A Flight Simulator Odyssey

by Charles Gulick


Chart: Jacksonville
Ground Coordinates:
   Aircraft: N12255, E17942
   Tower: N12254.549, E17936.397
   Aircraft: 0
   Tower: 86
Heading: 350
Time: Daylight

There's a little island and fishing village called Cedar Key in the Gulf of Mexico. Get out your chart and eyeball a line due south from the Cross City VOR compass rose. The line will cross a river, the Suwannee, and then intersect a little bump of mainland. Just below the bump you'll see a dot in the Gulf. That's Cedar Key.

My idea for this scenario is to fly to Cedar Key, following the Gulf coastline, and put the airplane down somewhere on that dot. I haven't done it, and I don't know if we can do it, or whether Cedar Key is even simulated. But I want to try it. You with me?

The threshold for the active runway, 27, is just ahead, and we're cleared to taxi into position and take off. Your maximum cruise configuration is called for on this flight.

Climb out to 500 feet on the runway heading and then turn left to 150 degrees. We'll cruise at 1500 feet. When you're at that altitude you'll have your first view of the Gulf of Mexico (at least in Odyssey ).

Shortly you'll see two rivers--the Aucilla and the Wacissa--joining to flow together into the Gulf. When you're over the big water, fly a heading of 125 degrees, keeping the shoreline to your left.

Tallahassee (which we just departed in case you were wondering) is the capital city of Florida. Most of the land you can see to your left is uncultivated forest and swampland, but there's good fishing in the Gulf waters, particularly for red snapper, mullet and grouper.

Florida has the longest coastline of any state except Alaska. The Gulf and Atlantic Ocean coastlines together add up to 1350 miles. Wherever you might be in the Sunshine State, you are never more than 100 miles from the sea.

The shoreline is quite uneven, but just average it. A heading of about 145 should do nicely. Out the left side and on your map you can see that you're paralleling a highway, Alt U.S. 27, which is also U.S. 19 and U.S. 98. It should be possible to spot Foley Airport along the way, but I haven't seen it so far. And the next airport checkpoint will be Cross City, after which spotting the Suwannee River will be critical to our identifying and confirming Cedar Key. (If, again, you've been wondering, yes, the Suwannee is the river Stephen Foster had in mind in Old Folks At Home, though in fact he never laid eyes on it.)

Just as I finished writing the line above, I see the river ahead. Almost at the same moment, Cross City is visible out the left side, though it virtually merges with the highway.

When you know you have the river spotted, point to cross it exactly at the shoreline where the river meets the Gulf. Then, as you cross the triangular island formed by the mouths of the river, yaw right to a heading of about 160 degrees. That's what I'm doing, and that should point us to Cedar Key if the chart is reasonably accurate, and if the island is really there.

And indeed there is what appears to be an island out there. My heading at the moment is 158 degrees. And yes, I can see Cedar Key on my map, too.

I suggest we fly around the island first, and take stock of the landing possibilities. When you get near it, fly to the right of it, heading about 175 degrees. Get it off your left wingtip and then fly a wide-ranging turn-around-a-point, using a gentle bank that keeps the island constantly in view out the left side. If it moves toward the rear, steepen the bank a bit. Practice holding the island precisely where you want it under your wingtip.

Cedar Key looks easily big enough to accommodate a landing in any of several directions on its triangular shape. The base (of the triangle) runs 90 degrees to the shoreline, and I vote we land along the base, and to the northeast--in other words toward the shore. Why? Because that's the shortest side, and I know you like the toughest possible assignments. The "runway," then, is on a bearing of, say, 50 degrees, so we'll call it Runway 05.

Wherever you are now, slow down, get your gear down, and start thinking in pattern terms. Where are you in relation to Runway 05? Just how will you fly a pattern that puts you on final for that runway? Do your arithmetic and your other skullwork and go ahead and land. Then come back and I'll tell you what I did.

(I don't know the elevation here, but I'd assume it's something around 25 feet.)

I was east and north of the island and upwind, heading 045 degrees, when I wrote the foregoing two paragraphs. I slowed down, dropped my gear, and started losing some altitude. Then I turned left (crosswind, heading 320) and watched the island pass by out the left side. When it was a little to the rear of my left wingtip, I turned downwind, heading 230 degrees, and again examined the landing area out the left side, imagining a runway along the edge of the water. I extended the downwind leg to give myself plenty of time to turn base (140 degrees) and final (050 degrees) and get lined up. Figuring I had plenty of runway length, but not knowing the field elevation, I made a slow, flat airline approach, using just 10 degrees of flaps.

I landed uneventfully and came to a stop about halfway up the "strip." I checked the altimeter, and found the elevation was about 89 feet--considerably higher than my guess. I had hoped to be closer to the shore, but played it safe so I wouldn't wind up in the drink.

Speaking of which, I could use one.

But isn't an improvised landing like that, on an unknown bit of geography, beautiful to fly? And where else but in the simulator could we do it?

This little village is famous for seafood, so in your honor we'll go to a seafood restaurant. But I have to tell you that the only seafood I eat is oysters and canned tuna. Right now I'd give you all the lobster and shrimp in the world for one good tunafish sandwich.

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