AviatorPro 98 from FlightSafety International

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What do you get when you cross FlightSafety International, the world's largest pilot training organization, with Microsoft, the world's largest software company? If you said "an 800-pound gorilla with an ATP," you'd be wrong! Actually, what you get is AviatorPro 98, FlightSafety's $35 IFR add-on for Microsoft Flight Simulator 98. After logging some 25 hours flying this combo, AVweb's Mike Busch came away humbled, frustrated, and frankly astonished with the realism and training value that $65 can buy these days.

TrainingAnyone who's read much of my rantings knows that I'm a big fan of simulator training. Fact is, I spend about $5,000 a year on sim-based recurrent training to keep myself sharp and competent to fly my Cessna T310R. Over the years, the lion's share of that money has gone to FlightSafety International, a company that pioneered simulator-based training in the 1950s and remains the largest — and most would agree the best — company in the field. I've often expressed my conviction that any pilot who flies a high-performance airplane — particularly a twin or turbine — without at least annual sim training has a death wish. Personally, I try to schedule three days of recurrent sim training every six months.

AviatorPro 98By the same token, I'm not much into games...especially computer games. It seems as if I've spent most of my adult life in front of a computer — as a software developer for 30 years, and as a writer, journalist, and webmaster for the past five. Computers have always represented "work" to me; when I want recreation, I usually jump in the airplane and fly somewhere.

So when Jennifer Burghardt of FlightSafety International sent me a copy of AviatorPro 98 and asked me if I'd like to review it, I was skeptical to say the least. FlightSafety describes AviatorPro 98 as "an adventure add-on for Microsoft Flight Simulator 98," which sounded pretty hokey to me right off the bat. But given FlightSafety's reputation for serious aviation training, not to mention Jennifer's persistence, I agreed to give it a try.

The adventure begins

The FedEx man shows up with the AviatorPro 98 package, consisting of a profusely-illustrated box containing a CDROM plus a small, 40-page manual consisting mostly of reproductions of selected NOS charts, aircraft checklists, and a few well-chosen words of advice to aviators.

AviatorPro 98The back of the box makes it pretty clear what I can expect from AviatorPro 98: a set of five hour-long IFR "adventures" set in five different parts of the United States: Florida, Massachusetts, Colorado, California and Washington state. The missions are to be flown in a Cessna 182RG, and include ATC audio plus a variety of challenges such as weather and equipment malfunctions.

AviatorPro 98 requirementsThe box also explains that to run AviatorPro 98, you need a PC running Windows 95/98/NT4 (100 MHz Pentium or better suggested) with a CDROM, color SVGA monitor, sound card, and joystick or yoke. Okay, I have all that. You also need Microsoft Flight Simulator 98, and I don't have that. But a quick trip to a few software web sites reveals a street price of less than $50, and a $20 rebate from Microsoft good through the end of 1999. For under thirty bucks, I figure I can afford to take the plunge.

A few days later, that nice FedEx man brings Flight Simulator 98 and I install it on my PC. Before installing AviatorPro 98, I decide to spend a little while playing around with "raw" FS98 just to get the feel of it. It takes me 30 minutes of fiddling around to get comfortable flying the thing. I have to figure out, for example, that I must set "auto-coordination" on in order to be able to steer the airplane on the ground (since my computer is equipped with only a joystick and no rudder pedals). But it comes quickly, and I have to admit that Microsoft Flight Simulator has come a long, long way in realism since I last fooled around with it (around 1995 if memory serves).

I try my hand at flying a Cessna 182 around the local area of my home airport of Santa Maria, California [SMX], and then try my hand at flying a Boeing 737 in the Bay Area. I hate to admit it, but this is fun! . . . And then I notice the sun is coming up, that it's 6 a.m., and I've pulled an all-nighter playing games on my computer! I start to understand why computer games are the stuff of which nerds and divorces are made. Enough of this foolishness!

Florida follies: VRB to TIX

Flight Simulator 98The next evening, I install the AviatorPro 98 software and launch Flight Simulator 98. The only apparent difference I can find is the appearance of five new FSI entries in the FS98 "Flights > Adventures..." menu. I decide to try flying the first mission listed in the AviatorPro 98 manual, which turns out to be an IFR flight from Vero Beach to Titusville, Florida. So I select an item on the "Adventures..." menu that reads:

FlightSafety Int'l VRB-TIX: Cessna 182R RG
Fly from Vero Beach to Titusville, then
Orlando Int'l in a Cessna 182R RG

Hmm. That's interesting. The Cessna 182R is the new Independence-built Skylane that started production in 1997. But Independence isn't building the retractable-gear version of that aircraft. I wonder if FlightSafety knows something that the rest of us don't know? Or could they have meant "R182" which is the correct Cessna nomenclature for the airplane that most folks refer to as a "182 RG."

