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Thursday, 23 May 2013

Air Rally: Bocas del Toro to Colon on Piper Seneca II

Woohoo!!! had a little free time to do another virtual flight. This time the next leg (#9) of the Panama Air Rally 2013 as I promised. Naturally I will use FSX, still wonder why there are people still sticking to FS9 as if it was the last thing on earth! they don’t know what they are missing!

VPA-PanamaRally_Leg9-MPBO_MPEJ-FlightPlanYet again we will board our beloved twin motor Piper Seneca II (Carenado) loaded with 50 gallons of fuel of which according to the FSX flight plan we are expected to use 24.2 gallons.

The realtime weather wasn’t very challenging (clear skies) so I opted to use Heavy Thunderstorms instead. To make it more interesting the departure was 05:35 local time (UTC-5) from Bocas del Toro (MPBO) which is pretty dark. It is important to watch the instruments to fly the departure and not lose orientation, don’t want to ditch into the water.

I filed a YFR flight plan (starts IFR, terminates VFR) though the idea is to rely on instruments. Cruise altitude was 5,000 feet and the destination would be the Enrique Jimenez international airport in Colon city, Panama.

Charts! we have got to have charts. Got them for both Bocas del Toro and Enrique Jimenez. Unfortunately one dates back to 1998 and the other 2006 but anyway this is only simulation. I would prefer to have current charts but sadly –and unlike the civil aviation authorities of other countries- the Panamanian Civil Aviation Authority does not make these publicly available (shame!) so you have to buy them even if you are just a flight simmer! I am used to having current charts but what can I say, it is the third world!.


We will depart from the Bocas del Toro Intl. airport (ICAO: MPBO) in Isla Colon, Bocas del Toro Panama. The airport scenery is that made by Rhett Browning (wherever you are man, you dropped off the face of earth) for FSX back in 2008. One problem though… back then the airport did not have airport lights,! Since a couple of years ago the real airport does have runway edge lights. Luckily I am a relatively experienced FSX scenery designer so I amended the scenery (found here at the “Aviacion Virtual en Panama” Facebook group) to include runway edge lights. I also attempted to add lights to the terminal building but that didn’t work.

If you would like to know something about the beautiful and lively Bocas del Toro visit the Bocas page at Panama Vibes.

Motors started! all systems checked. METAR indicated winds 327 degrees at 18-28 knots, woohoo! this calls for taking off from runway 26. Cross wind component is 15-25 knots. Looked at my charts and I will be doing the GEMER ONE departure. Please keep in mind this chart dates back to 1998 so not to be used for real aviation (I am not a pilot either!) you have been warned.

Radios… NAV1 set to BDT active (114.90) and FNC standby (109.00), NAV2 set active to FNC. OBS1 to 272 degrees and heading bug to 115 degrees.


Took off from runway 26 following heading 272 at 05:40 local time with 50 gals. Gears up, trimmed aircraft for a steady climb. The Piper can climb at a maximum of 1400 ft/sec but I trimmed lower. Upon reaching 1280 feet over the water I initiated a standard turn to intercept BDT R-115. Now inbound to Bocas del Toro VOR/DME to be crossed at or above 3,000 feet. As you can see in the screenshot it is pretty dark out there (and peaceful), I didn’t have coffee though to accompany the virtual experience.

As I saw the VOR indicator switch from TO to FROM I turned to follow BDT outbound R-102 which was now on my OBS1. Now we continue on this radial straight to GEMER intersection 25.3nm east of BDT. In the meantime I enjoyed the beautiful views of the faint lights in the horizon while surrounded by darkness while settling comfortably at 5,000 feet, altitude hold engaged, cowl flaps are closed, mixture leaned properly for this altitude and throttle set for 2,500 RPM.


PA34-VPA-LEG9-2013-may-24-007Continuing on airway G440 I passed GEMER intersection and then (see photo) 18nm further the “Escudo de Veraguas” Island was on my right at 06:10 local time with the beautiful caribbean coast of Panama at the distance. This part mostly inhabitated. On this 48.3 nm leg to PUDOS intersection on the same airway.

PA34-VPA-LEG9-2013-may-24-006Sad news is I confirmed –given I regularly do IFR procedures on this simulated aircraft- that the Carenado Piper Seneca II has some VOR alignment issues but given the age of the product I doubt they will fix it (Note: The developers of the Aerosoft Twin Otter did resolve this issue when I ran into the same problem with their a/c- I normally not use the GPS anymore unless lost but  I use it to check the simulated a/c. As you can see in this screenshot, I was flying right on the radial (outbound BDT) and yet you can see the CDI shows as if I was some 5nm off course (south of the radial).

