Saturday, 22 September 2012

Still chasing the white whale!

You'd think it would be simple.  A short-to-medium haul flight across Europe, carried out every week by a low-cost airline.

Todays latest attempt to recreate the Manchester-Rhodes flight ended in yet another failure, caused by a combination of three factors.  Firstly, I tried this in the FSX 737-800.  Previous attempts have been in the Bombardier CRJ-700 or with a freeware 737-300 in FS9.  Of course using the -800 for this flight isn't strictly accurate, since the flight operator Jet2 mainly uses the older -300s in its fleet, but I wanted to do this in FSX so I could get the benefit of my latest toys (MCE & GSX).  I did, of course, locate a Jet2 livery for the default 737-800, so things weren't completely crazy.

The second factor was that I decided to up the realism again by sitting down and doing some proper flight planning in terms of initial fuel load.  Nothing fancy, just taking the estimated fuel burn from FSX and adding a 30% buffer to allow for climbs, taxis and go-around.  In the end that gave me a figure that was only 2000kg about 2000kg less than the default fuel load.

Finally, having gone through the take-off and climbout without so much as a hitch, I set the autopilot and handed the radios over to the MCE copilot, before nipping back into the cabin to catch the in-flight movie (i.e. left the sim running to go watch TV).

When I returned I realised that I hadn't quite set the autopilot GPS/NAV Hold correctly.  Though only a few degrees off, a couple of hours flight had put me hundreds of miles east of that purple line. I fumbled with the controls until the MFD showed "LOC" ("Ah so that's what it should have said!") and headed back on course.  But a quick look at the fuel gauge told me that the wing tanks were completely empty and what was left in the centre tank would certainly not be enough to reach our destination.

I bumped the time acceleration up to 16x to at least bring us back onto the course, then looked around for an alternate airport to divert to.  The "Find nearest airport" option only gave me a couple of very small uncontrolled strips and I really wanted to make it to a "proper" airport, but by the time my fuel got down to the last 1000kg, I finally realised that those small strips were the only things that were in range.

Autopilot off.  Time for some handflying.

The approach was possibly a little steeper than the customers would have liked, but I was watching that fuel gauge ticking down the digits.   I might possibly have clipped the grass a little on my original touchdown, but nothing broke or caught fire and at least the passengers were down on the ground safely.  I started to taxi looking for some sort of airfield building but before I'd gone half the length of the strip, the engines flamed out.  I'd touched down with under a hundred kilos of fuel remaining.

IF I hadn't been flying the unfamiliar 737-800 for the first time... I'd have realised the GPS Hold wasn't correctly set...
IF I hadn't done the flight planning and reduced the fuel load... I probably still wouldn't have had enough to make it to Diagoras, but the options for the diversion would have been a little better.
IF I hadn't left the flight deck for as long as I did, I would have spotted us drifting off-course soon enough to correct it and continue.

The white whale of the Manchester/Diagoras flight continues to elude me.  At least this time the simulated passengers survived the experience, albeit stranded in a deserted field in Serbia.

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