Runway USA

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

Can't Get There From Here


I imagine that, without my advising it, you parked the airplane at your regular tiedown spot after the prior flight. After all, leaving an airplane in the middle of a runway can be dangerous and disconcerting to the next pilot who's trying to land.

Now that you're parked where you're supposed to be, take a moment to check your heading against what was called for in the parameters; it's likely to be at least 40 degrees off. Look at your relationship to 12R and at its relationship to the buildings of downtown San Jose. The squarish building out there is just about at the center of your windshield.

Go into radar, and zoom up until you see the threshold of 12R behind you. You're about even with the top of the second centerline stripe. This puts you in good position for any of the three runways, as long as the wind is easterly. You could ease onto 12R, but in fact we'll only use that for ILS landings. If it were night, you could taxi readily to 12L, which would be logical for night operation. However, while there's daylight, as there is now, Runway 11 is the one to use for your takeoffs.

The next time we land here at San Jose, this is the spot you'll taxi to before you shut down the engine, so keep its visual clues in mind.

We're going over the hills, but not too far away this early summer evening.

If you look out the left front window, you'll see that there are actually two mountains visible. We're familiar with the near one, Mt. Hamilton, with Lick Observatory on its southeastern peak. The mountain alongside it is Eylar Mountain, which reaches over 4000 feet at its highest point.

Our first destination is the municipal airport at Tracy, California, which lies to the northeast.

Get out your Bay Area sectional chart. Then take a straightedge and place it so that it intersects the center of the San Jose VOR compass rose and the western end of the Tracy runways. Although the VOR I.D. box hides the number, you can tell from the reciprocal that a reasonable heading for us to take up to reach the city of Tracy is 30 degrees. So that's what we'll do.

Get ready for takeoff, then taxi over to your right, to Runway 11.

I really like this little runway, partly because it's only 40 feet wide, which is more like the runways of my student days. You really have to steer to stay on it, and take off smartly or you'll run out of pavement. If you don't taxi and line up well, go back and try it over again. This is good ground practice for you. When you have it grooved, go ahead and get airborne. Before you turn to your 30-degree heading, climb straight out to 1000 feet, or until the San Jose buildings disappear under your nose.

You should be tracking so that the lowest point of Mt. Hamilton is about in the center of your windshield, and you're aimed at the approximate center of the western slope of Eylar Mountain. Keep climbing, at 500 FPM.

Shortly, a little strip of water will peek into the scene to your left—Calaveras Reservoir.

When Mt. Hamilton has disappeared, take a right front view and a little later a right side view up the valley. Then watch out front again.

You should have about 3000 feet of altitude by the time you reach Eylar Mountain, and that will take you comfortably over the ridge.

Now you're looking at one of the emptiest vistas in the San Francisco Bay area, but it won't last, I assure you. Keep climbing, and be sure to take a quick right rear view of the mountains you've crossed. They're very dramatic, but don't keep the rear view longer than a few seconds, and then look ahead again.

A whir of the disk drive and…how do you like that?

Add full power immediately! Apply up elevator to get your maximum rate of climb, and keep trimming up until your airspeed is in the slowflight range. In a moment you'll see that you're going to clear those ridges.


Well, we tried. Only you know whether you flew this strenuous exercise well…whether your reactions were quick enough…whether you would have cleared all the ridges in fine shape. One thing is sure. If you didn't hit a mountain, then you did not crash.

But something sure crashed. Somebody accidentally lowered the curtain…right in the middle of the scene, too.

But while it lasted, wasn't that beautiful?

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