A Flight Simulator Odyssey

by Charles Gulick

Bridges Very Far

Chart: Miami
Ground Coordinates:
   Aircraft: N11239 (11239.413), E18695 (18694.479)
   Tower: N11205.159, E18630.553 (at destination)
   Aircraft: 0
   Tower: 14 Heading: 308 (272)
Time: Daylight

Did I remember to thank you for letting me stop off at Orlando, so I could visit Walt Disney World and get my Mickey Mouse t-shirt? How do you think it looks on me?

No, I'm not sorry I asked.

On this flight we'll take a good look at the Tampa-St. Petersburg area from the air. This is a fine section of Florida for local flights, with its bridges and causeways, intricately shaped shorelines, and numerous airports with over-water approaches. We'll cover many miles (don't undertake this flight unless and until you're in the mood for a long one), but we'll land only a short distance from here, at St. Petersburg's Clearwater Inter-national.

We're cleared for takeoff on Runway 27, so proceed.

As you climb out you'll see the Courtney Campbell Causeway off to your left, paralleling the shore. A little distance ahead it bends to the left. Follow the causeway, which connects Tampa and Clearwater across Old Tampa Bay. Plan to level off at 1000 feet.

Note that this structure has a centerline, and casts a shadow.

Keep going straight ahead when the causeway ends, and fly to the far shore and a bit out over the Gulf of Mexico, until you see no shoreline if you take a view directly down. Then turn left to a heading of about 183 degrees.

Out the left side now is Clearwater International. Ahead and to your left you'll see what looks like a string of islands. At the near end are Redington Beach and Madeira Beach. Farther south are Treasure Island, Long Key, and St. Petersburg Beach. The bay they create is Boca Chiega Bay. As you cross it, about where it meets the Gulf, turn left and head 150 degrees. You'll be flying along the island chain toward the big curve of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge.

Continue across lower Tampa Bay, still heading 150, and keeping the long, sweeping bridge a little to your left. On your right will be a boomerang-shaped island, Mullet Key, where Fort DeSoto is located. It's best seen out the right front and side when you're nearly opposite it. Straight ahead of you, on the far shore, is Bradenton, Florida.

As the shoreline disappears under the aircraft's nose, turn left to a heading of about 100 degrees, or until the Sunshine Skyway Bridge (it's really two bridges, side by side) is just visible on the left edge of your windshield. It will disappear momentarily, but keep flying, observing the lie of the bridge out the left front and then the left side. When the parallel roadways leading to the bridges are under your left wingtip, enter a 30-degree bank and turn to the left, to whatever heading puts the visual center of the two bridges at the center of your windshield. The idea is to get over one bridge or the other, or over the water between them, as or before they de-part the shoreline. Then, just track the roadways.

This is surely an unusual pair of bridges. One wonders why it was feasible to build two narrow ones rather than one wide one. But there must have been a good reason. Follow them to shore.

When you reach the shore, continue straight ahead, but set up a 500- foot-per-minute descent to an altitude of 200 feet. When you have that altitude, adjust your power to hold it. Meanwhile, correct your heading if necessary to point to the near end of the roadway leading to the first bridge you see ahead: the Gandy Bridge. The near highway, Interstate 275, leads straight to it. (Those towers, by the way, are transmitter towers, and they blink in the non-daylight hours like those in Jacksonville.)

You'll turn right to follow the roadway leading to the bridge. But your perspective can be deceiving at this altitude, so enter the turn with some care or you may overshoot. In any event, correct as needed to fly directly above the road-way.

Mind your altitude, and follow this bridge over Old Tampa Bay. (I have a feeling all highways may look like this in the simulator one day--but without the shadow, of course--rather than being just pencil-thin lines.) This is probably the most unusual over-water flight in all the simulator world.

When you reach the opposite shore, turn toward the building you'll see well to the left on your screen. Fly to the right of the building (at this altitude you sure can't fly over it) and note that it has a shadow that, when analyzed, says it's morning here in Tampa, despite whatever your clock may read.

We have one more bridge to fly over: the Howard Franklin. This one will take us to our landing at Clearwater Inter-national. When you've passed the building with the shadow, start climbing for an altitude of about 1000 feet and make a long turn to your left, to a heading of about 245 degrees, keeping Tampa International to your right. The far side of the Howard Franklin Bridge should be straight ahead, and just to the right of it you'll see Clearwater Airport. It has a Runway 27, and that's where you'll set her down. Approximately where the bridge jogs left, you'll jog right, and be in perfect position for your final approach.

Elevation is 11 feet.

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