Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Incidents & Accidents: PMDG Jetstream 41 radar contact lost on the Gulf of Panama

Background Information
SKBS-MPTO-2010-jul-27-002 As you readers know I bought a PMDG BAe Jetstream 4100. So far I have done two or three low altitude flights (5000’) around local airports, basically take-off do a circuit or two and land again. No incidents although in both occasions the engines were already started by FSX. I had also read the Pilot Tutorial, the Instrument Reference, a few tutorial articles and browsed through relevant parts of the Aircraft Operating Manual.

I felt confident about doing my first full flights as the “virtual captain” rather than the “virtual first officer”. I had chosen the excellent Air Panama livery by Jim Hodkinson at the PMDG forum. For this flight I had an “emotional” reason, so I chose Bahia Solano, Chocó, Colombia to Tocumen Intl., Panama. Simply because me and my ex-girlfriend had plans to visit this small coastal town but that never came to happen. I attempted this flight two days ago but the JS41 engines melted down at the ramp during startup procedure, propellers where not unfeathered and did not remove start locks. Yesterday I tried it again and it all went well, took off and reached cruise altitude. Then a relative came asking for the passengers and I went to show him by switching views with the FSX menu and…. FSX crashed to the desktop!!!! most irritating considering it took me 45 minutes to prepare! So apparently a known problem with the PMDG JS41, I applied the workaround (a Vista 32-bit DLL in the FSX root folder).

Since this would be my first full flight in the “captain’s chair” I wanted to accomplish the following:

  • A successful start from a cold and dark cockpit: no burnt engines
  • A successful take-off with a cruise climb using autopilot (had an issue yesterday)
  • Navigate using instruments instead of “following the line”
  • A proper descent and ILS approach
  • A safe landing into Tocumen International airport in Panama (my “home” airport)
  • Virtual Mission: to get “type rated” and turn the newly painted a/c to the owner airline

Flight Brief
We will depart from the small provincial airport of Bahia Solano, Chocó in the neighboring republic of Colombia in spite of the bad weather. We would climb to a cruise altitude of 16,000 feet. Our route will be to direct DAKMO intersection, then airway UA317 to fix ITAGO and then along the same airway to over Taboga Island (TBG VOR) before intercepting ILS to runway 03R on Tocumen Intl. in Panama.

Departure from Colombia
SKBS-MPTO-2010-jul-27-003 Bahía Solano is a small local ecotouristic place in Colombia where the town of Mutis is. Bahía Solano’s airport is small and has is named Jose Celestino and has runway 17/35. The only navigation beacon here is the BHS NDB (240.00). The only VOR we can use as a reference is farther away, UIB (113.20). If we were to track R-330 127nm outbound UIB we would reach DAKMO. We will keep it tuned in NAV1 (with TBG standby) but use BHS as main reference (tuned on ADF1) because we will flight direct to DAKMO. DAKMO intersection is the handover point between Colombian and Panamanian airspaces.

It is the rainy season so we expect a lot of clouds and rain. Indeed some passengers got very wet when boarding the a/c. We had the full set of PMDG ramp manager artifacts. Departure was scheduled for 10:25 local time. Cockpit preparation up to engine start would take 45 minutes.

SKBS-MPTO-2010-jul-27-006 In our first leg we will climb runway heading over the town of Mutis off the coast to the beautiful bay of Bahia Solano. Then fly heading 346 degrees to DAKMO. This would take us again into the mainland, jungle to be exact.

We were carrying only 8 virtual passengers, me as the “virtual captain”, the virtual first officer and a virtual airline official in the jumpseat. Using the data from the Load & Balance Worksheet our Speed Card showed that fro 19500 lbs. we would have to set V1=Vr=101, V2-109,Vyse=123 and Vy=143 knots. Because I anticipated a heavy workload (these checklists are long!) we were planning to land with around 800 lbs. of fuel for a landing weight of 18316 lbs. The speed card showed we had to set the following speeds for landing configuration: V1=Vr=97, V2=106, Vyse=120. We don’t want to look for that and set it when we are extremely busy performing our descent. After all, in “real life” I have to perform both Captain & FO duties and communicate with ATC.

SKBS-MPTO-2010-jul-27-008 As you can see not only did we had rain during boarding, it was still raining during take-off and there was a lot of heavy clouds. We would climb to 16,000 ft above the cloud cover while our selected passenger list would enjoy a nice meal with a beautiful stewardess.