Also interesting: "fly from Vero Beach to Titusville, then Orlando Int'l." Orlando Int'l? Checking the AviatorPro 98 manual, it appears that we've filed from VRB to TIX with MCO as our alternate. You don't suppose they're subtly trying to give us a hint to be prepared to miss the approach at TIX?

After selecting the menu item, some "Loading..." messages appear as the hard disk and CDROM whir, and after a few seconds a rather realistic Cessna 182RG instrument panel appears, with a view of the Vero Beach tarmac out the windshield. A banner appears at the top of the screen saying:

Click on the Avionics button and tune in the ATIS to begin adventure...

VRB to TIXClicking on the avionics switch makes a full stack of Bendix/King Silver Crown radios appear in a separate window. I discover that I can resize the radio stack and drag it to wherever on the screen I want. The VRB approach plate lists ATIS as 132.5 MHz, so I tune the #1 comm to that frequency and "Vero Beach Municipal Information Oscar" starts coming from the speakers. I scribble down the fact that runway 29L is in use and the altimeter is 29.91.

Okay, what's next? The VRB plate lists Clearance Delivery on 124.25, so I try tuning that in. Good guess: a voice rattles off my IFR clearance to TIX, too fast for me to copy it all. That's okay. The book explains that if you miss a clearance, pressing CTRL+M on the keyboard causes it to be repeated. I do so, and this time I get the clearance copied okay.

At this point, it dawns on me that the engine isn't running, so I turn to the engine start checklist, set mixture full rich and rotate the mag switch clockwise four clicks: L, R, BOTH, START. I hear the engine come to life and see the tach start to register. Next step is to switch to Ground Control, which at VRB is on an oddball frequency: 127.45. I'm told to turn right and taxi via Charlie to runway 29L. I check the airport diagram and see this makes sense.

I slowly advance the throttle until, at about 1500 RPM, the airplane starts rolling forward. I see the little sign identifying taxiway C and attempt to turn right onto it. The airplane keeps rolling straight ahead. Damn! I forgot to turn on "auto-coordination" so have no nosewheel steering. I pull the throttle to idle and jam on the brakes (using the PERIOD key) as the aircraft runs off the tarmac into the grass.

"Stay on the assigned taxiway," says a female voice. (The first of many such admonitions. I will soon come to hate that voice. I wonder if it's Jennifer?)

After opening the "Aircraft Settings..." dialog and clicking on the auto-coordination checkbox, I throttle up, make a U-turn on the grass, get back on the pavement, and taxi eastbound on taxiway C. "Check taxi speed," says the nag voice. Oops! I throttle back to 1000 RPM and tap the brakes. All the while I'm taxiing, I hear a continuous stream of chatter between ATC and other aircraft on ground frequency. Very realistic. Finally, I see the end of the taxiway coming up, hang a left, and brake to a stop close to the hold-short line at the approach end of 29L.

I set the parking brake (CTRL+PERIOD) and quickly run through the before-takeoff checklist: mags checked, prop cycled, flaps set to 10 degrees for takeoff, strobes on, #1 nav tuned to Vero Beach VOR (117.3) and OBS set to the 347 radial which defines V3. I think I'm ready, so I switch the comm to tower on 126.3.

"Check transponder code."

Oops! That female nag voice again. I'd know her anywhere. I sheepishly set the transponder to 0233.

"Cessna 24182," says the tower controller, "fly runway heading, maintain 3000, cleared for takeoff runway 29L."

I pull onto the runway, line up with the centerline, double-check the flaps, smoothly advance the throttle to full power, and track the centerline. Airspeed's alive! I raise the nose at 60 knots and see the VSI start to come to life. Positive rate, gear up. Climb out at 80 knots. Retract the flaps. (The book warns that gear and flaps must be up before 500 AGL, and I don't want to hear that nag voice again.)

