky Cloud Art
Orbx Pacific Northwest, Orbx North America OpenLC, Orbx Vector
Imaginesim KATL
Vpilot (VATSIM client)
VATSIM Network
REX Simulations Texture Direct 4 Sky Colors
Simbrief (flight planning)
EFASS Flight Bag
SmartCars ACARS
FlyVirtual (