The Inaugural Flight of N-863FC

This morning, I woke up to the notice on the FSE website that new 747 and DC10 all-in jobs had been added. Excited, I opened up the game world to find all the 747 jobs available. Noticing that most of the 747s had 0 hours on them, I decided to be a gentleman and give a 747-400 the first flight it deserves: As realistic as I could make it within the confines of singleplayer FSX. Since I didn’t want to spend 6 whole hours sitting at my flight sim, I elected to pick a shorter job. I also wanted airports where approach plates were available and laws I’m familiar with, so I decided to keep the routes within the U.S.

It was a cool, dark 3 degrees celsius morning at San Francisco International Airport, 12z GMT and (3AM?) Local Time. I started the 747-400 on the ramp positioned at the east corner of taxiways C and E, fuel load was around 45%/180,400lbs which I figured was enough, and I brought up a checklist I found online for the default 747. I chose the default Pacifica livery, and decided I would be flight 1225. Because Christmas, aren’t I original. I checked the weather – both the ATIS and on aviationweather.gov and skyvector, and planned to fly at FL370 – an RVSM and non-RVSM easterly altitude, using whatever high altitude airways the built in flight planner thought was best. My speed would be as fast as possible without exceeding the Mmo of 0.92 and the Vne of 365 knots.

As many lights on as possible, de-ice? Why not? Real weather, real time. I got my IFR clearance, then requested taxi. Charlie, then Echo, Hold Short 19R.

I forgot the controls for steering during pushback but it didn’t matter – I had enough room to back into then turn out of. The pushback vehicle backed away, astonished at the fact that it – a mere mortal – had been allowed the privilege of nudging the grand queen of the skies a few hundred feet rearwards.

Right turn onto the taxiway – centerlines are green, edge lights are blue. Because my instructions consisted of two taxiways, and they matched my diagram, this was the first time I was able to forego the progressive taxi arrows and rely entirely on charts and taxiway signs.

Ground traffic was turned on and moved dangerously close to my nose, an A321 and a Baron moved in front of me before I was cleared to continue taxiing onto Charlie – I’m not ashamed to say that collisions and crashes were turned off – although I did not crash once in this flight, I wasn’t about to let an accident of programming reset my flight.

I continued taxiing – poorly, and looked upon the lights approaching 19R. Who knew that human factors are the #1 cause of runway incursions?

I selected Add-ons-> start flight. I tuned tower (ok, I pressed tune Tower on the ATC menu), and waited for the A321 in front of me, currently on the runway, to start its takeoff roll. Then I requested takeoff and was told to get into position, which I did. If I bothered to check the checklist I had for the 747, I would have known that I should rotate at 165 knots. But because I was aware of landing traffic behind me and didn’t want to cause the AI to go missed, I throttled up about halfway after I heard the magic words, held in the brakes and the throttle at that position for about a second, and then smoothly but (perhaps too) quickly advanced to full throttle, and released the brakes – 19R wasn’t the longest runway in the world.

I was a bit concerned about traffic coming from the perpendicular runway (although upon examining the recording, it was in fact traffic from the parallel runway that I saw), but I kept on pushing because I didn’t exactly see a plane’s green nav light hurtling at me. At a bit more than 110 knots I pulled back on the stick, but the nose stayed down. This aerodynamic force certainly had an affect on my acceleration, but I wasn’t about to pitch up late given the rapidly approaching departure end. The speed climbed up and at 170 knots, finally the plane pitched up. Gear up immediately, and I was too busy setting the autopilot to notice I had gone way above my vfe, and only started retracting flaps at 250 knots.

Yes, very professional I know. See what I should have done, given the obvious turbine lag of the engines, is to hand fly the plane and pitch to keep my speed below 240 knots – vfe and 250 knots – the speed limit, and only use the autopilot once the plane was stabilized, but instead I had fallen into a habit that formed from climbing out at 300 knots for way too many all -in jobs (for convenience sake) – where I would takeoff with no flaps so Vfe wouldn’t matter. I looked over that a realistic flight was supposed to be different, and ended up rocketing past multiple limits, peaking at 274 knots.

On climb out, ATC told me to look for a piper archer at my one oclock, 4 miles, at 700. HAH, NO.