About the time I'm wondering if tower has forgotten me, I hear "Cessna 24182, contact Miami Center on 132.25." I tune in the frequency, and Center promptly gives me a vector to intercept V3 and climbs me to 4000. I intercept the airway, level off at 4000, trim the airplane for cruise, and tune to Melbourne VOR on 110.0. Lots of ATC chatter in the background. About the time I get caught up and start to relax, Center calls and tells me to cross MLB at and maintain 3000 for traffic.

Flying over FloridaThis is mighty realistic, I'm thinking.

Passing MLB, Center hands me off to Patrick Approach, who gives me a vector out over the ocean for weather avoidance. By now, I'm trying to review the Titusville approach plate — an NDB Rwy 18 with an off-airport beacon and a procedure turn — while still keeping the airplane dirty side down. Every time I get too involved in reading the plate, the nag voice comes on. "Check altitude." "Check heading." Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Patrick tells me I'm past the area of weather and clears me direct to the Geiger Lake NDB. To make a long story short, I fly the NDB approach fairly competently, get the TIX runway in sight shortly after crossing the NDB inbound, then lose sight of it on 2-mile final as a Florida thunderstorm moves over the field and the up- and downdrafts get bad enough I could swear this software came with a motion base! I cobb the throttle and start a right turn back to the NDB. Titusville tower ships me back to Patrick Approach, who clears me to Orlando Int'l (remember?) and hands me off to Orlando Approach.

Orlando is VFR and approach gives me a visual to 18L at International. Upon reaching Orlando VOR, I turn south toward the airport, get it in sight about five miles out, and drop the gear and approach flaps. Uh oh! I get a green light for the nosewheel, but red lights for the mains. I'm three miles from the threshhold and madly thumbing through the emergency checklist, which tells me to hand-pump the gear (CTRL+G). I do so with my left hand while flying the joystick with my right, but I can't get the mains to lock down. What am I going to do? Go around? Then what?

"Cessna 24182, understand you're declaring an emergency," says the tower. "Cleared to land, runway 18L. Men and equipment standing by."

Guess that settles it. I land on 18L with two red lights, touching down a bit long. The gear seems to hold, and I breathe a sigh of relief as I brake to a stop. Then I hear an awful sound and it's obvious that the gear has collapsed out from under me. What did I do wrong?

"Congratulations, you have successfully completed this adventure," the voice says. "You may now proceed to the next adventure." Guess I did okay after all. I've been flying this thing for about an hour, but it feels more like three and my armpits are moist! Enough for today.

New England nav: BOS to MVY

BOS to MVYThe next evening, I decide to try flying the next AviatorPro 98 mission: an IFR trip from Boston's Logan International to the island airport of Martha's Vinyard. This sounds interesting because BOS-MVY is a flight I actually flew some years back in my Cessna 310. (My parents and sisters all live in the Boston area.)

This time, I pretty much know the drill. Start up, tune in BOS ATIS to start the "adventure" going, then over to clearance delivery to pick up the clearance. Cleared to MVY as filed, Logan 2 departure (a simple radar vector SID), squawk 0243. I look up the flight-planned route, which according to the AviatorPro manual is V141, V167, PEAKE, direct. I study the enroute chart in the manual and see that the second half of this route will be rather busy to navigate:

  • outbound on the Boston 154 radial to 39 DME, then
  • inbound on the Nantucket 349 radial for about 10 miles, then
  • outbound on the Marconi 227 radial for another 10 miles to PEAKE, then
  • a short 2.5-mile dead-reckoning transition to
  • the ILS Rwy 24 at Martha's Vinyard.

That's four navaids and five heading changes in 25 miles. Like I said, it looks busy. I scribble down all the frequencies and radials on my notepad so I won't have to search for them on the chart in flight. I tune the initial navaid (Boston VOR) and set the initial OBS setting (154 degrees) into the #1 nav. Oh yeah, don't forget the transponder code! Then change to 121.9.

"Cessna 24182, Boston Ground, taxi to Runway Niner via Bravo and Victor."

Boston Logan InternationalI study the large airport diagram and figure out the taxi route, which will take me south across runways 9 and 4L and then bring me back to the runway 9 threshhold from the south side. A little strange, but makes sense.

Then I look out the windshield. There's a taxiway straight ahead. On the left of it a sign that has an arrow pointing to taxiway Echo; on the right is a sign that has an arrow that points to taxiway Bravo (the one I want). The sign seems to indicate that I should tasi straight ahead. The airport diagram, however, seems to say that I need to turn right for taxiway Bravo. Hmm.

