Alphabet Challenge Leg 11: K (KKNB) to L (KLGB)

Yesterday I was able to carve out about three hours to complete the next flight in the PilotEdge Alphabet Challenge, Kanab (K) to Long Beach (L). This is one of the longest flights in the series, logging in at 345 nautical miles with the route I’d planned, a VFR flight of KKNB MMM LAS DAG POM KLGB. You can see the flight plan here:


To keep this flight a manageable length, I decided to fly it in the Carenado Cirrus SR22GTSX turbo, which would let me clip along at about 170 knots once I climbed to the 12,500 feet cruising altitude I’d planned. It’s a beautiful airplane in real and simulated life:


Even with all that horsepower it was going to be about a two hour and five minute flight as we had headwinds, some 20 knots, the entire way. I departed Kanab on the CTAF frequency, and then once I was at 12,500 I picked up flight following by calling the PE LA Center frequency. Things went along fine from there, but there were missteps and complications along the way, each of which had its lessons:

  • Equipment can get in the way. I spent quite a bit of time in the early part of the flight messing with the plane’s autopilot. With a long flight ahead I decided I wanted this one to fly itself quite a bit of the way. But for some reason I couldn’t get it to arm for either altitude or navigation / heading. The Carenado autopilots typically play well with Saitek gear, so this was confusing to me. Eventually, about at the outskirts of Las Vegas, I said to heck with it and flew manual the rest of the way. With the winds this was like riding a wild horse, and it was fatiguing. After doing some research I learned that continued trim input can cause the AP to disengage. I did have the aileron trim tab set, and will test today to see if that in fact was the problem.
  • Don’t forget to actually set the squawk code. I kept waiting to hear “radar contact” from Center but it never came. When I finally asked if they had me they said, “no” and told me to cycle the transponder. I saw I was still squawking 1200, and when I suggested that actually setting the code might help I and the controller had a laugh.
  • Equipment failures happen. On this flight, the display on the FIP that shows my wet compass froze. I futzed with it some then flew via only the G1000 glass cockpit on the iPad. But the buttons on the FIP still seemed to work. I use those to toggle the COM and VOR radios, and in pushing them to see what was what I unknowingly switched over to COM2. After wondering where LA Center was for a while I switched back over to COM 1 and asked if I’d blown through a transition. They said no, but that they’d been looking for me. The redundant system on this is the light on the attenuator panel. That’s not working, and I need to fix it just as I would in a real airplane.
  • There’s more to learn on airspace. As I approached the LA basin I started my descent, assuming that SoCal Approach would handle my transition of the LA Bravo airspace. Not true, as the controller got on to advise me that I should probably get down below the Bravo shelf altitude (7,000 feet there) before going further as they would “not allow you to transition there.” I had been thinking that with flight following they’d handle passing me into the Bravo, but in reality you can only transition the LAX Bravo in a couple of places, and that’s not one of them. So I had to make a circling decent, avoid the Ontario Charlie, then duck under the LA Bravo, all of which you can see in the flight path image below. Normally this is easy but …
  • wind and visibility are real complications. The wind was still howling on the descent, some 20-25 knots, and the plane was all over the place. And Active Sky 16 did a great job of rendering the haze in the LA valley, which limited visibility to about 10 miles. All told, it made for a very stressful, if still simulated, descent between holding onto the airplane, avoiding the Bravo and Charlie airspaces, and not being able to see very far. So distracting, in fact, that the aircraft got too fast and crashed, I think from exceeding the NTE speed. Good thing it’s a simulation, and luckily P3D quickly reloaded so I could continue (you can see this point in the flight path as the little jog in the line above the high 60 marker).


  • Controllers can make mistakes, too. The Long Beach tower first gave me one approach, then realized they had the wrong airplane, so they gave me another approach. I though I was too close to the field to make the left hand turn it would require, so I looped north to make the right base into 25L. This confused him, too, but he said no worries and told me to just to head to the numbers for landing.
  • And finally, high-performance aircraft are a different kettle of fish, even in a simulator. Once I was in descent everything in the Carenado seemed to happen very, very quickly. There’s a big difference between 100 or 120 knots in a Cessna 172-182 and 150 knots in the Cirrus, and this is more true on final where you’re coming in at 90 instead of 65-70. I landed the thing, but with the wind and the speed it was rough going. You have to really be ahead of the game not the let the airplane get ahead of you.


