Friday, December 5, 2008

Ilyushin IL-76TD

When planning the United Nations project in Africa, I did a search on Avsim for suitable equipment. I found three aircraft, one of which I have already described, namely the Lockheed C-130 Hercules turboprop cargo lifter. This aircraft is the mainstay of the World Food Program project in Africa because it not only offers a substantial cargo carrying capacity of over 20 tons, but also because it will operate into very short unimproved (read "dirt") runways. This kind of versatility is hard to match with any other airplane, and very important to this kind of mission.

There were two other aircraft, one was a Boeing 727-200 in the UN all-white livery, with the registration of South Africa on its tail, and the other was an Ilyushin IL-76TD heavy lifter, also a cargo plane like the C-130. The Ilyushin, it turns out, is a strategic airplane in the UN relief operations, in Africa for the World Food Program, and also in Indonesia, where, during the recent tsunami, it assisted with the transport of large quantities of supplies to remote airfields.

The Ilyushin is a unique aircraft. With a ramp footprint not much larger than a typical 767, this plane is nonetheless able to lift over 80 tons of cargo into the air out of a modest runway. It serves a vital role in moving cargo to strategic drop points, such as national capitals, where the C-130 can then make distributions to the local area.

The Ilyushin I downloaded was made by Project Tupolev, and includes a realistic panel. In fact, the plane and panel are so realistic that it took me several days and three online manuals to figure out how to work the thing. Even get the engines started is a maze of switches and settings which have to be made in the correct order. Hats off to the Project Tupolev people, of which the Ilyushin is a subsequent offshoot, for a job well done.

There is just one problem with the plane: it won't co-exist with FS2004 ATC routines, so any attempt to fly the plane under ATC control results in a system crash as soon as ATC tries to tell you to begin descending for arrival. It took me a while to figure this out, since there is no warning or explanation of why FS2004 terminates. Sometimes it even vanishes entirely, leaving you with a blank desktop. So anyway, the solution is to fly the plane VFR, without allowing ATC to issue you any instructions. (Maybe I'll figure out the solution to this problem later on, but right now it's the only circumvention I know.)

So far, one mission completed with the IL-76: Dar-Es-Salaam (Tanzania, HTDA) to Entebbe, Uganda (HUEN), about 500 nm. The plane is a joy to fly. Following the instructions: thrust levers to a TLA of 110, let the plane accelerate smoothly to 270 km/h, pull back gently, and there you go, up into the air. Use the yoke trim controls to adjust pitch for a 1500-1800 fpm climb (between 5 and 10 meters/sec), turn on the autopilot, and let the amazing KLN-90B GPS gauge guide you to the destination. (Yes, it uses the KLN-90B, not the default GPS, but don't be fooled by its similarity to other KLN-90B gauges, this one is new, and simulates EVERY function of the real GPS unit, as far as I can tell. In fact, the designers don't offer a user manual of their own. You download the real pilot's handbook and use that!)

I will be talking more about the IL-76TD in future posts. Meanwhile, if you'd like to fly it, go to and download the file, then follow the instructions in there. You'll have to download the base model from a Project Tupolev web site.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Travels in Ethiopia

Our trip from the Sudan arrived at Bole International Airport, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, after dark even though we left around 3pm. It seems it gets dark early there this time of year, even in Africa. We made an ATC-guided approach to ILS and landed uneventfully.
The next day we got an early start, leaving HAAB in the C-130 before 7 A.M. for a small dot on the map called "Fincha." The landing at Fincha was not difficult. The landing strip is set on a flat plateau beside a lake, which provides plenty of eacy access space to make the visual approach. Unfortunately, there was nobody there to meet us, as apparently the government notification had not been sent. You can see the plane parked here beside the landing strip - just a dirt runway - with the lake beyond. We canceled flights for the rest of the day until our itinerary could be confirmed.

The next day we set out early again, this time heading south instead of north. According to reports, food shortages in Ethiopia are particularly severe in the southern part of the country where people survive mainly by subsistence agriculture, and the droughts have drastically reduced food production. Not surprisingly, as you can see in this photo how desolate the land looks, even given that it is fall. We arrived at HASD, a dirt landing strip north of the town and lake of Awasa. Google Earth has many pictures of the area, and it seems to be a lovely lake. The local town has interesting architecture.

As you can see from the following image, the landing strip is located several miles north of the town located on the east side of the lake. It's not unusual for airports to be located away from the town they serve, but usually we expect the airport to be more clearly linked to the town. In this case, it's just a hard-baked clay piece of unmarked land that you would know is an air strip only if you were a pilot with a map to tell you where it is.
Nevertheless, after several difficult attempts to make the approach over top the hill to the north of the field, we did finally manage to set down on the ground, park, and open up the tailgate. Townspeople who had seen the plane arrive gathered soon after, and the visit was very succesful.
We continued on for one more trip that afternoon, to Arba Minch, which is farther to the south. Arba Minch has an asphalt runway long enough for jets. The landing was easy. There is a local village there, but the community also consists of rural settlements spread out over a larger area. We dropped another 5,000 lbs of food there, nearly 200 25-lb bags of rice and grain. Then it was back to Addis Ababa to load up the plane for another day. Tomorrow we would head north again into the mountainous regions north of the capital.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Africa: Cairo to Addis Ababa

The time has come to go exploring Africa. See our nice freshly-painted United Nations Lockheed C-130 Hercules, parked at Merowe in the Sudan? This cargo plane is ideal for short dirt or gravel runways, and has been called the largest bush plane in the world. I will be flying this thing all over Africa, and writing about my experiences with it in this column.

