Flight Simulator Co-Pilot

by Charles Gulick

Goose Run

Westlake Field, Redmond, WA (Local)

North: 21390. East: 6664. Altitude: 499. Pitch: 0. Bank: 0.
Heading: Cessna 191. Heading: Piper 189. Airspeed: 0.
Throttle: 0. Rudder: 32767. Ailerons: 32767. Flaps: 0.
Elevators: 32767. Time: 8:00. Season: 3. Clouds: 0.
Surface Wind: 3 kn., 185 deg.

Make sure your heading indicator reads 190 degrees. If not, press the Recall key.

If you have flown with me in my earlier books, you know I like to design and construct airports in unlikely places—like the one on Vancouver Island, Canada, surrounded by the Strait of Juan de Fuca, or the airstrip set in downtown New York in the shadow of the Manhattan Bridge. Awesome.

I don't just dash these off. The airport you're sitting on took me about four hours of intense cutting and trying before I made a single flight from it.

To be viable, a flying field (that's what I prefer to call these improvisations) must look like a place where you can reasonably take off and land. It has to be identifiable from the air and on radar. It can't be six miles long, because that encourages sloppy final approaches. It needs some environmental characteristics to distinguish it from an ordinary grass or pavement. It should be in an area where flying is rewarding, and esthetically pleasing.

That said, I present for your consideration: Westlake Field, Redmond, Washington.

First of all, this field is beautifully situated on the west shore of Lake Sammamish, which is why I call it Westlake Field. If you take a left front view out your window, you'll see famous Mt. Rainier across the water. You can get an idea of the size of the mountain when you realize that it is about 60 miles away. That snowcapped peak is nearly three miles high, which is higher than your “service ceiling”—the maximum altitude at which the aircraft is designed to perform reliably.

Looking 90 degrees to the left, you'll see that you're right at the water's edge, and a left rear view shows you two other mountains, Mt. Stuart (9470 feet) and Mt. Daniel (7986 feet).

Directly to the rear, you'll see how the threshold of the landing strip here at Westlake is clearly defined. Your touchdown point is just this side of where the bright green grass ends. In Cessna the landing area is dark green; in Piper it is black. And in both cases the left edge of what you can regard as Runway 19 is delineated by the shore of Lake Sammamish.

Go into radar now, and zoom to the altitude which just shows, at the very top of your screen, the shoreline taking an abrupt turn to the left. Notice how straight the “strip” you are on is, bearing exactly 190 degrees. Westlake Field is defined by the edge of the bright area behind you and the point at which the shore bends sharply left ahead of you.

Now zoom two notches higher up. You'll see all of Lake Sammamish, shaped like a galloping goose trying to take off. Notice that a highway—State 520—points in the general direction of your touchdown point. Zoom out another notch. The highway ahead of you at the south end of the lake is Interstate 90. Both 520 and I-90 join with north/south Interstate 405. Highway 520 continues and crosses Lake Washington as Evergreen Point Floating Bridge, and then connects with Interstate 5 (a little stretch of it is visible), which runs right through the center of Seattle.

Zoom out one more notch. You can still see the abstract goose. And now you see all of Lake Washington and a long stretch of I-5. Note also that I-90, ahead of you, touches down on Mercer Island and continues to the edge of the Seattle metropolitan area, stopping short of I-5.

The water on the right side of your screen, beyond Lake Washington, is Puget Sound. Zoom out another notch to see more of it. You'll also see white spots, which represent two major area airports. The nearer one, at about one o'clock, is Boeing Field International, also known as King County Airport. The one close to the shore of Puget Sound is Seattle/Tacoma International. And the forked tributary well to the right on your screen is Hood Canal.

It's time now to see what Westlake looks like from the air. Get ready for your takeoff. We'll overfly the area this first time and get the feel of the geography. Since the field elevation is 499 feet, we'll fly at a pattern altitude of 1500. But we'll extend the normal pattern to see the sights.

Take off. Don't forget to dump your flaps and back off your power to 2105 RPM in Cessna and 2250 RPM in Piper as you climb out. But except for canceling the up elevator you used to rotate, don't trim down. We'll soon be transitioning to slowflight.

Climb straight ahead on your upwind (takeoff) heading, reducing your power to 1905 RPM in Cessna and 1950 RPM in Piper as you pass through 1000 feet. Take a look behind you at the strip you left, that sharp little area on the edge of the water, just this side of the thin patch of bright green.

