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Flight Simulator - Flying a Circuit Introduction

Flight Simulator - Flying a Circuit Introduction

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Published by c_s_wagon
The basics of flying a VFR circuit in a flight simulator. One of the best tutorials I have seen
The basics of flying a VFR circuit in a flight simulator. One of the best tutorials I have seen

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Published by: c_s_wagon on May 02, 2010
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05/17/2013

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 A Circuit in FlightGear
I took these screenshots in FlightGear during two right-handed circuits on runway 22 at CYOW (I would have usedonly one, but I managed to crash FlightGear -- the program, not the plane -- during one of the screenshots oncrosswind the first time through).Often, when people have trouble controlling a plane in a PC simulator, it's because they're fixating on the panel andchasing the gauges. That's the wrong way to fly; here's the right way:
LOOK OUT THE WINDOW.
These pictures show how you can fly smoothly by concentrating on where the horizon hits the nose of the plane; inother words, by paying attention to the plane's
attitude
. You actual visual references for the horizon may changeif you use a different pilot viewpoint or a different 3D model, but your first step should always be to learn theattitudes that work for the plane you're flying and then stick with them, cross-checking the airspeed indicator andaltimeter no more often than you would check your rearview mirror in a car.
1. On the Threshold
The run-up and pre-takeoff checks are finished and tower has cleared usonto the runway. The plane's not moving yet, so all three wheels aresolidly on the ground. Look closely at the vertical distance between thetop of the white cowling and the horizon. Right now, the horizon isbetween a third and a half way up the windshield, just like it will be duringlevel cruise on the downwind leg and during final approach with the flapsdown. 
2. Beginning the Takeoff Roll
When I advance the throttle to full, the plane starts moving down therunway. The speed causes the nose to lift slightly on its own, but thehorizon is still between a half and a third of the way up the windshield. 
3. Raising the Nose
As the speed increases, I pullback just a
little 
to take someweight off the nosewheel. At55kt, the nose wheel hasstarted to lift a little off therunway: you can tell, becausethe horizon is now touching thebottom of the windshield. I am
FlightGear Flight Simulatorhttp://www.flightgear.org/Docs/Tutorials/circuit/index.html (1 of 7) [13/04/2010 9:59:44PM]
Main Get FlightGear Support Links Users Developers Search
 
FlightGear Flight Simulator
almost in the climb attitude. 
4. Liftoff 
At 65kt, the other two wheels leave the runway and the plane is flying.Note that I do not yank it off by pulling the yoke way back: raising thenose only a tiny sliver above the horizon and holding it there is sufficientto get the plane into the air. Note where the horizon strikes the sides ofthe cowling, just above the top of the panel. 
5. Climb Attitude
After I lift off, the plane keepsspeeding up: in ground effect,there is no more friction fromthe tires but drag is very low.Since I want to climb at 70 kt, Ihave to raise the nose a sliverhigher to keep the airspeeddown. Now, at 100 ft AGL, myplane is in the
climbattitude
: all of the whitecowling is now above thehorizon, and the horizon hitsthe sides at very top of the panel itself. As long as I hold the horizon at this point, the plane will keep climbingsmoothly at 70 kt.At no point during this entire circuit will it be necessary to raise the nose any higher than it is right now: the climbattitude is the highest attitude I'll need to use for regular flight. 
6. Turn to Crosswind
At 800 ft ASL (400 ft AGL in real life, 500 ft AGL in FlightGear), I start myturn to crosswind. Normally, the turn would be to the left, but runway 22at CYOW uses a right-handed circuit to keep us out of the way of the big jets in the south field.This is where things get a little trickier (but not much). Because I'mturning, the horizon is not going to hit the panel in the same place on bothsides. Instead, I have to imagine where the horizon was hitting the centreof the panel out of side, and try to keep the imaginary hidden horizongoing through that spot; to do so, I will have to pull back
slightly 
on theyoke. It works, and the plane is still climbing at around 70 kt through theturn with 15 deg bank (steep turns are a dumb idea at slow speed near the ground).Before making the actual turn, I looked out my window for two reasons: to check for traffic, and to choose a targetpoint under my wing; as long as I turn and fly towards that point, I will have done a more-or-less 90deg turn. 
7. Crosswind Leg
The turn to crosswind is finished and my plane is still in the climb attitude,on its way to a circuit altitude of 1500 ft ASL. Depending on the wind, theCessna 172 can usually make circuit altitude just before the turn todownwind, but if not, I will just keep climbing through that turn as well. 
http://www.flightgear.org/Docs/Tutorials/circuit/index.html (2 of 7) [13/04/2010 9:59:44 PM]
 
FlightGear Flight Simulator
8. The Runway from Crosswind
As my plane climbs in thecrosswind leg, I look back overmy shoulder to check where Iam relative to the runway.Normally, you should not needmuch distance before yourcrosswind turn, so the runwaywill still be fairly close to theplane. 
9. Turn to Downwind
I'm almost a mile from the runway, and it's time to do the turn todownwind. Again, I pick a spot under my wing and then turn to fly towardsit. Because I'm reaching circuit altitude at the same time as my turn,things are getting a little trickier:1. I have to hold the plane in its bank, keeping the horizon and thecorrect angle across the windshield.2. I have to push my nose down to the cruise attitude (see below),so that the plane doesn't climb past circuit altitude of 1500 ft ASL.3. I have to pull back the power to a cruise setting once the planehas accelerated to between 90-100 kt.At first, it might be a good idea to turn earlier or later so that you can separate the levelling-out from the turning, butit will all come together with practice. If you end up gaining or losing a couple of hundred feet, don't feel bad -- thathappens at first in real life as well.In any case, the rule for starting or ending a climb is APT:
Attitude
,
Power 
,
Trim
. First I push the nose down toincrease your airspeed,
then 
I pull the power back to a cruise power setting, and finally I use the elevator trim tohelp hold the plane in your cruise attitude. 
10. Downwind Leg
The downwind leg is often the longest part of the circuit. I have pulled thepower back to 2100rpm and have put the nose into the
cruiseattitude
, where the horizon is between a half and a third of the way upthe windshield, just like it was when the plane was on the ground. I cross-check the altimeter to make sure that I'm not climbing or descending,then make
tiny 
adjustments to my attitude if necessary, but I do not keepwatching the altimeter while I'm doing that. It's surprisingly easy to holdaltitude this way, once you get used to it.As soon as I'm established on downwind, I make a radio call to tower andget my sequence for landing; I also tell them whether I plan to make a fullstop (they'll assume a touch-and-go if I don't specify). Finally, I perform my downwind checks: fuel on both, mixturerich, carb heat hot (well, not in a C172R), mags on both, primer locked, brake pressure positive. 
11. The Runway from Downwind
While I'm flying my downwind, I look out the side to check that I'mtracking parallel to the runway. In a strong crosswind, the heading of theplane will not be parallel to the runway, so I have to watch whether therunway seems to be getting nearer or farther rather than staying thesame distance. During this flight, the winds are light and the runway
http://www.flightgear.org/Docs/Tutorials/circuit/index.html (3 of 7) [13/04/2010 9:59:44 PM]

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