Aircraft: Lockheed C-130 Hercules, by Mike Stone
Owner: United Nations
Mission: World Food Program
Texture set: file

12-Nov. Alexandria.

The mission began at Alexandria Intl. The first leg departs at 6:00 A.m. with an old DC-3 cargo plane headed for Cairo. The weather was fair with scattered clouds and some turbulence, which always makes the DC-3 hard to fly. We arrived at HECA at 8 A.m. after a bumpy ride and a visual landing on runway 5R -- we couldn't have used ILS even if it had been offered, so we steered the old bird down to the runway and taxi'd until we found an exit. Then we were shunted off to the cargo ramp.

Layover in Cairo for three days, waiting for the C-130 to arrive from Turkey. After its arrival and a full check-up by the maintenance crew, loading the plane began the night of the 14th.

15-Nov. Cairo.
The next leg of our flight set out on 15-Nov at 12:44, bound for Hurghada Intl (HEGN). Only 238 miles, but the C-130 is not particularly fast. We landed 2 hours 17 minutes later, and spent the rest of the day doing routine medical tests and handing out food. The C-130 is great, we just lower the tail doors, open up the plane, and people file right in.

16-Nov. Hurghada, Egypt.
we have two flights, first from Hurghada to Port Sudan (HSPN) on the coast of the Red Sea -- VFR navigation all the way, and then a late afternoon flight from there to Merowe, Sudan. I wasn't sure what to expect. A short gravel strip, no control tower, but would there be a town, or was this just an airfield in the middle of the desert? It turned out to be a respectable-sized town located on the banks of the upper Nile. We opened the tail and started handing out food and seeing anybody who wanted medical attention.

17-Nov. Atbara, Sudan.
Morning departure to another town in the Sudan only 138 miles away, Atbara (HSAT). There was even less here than at Merowe, just a converted house trailer being used as a control tower, but the townspeople knew we were coming and were lined up waiting. We could see them cheering our landing as the dust went up behind the plane on the gravel runway.

Well, the supplies are just about run out, but we were told not to waste time flying back to Cairo for resupplies. We fly on to Addis Ababa to pick up new supplies, and then we will be flying to several smaller outlying communities in Ethiopia for the next few days. I'm not exactly looking forward to it -- the terrain is very mountainous in Ethiopia, and this will mostly be VFR seat of the pants flying. I'll write more after we've been to Addis Ababa. Wish me luck!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

British Airways Boeing 777-200ER G-VIIT

I've never been able to use the Melvin Rafi Boeing 777, for reasons I'm not entirely sure. This means, for the last four years, the world of 777 flying has been inaccessible to me unless I wanted to use the default plane or one of the AI versions. Which I didn't.

But no more. Project Opensky has finally built a 777 of their own, actually several planes, the 777-200 and the 777-200ER, each available in three engine versions, PW, Rolls Royce Trent-800's, and GE-90. I prefer the version of the plane without the virtual cockpit (VC) because the VC really impacts my frame rates.

For my test flight, I chose the British Airways 777-200ER, tail number G-VIIT pictured above. The Extended Range (ER) version is enhanced with larger fuel tanks and is able to achieve a range in excess of 7500 nautical miles, easily enough to fly from JFK to Tokyo, or London-Heathrow to Singapore. The flight plan I filed was WSSS (Singapore, Changi) to EGLL (London Heathrow), with automatic High-Altitude routing. The flight plan calculated had a total distance of 5,985 nautical miles. Expected flying time: 12 hrs, 45 min.
The fuel load I chose for this flight was 31,650 US gallons, which allowed a worst-case scenario of 5.3 gallons/mile for the overall flight. Expected performance for the plane is 3.6 to 4.1 g/mile, which is roughly the same as the Boeing 767-300 -- very good for a plane this size, and plenty enough reason to explain why the 777 has become so popular with modern airlines.
It isn't really desirable to fly a route this long in one continuous session. The way I flew this particular flight was to arrange a departure time from Singapore of 0330Z, or about 10:30 A.M. local time. This provided for an expected arrival time of (0330 + 1230) or 1600Z, which at London would be 4 P.M. local time. Still daylight, although getting on toward dusk at this time of year. After climbing to an enroute crusing altitude of FL350, I minimized FS2004, turned the monitor off, and went to bed. If you have the general settings option "Pause on Task Switch" turned OFF (unchecked), FS2004 will continue flying as a background task, such as while minimized. This allows you to do other work while the plane flies, or, as I did, just go to bed and get a good night's sleep :)
The next morning, the plane had only travelled about half the route. This is because we were encountering strong headwinds along the route, upwards of 80 to 100 knots at times. The trip was going to take more than the estimated 12 1/2 hours, much more. Fortunately I had packed plenty of fuel, mainly because I had anticipated the possibility of strong easterly headwinds at this time of year. So, I saved the flight and shut down FS for the rest of the day.
I started the flight up again before I went to bed the second night, and let it fly all that night. Finally, the next morning, we were only a few hundred miles from London. I landed safely at Heathrow -- the plane handled beautifully, just as easy to handle as the default 737 -- after logging a total of nearly 15 hours. This was one of the longest flights I had ever made, and at the end, this beast of a machine still had 7,266 gallons of fuel on board!
If you're interested in flying a modern plane with plenty of range, and have the time and abilities to manage such long flights, I think you'll enjoy the Project Opensky Boeing 777-200. Visually beautiful, easy to handle, and with range and flight characteristics typical of the real 777, this will do the job for you.