At about 1400, reduce your power to 1505 RPM in Cessna and 1200 RPM in Piper and trim for slowflight. Meanwhile, what's that highway you crossed as you climbed? And what's that one ahead of you, streaking along the water?

Look 90 degrees to the right. Isn't that beautiful? I-90 zipping across Lake Washington, crossing Mercer Island on the way. On the far shore, I-5 travels south with you. And there is lots of placid water everywhere.

Directly out front, a runway has been taking shape. It's Renton Municipal, at the southern tip of Lake Washington. I-405 along that stretch is called Renton Freeway and goes straight through the city.

When the loop of lake this side of Renton Municipal is about in the middle of your screen, make a standard-rate left turn to a heading of 100 degrees (use your regular notch of back pressure to avoid losing altitude, then take it off when you level the wings).

Go into radar and zoom around until you can see the runway at Renton clearly, complete with centerline. (In Piper it will be way over in the righthand corner.) Then press the Pause key and study the display.

Knowledge of the major highways and other landmarks in an area is more than just useful, it's indispensable. When you're flying contact—using landmarks rather than radio and other aids for navigating—familiarity with an area can point you where you want to go, or help you orient yourself if you're lost.

As you know, runways in the simulator become visible only at the last moment, particularly if they are not part of a major airport. If you're sightseeing over a sizable piece of geography, it is easy to lose track of your position in relation to the airport you left (and want to get back to) and even of the general direction in which it lies. But if you know the area, in the sense of recognizing major landmarks and how they're aligned, you can fly the way we're trying to learn to fly—with precision and confidence and, ultimately, with real expertise.

Reflect then, as you study this radar display, that Runway 15/33 at Renton Municipal points at the southern tip of Lake Washington. Mercer Island (whether or not you can see it on the display at the moment) lies in the center of the southern half of Lake Washington. Interstate 405, the Renton Freeway, skirts the eastern shore of Lake Washington and connects with I-90, which runs east and west and traverses the southern end of Lake Sammamish before it crosses Lake Washington via Mercer Island and enters Seattle. Try to “see” this kind of information and to think it while you're flying. Talk to yourself if that helps.

Press the Pause key to resume flying and get out of radar. Take a look 90 degrees to your left. There you see I-90 at this end of Sammamish, and at the far side of Sammamish, on the west side of the lake, is the little patch of green that marks the threshold of Runway 19 at Westlake Field.

Shortly you'll see another airport to your left, just across the highway at the eastern tip of the lake. That's Issaquah. When it's under your wing, turn left heading 10 degrees. As you level off, take a look 45 degrees to the left. Can you spot Westlake? If you can't, keep trying, switching to a 90-degree left view as you fly along. Keep looking left. But don't forget to do your instrument scan. Does your airspeed look right for slowflight? Are you straight and level? Is your altitude 1500? Is your heading where you want it?

When the northern extremity of Lake Sammamish (remember you're heading in the north quadrant) is about in the center of your left window, turn left again, this time to a heading of 280.

Take a look on radar and get the whole of Lake Sammamish on the display. Can you see Westlake now, just beyond the bright notch of grass, that little straight strip right along the goose's back?

Take a look out the left front of the aircraft. Can you see Westlake? Remember that the little strip of State Highway 520 almost points to it.

Switch to a 90-degree view out the left side, and watch the bright green patch come into position, telling you where the threshold is. You're flying an extended base leg. Using your best judgment, turn left to put yourself on a long final for 19. Put on carb heat and a notch of flaps, and get lined up for the threshold, just beyond the bright green and pointed right along the edge of the water.

Go through the rest of your approach and landing procedures to suit your configuration. Don't touch down before you cross the threshold. Use power to drag it in if you have to, and don't get too close to the water—but just close enough.

When you stop, take a look to your left and see how your relationship to the water compares to that of your original takeoff position. Press the Recall key when you're ready, and see the relationship exactly.

Now, if you feel like it, fly a few standard (non-extended) patterns here at Westlake. I'll get out of the airplane first, because I have a call to make. You see, what I didn't tell you about my motivation in creating Westlake Field is that this airport is virtually in the backyard of Microsoft Corporation and Microsoft Press. They are right here in Redmond, just a short distance from where we're sitting. Though I live in Florida, better than 3400 miles away, I can land here anytime I want, visit Microsoft, and say hello to my editors.

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