Runway USA

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

Detour Ahead


Denver's Stapleton International Airport has the funniest runway complex in captivity. Go into radar and zoom up until you can see how Runway 250, which you're on, and 260 Right, whose path you're going to cross on takeoff, meld into one inexplicable cross-eyed jumble. Runway 260 Left is in the line of fire, too. This is the eighth-busiest airport in the world, and Lowry Air Force Base is just south of here. I'd hate to be a traffic controller in this crazy place. The way it looks to me, these three strips, working as a team, can handle just one takeoff in this direction, or one landing from the opposite direction, in one unit of time.

The mountains you see way out there are two you flew around in the last chapter.

Look out all sides, and see if you can see a DC-3. If you do, salute it. This airplane celebrated its 50th anniversary in 1986. I saw a television special about it just the other night. There are many hundreds of these great airplanes still flying, and the oldest one still in service has logged 88,000 hours. I'd take a DC-3 anywhere, anytime. There has never been a structural failure in one, in all 50 years of its operation. And it's still doing all kinds of important hauling work, back and forth in the skies around the world. It's one of the reasons the U.S. won World War II, when its designation was C-47, and it was affectionately dubbed “The Goony Bird.” Hats off to it.

Take another careful look to all sides, but this time to check for any aircraft that might be taking off in the same direction you are. Then go ahead and get airborne, climbing to 6000 feet before you make a turn.

As you climb, tune Colorado Springs VOR on 112.5. By the way, always think and say these numbers as digits, rather than as integrated values. In other words, it's “one one two point five,” not “a hundred and twelve” something.

Headings and radials get the same treatment. As your OBS should tell you when you've centered the needle, radial one five zero will take you to Colorado Springs. So turn left to a heading of one five zero when you've reached 6000 feet, then follow the needle. Your cruise altitude will be 7500 feet.

You will pass almost directly over the runways of Denver's Arapahoe County Airport. The highway running west of it is Interstate 25, which goes straight to Colorado Springs; so if your OMNI should become inoperable, you can always follow the road. Civilization created roads for just such in-flight emergencies.

You know why (from what your altimeter read when you were sitting on the ground) Denver is called the Mile-High City (though, of course, we know from our previous flights that there are towns much more than a mile high).

In the 1850s, Denver was a quiet Indian village. Then gold was discovered along the banks of Cherry Creek, which runs southeast out of the very center of what is now the city and empties into Cherry Creek Lake. The classic Gold Rush transformation took over, the Indian tents giving way to the first stores and buildings as thousands of Easterners, in wagons and on foot, came over the plains seeking their fortunes. No sooner had the gold run out than silver was discovered. But there was still enough gold around to sheathe the dome of Denver's granite-and-onyx capitol building in gold leaf. Today, Denver is the Southwest's financial and commercial hub, and has its very own branch of the U.S. Mint, with a capacity of 20 million coins a day.

Off to your left are the east central plains of Colorado. Out there the pronghorn antelope, among the world's fastest mammals, go flying along about forty miles an hour. In some of the small towns, too, straightfaced Coloradans will tell you to watch for a speedy rabbit, with horns, called the jackelope.

You'll note from your sectional chart that the OMNI station we're flying toward is on the eastern edge of the airport, and the airport is east of both the city and Interstate 25. You'll be able to spot Colorado Springs to the right of your course and out the right front, about 15-odd miles from the VOR station.

You'll also see a mountain out the right front. This is no ordinary mountain, so I suggest you divert your flight a bit to take a closeup of it.

Turn right and fly across Interstate 25, pointing toward the spot where the foot of the mountain and the edge of the city meet. Use radar to pinpoint the spot. (If the mountain is the same shade as the earth, you may want to go into the Editor and set Cloud Level 1 tops/bottoms to 22,000/20,000 feet. This will give more drama to the scene.)

In case you don't know, or haven't guessed, you're flying toward famed Pikes Peak, which soars to a majestic 14,110 feet. It was discovered in 1806 by Louisiana Purchase explorer Zebulon Pike, for whom it's named. (Can you imagine “discovering” a mountain like that, or any mountain? And how about “discovering” an ocean?)

As you get close, turn left to a heading of about 175 degrees. You should be able to see Colorado Springs Airport over to your left.

Now I want you to decide for yourself how you'll maneuver from here to your landing at Colorado Springs. All I'll say is, it's a left-hand traffic pattern, and you're expected to enter that pattern on the downwind leg. You decide, based on the wind direction, what runway is active, and how you'll fly the approach.

But please remember that the slogan “Pikes Peak or Bust” was not intended to apply to aircraft.

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