I decide to follow the sign and start taxiing forward. Something doesn't feel right. The airport diagram shows taxiway Bravo making a forced 80-degree left turn as it crosses the underrun of runway 4L, but the taxiway ahead appears to go straight.

"Stay on the assigned taxiway," says the nag voice.

Damn! I throttle back to idle and hit the binders, coming to a stop just before entering the runway. Okay, let's try Plan B. I make a left 270 and start to taxi in the direction that the airport diagram seems to indicate. This looks right.

"Stay on the assigned taxiway," says the nag voice.

I decide to ignore the nag voice and continue taxiing. But soon it becomes obvious that I'm headed for a blind apron corner with no taxiways visible. I'm lost! I want to swallow my pride, confess my plight to ground control, and ask for progressive taxi instructions. But there's no way to talk back to this thing. So I made another 180 on the apron and try to figure out where I went wrong.

"Stay on the assigned taxiway," says the nag voice.

Finally, I stop the aircraft and bring up the Flight Simulator "map view" which provides an overhead view of the situation, with your aircraft's position represented by a red "X." I realize this is cheating, but I'm really lost.

After studying the map view, I see what the problem is. The taxiway configuration in Flight Simulator's database is not quite the same as the one portrayed on the airport diagram. In particular, taxiway Bravo does go straight ahead, rather than making an 80-degree turn to the left. So I was taxiing the right way at the beginning. Why the nag voice suggested otherwise is beyond me.

You might call this a bug. I call it realism. I've flown into and out of a lot of major jetports (BOS, LAX, JFK, SFO, DFW, ORD, IAD, DCA, MIA) and have consistently found that the most difficult part is navigating the taxiways. I once flew a Cessna 182 into JFK, took a wrong turn, and damned near got flattened by a departing 747! This simulated episode of getting lost at Boston Logan absolutely feels like deja vu.

Anyway, I finally manage to negotiate the taxi route to runway 9, get my release from the tower, and take off. Climbing through 1500 feet, tower changes me to Boston Departure on 133.0, who turns me right to 180 and tells me to intercept V141 and climb to 5000.

The enroute portion of the flight goes smoothly, and the view of the Boston area at dusk from 5000 feet is quite spectacular. I'm handed off to Boston Center on 133.45, who simply checks me in and a few minutes later talls me to contact Cape Approach at GAILS intersection. The airway crosses the water and then the "hook" of Cape Cod near Hyannis Port.

Now things start getting really busy. At GAILS, I change to the Nantucket 349 radial inbound, and call Cape Approach on 124.7. Cape clears me down to 3000 and instructs me to pick up the Martha's Vinyard ATIS and then report back. I start down and tune in the ATIS, mindful that it's only about three minutes until I'll intercept V167. I feel like a one-armed paper hangar, and fighting to stay ahead of the airplane. What I wouldn't give for a copilot right now.

MVY ATIS is calling it 1000 overcast, and includes a NOTAM about men and equipment working on and around the runways and taxiways. Oops, almost busted my 3000-foot altitude! I level off, tune in the Marconi 227 radial, negotiate the right turn onto V167, and finally return to Cape Approach on 124.7, who clears me down to 2500 and clears me for the ILS Rwy 24 approach and to change to tower over the FAF. There's just barely enough time to tune in the localizer before the needle comes to life.

Soon I'm intercepting the glideslope, dropping the gear and approach flaps, and starting down. I change to tower on 121.4 who clears me to land. Runway in sight, approach lights, "rabbit" and all. On short final, the tower says "equipment on the runway, go around." Yeah, I was sort of expecting that after hearing the NOTAM on the ATIS.

Landing at MVYFull power, pitch up, positive rate, gear and flaps up. Now what? I start to fly the published miss, but tower tells me to make left traffic for runway 24. It's night and MVFR and I'd feel more comfortable making another ILS, but I figure I better do what the man says. I turn left to a downwind heading, climb to 1000 feet, and continue downwind until the glideslope needle indicates I'm below the GS. Then I turn inbound again and whaddya know...I'm in perfect position for the visual. Don't you just love it when a plan comes together? Now if I can just not screw up the landing...

"Congratulations, you have successfully completed this adventure. You may now proceed to the next adventure."

No thanks! That's enough of a workout for today.

