… was a beautiful morning for flying in Tampa.
One of the excellent scenery designers in the X-Plane world is GPB. He has a number of freeware airports available on the .ORG, and they’re all worth getting. He also, though, produces a larger set of payware airports for X-Plane, which he sells as a one-time subscription service. Last I checked it was $75US for the entire set, which includes these fields (along with frequent updates and new fields from time to time):
His work is excellent, and at a few bucks a field, the package is a bargain (and, at least to me, essential if you fly on PilotEdge). GPB500 doesn’t have a website, but you may contact him at gpb500-x at yahoo dot com and he’ll give you instructions for payment and get you on the distribution list. If you’re interested in the quality of the work, see some screen shots of his KBUR Burbank below. It’s excellent.
PilotEdge fliers have a soft spot in their hearts for L52 Oceano, which is were PilotEdge suggests you make your first flight on the network. I still fly the KSBP / L52 / KSBP milk run quite often — it almost always has traffic, Oceano is a cool little field, and it’s great to hear people new to the network feeling their way on the radios.
So I was excited today to learn that Orbx, who has only recently begun bringing their impressive scenery design skills to X-Plane, has released L52 — and better yet, it’s free. You may get it here, as I plan to do later tonight or tomorrow.
Readers and viewers know that I’ve been flying the Alabeo / Carenado Mooney Ovation around the PilotEdge coverage area for the past several months. During that time one of my flight sim buddies has told me to keep my eyes on the forthcoming Ovation from Advanced Flight Modeling (AFM). This is actually a collection, as the package includes the Ovation II, Ovation III, and the Acclaim. I signed up for the early release of the package, and while it flew great the interior textures weren’t polished enough yet for me to enjoy it in VR. The official release is out, though, and I have to say this is a spectacular aircraft. I recorded a VR tour and review of the plane, which you may view below (including the random engine failure shortly after takeoff), but the short story is, “Worth every penny.” You may get it here.
I’m flying to Jackson Hole soon in the real world (as a passenger) and thought it would be fun to do some pattern work, sightseeing, etc. there today on PilotEdge. If you are a member of the PilotEdge network, join me on the KJAC ramp a few minutes before 11 AM ET / 3 PM Zulu and we will brief on 123.45. Then we’ll start moving about when PilotEdge goes live at 11. Or just watch the stream and join in the comments.
PilotEdge recently released an update to their X-Plane plug-in and it simulates VHF radio distortion. To this point PilotEdge transmissions were crystal clear unless a user either added their own distortion or, as I do, used real-world headsets (a solution that only distorts my audio and no one else’s). This updated plugin now brings the VHF, “aviation-style” audio to everyone on the network (controllers and pilots), and it’s highly realistic and immersive. What’s more, it’s not just a frequency distortion feature, as the plugin simulates the amount of degradation based on distance, altitude, and terrain. The further away you are, the worse the signal becomes. It’s really very slick.
Available only in the X-Plane version of PilotEdge for now, it will come to the P3D and FSX clients soon. In this flight I demonstrate this new feature with a quick flight from San Luis Obispo to Oceano. The flight also has some VFR traffic in the pattern, which demonstrates how well PilotEdge can simulate airspace and radio work.
This past Sunday I had the Archer booked all morning to knock off the remaining 2.6 hours of my solo cross-country time requirement. The plan was to fly from Albert Whitted to Page / Ft. Meyers, do some time in the pattern there, then head up for a full-stop and maybe a few laps at Arcadia X06, and then go back to Whitted in St. Pete. Viewers of the YouTube channel know that I’ve simulated this flight a few times, including last Saturday.
During runup I noticed the ammeter (which, I’ve learned, is actually a load meter in the Archer) would quickly go to zero at around 1,800 RPM. Throttling back and flipping the ALT switch would show it as carrying a load again, but repeated runups always pegged it back at zero, and turning the landing lights etc. on and off didn’t show any load.
Thinking this was strange, I called ground and asked to go back to the ramp, where I stopped the plane, hopped out, and found some folks at the school to talk to. We couldn’t get the A&P on the phone, but two different CFIs, and my old CFI in PA who has an Archer (whom I called), all indicated that a near-zero reading on the loadmeter was normal behavior, so off I went.
Things were fine down to Page. I had advisories the entire way, and it was smooth flying. After laps at KFMY I headed north for the 20-or-so minute flight to Arcadia X06, talking to Ft. Meyers departure. About five or 10 minutes out of Page I started to get an interesting series of progressive failures. First the GPS (a GNS 430) reset. It came right back, I re-entered my flight plan, and kept going. Then I got another GPS reset, and it really started coming in and out. About that point I was told to switch to Miami Center, and while I could hear ATC on COM1 (which runs through the GPS unit), they could not seem to hear me. Then then GPS and COM 1 went completely dark. I tried to reach Center on COM 2, and while I could hear them they could not hear me.
I was getting closer to Arcadia, so I set the transponder to squawk 7600 (the code for lost communications) so that ATC could see on their screen that I had no radios. I then pulled out the handheld radio my wife gave me for Christmas two years ago, connected my headset, and tried to reach Center that way. I could not really hear them and was pretty certain they could not hear me — the handheld antenna just doesn’t have the reach. By this point I had visual on Arcadia. Though I had started a gentle descent a way back I was still quite high, so I switched the handheld to the Arcadia CTAF and made a call that I was passing over the field and setting up for a downwind entry to land. I tried a radio check but got no response, and as far as I could tell there was nobody in the pattern — but I really had my head on a swivel.