All told, the flight felt like a workout, and a very useful training session. The great thing about the sim and the software is that conditions can get quite real, and they can require real decision making. This flight had a lot of them, and I felt like my training brain was working nearly the entire time. I suspect that’s valuable as a student pilot. At least, I hope so.

The next flight is Long Beach to Montgomery Field. This will be my first flight on Pilot Edge into the San Diego area, and I’m looking forward to it. And here’s the challenge progress so far. 112 pilots have started the challenge, and only 59 have made it this far.



A V-3 Rating On PilotEdge

I’m happy to say that today I completed the V-3 VFR rating on the PilotEdge ATC network. This is the most challenging of the visual flight rules ratings, and I’m proud to say I passed it on the first try!

The requirements of the V-3 rating, per the PE training site:

This advanced rating involves transitions of complex airspace, and knowledge of published VFR routes around LAX. The pilot will depart KSNA, and fly at least two of the published LAX Bravo transitions, choosing between:

  • the ‘Coastal Route’
  • the ‘Mini Route’
  • Special Flight Rules Area (SFRA)
  • the ‘Hollywood Park Route’
  • the ‘Coliseum Route’

and then ultimately land at Torrance (KTOA). The pilot is not permitted to land at any airports prior to landing at Torrance.


What this means in English: The area around LAX is indeed complex airspace, as you can see in this image from the LAX sectional chart (click it to see it full-sized) …

SkyVector__Flight_Planning___Aeronautical_Charts 4

There’s a lot going on in this airspace, but the most important part of it is the LAX “Bravo” airspace, which is airspace that an aircraft is absolutely NOT allowed to enter unless it is given permission to do so by ATC. Once inside the Bravo, that aircraft has to remain under ATC control, and many only go where ATC says it may go. This is to keep aircraft from bumping into each other in congested airspace. The LAX Bravo is denoted by the blue lines in the chart, and they fit together like pieces of a puzzle because the space is in three dimensions. It has a ceiling of 10,000 feet throughout but varying floors based on where the air traffic is being routed by LAX. You can tell what those limits are on the chart by the stacked blue numbers in each blue section (e.g. 100/50, which is a ceiling of 10,000 feet MSL and a floor of 5,000 feet MSL). So in 3-d the LAX Bravo actually looks like this:


But if you are not flying into or out of LAX, how do you get north or south over the LA basin without flying 100 miles out of your way? You do it by crossing one of five Bravo “transitions” set up by the FAA. I’ve annotated the chart below to show the outline of the LAX Bravo in pink, and four of the transitions across it in bright blue (a fifth, called the “Los Angeles Special Flight Rules Area” is a bit harder to explain and I’ll pass on it here):


Again, you can click on that chart to make it larger. The four primary transitions are the Coastal Route, the Mini Route (which goes directly over the LAX tower and is quite narrow), the Hollywood Park Route, and the Colosseum Route. Each has its own set of rules and altitude, because as you can see in the 3-D image of the Bravo there are a lot of places where you can fly under the Bravo, most notably right over LAX itself where the Bravo is most narrow (which make sense because there all the traffic is arriving or departing from the East or West).

For my rating I decided to fly the Coastal Route up, at an altitude of 6,500 feet, and the Mini Route back, at an altitude of 2,500 feet. The Coastal Route going north is pretty straight forward: you fly the 123 degree radial of the LAX VOR into, and the 323 degree radial out of, the Bravo at 5,500 or 6,500 feet, and you’re with LAX Approach the entire way. Here’s the Coastal Route insert from the LAX sectional:


The Mini Route going south is more demanding. You fly under the outer shelfs of the Bravo on the way in, fly over the Santa Monica VOR, and then on its 128 degree radial you fly directly over the LAX tower to the Hawthorne & 405 Freeway visual reporting point. You start with Santa Monica tower, then go to LAX tower, then to Hawthorne tower, all within about two miles. Here’s the information from the sectional on the Mini Route:


To complete the V-3 rating, you then need to go to Torrance tower after that for landing. Here’s the flight plan I mapped out for the flight (starting at John Wayne airport at the bottom right):

SkyVector__Flight_Planning___Aeronautical_Charts 3

I’m happy to say that all went according to plan. A solid autopilot made it a heck of a lot easer, as I was able to focus more on the radios while letting the altitude and directional tracking do their things. I did somehow mess up my autopilot right in the heart of the Mini Route, though, and flew that section directionally by hand, which was fine. The approach and landing in Torrance was all by hand to, of course. Here’s the flight track data (ignore the blue line – ATC noted the flight as John Wayne direct to Torrance for flight planning purposes, but knew I was going via the Coastal and Mini routes):