The thing about FSX’s default ATC is that when they tell you to climb to an intermediate altitude, it is a lie, because as soon as you get within about 200 ft of that altitude they’ll give you instructions to ascend once more, so I just set my autopilot to target my cruise altitude of FL370, and decided I would use to the VSI knob to stay at a particular altitude of ATC needed me to.

The rest of the climb was uneventful, and I reset the altimeter to 29.92 at 19000ft. The route had already been programmed into the GNS430 which was apparently guiding this 400 ton beast, the nav/gps switch had been set and I pressed the nav button as soon as I was told to “resume own navigation” after being vectored close enough to my flight path.

After a bit of fiddling at FL370, I decided to settle for M0.87. Cruise was fairly uneventful, and I had a strong left crosswind that produced a mild tail wind. We went through the various sectors of the various centers, and one of the perks of flying east of course, is the accelerated sunrise which allowed me to turn off panel lighting. To the end I started getting complacent, leaving my sim in order to take care of… things, and ATC had to ask me if I copied its last transmission.

Over ZDV I saw a few towering cumulus clouds, but we never got close enough for any of them. A lightning/glitch prompted me to look around, and seeing all the clouds made me realize that O’Hare was in IMC (which I had apparently not noticed/forgotten about in my initial weather check).

Nearing my destination, I was told to begin descending, and was told to expect vectors for ILS 14R approach. Now, if you look at airnav’s entry for KORD, you’ll find that approach procedures for 14R are nowhere to be found. Now, being an instrument student in the middle of my 141 course, I wanted to incorporate a practice approach into the flight, and this is where everything went wrong.

I inspected KORD’s charts and diagrams for a suitable alternative runway, and then decided I would prefer the ILS 9R approach, for which plates were available – mistake #2. I requested the ILS 9R approach, and at first everything seemed to go well: I was told to expect 9R circle to 14R – no biggie, I would just request a runway change afterwards. The problem is, after that I was give a second clearance telling me to contact O’Hare tower before I had a chance to acknowledge the first clearance, and this is where the ATC system bugged out:

I acknowledged the clearance, and then I had no more menu options except “cancel IFR”, which I didn’t exactly wanna do since it was looking pretty soupy below me. I thumbed between tower frequency and approach frequency, but neither gave me the option to do anything other than cancel IFR. So I sorta treated it like a lost comms scenario – hey, at least I’m cleared for the approach already, right?

So I briefed the 9R approach based on the current charts, and followed my last assigned heading which gave me a pretty good intercept course onto the 9R approach, descending to minimum as listed. I even put the approach in the GNS430 for reference, and elected to land straight in. Once the localizer started swinging in, I hit the nav button and the plane turned to the runway heading.

Remember how I said choosing the ILS 9R approach was a mistake? Because turns out – at the time of FSX’s database, the Localizer frequency for ILS 9R belonged to ILS 9L. Therefore, if I had chosen a runway other than 9R or 9L I probably could have gotten the appropriate approach plates, and in addition, if I had just stayed on my original approach instructions and used FSX’s built in frequency lookup, this could have been avoided entirely.

OK, but at this point I was out of fuuuuuuu uhhhh FUEL. I AM LANDING, and THAT IS THAT. Broke out of the clouds at 2200- way high, and took over manual control. 9L it is! Speedbrakes and autobrakes armed and guided in the entire way by 4 white dots on the VASI like I’m in a skyhawk, being clearly off centerline I touched down reasonably within the confines of the runway, apply reversers…

I could have turned off reverse thrust at 60 knots like they do in reality, but I guess I forgot. At about 6 knots, I applied parking brakes to end the flight… uh oh! Microsoft .NET Framework unhandled exception! I waited a bit to see if the flight would log, but it wouldn’t (I subsequently redid the flight twice and a change was eventually reverted that allowed me to log the flight).

Being the responsible airman that I am, I vacated the runway and contacted approach to cancel IFR, then requested taxi to gates. After some creative maneuvering around ground traffic and resorting to progressive taxi after not being able to figure out where I was based on the real charts, I reached the gates and opened the plane’s doors, delivering the passengers to their eager families.

Final Tally: 3.5 hours takeoff to touchdown, 13383 gallons of Jet A consumed, Passengers delivered: 390, FAA Rules broken: 47, Realism score: 25%

Pictures:

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