Are you a real Pilot?

This was the question asked of me after I landed my iFly B737NG (FSX version) on 16L at KDEN the other night.

It was a dark and stormy night….no really, it was both dark and somewhat stormy with lightning flashes to the west of KDEN.  I had departed KDFW for a 2 hour flight on the VATSIM network.  I’ve probably logged over 60 hours in the iFly 737, but that isn’t the subject of this blog posting.

I truly love flying on the VATSIM network.  I know there are those who don’t like it because of the sparse ATC controllers typically online.  Of course, with the various traffic programs available like MyTrafficX and Ultimate Traffic 2, you can turn an international airport into a hustling and bustling airport with just a few mouse clicks. However, you won’t hear and get the awesome “atta boy” comments that I received the other night from the FSX default ATC.  More about this in a minute.

True, I’ve been known to nail some real greasers on landing.  This is especially true when I’m in a bit of a hurry and not doing everything by the book. This happens more in the default aircraft since you don’t have the dynamic flight systems of the payware models like the iFly or the LVLD.  But it can also happen in these payware models I just mentioned when you cut corners.  But I digress and for that I’m sorry.

I had departed KDFW with no ATC online, but really wanted to enjoy this flight up to my now home town of Denver, Colorado.  This is one of my favorite flights for many reasons and only second to flying down to St. Maarten and TNCM out of KMIA.  I just love the approach over the beach and hope to visit St. Maarten in real life someday.  The flight to Denver was as uneventful as it can get.  While Ft. Worth Center was not online, I did pickup Kansas City Center and Denver Center.  Denver center was the only ATC on and he controlled me all the way down.

I typically do things just about the same way each and every flight I make.  I check the weather conditions either via FSInn or direct from the NOAA METAR database.   And in the case of Denver Center, he had an updated published ATIS which I pulled down well before entering his airspace and I acknowledged I had information Bravo when I initially checked in with him. 

I don’t think a lot of pilots really bother picking up or at least confirming they have the current information even though that is depicted well within the default FSX ATC.  Even if you don’t bother tuning into the ATIS frequency for the airport you are going to land, there are other ways of getting the info and it certainly helps the ATC guys for you to be that much more prepared.  Anyway….Information Bravo was telling me that KDEN was landing and departing to the East.  Landing runway 7 and departing runway 8.  So I pulled my charts for runway 7 and just quickly familiarized myself with the approach. 

As I was inbound on the Quail Six Arrival and roughly 50nm from KDEN, Denver Center updated the ATIS with updated information.  I quickly listened to the update and realized KDEN was now going to be in South Ops and made the adjustments necessary to plan for a runway 16L approach. 

Approaching KDEN from the South, the Quail Six arrival brings you just south of the airfield and makes for an easy transition when KDEN is under North Ops with easy access to runway 35L.  However, KDEN was not in North Ops and this would mean flying downwind to the east of the field for vectors to 16L. 

Now back to the dark and stormy night comment.  Weather conditions in the area was a typical summer evening in the mile high city with storm cells erupting out on the eastern plains. A few of these cells had moved in closer to the city and both myself and my virtual PAX were treated to a nice light show of cloud to cloud and cloud to ground lightning strikes.  The combination of ActiveSky X and Real Environment Extreme make for some truly impressive eye candy at times and this particular night was no different. 

As I completed the roll-out from the vectors given by Denver Center, KDEN airport and runway 16L was in clear visibility so a visual landing was certainly in order for the evening.  Along with FS2Crew (the iFly version) my FO and I readied the beautiful Boeing 737-800 for her landing and had a smooth landing with no complaints from the virtual PAX.  As I turned the B738 onto the high-speed taxiway and gave the “OK to Clean-up” order to the FO I received a private message from the VATSIM ATC Controller simply asking me “Are you a real pilot”? 

Now if you’ve read my recent blog post where I state I’m not a real pilot, you would know (or will know if you kindly read it) that I’m not a real pilot.  But of course the gentleman working VATSIM ATC doesn’t know I routinely blog about my flight sim hobby.  But I answered him by saying Negative….why do you ask?  His response simply was “you do a very good job”. 

I have no VATSIM ATC experience.  I also have no desire to gain any other than from a pilots perspective.  So I’m not 100% certain what the VATSIM controllers really can see and what they really can’t see.  I’ve been told by several VATSIM controllers that I know very well, that what they can see is very limited.  They of course can tell if you turn the wrong direction and they can also tell if you land on the wrong runway.  But they can’t really tell how hard or how soft of a landing a virtual pilot makes. 