The landing went fine. As I got to the ramp I tried what I’d tried in St. Pete, flipping the ALT switch off and on again, and everything came back. I plugged in my headset and at that point I could hear someone calling me on frequency (which I think was the CTAF on COM2 but at this point those details are fuzzy) saying Miami Center was looking for me. I keyed the mic and told them I was fine and that I had had an electrical failure. The pilot confirmed that and I heard him, let Center know (turns out he was a JetBlue pilot who was calling in the blind as part of the effort to find me, a very courteous thing to do and a great example of the community of pilots). I parked the Archer and was greeted by the person manning the FBO. I called the school, they said stay put, and an hour later they were down in an Arrow to shuttle me back to St. Pete.
The problem? A a bad overvoltage relay, which keeps the electrical system from carrying too much load (and frying the electronics), or maybe a bad alternator that was throwing off too much load and tripping the relay. Either way, it was an alternator failure in flight which led to running the battery down (not helped by my flying with the landing light on as a safety measure, I’m sure). While there was enough juice in the battery for the first half of the flight, by the time I was enroute to Arcadia there was enough to keep COM2 and the transponder on but not enough to transmit. And interestingly the ALT annunciator light never lit (and yes I tested them in runup).
Getting home I looked up the ATC tapes online to listen to the other side of the ATC conversation and to see if any of my calls made it. None did. Listening to the Miami Center tapes was a bit creepy. They repeatedly asked me to IDENT if I could hear them (every five minutes or so). They had a Mooney in the area trying to get me on the Arcadia CTAF in the blind. The handheld has such limited range I never heard him. The controller asked him to listen for an ELT signal (which goes off if you crash). They had lost me and my 7600 from their scope just south of Aracadia, probably because the transponder didn’t have enough juice to transmit. But it was great to hear that JetBlue pilot interrupt an ATC call to confirm they had me.
I never felt unsafe, but was most anxious entering and flying the pattern at Arcadia. And of the problems to have in flight in a GA aircraft, this can qualify in my book as a good one. On the whole I consider it a great experience to have had, especially as a student pilot.
Lessons learned …
First, know the POH / Operating Handbook. In the Archer POH under “Alternator Failure” it describes just what I was seeing, including the ALT reset. If I’d checked it before departure I would not have gone.
Second, have complete checklists. The checklist in the Archer doesn’t have alternator failure on it. This isn’t uncommon as there are a million different checklists for any given airframe. But I’m going to make my own, more complete checklists instead.
Third, things move fast when it happens for real. I never checked the POH in flight, as I was too busy trying COM2, then squawking 7600, then switching radios, then getting ready for the approach into Arcadia without a reliable radio. There was a lot going on, and it’s an argument for procedure practice (including procedures less obvious than an engine out).
Fourth, redundant systems are a good thing. I had my iPad in the bird and my portable ADS B unit, so even though I lost the GPS I still had a moving map, charts, weather, and most important, traffic (at least ADS B traffic). This was of great help in getting to Arcadia without having to find my location on the paper chart.
Fifth, practice is useful. I was never sacred or even really nervous. “Focused” is a better word with a problem to solve and risks to manage. I credit that to the number of times I’ve simulated emergencies (though not this one) in the sim, and the time I have doing radio work on PilotEdge.
Sixth, and most important, trust your instincts. If I am ever again on the ramp thinking, “Well, this just doesn’t make sense,” I’m not going to go, no matter how much reassurance I get. Don’t get me wrong: the folks I talked to were very experienced and gave me the best advice they could. Everyone I have talked to has said that I did the right thing in talking to more experienced folks, and that they all would have gone, too, had they been told by three experienced pilots “that’s normal.” But I’m going to trust my spidey sense (and read the POH).
We left the Archer there. I can see on the schedule that it’s back in action and I’ll call in tomorrow to confirm the problem. In the scheme of things that can happen in an airplane, this was a minor one. I’m grateful for that, and for the experience. I can’t wait to get up again: I still have 12 minutes of cross-country solo time to knock off!
I’m often asked for this, so here is the latest. I will update this post over time, and as of this posting these are my VR settings for X-Plane 11.25b1 and the Oculus Rift.
My settings are primarily based on a YouTube video I’d found, which I have posted at the bottom of this post. It’s worth watching the entire thing, although the last 10 minutes or so you can probably scan through as it, for the most part, just makes and extended case for the use of the 3jFPS plugin. Here’s the list:
These setting are working really well for me, with usually solid 45FPS, smooth performance, and few to no “grey flashes” or frozen views. I do think the changes to the power management settings throughout made a difference, for what that’s worth. It’s really a remarkably good experience, although your mileage may vary.
This is today’s live stream. The majority of the flight was me running through a real-world maneuvers practice flight in the Archer III using VR. I haven’t been able to fly for weeks in the real airplane, so I did this hop just to practice procedures. Then and the end I figured to try out the 747-800 in VR just for fun. That starts at 1:13 or so. I actually manage to land the thing! The ability to fly and interact with different aircraft in real-world proportion is one of the most amazing things about VR technology. If I only knew what all those buttons and dials actually do …
One of the things I like about the forums here — at least when I have time to read them — is people posting pics of their home cockpits. There are so many cool designs and so much passion and enthusiasm behind them. It’s really great to see. One regular reader and viewer on my YouTube stream is “Taxi Into Position And Hold” (should I start calling him Tipah?). He’s built a C 712 panel that really is a work of art. Witness …