Flight Simulator Co-Pilot

by Charles Gulick

Space Nocturne

Roswell, NM Industrial to El Paso, TX Int'l

Scenery Disk 2.
North: 13907. East: 10580. Altitude: 3671. Pitch: 0. Bank: 0.
Heading: 300. Airspeed: 0. Throttle: 0. Rudder: 32767.
Ailerons: 32767. Flaps: 0. Elevators: 32767. Time: 17:10.
Season: 1. Clouds: 0. Surface Wind: 8 kn., 290 deg.

Press the Pause key as soon as you confirm that you're lined up for Runway 30 here at Roswell. It's dusk, and in 20 minutes it will be night, and we want to save all the daylight we can for our flight to El Paso.

But first something about Roswell, New Mexico.

It's hard to believe that it was 60 years ago, in 1926, that Robert Hutchings Goddard, the great American physicist, fired the world's first liquid-fuel rocket, eventually earning a Guggenheim grant to set up a developmental station near where you're parked here in Roswell. It was a small rocket by today's standards, but Goddard's contribution to what was to become America's space program is incalculable. He developed most of the fundamental ideas behind modern rocketry, and among his more than 200 patents is one for a multistage rocket. Yet, sadly, he died in 1945 before his work was recognized by the U.S. government. By that time, German scientists under Wernher von Braun had developed the liquid-fueled V2 which carried an explosive warhead weighing a ton—the ancestor of our modern space rockets.

Curiously, the first rocket-engine flight to carry a human being was that of Fritz von Opel, the German manufacturer of the Opel automobile. Just three years after Goddard's historic rocket launch, on September 30, 1929, Opel went aloft in his own small rocket-powered craft, covering nearly two miles in a flight of 75 seconds. This is a fact largely overlooked.

Pioneer Goddard's early rockets are on display in the Roswell Museum and Art Center.

Press the Pause key again, and tune your NAV to the Piñon VOR, named for the little New Mexico town in which it is situated. Center your OBI to see what TO radial you're on at present. Then press the Pause key again.

Maybe I should mention that you could take off and then fly to get on the radial indicated by your OBS now, which is probably 206. An alternative is to reset for a more convenient radial once you're airborne, which is the procedure we'll follow this time.

If you look at your Albuquerque/El Paso sectional chart you'll see why we're using Piñon: The Newman OMNI, five or six miles north of our El Paso destination, is out of range at this distance. In such cases we use the VORs as stepping stones, particularly when we have poor visual references, as we will on this flight.

Speaking of visual references, let's get going while we still have some daylight. Take off and climb to 4500. Our cruise altitude will be 6500. But as soon as you're at 4500, re-center your OBI needle and get on the indicated radial for Piñon.

Take a look at the metro area of Roswell on your right as you climb out. Keep your climb rate as close to 500 FPM as possible.

When you reset your OBS, you'll discover that there's only a minor difference in radials. You could as easily fly to the 206 as to the—what? I'm getting on the 204 now, so I have obviously flown only two degrees from the original. Anyway, just so we'll all be in the same situation, fly the 204 radial.

As your altitude increases, don't let your rate of climb slip away. Add power as needed. And when you level off at 6500, don't be in a hurry. If you back off your power too much, you'll quickly drop below your cruise level. Easy does it, and watch your VSI and altimeter. They'll tell you what's happening if you monitor them.

Remember the alternative of elevator trim to maintain altitude, and remember that the preferred trim in such instances is one notch down, which results in better airspeed.

Before you've been at altitude very long, the bleak landscape ahead will brighten a bit as a highway comes into view. It's north/south Interstate 25, and it will probably relieve us of having to fly in absolute blackness even when night falls in a few minutes.

Besides your altitude, don't let the OBI needle get away from you. Never hesitate to correct for something you know is wrong. Sometimes a flight like this weaves a hypnotic spell, and you think your only responsibility is to sit there while the airplane flies itself. It doesn't. You have wind to contend with and a relatively difficult altitude to manage. So contend with it and manage it.

When night comes, the blackness ahead becomes velvety, doesn't it? Turn off your lights for a moment, just to see everything reduced to its maximum simplicity. With such visual austerity and its accompanying loneliness, you could be thousands of miles out in space.

Why do you have to keep correcting to the right all the time to stay on the 204 radial? Well, you have an eight-knot wind from 290 degrees, so it is hitting you just about broadside, trying to blow you over to the adjacent spoke. Once you get pointed in the right direction, though (which isn't on a heading of 204), you will be able to keep the needle centered fairly easily. You'll be crabbing—moving slightly sideways through the air with your nose pointed to the right of your actual direction.

When your DME reads five miles from Piñon, tune to Newman VOR on a frequency of 112.4, and get on a new heading inbound for that station. The “prototype” radial (the one I'm flying) is 230. But suit yourself.

As you flew by Piñion, incidentally, you were in a sort of valley between the Guadalupe and the Sacramento mountains, both part of the Lincoln National Forest.

Aren't you pretty proud of yourself and the skills you have developed? Here you are flying entirely on instruments (unless you want to call that white line a visual reference) in solid command of your airplane, knowing exactly what you're doing, where you are, and where you're going. You are truly on top of things.

About now you're over the sprawling Fort Bliss Military Reservation. Also about now, or very shortly, you'll be able to check your radar and see El Paso on 1-25 (which changes numbers to I-10 going south and east out of the city, near the top of your display).

Slightly less than 50 miles out, the city will begin to be perceptible on your screen, as a break in the highway. If you like, you can use a combination of your front and radar views to take over visually from here. Head for the approximate center of the city, because that is where El Paso International is.

The city of El Paso is just inside the western tip of Texas and just this side of the Mexican border, which is delineated by the Rio Grande River. You're flying to the tiniest piece of Texas you'll ever see. Airport elevation is 3956 feet, so you won't need to start your letdown very far out.

There are three strips at El Paso International, which means there are six runways. Get out your Scenery Disk airport information and decide which runway you're going to land on.

And get plenty of sleep tonight. Tomorrow we're flying north from El Paso, and I am going to introduce you to some fancy, advanced airwork.

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