registered: Jan. 2006
last visit: 10.01.18
This month's hint is on one of my favorite topics: flight planning. 'Yawn', I hear you saying, 'what could be more boring?' Perhaps, but that's not how it seems to me. The more I think about and understand just what I am doing, the more I enjoy the flight. Maybe that's why the Air Force decided to make me a test engineer rather than a pilot (48 years ago). As a result, I spent my time planning and briefing test flights, rather than flying them. Then again, maybe it was just my eyesight.
Anyhow, this month I want to talk about the intersection between Air Traffic Control (ATC) and flight planning. If you are relatively new to "flight simming" you probably use a flight planner to determine your route and hand control over to the "native' MSFS ATC. Or, you get a general idea of the heading to your destination, jump into the cockpit and head out "VFR Direct". Maybe you compare what you see out the window with the sectional instead of relying on the GPS – good for you. This way can be a lot of fun if you're just looking to "yank and bank", and do a little sightseeing; nothing wrong with that, as long as you can see the terrain.
But, if the conditions are "IMC", or you are flying a scheduled flight, you have to go IFR. Using the ATC built into MSFS will certainly get you there and keep you from flying into a mountain enroute. However, it's tedious and not very realistic. Another option is to use live ATC via VATSIM, certainly more realistic, if the important control positions are "manned". Or you can use a standalone ATC program like Radar Contact. In any of these cases, ATC will tell you what to do. All you have to do is fly your flight plan and follow instructions and the runway should eventually appear near the center of your windscreen. You get to log the flight and go home; what could be wrong with that?
Try this instead. Fly an IFR flight plan without ATC. Choose a simple aircraft with adequate IFR instrumentation (not a 747). Build a flight plan for your route. In addition to (or instead of) using a flight planner (MSFS, FSCommander, etc.), study the enroute charts, the sectionals, and the Instrument Approach Procedures for your destination. If you want to make your flight even more realistic, learn about and use SIDs and STARs. Give careful thought to the vertical profile of your flight. Think about departure procedures and minimum enroute altitudes (MEAs). If you do this right, you will have to think about the rate of climb capabilities of your aircraft, your indicated airspeed, your true airspeed, and your "ground speed" for each leg of the flight. You will need to know these things in order to set the right rate of climb on departure and the right rate of descent on approach so that you clear the terrain, whether you can see it or not, and so you will be at the right place in position and altitude to intercept the glide slope on final. Try this first in good weather, where you can see the terrain. Then try it in lousy weather in mountainous terrain - without help from ATC. You will learn a lot - I guarantee it.