Rocky Mountain high: GJT to GUC

You'd think I'd be getting better at this. But my next mission, from Grand Junction to Gunnison, Colorado, was downright embarrassing. Truth be told: I had to fly this mission three times before I completed it successfully!

GJT to GUCThe flight seemed straightforward enough. Depart Grand Junction runway 11 via the Glade Park One Departure, then fly V26 to Montrose and Blue Mesa VORs. The approach to Gunnison is a straightforward-looking VOR A off of Blue Mesa. The navigation turnpoints are all a respectable distance apart (40 miles or so), so this isn't going to be rush-rush flight like the previous one. No chance of getting lost on the ground, either. Looked like a piece of cake.

The Glade Park One is a pilot-nav SID which basically calls for runway heading off Grand Junction runway 11 until intercepting the Grand Junction VOR (JNC) 17-mile DME arc, then turning right and flying the arc until it intercepts V26. ATC clears me via the SID and then as-filed, with an initial climb to 11,000 feet. Grand Junction's field elevation is 4858 MSL, and the OAT is 42F, so there's no doubt I'll be climbing through the freezing level on this one. Pitot heat on for takeoff, and off I go. Before long, I enter the soup.

Only one problem. I pass 6000 feet, then 7000 feet, but I'm still not receiving JNC VOR or DME. Finally, after what seems like an eternity of dead reckoning, I start to pick up the station at around 8500 feet. The DME springs to life, and reads 19.5. Damn! I'm two and a half miles past the 17-mile arc and in the soup. I start a right turn as the DME climbs above 20, then CRUNCH! Controlled flight into terrain!

Taking another look at the Glade Park One SID, I notice a small note that says:

This SID requires a minimum climb of 220' per NM to 9000'.

It seems clear in hindsight that this is not a departure to be made at a leisurely cruise-climb airspeed, particularly in a non-turbocharged single-engine airplane like this 182RG.

I re-start the mission from scratch: ATIS, clearance, taxi, tower, takeoff. This time, I use best rate-of-climb airspeed to 9000 feet. Even then, by the time I start receiving JNC, I'm already at 16 DME and have to make an immediate right turn in order to intercept the 17-mile arc without overshooting. Painful lesson learned: ignoring those minimum-ROC notes in the high country can get you killed.

The remainder of the enroute phase goes smoothly. I fly the arc, level off at 11,000 feet, and intercept V26. I'm in the soup most of the time, and the OAT is well below freezing. Just for the heck of it, I flip off the pitot heat to see what will happen. About a half-minute later, my indicated airspeed starts dropping toward zero. Clever! I flip the heat back on and the airspeed comes back to life in a few seconds.

Gunnison VOR A approachCenter clears me up to 13,000 feet. I continue to Montrose VOR, then follow V26 around to the left toward Blue Mesa. 40 NM to go, so I start studying the Gunnison VOR A approach plate. I'm heading 082 and upon reaching Blue Mesa I'll have to turn outbound to 211, a turn of 129 degrees.

I decide to lead the turn a little, and roll into a 30-degree right bank as the DME counts down to 2.0. This turns out to be a very bad idea, because apparently the AviatorPro 98 "script" is waiting for me to actually cross Blue Mesa VOR, which I never quite do. But I'm not clever enough to figure this out. All I know is that I never get my next clearance, and the nag voice starts going beserk: "check heading, check OBS setting, check altitude, yadda yadda yadda."

When in doubt, fly the airplane, right? I start descending to 11,500 feet flying outbound on the Blue Mesa 211 radial, and try to figure out what's wrong. I'm baffled. Everything looks good to me, but the nag voice is saying everything's wrong. As I level off at 11,500 feet and start my procedure turn, I realize that the DME is reading 9.5 miles from the station. Not good: I'm never going to get turned around within the 10 NM specified on the plate. About the time I realize this, CRUNCH! Controlled flight into terrain. Strike two!

I have to start the flight over again a third time. Unfortunately, AviatorPro 98 has no provision for just backing up a bit, which is rather frustrating when make a fatal screw-up near the end of an hour-long trip. On the other hand, it sure gives you a lot of incentive not to make a mistake!

Breaking out at GUCThe third try is the charm. I don't try leading the big turn at Blue Mesa this time so the software doesn't get confused. I hustle down to 11,500 feet on the outbound segment of the approach and start my procedure turn early enough to reverse course well within the 10-mile limit. Crossing Blue Mesa inbound, Center ships me to Gunnison CTAF and asks me to cancel on the ground. I descend briskly to the MDA of 9260 feet and there's GUC airport dead ahead. The VOR A final approach course is angled 30 to the runway, so it takes a little maneuvering to line up for a landing on runway 6, but all goes well and a wind up making a greaser.

