Runway USA

A pilot's guide to destination cities in Flight Simulator
by Charles Gulick

The Griddle Riddle


There's something strange sitting on the landscape. To all appearances, it's just beyond the runway. But, as we know, appearances in the simulator can sometimes be deceiving, and sometimes things disappear, too.

I move we take off and see what's out there. We're in the middle of Runway 32, but the strip is nearly two miles long, so even at this altitude we'll have plenty of time to get ourselves airborne.

Climbing, we can see that whatever the shape is, it isn't right off the end of the runway. It looks as though it's on the other side of the lake—or make that the other end of the lake, since Upper Klamath Lake is a long body of water lying north and south. (Lower Klamath Lake, by the way, is about 20 miles south of here, over the border in California.)

Upper Klamath Lake is approximately 40 miles long, so whatever that shape is, it's not only a good distance away, it's also good-sized.

Stay on your upwind heading, and climb to a cruise altitude of 5500 feet. Whether or not we see something unusual on this flight, we still have beautiful views of the lake, ahead and out the left side of the aircraft.

When I try to figure out what that shape is, the first thing that comes to mind is a mountain. But in the Cessna I'm flying, whatever it is, it's flashing around, and mountains don't usually flash around like that, even in the simulator. From here it looks more like a hundred-mile-wide neon sign. One interesting question is, will it still be flashing when we get to it?—given, of course, that we do get to it. In my Piper, there's no flashing, and it looks like a mountain with a very flat top. In fact, we seem to be flying toward a huge griddle in the middle of the Oregon mountains.

I assure you, I don't know what that peculiar shape is out there. Here in the “prototypes,” I am making my first flight toward it, just as you are. Therefore, I'm just as curious as you are. What will we find?

The lake begins to take on the shape of a bull's head once we've reached our altitude. Is he looking south, at us, or looking north?

While you're flying, tune to Klamath Falls OMNI on 115.9, just to give us a distance FROM reference.

When you consider how flat the top of the object is, it seems unlikely that it's a mountain—unless it's one with an unusually broad plateau. Mountains tend to peak, not flatten out like pancakes.

When you're well out over the lake, with your DME reading 15 or 16 nautical miles, you'll spot Chiloquin State Airport's runway on the right side of your windshield. However, we won't land there until we've examined this object more closely.

Now that the distances involved are becoming obvious, we might be headed for Crater Lake, in the southern heart of Oregon's Cascade Mountain Range. My various maps show many mountain peaks in the area, but I think what we're flying toward is the rim of Crater Lake. The whole area surrounding it is Crater Lake National Park, and up there inside the crater should be the lake itself.

The elevation of the crater rim is supposed to be 6176 feet, and a high-altitude aerial photo would show it looking just like a crater on the moon, although actually it's of volcanic origin. Crater Lake is the deepest lake in the United States and the second deepest in North America—nearly 2000 feet deep. Can you imagine that much water sitting in the middle of Oregon?

The question now is, when we fly over the crater, what will we see down inside it? Water? Just a big gouge? Or what? The lake water is said to be intensely blue, and to exist solely as the result of rain and melted snow; there's no inlet or outlet. It's like a giant cup of water.

To fly over it and avoid any peaks in the area, we need more altitude. So climb immediately to 7600 feet and point yourself directly at the center of the griddle. The center keeps shifting in the Cessna, but you'll get the idea.

The things that are flashing around (again, only as seen from the Cessna) look like they might be roads up to the rim of the crater. There are such roads, but I wonder what makes them so agitated?

Watch your altitude carefully, and maintain an altitude of at least 7600 feet.

If, as in Cessna, your crater rim is green, go into the Editor and add a layer of clouds, with the tops set at 10,000 and the bottoms set at 9000. (Make no other changes; just exit.) That'll give you better definition of the shape.

In Piper, the crater slope—if that's what it is—looks like the world's widest runway, a landing place for behemoths of antiquity.

In any case, the crater doesn't appear to be greatly elevated in relation to the geography around it, which makes sense because the general elevation in the area is well over 4000 feet.

Again, keep a watch over your altitude. You don't want to make another crater on the slope of the big one.

Make sure you know your key combination for looking straight down, because that's what we'll do when we're over the inside of the crater. In fact, I plan to take all my views out all sides of the aircraft.

When your DME reads about 43 miles, you begin to get an idea of the vastness of this geology. The landscape takes on a strange abstract quality, and if you were suddenly placed here, without any bearings, you'd be hard-pressed to figure out where you are or what you're looking at, wouldn't you?

How will we know when we're over the crater itself? Somehow, I think we'll know.

I won't try to describe the sequence of sights and surprises that will take place now. Experience them for yourself. Take all your views as you fly, in all directions, but do not take a radar view! I'll tell you why in a moment.

Fly across and beyond the northern rim of the crater, and when you're beyond the point where the slope is still visible out front, do a 180 to the right and make a pass in the opposite direction, heading about 150 degrees (be sure to use some back pressure and/or power to hold altitude in your turn; your altitude is critical). The little lake beyond Crater Lake National Park, incidentally, is Diamond Lake, and the one to the northeast is Miller Lake.

You should be pointed roughly toward the center of Upper Klamath Lake, and your destination now is Chiloquin State Airport, east of the northern tip of the water.

Take a look back at the crater once you're beyond it. Awesome, isn't it?

The strip at Chiloquin State Airport will materialize when you're about 36 NM from the Klamath Falls VOR; at that time start your letdown. Our landing will be on Runway 35, the downwind leg for which bears 170 degrees, so you know how to fly it. The airport elevation is 4218 feet. Come back when you've landed.


I have a confession to make—indeed, a couple of them.

A few paragraphs back, you read a line, “Somehow, I think we'll know,” referring to whether we'd know when we were over the rim of Crater Lake and out over the water itself. At that moment, my Piper was about 46 miles and my Cessna was about 45 miles from the Klamath Falls OMNI. I was pondering events and my next communication to you, when without any warning whatsoever my Piper crashed. The windshield splintered into a hundred fragments. I immediately paused the Cessna flight, so I could consider the predicament: My Piper had crashed at exactly 46.6 NM on the DME.

Now, to understand this fully, you have to know that I first called for a climb to 6500 feet, in order to clear obstructions in the area. That's the altitude I had when my Piper windshield shattered.

In order not to fly the entire trip all over again, I exited to the Cessna Editor and saved the mode exactly as it was (at that point, about 47.5 NM out). Then I exited and continued the flight, waiting to see if Cessna cracked up at the same point as Piper. Sure enough, Cessna crashed at 46.6 NM, but the message was not just a simple “Crash!” It was “Building Crash!” Now, wouldn't that jar you?

So I went into the Editor again, reset to my midflight mode, and changed the altitude to 7000 feet.

Then I crashed again, into the “building,” at 46.6 NM.

I went into the Editor again, and set the altitude to 7500 feet. This time, I didn't crash at 46.6 NM. But all this time, it didn't look like I'd crash at any of these altitudes.

Anyway, I continued my flight and the writing. Then came surprise number two. I decided it would be a good idea to look at the situation on radar while I was over Crater Lake. As usual, I executed this action before I wrote it. But I never wrote it, because I got another excruciating “Building Crash!” the instant that I switched on radar. This was inexplicable because I was over the water! I tried it again, and it was—and is—still inexplicable.

So that's how I came to advise you not to use radar in the flight above.

See how I work to keep you safe?

In return, how about buying bacon and eggs here at Chiloquin? As a matter of fact, I could go for a couple of pancakes, too.

You know—hot off the griddle.

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