registered: Jan. 2006
last visit: 09.12.17
One of the problems with flying here with SPA is epitomized by a line from a fast food TV commercial that ran in my neck of the woods a couple of years back..."too much good stuff". We truly have something for every taste. So, without meaning to distract you from John's latest adventure Pack, I'd like to draw your attention to another of his recent creations: the Econ Module. The basic idea is to engage you in an effort to earn money for SPA through your piloting skills. I should point out that it will be virtual money, just like our virtual piloting skills. There are three sets of flights that currently qualify originating in Minneapolis, Ketchikan and Juneau. For each of these specified flights you will select the aircraft the fuel and cargo load and execute the flight using your best skills. The profit you earn will be determined by how skillfully you fly and land your aircraft and by your ability to execute the flight within the specified fuel and load constraints(see the instructions available from the Cargo Econ page). But here's the catch: once you commit to the flight, there are no do overs, just like a real flight, and your results are going to get posted on the Econ page. If you are anything like me, this ups the ante quite a bit, because any mistake I make has the potential to cost me (and SPA) money. So, instead of jumping in, firing her up and seeing how it goes, I'm more inclined to do what I should be doing if I were flying in the so called RW. This starts with looking closely at the enroute and destination weather, do I need to worry about icing, will there be a crosswind at my destination, will I have to file IFR, is ATC vectoring available? I am also more careful about choice of aircraft; can it reliably land at the destination strip, does it have the needed navaids? I also pay close attention to the fuel load; either too much or too little can cost me. And once I start the takeoff roll, I know that I need to be paying close attention; am I hitting my fuel burn numbers, am I confident I have the needed terrain avoidance on both climb out and approach? When I start the approach I am looking to set her down gently to keep the passengers happy and if I can't stabilize the approach I'm more inclined to go around. If I still can't get a good approach, maybe I should opt for my alternate, whopps, did I plan analternate, have I got adequate fuel? You get the idea.
So, I have done six of these so far, all out of Ketchikan in real, current weather (It's November, you know). So far so good. I've managed to avoid an embarassing crash or super hard landing and I've managed to come in within the acceptable fuel limits. The first few flights were pretty simple; fair VFR conditions and visual approaches to adequate airstrips. Yesterday that all began to change. When I came out to the strip in western British Columbia it was raining and the air temperature was -2 C with a dew point of -3 C. In other words, I'd be experiencing freezing rain right after takeoff. I know that this aircraft will ice, because it's brought me down before. Fortunately my Twotter has de-icing boots and I fired them up before takeoff. On top of that, inspection of the terrain map I had from Plan G showed that the Costal Mountains (rising to over 7000') stood between me and my destination (Ketchikan), but the map didn't contain enough altitude data that I could use to ensure that my rate of climb would be adequate to get over them on a direct flight. You probably know that you can get the Alaska sectionals on Skyvector.com, but they don't have the Canadian sectionals and I don't know of an internet source. I have actually purchased paper copies of the Alaska sectionals for my flight simming, but I don't have the Canadian maps, except for the Alaska Highway sectional (I ordered three additional Canadian sectional yesterday for the rest of these Ketchikan and Juneau based flight). What to do? The safe answer would have been to route myself via lo-altitude airways around the mountains, but that's not what I did. My Twin Otter has a pretty good rate of climb and in the event the weather (FEW 500, SCT 800, BKN 3000, OVC 7000) was JUST broken enopugh to allow me to see my way around the mountain peaks on my climb out (see the photos I've posted to see what I mean). If the weather had been any worse and I had gone VFR direct, I would have probably flown into one of them without ever seeing it. Lesson learned. If you don't have hard data to plan your departure (or approach), opt for a safe, circuitous route, just like you would if your life were at stake
So, the rest of the flight was routine, all the numbers looked nominal and I was making good progress. As I neared Ketchikan it became obvious that I would be making an instrument approach. I had filed IFR, so I had two choices. I could accept ATC vectors to ILS 11 at PAKT, or I could cancel IFR and use one of the GPS approach procedures in the Twotters GPS. Unfortunately, the database in that particular GPS is not up to date (it doesn't update with my Navigraph downloads). As a consequence the approach waypoints are different from those on my (current) Navigraph approach plates. This makes selection of an appropriate approach problematic, to say the least. So, I opted for ATC vectors. Big Mistake! Do you know why? Because the FSX ATC has the world's stupidest routing algorithim, which takes you around Robin Hood's barn on any approach. The result was a significant increase in the route mileage for this flight, which was based on a VFR direct route with a short, compact final. See the Plan G photos I posted. This meant that I had underplanned the fuel for the flight and and that I landed with only 0.54 Hrs of fuel remaining, just above the 0.5 Hr minimum to avoid an under-fuel penalty. If I had to do a go around, I would have been busted.
That notwithstanding, the rest of the approach went well, at first. I captured the localizer and ATC cleared me to an appropriate altitude to intercept the localizer at 4100', just about 13.5 Mi from IECH. The localizer armed and then acquired and then the GS armed, so I figured I was in good shape. I watched as the glide slope indicators appeared on the PFD and then descended to the horizon and passed on through it. WTF? Then I remembered that I hadn't remembered to set the altitude level in the AP to the runway threshold. How many times have I forgotten that? By the time I had that figured out, I was above the GS and the AP wouldn't/couldn't acquire it. I was still in zero visibility and couldn't see anything, but I knew I was short on fuel and didn't want to call a go-around with ATC and be routed out for a long approach. So, I went back to altitude mode and cranked in 0000' feet and dialed up a 1000 fpm descent rate, hoping to overtake the GS. In the event I just got under the GS before I broke through the ceiling at 1700' and managed to reacquire the GS just before I disconnected the AP for a visual landing. Whew, that was close.
If I hadn't been flying under Econ Mode, I might have decided to go around, or to chance it with a GPS approach, or just to ditch the flight and try again in better weather. As it was, I stuck it out and prevailed, but with less margin than I would have liked.
So, for my money, the Econ Mode is great because it ups the ante and makes you treat your flight more like you would if you were a "real" pilot. What's not to like?