AviatorPro 98 from FlightSafety International

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.


TrainingAnyonewho’s read much of my rantings knows that I’m a big fan of simulator training. Fact is, Ispend about $5,000 a year on sim-based recurrent training to keep myself sharp andcompetent to fly my Cessna T310R. Over the years, the lion’s share of that money has goneto FlightSafety International, a company that pioneered simulator-based training in the1950s 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 computergames. It seems as if I’ve spent most of my adult life in front of a computer — as asoftware developer for 30 years, and as a writer, journalist, and webmaster for the pastfive. Computers have always represented "work" to me; when I want recreation, Iusually jump in the airplane and fly somewhere.

So when Jennifer Burghardt of FlightSafety International sent me a copy of AviatorPro98 and asked me if I’d like to review it, I was skeptical to say the least. FlightSafetydescribes AviatorPro 98 as "an adventure add-on for Microsoft Flight Simulator98," which sounded pretty hokey to me right off the bat. But given FlightSafety’sreputation for serious aviation training, not to mention Jennifer’s persistence, I agreedto 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 manualconsisting mostly of reproductions of selected NOS charts, aircraft checklists, and a fewwell-chosen words of advice to aviators.

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

AviatorPro 98 requirementsThe box also explains that to run AviatorPro 98, you need a PC running Windows95/98/NT4 (100 MHz Pentium or better suggested) with a CDROM, color SVGA monitor, soundcard, and joystick or yoke. Okay, I have all that. You also need Microsoft FlightSimulator 98, and I don’t have that. But a quick trip to a few software web sites revealsa street price of less than $50, and a $20 rebate from Microsoft good through the end of1999. For under thirty bucks, I figure I can afford to take the plunge.

A few days later, that nice FedEx man brings FlightSimulator 98 and I install it on my PC. Before installing AviatorPro 98, I decide to spenda little while playing around with "raw" FS98 just to get the feel of it. Ittakes me 30 minutes of fiddling around to get comfortable flying the thing. I have tofigure out, for example, that I must set "auto-coordination" on in order to beable to steer the airplane on the ground (since my computer is equipped with only ajoystick and no rudder pedals). But it comes quickly, and I have to admit that MicrosoftFlight 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 SantaMaria, California [SMX], and then try my hand at flying a Boeing 737 in the Bay Area. Ihate to admit it, but this is fun! . . . And then I notice the sun is coming up, that it’s6 a.m., and I’ve pulled an all-nighter playing games on my computer! I start to understandwhy computer games are the stuff of which nerds and divorces are made. Enough of thisfoolishness!

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 theFS98 "Flights > Adventures…" menu. I decide to try flying the first missionlisted in the AviatorPro 98 manual, which turns out to be an IFR flight from Vero Beach toTitusville, 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 thatstarted production in 1997. But Independence isn’t building the retractable-gear versionof 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 theairplane that most folks refer to as a "182 RG."

Also interesting: "fly from Vero Beach to Titusville, thenOrlando Int’l." Orlando Int’l? Checking the AviatorPro 98 manual, it appears thatwe’ve filed from VRB to TIX with MCO as our alternate. You don’t suppose they’re subtlytrying 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 harddisk and CDROM whir, and after a few seconds a rather realistic Cessna 182RG instrumentpanel appears, with a view of the Vero Beach tarmac out the windshield. A banner appearsat 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 radiosappear in a separate window. I discover that I can resize the radio stack and drag it towherever on the screen I want. The VRB approach plate lists ATIS as 132.5 MHz, so I tunethe #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 andthe altimeter is 29.91.

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

At this point, it dawns on me that the engine isn’t running, so I turn to the enginestart 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. Nextstep is to switch to Ground Control, which at VRB is on an oddball frequency: 127.45. I’mtold to turn right and taxi via Charlie to runway 29L. I check the airport diagram and seethis makes sense.

I slowly advance the throttle until, at about 1500 RPM, the airplane starts rollingforward. 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 idleand jam on the brakes (using the PERIOD key) as the aircraft runs off the tarmac into thegrass.

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

After opening the "Aircraft Settings…" dialog and clicking on theauto-coordination checkbox, I throttle up, make a U-turn on the grass, get back on thepavement, and taxi eastbound on taxiway C. "Check taxi speed," says the nagvoice. Oops! I throttle back to 1000 RPM and tap the brakes. All the while I’m taxiing, Ihear 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 toa 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-takeoffchecklist: mags checked, prop cycled, flaps set to 10 degrees for takeoff, strobes on, #1nav tuned to Vero Beach VOR (117.3) and OBS set to the 347 radial which defines V3. Ithink 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 thetransponder to 0233.

"Cessna 24182," says the tower controller, "fly runway heading, maintain3000, cleared for takeoff runway 29L."

