Cross Country

by Alfred Poor


Flight 1

Airport Hopscotch

It’s a beautiful day in the Pacific Northwest; too good a day to waste indoors. So you decide to drive on over to Olympia Airport and go flying. When you check in at the local FBO, you discover that your favorite Cessna is due back from a lesson any minute now, and it is not booked to go out again until noon. It’s almost 11:00 am, however, so you will have to have it back on the ground in an hour.

Sounds like a perfect day to play “airport hopscotch”!

The Art of Going Nowhere

Airport hopscotch is a game with loosely-defined rules. The basic object is to try to land at as many airports on one trip as you can. Some pilots add their own restrictions, such as it only counts if you land at an airport where you have never landed before. In this case, we’ve added the one-hour trip limit, and we’ll impose some other restrictions in a minute.

The portion of the sectional shows a lot of airports located to the north and east of Olympia. Fortunately, most of these are also included in the FS5.1 default scenery for the Seattle area. The two major exceptions are the Gray and McChord military airfields. Since the residents of these two locations might take exception to being included in your game of hopscotch, it is just as well that they are not included in the scenery. Notice, however, that there are Restricted and MOA (Military Operations Area) airspace indications associated with these two airfields on the sectional, so you will have to take them into account in your planning.

Unlike most Cross Country flights, I will not provide a VFR Flight Log for this trip. It is your responsibility to figure out which airports you are going to try to fly to, and in which sequence. To help you figure out your route, I have included a table of information about the four airports that are within reach that you might want to consider. The listings are arranged in alphabetical order. To simplify matters, I will assume that all landings (except your return to Olympia) and take-offs will be made on northerly runways.

Making Plans

You’ll depart from Runway 35 at Olympia, which will start you off in the right direction. But where will you go from there?

Spend a moment with the sectional and the airport table to plan your route. If you decide to go for Tacoma Narrows first, you can take a straight shot at it after take-off; the heading should be about 15º or so.

If you decide to head for one of the other three fields first, however, you will need to skirt the MOA and Restricted airspaces. (According to the Seattle sectional, the MOA is only in use intermittently from 2,000 to 9,000 feet, but the Restricted areas extend from the surface to 5,000 or 14,000 feet, and some parts are in use from 7:00 am to 11:00 pm on weekdays, so I’ll just play it safe and advise that you simply stay away from there.) If you stay to the northwest of the 25º outbound radial of the Olympia VOR (113.4) until you cross Interstate I-5, you’ll stay clear of the restricted space. Then you can turn to a heading of about 60º to head for the airports in that direction.


Notice also that the Seattle Class B airspace sits above all four target airports, but the floor is at 6,000 feet (3,000 over Tacoma Narrows) so it should not be a factor since you won’t want to waste time climbing up that high. There is a Class D airspace associated with the two military airfields and Tacoma Narrows, going up to 2,800 feet, but since we would need to enter those airspaces in order to reach Spanaway or Tacoma Narrows, we’ll assume that the controllers will give us free passage when we need it. In real life, you would have to contact the tower each time you wanted to pass through, or you’d have to climb over the airspace.

You also need to consider in which sequence you will visit the airports. Here are some tips to keep in mind. You can’t make it to all four and still get back in time (at least, not without breaking some of the other rules we’ll set for your flight). Since we will require that you obey traffic patterns, think about which sequence will put you on the correct side for the next airport’s pattern. For each approach (except the last), you must join the downwind leg on a 45-degree angle starting from outside the pattern (no crossing, mid-field entries permitted).

On your return leg, remember to stay clear of the Restricted airspace, and as you approach Olympia, you can assume that the Tower has cleared you for a straight-in landing on Runway 17. If you’re down and stopped (and in one piece) before the clock ticks over to 12:00, then you’ve successfully completed your game of hopscotch.

Rules of the Game

Okay, now for the extra rules. You’ll start at Olympia, ready for take-off on Runway 35, at 11:00 am. For all take-offs, you must fly the runway heading until you are at least 500 feet AGL (above ground level) before leaving the pattern and turning onto your course heading. You should then climb to the pattern altitude for your next destination before leveling off.

Airport Hopscotch Airports

Airport (1)

Runway Hdg

Runway Dimensions


Pattern Alt. (2)

1.Pierce Co. /Thun Field


3650 x 60



2.Shady Acres


1800 x 20


1225 Right



2724 x 20


985 Right

4.Tacoma Narrows


5002 x 150



(1) Numbers correspond to airports marked on the sectional.

(2) Note that Runway 34 at both Shady Acres and Spanaway calls for a right hand traffic pattern; the other two use a standard left hand pattern.

Even though this is a rental plane and you’re only paying by the hour for “wet” time (which means that the cost of fuel is included—you don’t pay extra for the gas you burn), the FBO is not going to want to rent to you again if you burn up the engine or bend any metal. Therefore, you must not exceed 140 knots (indicated) at any time during your trip.

Also in the interest of safety, you may not make any turns steeper than a 30º angle. Honor your aircraft’s limitations, and do not lower the flaps until the airspeed is in the white arc of the indicator (95 knots or lower).

Each landing must be to a full stop, and you must remain on the pavement from the time you touch down until you come to a stop. (And a full-stop landing that results in an airplane in many pieces does not count.) Some of the runways are narrow, and since you must take off in the same direction as you land—to the north—you may have to leave the pavement to back taxi to the end where you landed.

Tips for Success

Aside from working out a careful plan in advance, the most important factor for success is precise flying skills. Don’t waste time by wandering off your heading or altitude. Trim your airplane for maximum (permitted) speed in cruise, then adjust your engine controls to maintain the desired altitude.

And don’t rush your approach. Give yourself plenty of time and distance to set up a stabilized approach on final. Landing at Pierce County or Tacoma Narrows isn’t too difficult, since they are long and wide. But Shady Acres and Spanaway are narrow, and Shady Acres is also short. If you come in with excess airspeed or are not lined up, you’ll almost certainly have to go around and lose precious time. A successful slow approach takes much less time than two high-speed attempts.

Keep in mind that the visual cues for narrow and short runways are different from the air than for bigger ones, so you may find yourself lower and faster than you intend to be. Pay close attention to your instruments as well as what you see out the window, and fly by the numbers.

Before You Fly

Now all you have to do is set your location and instruments, and you’ll be ready to go. First, let’s put your plane at the end of Runway 35 at Olympia. Choose the Set Exact Location... command from the World menu. In the resulting dialog box, enter the following items:

North/South Lat.:  N046 57 51.0728
East/West Lon.:     W122 54 21.3902
Altitude (feet):        209

Heading:                350

Choose OK. Also on the World menu, choose the Set Exact Time and Season... command. In the resulting dialog box, choose Set Exact Time, and then set Local Hours to 11 and Local minutes to 00.

Choose OK. Now, using either the mouse, keyboard shortcuts, or menus, set your flight instruments. Set NAV1 to 113.4 (the Olympia VOR) and its OBS heading to 25. (If you want some help finding Spanaway, set NAV2 to 109.60—the McChord VOR—and its OBS heading to 110, since Spanaway is located near that radial, about 4 nm. from the VOR.) And since you’ll be flying within the 30 nm. veil of the Seattle Class B airspace, make sure that you have your transponder on and set for the correct squawk code for VFR flight: 1200.


Good luck at your game of airport hopscotch; it’s a great way to learn to fly your airplane precisely and have fun at the same time. Remember that you can use the same objective and rules for other areas of the FS5.1 scenery to play the game there.

                   < Situation file: XC-SE1

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