Friday, October 31, 2008

Clyde River

Clyde River (CYCY) is a little-known settlement in the far north of Canada, in the province of Nunavut, located on the eastern side of the great Baffin Island. The reason why we are interested in it -- well, two reasons -- is, first, that Clyde River is located on the routes of not one but two independent canadian airlines, First Air, (an airline wholly owned and operated by native Inuit, or so their web page says), and Canadian North. Canadian North is a remnant of the original Canadian Airlines, which was merged into Air Canada years ago; Canadian North, however, (call sign "Empress,") is still active, with headquarters in Yellowknife, NWT.

Now, here's the thing. Flying in the far north, near the magnetic north pole, is not like flying anywhere else on Earth. You cannot trust your magnetic compass because it does weird things over distances greater than 20 nm, in that part of the world.

For this trip, your challenge (or, mine, more like it), is to fly from CYCY back to regional hub at Frobisher Bay, airport name Iqaluit (CYFB). As the crow flies, this is a distance of about 405 nm. But all you have for navaids is a small NDB at Clyde River itself, category MH (range of about 35 miles tops), and a VOR at Iqaluit (YFB 117.40) with a range of about 195 miles. That leaves at least 170 miles with absolutely no navaids available to help you remain on course.

Well, you guessed it. The main point of this flight is the acquisition of navigational skills, and I am going to report how I did it. But keep in mind, there are no general, foolproof methods for navigating in the far north, short of using a GPS. Luck, savvy, experience are all useful.

If you can, equip yourself with a long-range aircraft suitable for a mission like this. I used the Dreamwings Dash 8-100 ("baby dash") available from, updated with textures for Canadian North. It is also flyable with the beautiful Hawker-Siddeley HS.748 by Rick Piper, using the First Air textures included in his kit. The default King Air 350 is also an eminent choice for this route.

Second. Don't try to fly non-stop from Clyde River to Iqaluit. You'll only get into trouble. When I tried it, I set my autopilot on HDG HOLD and took off on an appropriate course, flew to FL200, and then watched the plane veer away to the west, gradually wandering into the interior of Baffin Island. Not what we wanted at all. Why did it do that? Because a heading of 187 magnetic is not due south up here, it actually makes a sort of loop and turns back toward somewhere in the northern islands. Forget heading hold. It will lead you astray.

The flight plan I used for this trip is
YCY NDB 256.0
YJI NDB 237.0 203 200.2 NM
YFB VOR 117.40 255 254.2 NM

The total distance is about 457 nm, which is somewhat longer by about 50 miles than a direct YCY-YFB flight path, but! The YJI NDB is volume service level H, which means a range of about 70 NM, so you have the use of it for 140 of the miles you have to fly.

Before take-off, check that your heading indicator is aligned with your magnetic compass. It will be adequate within the range of YCY NDB, which is about 35 miles.

After take-off, climb on a heading of about 200, adjusting as necessary until you are on a course of 203 from YCY. That may be left or right of the path depending on local wind; use your ADF indicator to check the course.

Now here's the secret of flying in the far north. Once you are aligned on the correct course and flying in the right direction, activate the wing leveller on your autpilot, or just manually hold the plane level. If you fly straight, barring unforeseen changes in wind along the route, you should reach YJI in about 45 minutes, and you should be in range of it sooner than that, say 30 minutes or so.

At YJI, steer a course of 255 from the NDB, and hold the plane level, with the autopilot if you want. As before, avoid heading hold. It will only mess you up.

You should be within range of YFB VOR 195 miles from your destination.

Well, that's about all there is to it. The flight path as far as Qikiqtarjuaq (Broughton I.) takes you along the edge of Baffin island, which is riddled with Norwegian-style fjords. In the early morning, the glacier covered hills and peaks are covered with a strange purple light. With the cabin heater on, you will hardly notice the cold.

See you at Iqaluit!

New Blog Direction

Having thrashed around wondering what to do with this blog, it occurred to me eventually -- in the way obvious things eventually make an impression even on my slow (but steadily) turning brain -- that the name I gave it suggests I really want to talk about flying. That is what I'm going to do.

I am a virtual aviator. My vehicle of choice is Microsoft's Flight Simulator, FS2004 aka FS9 to those in-the-know. I don't currently have a machine strong enough to run FSX, and "advanced graphics capabilities" are not really my interest in flying anyway. I like to learn a bit about geography, such things as where Samarkand is and the names of small towns in Canada, and I like to rehearse and develop my flying skills. FSX is not necessary for any of that, so this blog will be about flying with FS9.

Oh. And I do most of my flying after the sun goes down. Hence "Midnight Flyer." I am one of those strange dudes who likes to do the occasional night flight. I think FS9 does a decent, to good job of rendering the night visual world with city lights, airport beacons, runway lighting, etc. You never get to see any of that if you only fly in daylight.

I make extensive use of independently developed add-ons, particularly aircraft. Project Opensky and iFDG are notable examples, and Barry Blaisdell's group, Premair. I also use some add-on scenery. And from where do these wonderful add-ons come to enhance our flying environment? Avsim, of course, one of the finest online web sites available for the virtual flying enthusiast.

But I'm not here to advertise. Occasionally I will give some product reviews about freeware add-ons, but I am not paid to plug products. Any such reviews are meant only to inform the reader.

My real focus is to talk about my flights. I fly every day, and some of these flights are worth documenting, whether because the little air strip out in the backwoods of Canada is worth seeing, or because of the flying challenge involved in getting there, or because of scenery seen along the way. The Flight sim world may be virtual, but it really is as large as the real world, and there is a lot to see. You can think of me as an occasional guide into that world.

So put your flying suit on, choose your airplane, and let's go!