I pull onto the runway, line up with the centerline, double-check the flaps, smoothlyadvance the throttle to full power, and track the centerline. Airspeed’s alive! I raisethe nose at 60 knots and see the VSI start to come to life. Positive rate, gear up. Climbout at 80 knots. Retract the flaps. (The book warns that gear and flaps must be up before500 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 givesme a vector to intercept V3 and climbs me to 4000. I intercept the airway, level off at4000, trim the airplane for cruise, and tune to Melbourne VOR on 110.0. Lots of ATCchatter in the background. About the time I get caught up and start to relax, Center callsand 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 overthe ocean for weather avoidance. By now, I’m trying to review the Titusville approachplate — an NDB Rwy 18 with an off-airport beacon and a procedure turn — while stillkeeping 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 LakeNDB. To make a long story short, I fly the NDB approach fairly competently, get the TIXrunway in sight shortly after crossing the NDB inbound, then lose sight of it on 2-milefinal as a Florida thunderstorm moves over the field and the up- and downdrafts get badenough I could swear this software came with a motion base! I cobb the throttle and starta right turn back to the NDB. Titusville tower ships me back to Patrick Approach, whoclears 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 reachingOrlando VOR, I turn south toward the airport, get it in sight about five miles out, anddrop the gear and approach flaps. Uh oh! I get a green light for the nosewheel, but redlights for the mains. I’m three miles from the threshhold and madly thumbing through theemergency checklist, which tells me to hand-pump the gear (CTRL+G). I do so with my lefthand while flying the joystick with my right, but I can’t get the mains to lock down. Whatam 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. Thegear seems to hold, and I breathe a sigh of relief as I brake to a stop. Then I hear anawful sound and it’s obvious that the gear has collapsed out from under me. What did I dowrong?

"Congratulations, you have successfully completed this adventure," the voicesays. "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 armpitsare moist! Enough for today.

New England nav: BOS to MVY

BOS to MVYThe next evening, I decide to try flying the next AviatorPro 98mission: an IFR trip from Boston’s Logan International to the island airport of Martha’sVinyard. This sounds interesting because BOS-MVY is a flight I actually flew some yearsback 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. Ilook 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 ofthis 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. Iscribble down all the frequencies and radials on my notepad so I won’t have to search forthem on the chart in flight. I tune the initial navaid (Boston VOR) and set the initialOBS 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 thetaxi route, which will take me south across runways 9 and 4L and then bring me back to therunway 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 asign that has an arrow pointing to taxiway Echo; on the right is a sign that has an arrowthat points to taxiway Bravo (the one I want). The sign seems to indicate that I shouldtasi straight ahead. The airport diagram, however, seems to say that I need to turn rightfor 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 crossesthe 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 beforeentering the runway. Okay, let’s try Plan B. I make a left 270 and start to taxi in thedirection 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 thatI’m headed for a blind apron corner with no taxiways visible. I’m lost! I want to swallowmy 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 tryto 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 positionrepresented 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 inFlight Simulator’s database is not quite the same as the one portrayed on the airportdiagram. In particular, taxiway Bravo does go straight ahead, rather than making an80-degree turn to the left. So I was taxiing the right way at the beginning. Why the nagvoice 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 majorjetports (BOS, LAX, JFK, SFO, DFW, ORD, IAD, DCA, MIA) and have consistently found thatthe 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 simulatedepisode 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 fromthe tower, and take off. Climbing through 1500 feet, tower changes me to Boston Departureon 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 atdusk from 5000 feet is quite spectacular. I’m handed off to Boston Center on 133.45, whosimply checks me in and a few minutes later talls me to contact Cape Approach at GAILSintersection. The airway crosses the water and then the "hook" of Cape Cod nearHyannis Port.

Now things start getting really busy. At GAILS, I change to the Nantucket 349 radialinbound, and call Cape Approach on 124.7. Cape clears me down to 3000 and instructs me topick 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 aone-armed paper hangar, and fighting to stay ahead of the airplane. What I wouldn’t givefor a copilot right now.

MVY ATIS is calling it 1000 overcast, and includes a NOTAM about men and equipmentworking 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, andfinally return to Cape Approach on 124.7, who clears me down to 2500 and clears me for theILS Rwy 24 approach and to change to tower over the FAF. There’s just barely enough timeto tune in the localizer before the needle comes to life.

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

Landing at MVYFull power, pitch up, positive rate, gear and flaps up. Now what? Istart 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 Ibetter do what the man says. I turn left to a downwind heading, climb to 1000 feet, andcontinue downwind until the glideslope needle indicates I’m below the GS. Then I turninbound again and whaddya know…I’m in perfect position for the visual. Don’t you justlove 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 nowproceed 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 toGunnison, Colorado, was downright embarrassing. Truth be told: I had to fly this missionthree times before I completed it successfully!