So what is so special about his comments and why blog about them?  This is a very good question and the reason why I chose to blog about it was to one, share the experience and two to turn it into a learning experience for all.  As I stated in the opening paragraphs of this blog post, I’ve truly experienced some real greaser landings.  I call those controlled crashes.  While I’ve never mistaken a taxi-way for an active runway, I’ve certainly had my share of off center touchdowns and some of those where you hit just before the touchdown zone and some where you hit well past it.  This flight and this landing was textbook and the comments from the VATSIM ATC Controller sort of showed me that it is worth doing everything somewhat by the book.  Of course, having over 25 years of computer sim experience doesn’t hurt. 

In closing, You’ll never hear me make claims that I could fly a real plane….but I think my virtual PAX can rest easily knowing I at least know how to operate my iFly 737NG to get positive feedback from VATSIM ATC.  I hope you too will take your virtual flight simulation to the next level and work harder to improve your skills.  One day a VATSIM ATC controller might ask you, “Are you a Real Pilot”?

Until next time….

Jerry

Rock you like a Hurricane

I decided today would be a good day to head out of Martha’s Vineyard.  Hurricane Earl (currently a CAT 2 storm) was churning his way up the East Coast of the US through North Carolina’s Outer Banks.  The leading cloud cover ahead of the eye had already made its way up into New England.  The latest update from the National Weather Service was that Hurricane Earl would reach Cape Cod and the Islands on Saturday.  It was time to leave the peaceful island of Martha’s Vineyard.  I do hope to return again soon.

Approaching position and hold for runway 6 at KMVY

I checked out a Learjet 45 (FSX default aircraft) for the trip and plotted a course direct for Hurricane Earl (crossing safely above of course) for the warm beaches of Ft. Lauderdale and KFLL.  I wanted to check out the FSDT scenery I just purchased for that airport anyway.   Like I said, the leading wrap-around clouds had already made their way up into New England.  I was given clearance to depart runway 6 by the KMVY tower. The take-off and climb-out were uneventful.  Active Sky X does a very nice job depicting accurate wx conditions.  We made a turn to the east and began our flight down the coast.

Turning to the east. Leaving Martha’s Vineyard

There were certainly periods where the cloud cover (forward reaching bands from the hurricane) would completely disappear along the route.  As we passed along the New Jersey Coastline the cloud cover was open enough to make out the coastline areas.  But within minutes we had caught up with more bands.  We were getting closer and closer each and every minute.

Heavy clouds already starting to move up the New England Coastline Clearing just along the New Jersey Coastline. But for how long?

My flight path took us directly over the eye of Hurricane Earl.  The lightning below put on a nice show and while I’ve never been directly over the eye of a hurricane, Active Sky X depicts it from what I’ve seen on radar and even specifically what I saw on radar for this particular storm.  Of course the storm is not as defined since the satellite images are taken from much, much higher.  But you get the point.

The leading edge of Hurricane Earl

Crossing the eye of Hurricane Earl

Broken cloud layers just south of Earl’s position

Directly south of the eye was solid cloud cover.  As we traveled south from the eye the ride became a little bumpy for a few minutes and then everything was calm again.  Once we reached the coastline area of South Carolina all visible traces of Earl were gone.  The skies remained mostly clear the rest of the flight down to Ft. Lauderdale.  However, on approach things did begin to cloud up again and yes it was raining in what I thought would be a sunny and warm Ft. Lauderdale. 

Turning on final approach to runway 9L KFLL

Must keep my pace up as I’m being followed

Nice flow of vehicle traffic on the highway below.

I love the rain effect being kicked off the rear tires. We have arrived at KFLL

The fine print.  I certainly do not mean to take the impact of Hurricane Earl lightly.  My thoughts and prayers are with all those living along his path.  While I’m sure all commercial aviation steers clear (way clear) of these types of storms, the purpose of this flight and my blogging about it was to really test the accuracy of Active Sky X.  By all accounts I can testify that this software add-on for Microsoft Flight Simulator X is worth the cost.

Like all the flights I’ve flown, this one was a lot of fun.  I look forward to the next time I can get back in the cockpit and take to the skies. 

Until next time,

J

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