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Back To School

Having got the hardware sorted to a reasonably high level and the software updated – the first install and updates take around 90 minutes, it was time to try some lessons. I did spend some hours messing around before this stage of course.

In Flight simulator 2020, there are eight lessons in the basic section, these need to be taken with a pinch of salt sadly as they are not as good as earlier versions of the simulator and so I have learnt, leave a lot to be desired.

Way back in 1984 and version 2, the software disks came in a box with a real, printed ‘Flight School’ manual that was very impressive and very in-depth, covering pretty much all the info needed that would be found in ground-based sections of flight-school. I wish I had kept my copy now but it was many years ago.

17 January 2022

Having been researching since getting interested, I can see that the ‘lessons’ in FS2020 do cover the basics but they cover it very poorly – the scant text information you can read while each lesson is loading gives very little help, the AI ‘tutor’ advises what to do but does not have any in-lesson feedback i.e. you can be taking a lesson in landing and completely miss the runway, go around and do it again!

For example, In my trials I managed to land on the grass at the side of the runway, bounce about a bit, steer back onto the runway and come to a stop on the centreline – I scored an ‘A’ pass for that, in real life I would probably have been escorted from the airfield and told to walk home 🙂

The lesson menu screen

It does give you a breakdown of the score received after each lesson, I scored the A pass because I managed to stop on the runway centreline and also managed my speed on the approach – it cared less about my grass touchdown!

It would be better to have the AI tutor monitor and give feedback during the lesson, it should have failed me for a grass landing, driving across the field to the runway, going around and probably lots more. It seems they have made it far too simplistic in the new version, the previous two or three versions of the software reportedly had fantastic lessons that were very close to real-world ones.

There are on-screen ‘objective’ indicators which are green for instance if you are aligned with the runway, or maintaining the correct speed, however, there is no hint as to what you should do when these indicators are not green – it should say “you are too low” or “your speed is too high” – the same as an instructor might say in a real lesson.

19 January 2022

Moving on, with the luxury of the internet, research is easy and getting aviation charts is pretty simple – the basic chart for my chosen airfield at Cranfield is shown below.

Basic chart for Cranfield aerodrome in Bedford, UK

There is a pile of information in this chart and I’m still trying to decipher it all, just for interest of course.

It’s easy to figure out what all the various indicators, knobs and dials do in a small plane like the Cessna 152, the lessons do cover these a fair bit, at this stage all lessons are ‘VFR’ or Visual Flight Rules – all done during daytime and minimal use of instruments is made.

Staying in daytime is easy in FS2020, it has fantastic controls for weather including ‘Live’ weather where it will pull in the actual weather in your area and attempt to simulate it on-screen, it’s pretty realistic too! Manual control of weather is easier for learning, I keep it in ‘Clear Skies’ mostly, but thunder, rain and snow are fun.

The main instruments I’m using at present are the altimeter for height above sea level, the air speed indicator, the heading indicator, the vertical speed indicator, the turn co-ordinator and the attitude indicator – these instruments feature pretty much in every plane style and size, I have recently discovered they are termed the ‘six pack’ and are usually grouped together.

A basic traffic pattern

Taking off is fairly simple, or so I thought, I never knew about the torque effect of the prop pulling the plane to one side all the time and needing constant rudder input to keep the plane straight on the runway. It does feel good when you get it all together and make a textbook takeoff, only to realise you need to find the runway again to try and land – enter the standard traffic pattern (pictured above).

The traffic pattern was unknown to me a few days ago, but it is used everywhere and after watching videos on it, the reasons are very clear. It is made up of five legs or sections – Upwind, Crosswind, Downwind, Base and Final. It is pretty fast to fly, taking only around 5-6 minutes from takeoff to landing so you have a lot to think about while doing it. Each leg can have different heights, speeds, control settings etc and you need to keep looking out the window to ensure you know where the runway is, luckily we don’t need to look out for other planes as well in a virtual world!

I’m at the traffic pattern stage now and currently struggling with the base leg – I keep overshooting the turn into the final leg so end up going way past the runway to to the right side 🙂 Another thing I need to remember is that the altitude indicator reads height above sea level not the ground so to fly at say 1000 feet above the runway means having to add the runway elevation to the reading all the time.

28 January 2022

I’m getting better at taking off and even managed some 30 minute flights from one airport to another. Although there have been some very bumpy landings, all of them lately have been successful and non-damaging – it is very good at letting you know when you wreck the plane 🙂 I have now turned off all damage protection in the settings.

Once you take off, reach a good altitude , around 1500 feet is good, and set the plane up, it will fly itself pretty much, this means you can switch camera view to outside and admire the fantastic views – it really is amazingly good.

One aspect I really need to learn is how to calculate headings, instant mental arithmetic was never my good point. Point in question – I found a runway to land on today, I was randomly flying in no particular direction but the runway was runway 23 and I needed to join the traffic pattern on the downwind leg.