"Congratulations, you have successfully completed this adventure. You may now proceed to the next adventure."

Yeah, and I only died twice in the process. (Sigh!)

California cruising: SJC to SNS

SJC to SNSSan Jose to Salinas, California. This one should be a walk in the park. Both airports are near my home base and I know both of them like the back of my hand. It's a short one, too. Depart San Jose runway 11, climb straight out on the San Jose 120 radial for 36 miles, then turn right onto V111 and fly that 18 miles to the Salinas VORTAC. Cruising altitude is 7,000 feet (the MEA is 6,500).

The AviatorPro 98 manual includes two approach plates for SNS: the LOC DME Rwy 31 and the ILS Rwy 31. It also makes some comments about the deteriorating weather at Salinas. So it doesn't take a genius to figure out what's coming: a non-precision localizer approach, a missed approach, and come around for the full ILS to a landing. No surprises, right?

Wrong! This one took me three tries, too.

I launch off of SJC, cleared-as-filed, track the SJC 120 radial, climb to 7000. Upon making the right turn onto V111, Bay Departure instructs me to pick up the Salinas ATIS and then contact Monterey Approach. The ATIS says that the glideslope at SNS is temporarily out of service. No surprise there.

LOC DME Approach at SNSMonterey says upon reaching SNS VOR, I should track outbound on the 107 radial to the 22-mile DME arc, then fly the arc for the LOC DME Rwy 11 approach. I do all that. Just one problem. When it come time to tune in the localizer, I can't receive it! What the heck? I double-check all my radios, but can't see anything wrong. Now what?

Since I can't holler at ATC to complain, I decide to improvise. I'm receiving SNS VOR fine, and the VOR is on the field, so I set up the VOR radial that corresponds approximately to the localizer course, and decide I'll try flying a homebrew VOR approach until such time as I pick up the localizer. I wouldn't do this in real life, but this is just for fun, right?

I fly the VOR pseudo-approach as if my life depended on it. I break out below 400 AGL but don't see any runway lights. I flip on my landing light and see that it illuminates a circle on the ground, but it's just featureless ground. I know the airport has to be here, but there's no sign of it.

It's only later that I reconstruct what happened. Apparently, I launched Flight Simulator 98 this time without mounting the FS98 CDROM in the drive. So the program ran but was unable to load the scenery files for Salinas. Part of what's in those scenery files is apparently knowledge of the ILS. So, no airport, no ILS, and one confused pilot.

California night flightI reload Flight Simulator 98, this time making absolutely sure that the CDROM is in the drive and the scenery files load properly. Then I fly the whole mission again. This time, the localizer comes in just fine and I fly the LOC DME Rwy 31 approach. It's a busy approach with four step-down fixes. After the last one, I descend to the MDA of 420 feet MSL and catch a glimpse of the runway and approach lights. The lights disappear, then reappear, then disappear again as I fly in and out of the clag at MDA. "Close enough," I say to myself, as I drop the gear and flaps and land on runway 31. I brake to a stop, waiting for the "Congratulations" message. Instead, I hear the nag voice: "Check altitude, check altitude." Huh? I switch to ground control frequency. "Check altitude, check comm frequency, check altitude, check comm frequency," the voice nags.

Darn! I obviously was supposed to miss that approach, not land from it! I feel a little sheepish about succumbing to the siren call of the duck-under, and getting caught red-handed!

I take my punishment like a man and start the whole mission over for a third time. This time, I shoot the LOC DME Rwy 31 approach, go missed, fly a turn in holding at the missed approach holding fix, then fly back to the VOR, to the Chualar NDB, make a procedure turn, and fly the full ILS Rwy 31 to a landing.

"Congratulations, you have successfully completed this adventure. You may now proceed to the next adventure."

It only took me three hours to finish what was supposed to me a 45-minute flight. In my own back yard, at that.

