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A little (simulated) flying fun…

If you’ve been reading here much, or have ever seen me speak, you know that I’m somewhat of an aviation fan. I’m an instrument-rated private pilot (though not current, thanks to family, money, and Oregon weather!), and X-Plane is one of my favorite diversions. I love being able to pilot aircraft I’ll never have the chance to fly here in reality, and to fly in weather conditions that I wouldn’t dare to go near in a real airplane. X-Plane also features real-world weather, so I can fly around the Portland area in conditions that closely match what I see out the office window.

Yesterday, it was foggy here. Really foggy. Almost all day. So during lunch, I took the Nike LearJet (OK, the X-Plane version thereof) out from Portland International for a little spin. Take-off in foggy conditions is relatively straightforward–full thrust, max rate of climb, maintain runway heading (instrument departure procedure? Nah!), and I broke out into the blue skies above at about 3,500 feet above the ground. I flew off to a clearer airport for a couple touch-and-goes, then headed back to Portland. Given the fog, an instrument approach was definitely required. I chose the ILS for runway 28R, and maneuvered the plane towards the final approach course.

Then I got lazy, something I couldn’t ever do when flying instruments in the Piper Warrior I trained in: I set up a fully-coupled autopilot approach, including auto-throttles. As pilot, my job was now reduced to system monitor–I only had to choose the desired airspeed on the autopilot panel, remember to drop the flaps and gear, monitor the system’s progress, and then the autopilot would take care of the rest. Just for fun, I used SnapzPro to record the approach, from the ILS intercept to touchdown, and uploaded them in case anyone wants to see X-Plane, or what a really foggy approach might look like.

I made four versions of the final clip — the entire approach (about four and a half minutes) at full size and half size (probably of interest only to real diehard flightsim fans, as the scenery isn’t very interesting!), and the final minute or so of the approach, where you can see the runway appear out of the fog (also in two sizes):

Foggy learjet Full approach, big [1024×768, 25.4MB]
Full approach, small [512×384, 16.7MB]
Final approach, big [1024×768, 6.2MB]
Final approach, small [512×384, 4.3MB]

The fog was low, very low–probably legally too low for the approach I was flying, but X-Plane doesn’t really care much about regulations. The autopilot did a great job, bringing me down right on the center line. I drifted a bit as I shut down the systems for landing, but still kept the thing on the pavement.

In my career as a passenger on commercial aircraft, I’ve only had one such approach–flying into Logan Airport in Boston one morning, it was rainy and foggy, with very low clouds. I had a window seat, and we were on what’s known as a Category III ILS to runway 04R. Depending on aircraft and pilot qualifications, a Category III approach can be a fully auto-landed approach–the autopilots handle everything including touchdown! I’m not sure if that’s what we were flying or not, but I do know that I didn’t see any runway or other signs of the ground (or water, as the approach is over a bay) until about two seconds before touchdown. It was quite the experience.

5 Comments

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  1. Hey, Rob —

    XPlane’s a guilty pleasure of mine, too. As a kid, my dad worked at Newark Airport, and would get the ground crews to bring us onto the cockpits of the jets that were in for service. It was always a *huge* thrill. At any rate, I was wondering why you chose to use Snapz Pro rather than the built-in video capture capability of XPlane?

    Best,

    –Chuck

  2. Chuck:

    I use Snapz Pro for two reasons: X-Plane’s built-in tool seems to have a resolution limit (320×240) and it won’t capture sound. With Snapz Pro, I was able to grab full 1024×768 screens with audio. If there are settings I’m overlooking in X-Plane itself for movie capture, please let me know!

    regards;
    -rob.

  3. Incredible. After flying a bit in a Warrior long long time ago, makes me want to get X-plane aswell. Does it run natively on the Intel architecture on the latest MacBook Pro’s? Or does it go through Roseta? Could not find out on their web site.

    Thanks

    Dirk

  4. They do have one of the worst websites on the planet ;). The info is there, it’s just tough to find and read. In this case, it’s on their System Requirements page:

    X-Plane is of course Universal Binary on Mac.

    It runs great on the Intel chips, too–better than it does on the PowerPCs.

    -rob.

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