GJT to GUCThe flight seemed straightforward enough. Depart Grand Junctionrunway 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. Thenavigation turnpoints are all a respectable distance apart (40 miles or so), so this isn’tgoing to be rush-rush flight like the previous one. No chance of getting lost on theground, either. Looked like a piece of cake.

The Glade Park One is a pilot-nav SID which basically calls for runway heading offGrand 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 SIDand then as-filed, with an initial climb to 11,000 feet. Grand Junction’s field elevationis 4858 MSL, and the OAT is 42F, so there’s no doubt I’ll be climbing through thefreezing level on this one. Pitot heat on for takeoff, and off I go. Before long, I enterthe soup.

Only one problem. I pass 6000 feet, then 7000 feet, but I’m still not receiving JNC VORor DME. Finally, after what seems like an eternity of dead reckoning, I start to pick upthe station at around 8500 feet. The DME springs to life, and reads 19.5. Damn! I’m twoand a half miles past the 17-mile arc and in the soup. I start a right turn as the DMEclimbs 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 leisurelycruise-climb airspeed, particularly in a non-turbocharged single-engine airplane like this182RG.

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 receivingJNC, I’m already at 16 DME and have to make an immediate right turn in order to interceptthe 17-mile arc without overshooting. Painful lesson learned: ignoring those minimum-ROCnotes in the high country can get you killed.

The remainder of the enroute phase goes smoothly. I fly the arc, level off at 11,000feet, and intercept V26. I’m in the soup most of the time, and the OAT is well belowfreezing. 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! Iflip 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 toMontrose VOR, then follow V26 around to the left toward Blue Mesa. 40 NM to go, so I startstudying the Gunnison VOR A approach plate. I’m heading 082 and upon reaching Blue MesaI’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 DMEcounts down to 2.0. This turns out to be a very bad idea, because apparently theAviatorPro 98 "script" is waiting for me to actually cross Blue Mesa VOR, whichI never quite do. But I’m not clever enough to figure this out. All I know is that I neverget my next clearance, and the nag voice starts going beserk: "check heading, checkOBS setting, check altitude, yadda yadda yadda."

When in doubt, fly the airplane, right? I start descending to 11,500 feet flyingoutbound 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 leveloff at 11,500 feet and start my procedure turn, I realize that the DME is reading 9.5miles from the station. Not good: I’m never going to get turned around within the 10 NMspecified on the plate. About the time I realize this, CRUNCH! Controlled flight intoterrain. Strike two!

I have to start the flight over again a third time. Unfortunately, AviatorPro 98 has noprovision for just backing up a bit, which is rather frustrating when make a fatalscrew-up near the end of an hour-long trip. On the other hand, it sure gives you a lot ofincentive not to make a mistake!

Breaking out at GUCThe third try is the charm. I don’t try leading thebig turn at Blue Mesa this time so the software doesn’t get confused. I hustle down to11,500 feet on the outbound segment of the approach and start my procedure turn earlyenough to reverse course well within the 10-mile limit. Crossing Blue Mesa inbound, Centerships me to Gunnison CTAF and asks me to cancel on the ground. I descend briskly to theMDA of 9260 feet and there’s GUC airport dead ahead. The VOR A final approach course isangled 30 to the runway, so it takes a little maneuvering to line up for a landing onrunway 6, but all goes well and a wind up making a greaser.

"Congratulations, you have successfully completed this adventure. You may nowproceed 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 thepark. Both airports are near my home base and I know both of them like the back of myhand. It’s a short one, too. Depart San Jose runway 11, climb straight out on the San Jose120 radial for 36 miles, then turn right onto V111 and fly that 18 miles to the SalinasVORTAC. 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 andthe ILS Rwy 31. It also makes some comments about the deteriorating weather at Salinas. Soit 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. Uponmaking the right turn onto V111, Bay Departure instructs me to pick up the Salinas ATISand then contact Monterey Approach. The ATIS says that the glideslope at SNS istemporarily out of service. No surprise there.

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

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

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

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

California night flightI reload Flight Simulator 98, this time makingabsolutely sure that the CDROM is in the drive and the scenery files load properly. Then Ifly the whole mission again. This time, the localizer comes in just fine and I fly the LOCDME Rwy 31 approach. It’s a busy approach with four step-down fixes. After the last one, Idescend 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 clagat MDA. "Close enough," I say to myself, as I drop the gear and flaps and landon runway 31. I brake to a stop, waiting for the "Congratulations" message.Instead, I hear the nag voice: "Check altitude, check altitude." Huh? I switchto 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 littlesheepish about succumbing to the siren call of the duck-under, and getting caughtred-handed!

I take my punishment like a man and start the whole mission over for a third time. Thistime, I shoot the LOC DME Rwy 31 approach, go missed, fly a turn in holding at the missedapproach 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 nowproceed to the next adventure."

