Flight Simulator Co-Pilot

by Charles Gulick

Rock and a Hard Place

Cape Cod, MA (Local)

North: 17792. East: 22159. Altitude: 69. Pitch: 0. Bank: 0.
Heading: Cessna 8. Heading: Piper 355. Airspeed: 0.
Throttle: 0. Rudder: 32767. Ailerons: 32767. Flaps: 0.
Elevators: 32767. Time: 15:00. Season: 2. Clouds: 0.
Surface Wind: 17 kn., 60 deg.

Windy, isn't it?

Even though we're flying flight simulators, I nonetheless look askance at crashing. Yet I do crash once in a while—in part because I have to explore the limits of these machines and of the simulator geography in order to pass reliable information on to you. (Isn't that a beautiful excuse?)

In truth, I sometimes crash due to good old pilot error. I'm only human. But, having done an analysis of my crashes, I conclude that most have been the result of striving for perfection, which usually happens in one specific configuration: on final approach for a landing. My foremost pilot error is over-controlling in an attempt to cross the runway threshold perfectly lined up. I hate to land on the grass with a runway right there staring at me two or three feet away. The solution, of course, is to give priority to the quality of the landing rather than the precise lie of the runway.

But, as I've said before, landing the simulated Cessna or Piper is harder than landing the real thing, due mostly to the limitations of simulator perspective and to the inevitable lag in control response.

Takeoffs, on the other hand, rarely offer any problems and are about the same as prototype takeoffs—except for the one you're about to make.

Imagine that you were flying in this general area a couple of hours ago when sudden bad weather forced you to the ground. You made an emergency landing here on Race Point, at the tip of Cape Cod. The landing was fine—no damage. But now the weather has cleared, and you must get this airplane out of here. You are surrounded by sand dunes and patches of wild vegetation, and there is only one clear path for takeoff: straight ahead. (In Cessna, it looks just like a runway, and in Piper you will wish the clearing were moved a little further to the right.)

Your normal takeoff procedure will not work here. Take my advice: Don't try it. Imagine that you are not in a simulator but in a real aircraft. The emergency is real; if you crash into the water, you may die. And you will surely damage your airplane.

Here is what to do now: Prepare for the takeoff with your normal takeoff trim (two quick notches of up elevator), but put on two notches of flaps instead of one (that is 20 degrees in Cessna, 25 in Piper). Apply full power and then at 60 KIAS, instead of 80, rotate with two quick notches of elevator instead of one.

Wait a bit longer than usual to remove the back pressure you used for takeoff, and when you do, remember that you used two quick notches instead of one. Then dump your flaps a notch at a time. From there on everything is normal. Trim two additional notches down in Cessna, one in Piper, and you will be at operational neutral. Then reduce your power to 2105 in Cessna, and 2205 in Piper, and you should find yourself climbing at about 500 FPM.

Climb to 1500, then reduce power to fly straight and level. Reverse your direction, and head back toward Race Point. (In the real world there is an airport near Race Point, which you can find on maps or on the FAA sectional. But it isn't in the simulation, so we won't worry about it.)

We are going to follow the near shore of fishhook-shaped Cape Cod right around Cape Cod Bay to the mainland of Massachusetts. Use radar to line up with the shoreline, and try to fly far enough out so you can see Cape Cod out the left side as well as the front.

There really are lots of sand dunes down there, along with salt marshes, ponds, wild vegetation, patches of woods, and trails. And altogether there are five lighthouses just on the strip you are following.

The hooked shape of Cape Cod was created by glaciers that slid down from the north thousands of years ago. They carried with them boulders, stones, and other geologic debris, which were released when the glacier melted, forming this peninsula, which was then modified by centuries of wind and wave action.

Cape Cod used to be a haven for fishermen, whalers, and salt producers, and was the site of Guglielmo Marconi's first U.S. wireless station. On the Atlantic side is the main portion of the Cape Cod National Seashore, created by the U.S. government in 1961 to preserve the natural beauty of the area. There you can look on the limitless and timeless caprices of wave and weather.

