Learning to Fly with Flight Simulator

by John Rafferty

Phase 2: Runway Logic and Taxiing

You have completed your routine walk-around check of the aircraft, have ceremoniously kicked the left-hand tire before climbing aboard, and now are ready to taxi.

But before you start to move, you first have to figure out where you are and where you're supposed to go. This is easy, however, if you can use your gyro compass—and if you understand how airport runways are numbered.


Runway Numbers. The number of any runway indicates that runway's compass heading. Just add a zero to the end of the runway number, and you know which way it runs.

If a runway is identified as Runway 31, for example, that means you'd have a compass heading of (approximately) 310° while landing on or taking off from that runway.

When used in the opposite direction, the same strip of concrete will be called Runway 13. That is, 310° minus 180° equals 130° (or 31 minus 18 equals 13).

Similarly, Runway 4 would have a compass heading of about 040° (zero four zero degrees), and when used in the opposite direction the same physical strip of concrete would be referred to as Runway 22, with a heading of 220° (two two zero degrees).

Airport Diagram. Now get the overhead radar view on the screen and zoom in or out as required to put it into perspective (on the 68000, from the NAV menu select Map Display and then Zoom.). Then turn to Chapter 5, the Airport Approach section, where you'll find the official Airport Diagram for John F. Kennedy International. The airports appear alphabetically by location, so you'll find it under New York. Notice that the simulator's portrayal of the airport runway and taxistrip layout is surprisingly accurate.

Runway Layout. From the chatter on the COM radio, it seems likely that we'll be taking off on Runway 31 Left. This implies that there are two parallel runways with the number 31—Runway 31R and Runway 31L. Our present heading is 310°, so we must be sitting parallel to the two parallel runways in question. Runway 31 Left has to be the one parallel to us on the left, while 31 Right is over on the other side of the airport.

Taxiing. To taxi in a professional manner, you'll first increase power enough to get the aircraft rolling, then ease back on the throttle and let the airplane coast at an appropriate speed; taxi patiently, and use the time to check your panel and prepare yourself mentally for the departure. Note that the nose wheel steering will be a little sluggish as you taxi; you'll have to think ahead and move the stick a little bit in advance.

Final Checks. When you've been cleared to take off from a specified runway, you'll taxi out, line up perfectly with the centerline stripe, then do as the airline captains usually do and stop for your final checks:

From the Right-Hand Seat

This is a controlled field with a 24-hour operating control tower, so before you taxi you need to call Ground Control and find out where to go.

Let's go through all the prescribed procedures. Be on your toes, because the controller has no time to spare: His transmissions will be clear, but they'll be crisp and very rapid.

Pilot: Kennedy Ground, Piper Three Zero Four Six Foxtrot.
ATC: Four Six Foxtrot Kennedy go ahead.
Pilot: Ground, Four Six Fox for Bridgeport, ready to taxi.

ATC: Four Six Foxtrot cleared to taxi for Runway Three One Left hold short of the active.

Pilot: Four Six Foxtrot thank you.

Hmmm. Now what?

Taxiing for Takeoff. You will take off on 31 Left, so you need to make a U-turn from here and taxi back to get in position at the start of the runway; hold short of the runway, as directed, which means stop and wait for clearance before taxiing out into position for takeoff.

So, add a touch of power and begin to taxi forward, then throttle back and coast. With the aircraft moving slowly ahead, hold the stick to the left to make a 180° U-turn.

When you've completed the U-turn and are parallel to the runway again, turn slightly right or left as required until your gyro compass indicates 130°, then note that now the reciprocal readout is 310°.

Turn right again, so as to enter the taxi strip that leads into Runway 31, and be prepared to stop. (It's usually desirable to begin your takeoff roll from the threshold at the start of the runway, but this is a busy airport and this runway is more than two miles long, so you can accept the controller's instructions and start from the taxi-strip intersection.) Unless you did so while taxiing, you now complete your engine run-up, while waiting for takeoff clearance.

ATC: Four Six Foxtrot contact Kennedy Tower on one one niner point one. So long.
Pilot: Four Six Fox.

We've received our hand-off to the tower, so you switch frequencies now and let them know you're alive.

Pilot: Kennedy Tower, Piper Three Zero Four Six Foxtrot.
ATC: Four Six Foxtrot Kennedy cleared for takeoff Runway Three One Left. Visibility fifteen. Altimeter three zero point two zero. Wind three zero zero degrees at three. Caution wake turbulence.

Pilot: Four Six Fox.

The visibility is fifteen miles, the altimeter setting—which is the barometric pressure—is 30.20, the wind is 3 knots from heading 300°, almost from straight ahead, and we're told to be careful about possible turbulent gusts from heavy aircraft in the vicinity.

Pre-Takeoff. You're cleared for takeoff, which means the runway now belongs to you—so take your time.

Add a touch of power, taxi onto the runway, and turn right. Cut the power again, and begin to apply the brakes as you line up in the center of the runway and stop. (When the runway has a white centerline stripe, line up directly on that centerline.)

The runway heading of 310°, as we determined from the runway number 31, is only approximate: In this case, a heading of about 315° rather than 310° will get you pointed straight down the center.

When you're lined up correctly, complete your final checks:

Now you're ready to go.

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