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

Northwest territory: SEA to YKM

SEA to YKMFinally. The last of the five AviatorPro 98 missions! FromSeattle-Tacoma International to Yakima. A straight shot of 78 NM on V4, filed for the MEAof 10,000 feet. The approach at Yakima is the ILS Rwy 27 with either a procedure turn or aDME 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 abit over 40 gallons, giving us just enough fuel to shoot a couple of approaches at Yakimaand then retreat back to Seattle with 45 minutes reserve. Other than the weather, I don’thave a clue as to is likely to go wrong on this one (but I’m pretty sure those sadists atFlightSafety have thought of something).

Seattle ATIS is calling it 1000 and 3, with runway 16L in use. The OAT is a balmy 71Fso icing isn’t likely to be an issue even at our 10,000-foot cruising altitude. Clearancedelivery 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 andcross the 5-mile DME fix at or above 3000, then left heading 070 for radar vectors. Anote 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 onewith great taking-a-wrong-turn potential, so drawing on my embarrassing experience atBoston 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, rightonto 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: usetaxiway Foxtrot for an intersection takeoff. Where the hell is Foxtrot? I quickly slow mytaxi to a crawl while looking at the airport diagram. Ah, Foxtrot is the next taxiway onthe left, coming up quickly. Good thing I slowed down. I hang a left onto Foxtrot, braketo a stop at the hold-short line, do a quick runup, and switch to tower frequency. Towerclears me for takeoff.

I launch, retract the gear and flaps, and intercept the radial while holding maximumrate-of-climb airspeed (remembering the minimum climb rate requirement of the SID). At lowaltitudes with only half-full tanks, the 182RG is climbing at a spritely 1,000 FPM, so theclimb restriction should be no sweat. Tower switches me to Seattle Departure, who clearsme to 10,000 feet. At 5.0 DME, I turn to 070 as required by the SID. Departure tells meto 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 handoffto Seattle Center who checks me in perfunctorily.

It gets quiet. There’s nothing much to do but to track the airway and admire thescenery: 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 abovethe horizon. Clearly, one would not want to stray too far off airway centerline in thisneck of the woods.

It’s getting dark, and the instruments are becoming hard to see. I flip on the navlights, 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 YakimaATIS and report back on frequency. I do that. Yakima is reporting measured ceiling 200overcast, visibility one mile, with a three-degree temperature/dewpoint spread. The ILSRwy 27 is in use. I tune back to Center frequency, and am acknowledged. Looking out thewindow, I can see the Yakima valley ahead, clearly socked in with low-hanging fog. Uphere, it’s clear and a million, but it’s obvious that getting into YKM will be dicey. Thefuel 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 meto 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 justpoking 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 myattitude indicator and airspeed are jumping all over the place — and descending through6300 feet I enter the soup. Approach says turn left to 070, vector to the ILS final. Nowit’s getting really bumpy.

YKM ILS 27 approachNow Chinook calls to say that they’re having radarproblems, 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 toset up, but it’s bumpy as heck and flying the airplane is taking my full attention. Idecide to cheat: I turn on the KAP 140 autopilot, engage heading hold, dial in 6000 feetinto the altitude pre-select, and punch altitude hold. I monitor the autopilot for 15seconds or so and see it’s doing a good job of flying (better than I was doing). Now Itune 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 overmanually. 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 onceestablished on the arc, and down to 4000 crossing the Yakima 075 radial. I’m high. Ithrottle 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 to3500 feet for glideslope intercept. I’m having trouble keeping the needle centered, andfigure out that there’s a wicked crosswind from the left. Glideslope centers, drop thegear, 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’mchasing the glideslope needle like a roller coaster. DH is 1265 MSL. In a moment ofcockeyed optimism, I turn on the landing light. I just know I’m going to go missed on thisone. At 1300 feet, I see nothing but gray. I get ready to cobb the throttle. Wait! There’sthe approach lights! I sneak a peek at the altimeter: right at DH. Throttle to idle, fullflaps.

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

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

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

Evaluation and critique

Skepticalas I was to begin with, I’m now convinced that FlightSafety is onto something reallyuseful here. Disregard the mumbo-jumbo disclaimer put on the box by the FlightSafetylawyers:

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, evenrelatively seasoned ones like me. The scenarios are realistic and well designed to providea variety of rigorous challenges that stop just short of being completely overwhelming.

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

Another shortcoming, if you can call it that, is that once you’ve mastered the fiveAviatorPro 98 scenarios, you lust for five more. I’d really like to see FlightSafety starta 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, onhow 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 commitresources to this product.

How to buy AviatorPro 98

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

Although downloading saves a few bucks and offers instant gratification, I recommendordering 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 computerstore, or from a wide variety of online and mailorder companies. Expect to pay between $45and $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!