Northwest territory: SEA to YKM

SEA to YKMFinally. The last of the five AviatorPro 98 missions! From Seattle-Tacoma International to Yakima. A straight shot of 78 NM on V4, filed for the MEA of 10,000 feet. The approach at Yakima is the ILS Rwy 27 with either a procedure turn or a DME arc. The TAF at Yakima doesn't look promising: visibility forecast as 1 to 2 miles, with a 60% probability of 1/2 mile in thundershowers after dark. The fuel gauges show a bit over 40 gallons, giving us just enough fuel to shoot a couple of approaches at Yakima and then retreat back to Seattle with 45 minutes reserve. Other than the weather, I don't have a clue as to is likely to go wrong on this one (but I'm pretty sure those sadists at FlightSafety have thought of something).

Seattle ATIS is calling it 1000 and 3, with runway 16L in use. The OAT is a balmy 71F so icing isn't likely to be an issue even at our 10,000-foot cruising altitude. Clearance delivery clears me to Yakima via the Mountain Four Departure, V4, Yakima, maintain 7000, expect 10,000. The SID is a bit busy: after takeoff, track the Seattle 158 radial and cross the 5-mile DME fix at or above 3000, then left heading 070 for radar vectors. A note says that the departure requires a minimum climb of 550 feet-per-mile to 3,000 feet. I set up the VOR, OBS, and transponder code.

Ground tells me to taxi to runway 16L via Golf and Bravo. This looks like another one with great taking-a-wrong-turn potential, so drawing on my embarrassing experience at Boston Logan, I bring up Flight Simulator's map screen to check my taxi route. This time, Microsoft and NOS agree, and the route seems clear: left onto Golf, cross Alpha, right onto Bravo and taxi north to the approach end of 16L. Off we go.

After turning right on taxiway Bravo, ground calls with amended taxi instructions: use taxiway Foxtrot for an intersection takeoff. Where the hell is Foxtrot? I quickly slow my taxi to a crawl while looking at the airport diagram. Ah, Foxtrot is the next taxiway on the left, coming up quickly. Good thing I slowed down. I hang a left onto Foxtrot, brake to a stop at the hold-short line, do a quick runup, and switch to tower frequency. Tower clears me for takeoff.

I launch, retract the gear and flaps, and intercept the radial while holding maximum rate-of-climb airspeed (remembering the minimum climb rate requirement of the SID). At low altitudes with only half-full tanks, the 182RG is climbing at a spritely 1,000 FPM, so the climb restriction should be no sweat. Tower switches me to Seattle Departure, who clears me to 10,000 feet. At 5.0 DME, I turn to 070 as required by the SID. Departure tells me to maintain present heading to intercept V4 on-course. The needle centers 3.5 miles later, and I level off at cruising altitude. About 25 miles southeast of Seattle, I get a handoff to Seattle Center who checks me in perfunctorily.

It gets quiet. There's nothing much to do but to track the airway and admire the scenery: lush green tree-covered mountains as far as the eye can see. Good sized ones, too — no wonder the MEA is 10,000 feet. I pass one peak just off my left wing, clearly above the horizon. Clearly, one would not want to stray too far off airway centerline in this neck of the woods.

It's getting dark, and the instruments are becoming hard to see. I flip on the nav lights, which also floods the panel with red instrument lighting. At 46 DME from Seattle, I change over to Yakima VOR.

My reverie is broken by a call from Center, suggesting that I go pick up the Yakima ATIS and report back on frequency. I do that. Yakima is reporting measured ceiling 200 overcast, visibility one mile, with a three-degree temperature/dewpoint spread. The ILS Rwy 27 is in use. I tune back to Center frequency, and am acknowledged. Looking out the window, I can see the Yakima valley ahead, clearly socked in with low-hanging fog. Up here, it's clear and a million, but it's obvious that getting into YKM will be dicey. The fuel gauges show plenty of fuel to shoot the approach and retreat back to Seattle.

Center hands me off to Chinook Approach, who clears me down to 7000 feet, and tells me to expect radar vectors to the ILS 27 at Yakima. I start down and tune in the ILS on the #1 nav. I level at 7000, just above the tops of the clag. I can see a few peaks just poking above the tops, another reminder that this is definitely CFIT country.

Approach clears me down to 6000. It starts getting turbulent — I can tell because my attitude indicator and airspeed are jumping all over the place — and descending through 6300 feet I enter the soup. Approach says turn left to 070, vector to the ILS final. Now it's getting really bumpy.

