In the Mountains of (Simulated) Madness

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Once again Carlo and I have spent an enjoyable evening in the Flight Experience B737-800 simulator here in Melbourne. We have a lot of fun flying the sim like it’s the real thing – well, OK, mostly like the real thing: some of our PA announcements would raise eyebrows even on SouthWest and a real 737 doesn’t have “Speed up time” functions for those bits in the middle of long legs. But aside from that, we really do try to fly it like it’s for real. Grant flying into KDEN
The sim had just undergone an upgrade and general maintenance session earlier this afternoon so we were the first people to use it after it had been signed back to the company. Given that tomorrow it has a busy schedule of paying customers, we figured it would be a good idea to put it through its paces tonight and confirm all was OK. No, honest, that was our reason. Don’t you believe me?
Carlo reviews the approach to KASE For this session we decided to fly around Colorado and then do a night landing into Las Vegas to see how mountains and the strip looked after the upgrades. I put together a route that would start in Grand Junction (KGJT), fly into Denver (KDEN), then head into Aspen (KASE) and finally do a longer run out to Las Vegas (KLAS).

Learning from the mistakes and hassles we had last time (when we flew around Hawaii), I had all the route legs prepared on a single sheet of paper to make loading the Flight Management Computer (FMC) easier. I also had check lists prepared in a small format print out (A6 size?) and was a lot more familiar with the systems this time round.

We started the session parked at KGJT with the cockpit turned on and ready for us to start. We programmed the FMC, verified it all and then I did the take off, turning on the autopilot not long after we were in the air. On the way out we enjoyed some good views of the mountains in the area, although it was a little hazy and not totally clear. During the run to KDEN, we reviewed the approach and tweaked a few parameters to give us a good run into the landing. I took over from the autopilot a few way points out and handflew onto the localiser before pulling off an acceptable landing on R/W 07 using the VASI lights to help me get my approach right. It wasn’t great (a little high, floated and went long), but it was WAY better than my abysmal attempts at Kona.
Once we were parked at a gate we reprogrammed the FMC and reviewed the approach into Aspen. This would be interesting as it is a visual approach at altitude and surrounded by mountains. This time it was Carlo’s turn, so he taxied us out to R/W 08 and we left KDEN with a hard, climbing right hand turn to get us onto the course I’d set up.

It’s not far between KDEN and KASE so we were soon getting ready to run the approach, descending and slowing down as we commenced the turn onto runway heading. Carlo flew us in for a good landing despite being a bit high & fast at the start of the turn. We pulled up reasonably well and turned in for the terminal.

Finals into KASE (Aspen)
Another FMC reprogramming session had us ready to leave KASE and head for KLAS. Carlo did the take off and we had another climbing right turn on departure although this one was a little wider as it took us around a mountain. We were watching the peak on our right as we slowly climbed above it, even with a good climb rate.
Approach route into KLAS Once established on our course towards KLAS, we engaged the autopilot and reviewed the approach. After a few adjustments to the speed & altitudes, we set the autopilot to fly based on the FMC, not the MCP controls. At this point we “cheated” and engaged the “fast forward” system, putting the sim on 8x normal speed. Gotta love that function on a long flight.

Soon we were at top of descent and not long after I was taking over control for the landing into Vegas. As I came around onto the initial point for the ILS, I could see the runway in the distance so I switched over to making a visual approach. This landing was better than any yet and I had us nailed on glideslope (according to the VASI) for most of the way down. I must admit I got a bit of a shock when Carlo told me that the autothrottles were off and we’d been easing down with the engines just above idle. Ooops. This could explain why I was a little low on approach at the end and wound up touching down fractionally short of the preferred touch down point. Oh well – for me it was a bloody good landing so I was pretty happy with that.

After landing we taxied to a gate, shutdown and then switched everything off, leaving the sim ready for the customers tomorrow morning. It was a great session and I feel like I’m improving, although I have a very long way to go before I’ll be confident with the systems, the FMC and handling the beastie itself. We both made mistakes and need to review our CRM and processes (“What do you mean we had no auto throttles????”) but things are getting better.
Like the last session, we had the cockpit video system recording us but, sadly, this time it stopped not long after departure from KASE. Instead of recording to the hard drive and then being burnt to a DVD, it was set to burn direct to DVD, so it stopped when it ran out of space. DOH! We also had Live ATC playing in the cockpit thanks to Carlo’s laptop, although that had a problem with its ‘net connection and dropped out part way through. It certainly did help add to the experience while it was working.

A full set of photos can be found at my photo gallery. Meanwhile, we’re already talking about the next session – this time we think it’ll be somewhere in Europe.

Las Vegas at night
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3 Responses to In the Mountains of (Simulated) Madness

  1. Steven Pam says:

    Sounds like fun, would enjoy seeing one of the videos if you get that working!

  2. Capt'n Chris says:

    Looks like you guys had a fun time. Do you get to simulate emergencies?

  3. Falcon124 says:

    Steven: Yeah, it is fun. I have a DVD of the first session (oh yeah, it’s “edge of your seat” stuff – *NOT*). Carlo’s going to dub me a copy of the second one which should have some better moments in it. One of these days we’ll have to do a best-of from our flights – and a blooper reel.

    Capt’n Chris: Yeah, we have a LOT of fun – we’re not quite up to simulating emergencies though. Last time that happened, Carlo got silly and turned off the fuel to #1 engine on my approach into PHTO – not a pretty sight, I can assure you! :) I wrote that one up on my worst landings ever post.

    I’m thinking we need a few more sessions before we start including random emergencies and so on. It’d be cool to see if we can figure out the problem and a solution before the heat death of the universe :)

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