Luckily having learned from engine meltdowns twice, I read in the PMDG forum that the trick is to first load a default a/c, turn everything off and then switch to the J41 while on the ramp/gates. Unfortunately there is yet another J41 bug in which the panel state is not completely saved, therefore this workaround. After 45 minutes I had already started the right engine, did pushback, started the left engine. Then keeping the condition levers in Taxi setting I taxied to runway 35, the weather was not going to be on my side. I followed all checklists to the letter.

Climb out and Cruise
SKBS-MPTO-2010-jul-27-009 In my previous attempt (when FSX crashed) I had to struggle during the climb because no matter what I did the autopilot would disengage constantly. Very difficult to find out why when you are also busy with navigating, watching your instruments to prevent engine fire and figure out why it happens!. As it turns out, The J41 has the feature that if the pilot uses the yoke for anything the autopilot would automatically disengage! This simulation is very detailed but that was not mentioned in the manuals :( No wonder why it kept happening! Also, this autopilot works differently that what I was used to. This time however, following the advise of fellow virtual J41 captains I set the autopilot for climb (ALT SEL and V/S mode) and did not move the yoke, only very carefully using the pan hat switch to change views around the cockpit.

SKBS-MPTO-2010-jul-27-010 During the climb I also had to keep an eye on the EGT and RPM, checking the maximum limits where not exceeded. With autopilot for climb I could at least show my father some nice views. During the climb however, the simulation threw me a surprise: Shaker! yeah, close to the last 1000’ feet of the climb the a/c began to stall. There is no auto-throttle here so you also have to manage it yourself for the chosen V/S or IAS mode. Once on cruise the Flight Mode Controller would switch from ALT SEL to ALT (altitude hold) mode. To reach DAKMO we would use the BHS NDB behind, probably R-330 of UIB VOR/DME and the La Palma VOR (113.10) in Darien, R-134. Just for fun. We don’t want to fall in the jungles of Darien, if you survive the crash the animals may eat you, and if not then the FARC that incursion into Panamanian territory may kidnap you (at best…).

SKBS-MPTO-2010-jul-27-013 During cruise this excellent simulation from PMDG threw some more challenges to me, I got the “Icing AOA” lit up on the right instrument panel and “Ice” warning on the CAP panel. I looked on the overhead and the engine/propeller and windshield anti-ice was on. The warning wouldn’t go away in spite of cancelling the “Icing AOA”. This cold mean trouble, especially with those ominous clouds and ark skies. As you can see on the picture on the left, there where ice formations on both wings (leading edge is no longer black) and on the nose!. Finally I found the Airframe De-Icing cycle switch! I turned it on and it went through cycles and the ice was gone, pfew!!! later on it happened again so this became routine during cruise.

Descent & Arrival
So far so good! in spite of the bad weather and the two warnings we reached DAKMO and turned heading 308 degrees on the same airway over the beautiful Pearl Archipel. Our next waypoint was TBG VOR which I had already tuned on NAV1 and set the appropriate radial. I also set TBG NDB (311.0) on ADF2 and set the Tocumen INAT localizer (110.70) of runway 03R.

I had already looked up the V speeds for landing configuration so I set them on the EHSI using the Flight Mode Controller, getting the hang on this aircraft jewel. Now the big question… We have to descend from 16,000 ft. to be at 5,000 at Taboga to intercept the localizer (right turn). Things got stressful, I set the new altitude on ALT SEL, lowered throttles (not to idle though, was uncertain), used the knob to set the descent vertical speed to –1000 ft/min but it was not going down fast enough.

Here is were the pilot error occurred, in all this hectic moments trying to descent and go through the checklists I forgot to monitor the airspeed. As a result the bells started sounding and seconds later the aircraft overstressed :(. The unthinkable happened, after over an hour of flight this virtual aircraft disintegrated at 12,000 ft 38nm inbound TBG. All passengers and crew died (myself included) a sad moment sniff, sniff… I guess I was not yet ready for sitting at the “captain’s chair” and must now go back to the books. I should have paid attention to the article written by a real-life captain of a J41 “Slow down then go down”. If you don’t lower your speed first then descending is going to be a big problem. Even if you manage to descend, it would be difficult to stop the a/c on the runway if you don’t have the correct approach speed! My fault… game over and try again :( luckily that is the beauty of a simulator. Obviously I was frustrated because of the failure as well as not being able to declare the flight with the virtual airline. I hope my next full flight attempt is successful, I love this PMDG, it frustrates at the beginning but you really learn a lot about the real aircraft.

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