The downwind leg is 180 degrees opposite to the runway – do you think i could work that out in time ? No, I passed it way off and had to do some turns to get back where I needed. Then you need to work the base leg – this is 90 degrees less than downwind for a left pattern, and again the final which is luckily easy as it is the runway heading 🙂

The heading indicator (below) has four arrows at 12, 3, 6 and 9 o’clock points – these are useful for keeping on a heading that is 90 degrees from another.

The Heading Indicator

Get all that correct while flying, maintaining speed, altitude, looking out the windows to try and find the runway, and you might just make a decent landing.

Just in case you are interested, the runway number is the compass heading the runway is aligned with – 23 being 230 degrees, the zero is never used. The other end of the same runway is 05, being 180 degrees opposite to 23. They do change as well, as the earths magnetic field alters over time, runways have to re-numbered, Stansted, our local airport had to re-number the runways, change all the taxiway signs etc about 5 years ago 🙂

31 January 2022

I’m still doing traffic patterns, it’s probably the best way to practice takeoff and landing, plus different attitudes – climb, cruise, descent, approach all within a short 7-8 minute timespan. It’s pretty full-on and there is little time to do anything other than fly the plane. My landings are getting better now.

Miami coast flight

I did manage a nice flight from Fort Lauderdale airport and into Miami International, fantastic scenery and a long coastline to look at, just set the plane up and it practically flies itself so you can mess about with the camera etc. Miami International is a massive airport and the taxi from landing to parking was almost as long as my flight 🙂

5 February 2022

Been practicing just approach and landings for a couple of days, it’s starting to get better now, at least I’ve not crashed for many dozens of attempts. A short video of my current state, not perfect and it’s a little low at the end but pretty good I think…

It’s very satisfying when you get a good landing, the settings for this one included light gusting winds as well which adds to the fun.

07 February 2022

I like going in-depth with my interests and hobbies, with the software simulator being so close to real flying it seemed a reasonable idea to get some printed matter to read. I do love a good old printed book, they beat digital books every time, plus the battery never goes flat when you’re reading 🙂

Up-to-date flight training manuals are pretty expensive and there are a lot of them to accompany lessons, you would be expected to buy and study these along with your ground classes etc. However, I found that they get updated regularly when laws or regulations change – this means a new book is released and that also means older copies are still about, usually at greatly reduced costs.

In the UK, Pooley’s produce these manuals and I managed to get a new copy of the 2014 edition at a silly price on Amazon – yes it’s 8 years out of date but the mechanics of flight never change so it’s still totally relevant for simulator learning – we are never going to talk to real air traffic control or other real pilots etc.

This book is perfect – loaded with pictures, charts and diagrams, all of which are identical to the features of the basic training planes in FS2020 software. In my view, this is the book that should be included with the software as an option.

08 February 2022

Only had a short play today, been working through some odd bugs on the various forums. I decided to turn the wind up a little for a laugh, fully expecting to crash but I actually made it into Southend airport in Essex. I did not bother videoing the whole circuit so this is just a 1 minute flash-back recording of the landing, certainly makes it a little bumpy. The wind was set to 5 knots almost head-on with gusts to 8 knots every few seconds.

10 February 2022

After yesterdays success, I tried again with ‘live’ weather – it turned out to be worse and the wind was 19 knots this time, coming at an angle to the runway but not fully crosswind – the Cessna 152 is only rated for landing at crosswinds below 12 knots 🙂

I thought it went pretty well, the hard part is what can happen when you touch down and have a lot of rudder input – it makes you swerve on the runway. The taxi back to parking was also very tricky due to the winds.

13 February 2022

Still doing circuits in-between having some fun, today I visited Entebbe Airport in Uganda, no special reason, it just popped up on my list 🙂

Getting a fair bit better in the pattern now, the wind was 3 knots gusting to 5, and I only took the one attempt at it. I still missed the centreline on the runway though, I’ve read it’s ok as long as the main wheels straddle the white line but I think I missed that opportunity as well.

18 February 2022

With storm Eunice lashing the country, what better time to take the little Cessna 152 up for a circuit around my training airfield 🙂

The winds were 22 knots gusting 28 at 270deg, I was on runway 21. The crosswind leg was bumpy, the downwind leg was over before I noticed due to the massive tail-wind – I nearly lost the runway sighting, base leg was bumpy again and the final leg was so slow I needed almost full throttle to make any headway 🙂

19 February 2022

Some more terrible weather landings, Biggin Hill airfield in severe winds and early evening light, ATC refused my request to land due to visibility but I went in anyway.

Emergency landing at Luton Airport (I think), hard rain and high winds, poor visibility, had to get down.

I think in reality, you would be in serious trouble if caught in this sort of weather with no ILS (instrument landing system) as you simply cannot see the airports or even the ground until you are almost on top of it, naturally you would also be extremely negligent to try and go up in it 😉

22 February 2022

I tried a grass-strip landing today, I wasn’t expecting to, I just selected an airfield and flew to it, turns out that grass-strip airfields are very hard to spot so I had to fly over it to actually find it. Landing worked out pretty good I think in the end.