Passed PUDOS and took a shorter route now, rather than following to KIKES on G440 which would take us farther, I turned left heading 091 direct to MULPO intersection (no airway). This leg was 68 nm and no radial to follow, hum, tough… So how on earth do I know when I reach MULPO?

Remember I set NAV2 active frequency to FNC (France Field VOR/DME)? in addition to that en route I set the OBS2 to 014 degrees. MULPO happens to be an intersection in airway V3 that goes straight to FNC, the Enrique Jimenez airport’s VOR/DME. and MULPO is some 15 nm from FNC. So by having 014 (our initial inbound course to MPEJ) and NAV2 the CDI of VOR2 would indicate when –while on the leg from PUDOS to MULPO- I was intersecting the inbound radial. Now luckily winds were not strong.

By the way, at 06:30 local time my route changed from over the water (I can’t swim!) to inland at some 42nm inbound FNC.


Here comes my favourite part of every virtual flight (other than the takeoff) and that is the approach whether it is visual or instrumental. On MULPO our flight plan changed to VFR for the sake of the tour but I prefer the instruments. Reached MULPO at 06:48.

Anyway, we have the whole of Gatun lake underneath us with several islands as visual reference. Also, to our left at the distance we should see (VFR conditions) the Gatun Locks of the Panama Canal and the Chagres river mouth on the Atlantic coast.

We are reaching the Enrique Jimenez airport (MPEJ) in the city of Colon, province of the same name in Panama. Its terminal VOR/DME is France Field (FNC 109.00). In real life this airport is being totally refurbished to make it suitable for international flights, in particular to be able to receive aircraft as big as the Boeing 757-200. It will have a runway 2,700 meters long with a new terminal building. Of course, the FSX scenery doesn’t reflect that and unfortunately information is hard to get in Panama. If you want to learn more about Colon visit Panama Vibes.

PA34-VPA-LEG9-2013-may-24-011At about 27nm from FNC I initiated descent to 3500 feet, lowered RPM to 2400. At MULPO turn left heading 018 towards GATUN fix, 12 nm to go. Continued to GATUN fix which I had to reach at about 2100 feet. The screenshot on your left shows the moment the Piper was at MULPOS turning towards GATUN fix with Gatun lake all around us, the Piper is not very suitable for watching out the window.

At GATUN I had to adjust my OBS again to the actual runway heading. My virtual flight was terminating at MPEJ runway 36.


PA34-VPA-LEG9-2013-may-24-012Yeah! arrival, things are getting a bit stressy but I have no plans on failing this approach. Having passed GATUN fix then came MELIA the last fix at 1200 feet, in real life we should be able to see the Melia Rainforest Resort, would be nice to have in FSX.Maybe I should add a stock resort for the sake of visual references.

As you can see on the screenshot I had runway 36 in sight. The FNC VOR/DME is not aligned to the runway so we should do the approach taking that into consideration but at this moment it is a visual approach. This stock FSX airport does not have runway lights but I don’t need them now.

Finally landed safely at 06:50 with my lovely Piper Seneca II from Carenado, I was pretty much satisfied with the virtual flight. The tank had 32 gallons of fuel left, meaning I consumed 18 gallons instead of the estimated24.2! yeah! fuel economy, I am getting better at that.

Flew 161 nm from Bocas del Toro to Colon in this beautiful virtual bimotor plane, saved some fuel that I can use for next leg and filed my PIREP with Virtual Pilots. A total of 1:30 hours of flight, part of which under instrument conditions (total darkness), the kind of virtual flight I like. I love night approaches too, but not many airfields in Panama have night lights, even less in the FSX simulator.


For one thing I will continue flying my Carenado Piper Seneca II, if not then my Aerosoft Twin Otter. The Twotter is more suitable for visual approaches.

The stock MPEJ airport while okay is definitely not up to standards and certainly not up to date. As soon as I landed I took it upon myself to do some quick scenery to improve this issue. Will try to create it based on the little information that can be obtained about the new airport. At least the new runway length, add the runway lights, improve on the surrounding landclass, and why not add the Melia resort “look alike” to use a visual reference? When done I will post it at our “Aviacion Virtual en Panama” Facebook group.

So my dear readers, whether you are a lucky real life pilot or an enthusiastic (like me) flight simulation (and aviation) fanatic like me, keep flying, keep learning and keep sharing! If you are interested in the happenings of virtual aviation within the confines of Panamanian (virtual) airspace, visit our Facebook group. And I also encourage you to visit main site or the Panama Vibes articles section to learn more about our tropical country.

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