Sunday, 26 August 2012

Business as usual

So after spending far too long playing around getting FS9 all purtied up and giving Flightgear a second chance, I've been back in the flightseat with FSX the last couple of days.  MCE speech recognition is still not operating at 100% but I'm finding certain phrasings that it recognises better than others.  As of now it can handle 90% of routine ATC comms, and most of the routine tasks that I like to hand off to the copilot (like tuning the radios or autopilot settings).  Readbacks of complicated instructions are still a bit iffy, especially in high traffic situations, but I've now adopted the policy of "try it twice, then hit the key".

Yesterday I did a nice late afternoon/evening flight from Manchester to Edinburgh to re-aquaint myself with the CRJ700.  Until now I've mainly tried to fly during full daylight hours, but the dusk landing did produce some absolutely gorgeous looking sunset shots.  While personally I'm not quite as enthused about a simulated sunset as I would be about the real thing, I have to admit that FSX does a pretty good job of it.

This morning I did another short-haul hop in the CRJ from Manchester to Belfast.   Things went well mostly except for one, tiny, tiny detail.  Landing gear.  Somehow during the excitement of landing I forgot to check that the gear was down and locked - I was sure I'd hit the landing gear key, but whether I didn't hit it cleanly, or the MCE pilot misheard a later voice command as "raise landing gear" I cannot tell.  But when I came to a halt on the runway I found I was unable to taxi, and it was only when I went to external view that the reason became clear.  To be honest I'm rather proud that the landing was so smooth and gentle that FSX didn't register it as a crash, lack of wheels notwithstanding.

So to try and rebalance the ledger, this evening I started a flight to Dublin long after sunset.  Since I want to start moving away from the CRJ and into slightly heavier tin, I loaded up a freeware Boeing 737-300 (though since I don't have the correct panel for it yet, I was using the glass cockpit from the -800)  The livery was BMI Baby "Robin Hood Baby" registry G-OBMP, flight number 6689.  MCE's recognition of the "Baby" airline code was a bit hit and miss - often mishearing it as "Cathay".

Taxi and take-off after dark was a new experience.  The landing lights were so bright they almost bleached out the Progressive Taxi indicators (though by now I'm almost at the point where I can navigate EGCC's taxiways by memory).  Unusually, Ground put me at 05L for takeoff.  After waiting for the aircraft in front of me to take-off I was put on hold while an incoming Ryanair flight came in on final.  But at the last minute they were waved off, and a couple of minutes later I got clearance for takeoff.

Feeling a bit cocky I turned on to the runway to do a rolling takeoff.  Things were going great except.... there was this bright set of landing lights dead ahead about five hundred feet above the 27R end of the runway.  Some bright spark in the MS ATC had decided to bring someone in for a landing on the same runway in the opposite direction.  Of course by the time I realised this I'd hit V1, so I rotated and climbed as steep as I could.  The other 737 passed by about 300 ft beneath me, but in the excitement I forgot the less forgiving jetliner flight model and didn't throttle back, resulting in an overspeed "crash".

The second takeoff attempt put me back on 27R, and things were much less eventful.  Before I knew it I was over the Irish sea.  The night scenery wasn't quite as eye-pleasing as the sunset, but it did give the opportunity to give a virtual wink at the moon in honour of Neil Armstrong, who passed away today.

Approach to Dublin was a barrel of monkeys.  First I got put on a northbound course presumably to set me up for an ILS Runway 16 approach, but again FSX sent me way further than it probably needed to, to the point where I found myself handed off to Scottish Center.  Then out of the blue, Scottish Center just cancelled my IFR flightplan with no warning.  I checked the ATC message log, they hadn't spoken to me after the initial handoff so I hadn't missed any responces, and MCE hadn't sent a spurious cancellation request (which it's done on a couple of occasions)  It took a few minutes to log a new flight plan and get turned around, but coming in almost on the runway course it looked like it was going to be an easy ILS landing.

True enough I caught the localizer and glideslope together in quick succession, and I went through the motions of final approach pretty much spot on.  But it was only a couple of hundred feet above the ground when I realised that the glideslope was bringing me down about a hundred yards short of the start of the runway.  I throttled up and managed to just clear the trees at the end of the runway (though watching the replay I think the ground crew will be pulling twigs out of the landing gear for hours).  The following landing was a little rough around the edges, but everything held together and the taxi to gate was pleasantly relaxing.

I think I'm getting close to ready to reattempt the Manchester EGCC to Rhodes Diagoras LGRP run, though I might do it in FS9.  At 3-4 hours it's still only officially a medium haul flight, which leaves me wondering how other simmers complete the really long haul flights (like trans-atlantic or transpacific stuff).  I know that both FSX and FS9 allow time compression, but I get an uneasy feeling that might be considered cheating somewhat (I know it's not permitted in VATSIM flying with live ATC controllers.) Leaving the PC unattended during cruise might be an option, but with all the ATC handoffs that MSATC seems to love inflicting on you, I expect you'd come back to find your IFR flight plan cancelled and ATC pouting silently.

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