PEaware____N15JG_KSNA-KTOA 2

It really was a lot of fun. One reason I think it went so well is that I watched the training video for the flight, and then flew it once or twice on my own to practice. It was really helpful knowing what to expect visually and timing-wise, and I’d encourage anyone trying for the V-3 on PE to do the same. I also had a radio plan written out, with what calls to make when, frequencies, altitude changes etc., so I could keep track along the way. With so many handoffs it’s easy to think you’re talking to SoCal approach when really you’re talking to Santa Monica tower. All told, here’s the list of radio contacts for my particular flight:

  1. John Wayne (KSNA) ATIS for the weather
  2. KSNA clearance for clearance delivery check in
  3. KSNA ground for taxi
  4. KSNA tower for departure
  5. SoCal departure to begin flight following
  6. SoCal approach to continue following and to request the Coastal Route
  7. A different SoCal approach frequency to continue following through the Coastal Route and to ask approval to get the Torrance (KTOA) weather
  8. KTOA ATIS for the weather
  9. Santa Monica (KSMO) tower to request the Mini Route
  10. LA tower across the Mini Route
  11. Hawthorne (KHHR) tower to exit the Mini Route
  12. Torrance (KTOA) tower for landing (and I never was asked to go to KTOA ground or it would be on the list, too)

PilotEdge records all their radio shifts to help with training, and I went back and pulled the mp3 files and edited together the calls for my flight. You can listen to it by clicking the play button below, and my call sign is Skylane 15 Juliet Golf.

The PE software does a nice job of automatically deleting any dead air, so it’s compressed significantly from the actual flight time of just under an hour. I say that also so nobody thinks PE is always this busy, although sometimes it is. I hope you like listening to it, and thanks for reading about my PE flight across the LAX Bravo.

Victorville (KVCV) to Boulder City (KBVU) – And The Cuban Missile Crisis

Last night on PilotEdge I decided to fly from Victorville, CA to Boulder, City, NV (just outside Las Vegas). This is the first leg of a two-leg trip VFR PilotEdge flight from KVCV to St. George, Utah. KVCV is the old George Air Force Base, and is now a towered public field working as Southern California Logistics. My Dad was based at George in the early 1960s as a doc in the Air Force, and while it was before I was born, stories of going “over the hill to Victorville,” and the realities of high-dessert 1960s base life, still run through our regular family mythology.

While this was a VFR flight, I did file a flight plan online via PilotEdge so I could log and track the flight on PEaware. The sectional chart below shows the flight, and I planned it as direct GPS, 140 knots, 7,500 feet (necessary to keep from running into the shoulders of Clark Mountain). Other things to manage on this flight included getting clearance to fly through the Silver North Military Operating Area, avoiding the Las Vegas Bravo airspace, and arriving at Boulder City in the dark. You can click that chart image to see it full-sized.


The route and vertical / speed profiles are below. I used ATC flight following the entire way, which is a smart thing to do because it’s safer, and it makes the handoffs near a Bravo like Las Vegas a bit less worrisome for pilot and ATC (you know they are watching, and they know you know where you are going). The PilotEdge side of things went well, save three small mistakes: I called to Joshua Departure before switching over from KVCV tower, I addressed Las Vegas Approach as LA Center for half-second before correcting myself, and when I went to the KBVU CTAF I told LV Approach I was going to their tower (when there is no tower). I was already correcting myself when the controller said, “I don’t think you’ll find a tower at Boulder City, but you’re welcome to try.” What can I say, it was late. Still, it goes to show that PilotEdge is an excellent training tool, and I learn something every time, even if just listening to the traffic. It can’t be beat as a simulation add on.


PEaware____N15JG_KVCV-KBVU 2

On this flight as well, even though it was a simulated experience, some family history came back. The Orbx scenery is realistic enough that as I overflew the dry lake beds of Silver Lake and Soda Lake, I recalled stories my father has told about taking a light plane from George AFB during the Cuban missile crisis, and flying out into the Mojave to scout lake beds where he could land and caves where he could stash the family if the bombs started to fall. And they nearly did. He knew to make that flight when he came home one day and all the F-104 pilots had their flight bags packed and sitting on their doorsteps. They were taking on nukes and flying to Florida. Chilling times, ones I hope never return.