YKM ILS 27 approachNow Chinook calls to say that they're having radar problems, and instructs me to fly present heading to intercept the Yakima 10-mile DME ARC, and make the arc transition to the ILS via pilot nav. Now I've got a bunch of radios to set up, but it's bumpy as heck and flying the airplane is taking my full attention. I decide to cheat: I turn on the KAP 140 autopilot, engage heading hold, dial in 6000 feet into the altitude pre-select, and punch altitude hold. I monitor the autopilot for 15 seconds or so and see it's doing a good job of flying (better than I was doing). Now I tune in Yakima VOR on the #2 nav and switch the DME to channel off #2. The DME reads 4.8, so I have 5.2 to go until the arc. Satisfied, I pickle the autopilot off and take over manually. Thanks, George!

I intercept the 10-mile arc and slow to approach speed, dropping one notch of flaps. Chinook calls to clear me for the ILS Rwy 27 approach, contact Yakima tower at the marker. I'm tracking the arc fine, but realize that I was supposed to descend to 5600 once established on the arc, and down to 4000 crossing the Yakima 075 radial. I'm high. I throttle back and start down at 1000 FPM to make up for lost time.

The localizer needle starts to center and I turn onto the inbound course, descending to 3500 feet for glideslope intercept. I'm having trouble keeping the needle centered, and figure out that there's a wicked crosswind from the left. Glideslope centers, drop the gear, outer marker beeps and ADF reverses. I start down and change to tower frequency, whereupon I'm cleared to land.

Night ILS to minimums at YKMIt's really bumpy. Airspeed all over the place. I'm chasing the glideslope needle like a roller coaster. DH is 1265 MSL. In a moment of cockeyed optimism, I turn on the landing light. I just know I'm going to go missed on this one. At 1300 feet, I see nothing but gray. I get ready to cobb the throttle. Wait! There's the approach lights! I sneak a peek at the altimeter: right at DH. Throttle to idle, full flaps.

The full flaps were a mistake. I make a truly rotten crosswind landing that threatens to take out a couple of runway lights. But at least I'm down.

"Congratulations, you have successfully completed this adventure. You may now proceed to the next adventure."

Actually, I think it's time to write an article for AVweb.

Evaluation and critique

Skeptical as I was to begin with, I'm now convinced that FlightSafety is onto something really useful here. Disregard the mumbo-jumbo disclaimer put on the box by the FlightSafety lawyers:

Note: This product is for entertainment purposes only and shall not be used for training purposes. It is not part of an approved training program under the standards of the FAA or any other regulatory authority.

Horsehockey! This thing has serious training value for real instrument pilots, even relatively seasoned ones like me. The scenarios are realistic and well designed to provide a variety of rigorous challenges that stop just short of being completely overwhelming.

AviatorPro 98 does have its shortcomings, many of which are undoubtedly limitations of Microsoft Flight Simulator 98 itself. One of the biggest frustrations for me was the inability to back up and re-fly a segment without having to start the entire hour-long scenario over from scratch. Another was the inability of AviatorPro 98 to deal with pilot actions that aren't precisely what it expects, such as my decision to lead the turn at the Blue Mesa VOR during the flight to Gunnison, Colorado.

Another shortcoming, if you can call it that, is that once you've mastered the five AviatorPro 98 scenarios, you lust for five more. I'd really like to see FlightSafety start a regular subscription service — a "scenario of the month club" if you will — to keep the product perpetually fresh. Whether they do that or not depends, I suppose, on how well AviatorPro 98 catches on with pilots. Personally, I think it deserves to do well, and I hope it does so that FlightSafety will be able to justify continuing to commit resources to this product.

How to buy AviatorPro 98

AviatorPro 98You can purchase AviatorPro 98 online from the FlightSafety International web site. There are two ways to purchase: download the product online (price $29.95) or order the physical boxed product with CDROM and printed manual (price $34.95 + S&H). If you download the product, you get the documentation in the form of a Microsoft Word 97 file (complete with graphics), as well as the software itself.

Although downloading saves a few bucks and offers instant gratification, I recommend ordering the physical boxed product because I think the printed manual is worth having. Because it contains all the enroute charts, approach plates and airport diagrams you need, you'll refer to it a lot when you're flying AviatorPro 98.

You'll need Microsoft Flight Simulator 98, of course. You can buy that in any computer store, or from a wide variety of online and mailorder companies. Expect to pay between $45 and $50 for the package, and to get a $20 cash rebate back from Microsoft.

All in all, it's a helluva deal for less than $65. I say go for it!