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Sunday, 24 May 2009

IFR Amsterdam – Madrid on Boeing 737-800

I am still struggling with my back injury which makes it very uncomfortable to sit for more than a few minutes. Obviously that is not the only discomfort but I have been missing my virtual flights and reading the magazines is just not enough.

So, finally I had to do it. Within a few weeks I am doing a real life Amsterdam – Madrid – Bogota – Medellin. So I took the Amsterdam – Madrid flight plan I had prepared weeks ago. I spent the good part of 15 minutes firing up my system:

  • Boot up slow laptop with IvAe (The Eye of IVAO), TeamSpeak and IvAp User Interface, Flight Logger
  • Boot up main PC with Flight Simulator 9, Flight Sim Commander X, FSTimeKeeper, Snapper, IvAp network interface, etc.
  • Load FS9, load flight plan, realtime weather, select aircraft (B737-800 with Copa Airlines livery), and initiate at the gate with a cold dark cockpit.

I hope you enjoy this tale and get a few tips if you decide to fly this route yourself. Click on the images to get a larger version at FLICKR.


At the gate I loaded my reorganized flight plan with a more direct route and the currently valid SID/STARs.

Departure  : Amsterdam (AMS/EHAM) 05:25 AM
Arrival       : Madrid Barajas (MAD/LEMD) 07:40 AM
Alternate   : Malaga (AGP/LEMG)
Aircraft      : Boeing 737-800 Copa Airlines livery
Flight Rules: IFR
Fuel O/B    : 6753 gallons
Distance    : 951 nm


The a/c was parked at Gate D57 and I turned on all necessary systems, setup the radios, etc. Schiphol Ground (EHAM_N_GND) was contacted and we got clearance for our flight to Madrid with a change of altitude to FL310. We got squawk code 3142. Permission was given for pushback and startup and later on permission to taxi to Runway 24 via taxiway A-S7. Wins were 280/14kts QNH 1013. During pushback there was a system glitch in which the cockpit lost all power. It all came back after start up.

At the runway threshold I was handed over to Schiphol Tower (EHAM_TWR) which gave me permission for take off after the transponder was set to mode Charlie. Nice to see the runway turn of lights in action!

Went through the checklist that applied to my sim a/c, set flaps, brake to RTO, landing lights on, checked the autopilot settings for the initial climb. Applied throttle and EHM5204 took off at 05:30 local time (UTC+1) in real life it was 19:30. When passed 2000’ I was handed off by Schiphol Tower to Unicom.

Initial Climb

There were no initial climb instructions so after take off from rwy 24 I flew out into the Dutch coast on the VALKO SID prior to heading to the WOODY intersection. The climb was set to the cruise altitude of 31,000 feet.

The weather was good and in the picture you can see the beautiful a/c and the Dutch coast with Schiphol in the background (the light).

After passing the WOODY intersection we flew over Belgian airspace without ATC coverage and then proceeded with the rest of the climb. Cruise altitude was reached at 05:53 AM.

En Route

The flight proceeded with good weather over France and Spain at FL310. Over France I had ATC coverage of Paris Control (LFFF_CTR) and handed over to Bordeaux Control (LFBB_CTR) but no special instructions were given other than to continue to BEGUY intersection.

There were no odd circumstances such as overspeeding, stalling, turbulence or bad weather. Since it was a long cruise I had the autopilot active and limited myself to follow throgh the cruise checking fuel, radio frequencies, communications and examining the arrival charts.


The calculations indicated I had to initiate descent some 93 nm of the destination. For this we first have to fly heading 187 degrees inbound to NAVAS VOR (NVS) for the clearance limit. Minimum altitude at that point is 9000’ and you better do it (especially if doing the virtual flight in the nighttime) because there are some mountains in that direction that you can only clear if you are  above 8000’.

From NVS we begin the ORBIS 1C arrival by flying radial 110 outbound NVS towards TOBEK.

Initial Approach

Having passed NAVAS and cleared out the high obstacles we continue flying towards the Initial Approach Fix TOBEK which we should reach at 5000’. At this point I had the PERALES (PDT) VOR on NAV2 and NAVAS VOR on NAV1. Also had PDT on standby at NAV1 (more on that later).

By TOBEK if there had been no ATC coverage I would have followed the charts which called for turning left inbound PDT heading 048 and then a sharp left turn heading 325 degrees towards Madrid barajas (BRA VOR/DME). However Madrid Tower (LEMD_TWR) was active and with some traffic so when I tuned it I was vectored towards and away of PDT and then back (right turns) towards Madrid.

For this vectoring I still had my GoFlight MCP Pro (the autopilot module) for the autothrottle, maintain the altitude during the initial approach and change the heading. I did not enable the approach mode of the GPS because I had coverage, besides I seldom do and fly my approaches manually.

Final Approach

I was cleared to runway 33L on course 325 degrees and had tuned NAV1 to the localizer frequency of MAA (109.90). Had the BRA tuned on NAV2. Runway was in sight

It is difficult to take shots (pictures), fly the virtual aircraft and communicate with air traffic control during these critical times. As you can see at the time the shot was taken (click on it for a larger picture) I had already intercepted the localizer but was slightly above the glide slope and somehow not aligned to the runway. I had to do some aileron and rudder to land on 33L. Flaps were already at 10 degrees, speed brakes armed and hydraulic brakes set to maximum. The autopilot’s altitude hold had been previously disengaged.


Touch down was soft, the air brakes deployed and reverse thrust was applied. I noticed I was not slowing down as expected and realized I had not disabled the autothrottle!!! (air crash investigation!) so I did it and barely managed to stop at the end of the runway! For some reason even though I had tuned to the ATIS frequency (118.150) on COM1 I did not see or heard any :( On my last flight to Dublin I had a real sounding voice ATIS.

I taxied to the gates and arrived on time (apparently) because the digital clock shows 06:18Z, Madrid is UTC+1 and the expected arrival was 07:40 local time (06:40Z). A total of 162 virtual passengers were transported over a distance of 951nm. A total of 3939 gallons of virtual fuel were burned in this flight.

OK, 20 more hours of virtual flight on this Boeing 738 and I should be promoted to the (virtual) rank of Senior Commercial Captain and start doing larger jets again (B767, A330, B757). I am looking forward to that but the next 1.5 months I will be busy with real life commitments so I only expect to be able to prepare a few flight plans but not fly. I should also be hearing the results of my two MRIs next week so I hope my spine is doing well because I am tired of having spent the past two months with pain and discomfort.

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