Before you turn right to track the coastline, you will see two islands beyond Cape Cod. The one straight ahead is Nantucket, and to the right of that is Martha's Vineyard. The water is Nantucket Sound.

Now I'm going to show you how to use your two NAV systems to pinpoint a location, for a secret purpose I won't reveal just yet.

Tune NAV1 to Whitman VOR, 114.5, and center its OBI needle with a TO indication (making no turns yet, however).

Tune NAV2 to Martha's Vineyard VOR, 108.2, and center its OBI needle with a FROM indication. (You could use a TO radial here, but FROM fits the concept a bit better, and you will be flying away from the station at all times.)

When both OBI needles are centered, press the Pause key, and do the following:

Spread out your New York/Boston chart.

Using a pencil and a straightedge, draw a line intersecting the Whitman TO radial you are on, the center of the Whitman compass rose, and the resultant point on the Cape Cod shore. The line will, of course, split the Whitman compass rose in half.

Now draw another line, this time intersecting the Martha's Vineyard VOR, the FROM radial you are on, and the first line you drew.

Wherever in Cape Cod Bay or on the Cape Cod peninsula the lines intersect is precisely where you are at this moment. Press the Pause key, and take a look at radar to confirm the accuracy of your plot.

That's how, using two NAV systems and any two VOR stations within range, you can always determine your precise location on a sectional chart. So you see that the two NAVs are good for more than just backup.

Now, using the techniques you learned in an earlier chapter, do what you have to do to get on the 314 radial to Whitman, with the OBI needle centered. Go ahead and do that, and then come back.

Next, begin to include the NAV2 readings in your regular instrument scan and use the OBS to keep the OBI2 needle centered. (Be sure you are changing the NAV2 OBS, not the NAV1.)

Observe that because you are flying FROM Martha's Vineyard, the needle responds opposite to the usual direction. When it moves to the right, you are cranking the OBS left to center the needle again.

The Martha's Vineyard radial numbers decrease steadily as you correct, and your DME, which is indicating nautical miles from the Whitman OMNI, reads ever lower, naturally. There is no DME readout for NAV2.

Our ultimate destination is about 20 nautical miles from Whitman. Before too long, you will see the Boston metropolitan area on the right of your screen. But we are not going to Boston. You will also be able to spot Massachusetts State Highway 3, which roughly parallels the coastline.

You have a number of important jobs to keep up with: holding your altitude at 1500, keeping the OBI1 needle centered on the Whitman 314 radial, and regularly adjusting the Martha's Vineyard OBS to see what radial you're on. As you cross the 16 radial from the Martha's Vineyard VOR, immediately get into slowflight and prepare for a landing.

I realize there's no airport here, but trust me, and continue to follow my instructions.

Press the Pause key to get this straight: Our objective is to land as close as possible to the point at which the 314 radial from Whitman and the 10 radial from Martha's Vineyard intersect. This has nothing to do with the earlier lines you drew, but you can draw lines now to pinpoint the spot if you want to, though it won't help you land there. The elevation at the spot, which is marked only by our feverish staring, is about 590 feet. Make a full-flaps approach, and apply your brakes gently as soon as you're down. Press the Pause key now and shoot the landing.

How did you do?

If the upper OBI needle is centered on the 314 bearing and the Whitman OBI is centered on the 10 radial, you are amazing! And if you are off just a degree or two on either or both, you still did a fine job.

You can see that not only can two NAVs tell you exactly where you are, but flying them can put you exactly where you want to be, which in this case is the intersection of Whitman 314 and Martha's Vineyard 10.

So why did we land at this particular spot? Can you guess? Look out all sides. See anything?

Here are three clues: We took off from a hard place; this is a favored landing spot; and it has something, however remote, to do with Lee Iacocca.

Table of Contents | Previous Chapter | Next Chapter