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.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Flight: PAOT to PALU

The far north isn't all in Canada. Alaska is worth attention, too. In the winter months of November, December, January, the northern parts of Alaska dim and darken, the days become shorter and the dawn and dusk periods become longer. The green slopes and valleys turn white with snow, and air travel becomes even more important. For many communities in Alaska, air travel becomes the only practical way to maintain contact with the outside world.

This flight is planned to use the Piper PA18 supercub, probably the most popular airplane in the whole state. It is rugged, can land on the shortest strips, and doesn't even need a runway. It is a bush plane, preferred by guides, sportsmen, and explorers. You'll want to get a supercub and install it for this trip. I recommend the file on Avsim -- you get not only a great upgrade for the standard wheeled piper cub, but also a float plane version. These planes are equipped with IFR navigation aids, including VOR and ADF radios, and an autopilot of sorts. The default piper cub doesn't have the navigation aids we need for this flight.

Once you've got the planes installed, position yourself at a "ramp GA small" parking spot at PAOT, Wien Meml, Kotzebue, AK. This airport is somewhat of a hub for traffic in the northwest part of the state, as it has VOR and NDB on field, paved runways, fuel, and even light repair and maintenance facilities. It serves as a natural base for your explanations into northwest AK.

For your flight plan, choose VFR navigation beginning at PAOT and flying to PALU, Cape Lisburne LRRS. Cape Lisburne is located on a corner of land surrounded with mountains and rocks. Actually it's not the easiest place to land. You'll appreciate the low landing speed and maneuverability of the PA18 when trying to approach this gravel runway. I used a runway 26 approach, which allowed me a straight-in approach, skirting the rocks of a mountain that -almost- but not quite blocked my path.

The flight plan itself is simple. From PAOT to OTZ VOR, just beyond the end of runway 8. From OTZ, take an OBS course of 308 to Cape Lisburne NDB, LUR. Connect from there to PALU, your destination airport. Total distance is 146 nautical miles, and ETE (estimated time enroute) is one hour and 40 minutes.

After you cross the VOR, all you have to do is line yourself up with the VOR on a track of 308 degrees, turn on the autopilot (there's a button on the panel for this), choose NAV1 HOLD (shift+N on the keyboard), and you're on your way. By the time deviation from the VOR course becomes a concern, you should be able to receive the NDB on 385.0 kHz, and follow it in.

A departure time of 10AM (2000Z) is good, because it ensures you'll have some daylight at Lisburne when you arrive. Not a lot. But it should be adequate.

I think what I enjoyed most about this flight, besides looking at the rugged Alaskan landscape, was proving the ability of the PA18 supercub to navigate a relatively long-distance route. After turning on the autopilot, I actually went and did other things for an hour, letting the plane fly on its own. When I checked the screen, we were about 30 miles out, about 5 miles east of planned track, and ready to descend. "Piece of cake."

Good luck!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Flight: KFLL to MYEM

Recently we introduced the Premaircraft Beech 1900D commuter with a Continental Connection flight Boston KBOS to White Plains KHPN, operated by CommutAir. Well, did you know there is another regional carrier in Florida that also flies Beech 1900D commuter turboprops for Continental Connection? Their name is Gulf Flight International (airline code GFT), and their focus airports are Tampa (KTPA), Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood Intl (KFLL), West Palm Beach (KPBI), and Miami Intl. You can use the same B1900D aircraft in the Continental Livery to flyGulf Flight: just change the Airline name in the Select-Aircraft dialog from COMMUTAIR to GULF FLIGHT.

Last night I tried the new 1900D on a flight into the Bahamas, from Fort Lauderdale to Governour's Harbour (MYEM). The distance is 222 nautical miles. I used an enroute cruise altitude of FL190 and a departure time of 4:08pm (2108Z), 9-Nov. There was considerable cloudiness enroute, but visibility was good at ground level. En route you'll pass over Nassau Intl, and get a good view of the Berry islands north of Nassau and east of Andros Is.

I used ATC control, which meant I had to do very little work to set up the approach to Governour's Harbour on Eleuthra Island. The weather was clear and I enjoyed the opportunity to make a visual straight-in approach and landing -- always a pleasure to practice those pilot skills. Maybe another time we'll try the 1900D on a pattern approach. After landing, pull off onto the ramp at the end of the runway and park by the FBO office. Deplane your passengers and make a logbook entry.

I always enjoy flying in the Bahamas. As I landed, around 5pm, the setting sun lined the dense cloud cover with golds and reds, and it was too late to make the trip back to Fort Lauderdale.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Flight: KDEN to KASE

Some readers may now I also maintain a web page for a virtual airline of my own invention called NorthernStar Airways. This is mainly a bush pilots charter type of outfit specializing in flights into small fields in the Canadian wilderness, the Rockies west of Denver, and Hawaii. This flight occurs in the Denver district.

Ordinarily, flights in the Denver district use the satellite airport Denver-Jeffco to avoid the congestion and delays experienced at the huge Denver Intl, but there are two flights that are an exception to this rule: Denver Intl to Aspen, and Denver Intl to Eagle County (Vail, Colorado). Aspen and Vail are world-famous ski resorts, and the traffic flow between Denver Intl and Aspen and Eagle County is so heavy in the winter months that Continental Airlines customarily adds special seasonal flights at that time. Intending to capture some of this business, NorthernStar also operates Cessna 208 Caravan flights into those airports.

If you should decide to take this challenge, you will take a Cessna Grand Caravan (there is a custom painted version of the MS default caravan to be found on the web site. You'd want the file) for the 128 mile trip from Denver Intl (KDEN) to Aspen (KASE) departing at 1:00 pm (2000Z). Request 18,000 ft, and ATC control. Don't worry too much about the route; ATC will begin approach control not far out of Denver.

Here's the thing. If you get a Runway 31 approach, the terrain south of the field is very hilly. ATC will not be able to get you lower than about 12,000 ft, and you will have less than 10 miles to descend 6000 ft to the runway. I couldn't do it. The only logical thing to do is to level off at 9,000 ft approach altitude, and do a go-around for another try -- but, the airport is in a valley, and space is even more cramped south of the field. You will have to try to stay high to avoid the terrain, yet low to have a chance at making the final descent. You will be on manual stick the whole way. There's no way autopilot can help much with this, so you will have to feel comfortable handling the Cessna Caravan.

Unless you already have a lot of experience with the plane, you shouldn't be surprised if you can't do the approach the first time. A little familiarity with the terrain, the field, and the approach and descent profiles will help a great deal, and remember: Continental pilots do this with a 737, so don't complain.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

CommutAir: Boston to White Plains

Well, I had to try it, didn't I. Barry Blaisdell's group, Premaircraft, has launched a new airplane for FS2004: the Beechcraft B1900D Commuter. For years we've been using Mike Stone's B1900, mainly for AI but occasionally for to fly ourselves. CDAI and Tomkaweicz have produced better AI models of the plane, but until now, only payware versions of this popular commuter plane were available -- and I don't use payware. So this was a must-see.

The route I planned for my debut flight was from the schedules of CommutAir, a regional affiliate of Continental that exclusively flies the B1900: Boston-Logan (BOS) to White Plains-Westchester County (HPN). Not, you would think, a very scenic choice, but actually, it's well worth the pilot's attention. I don't often fly in this region, and when I do, it's almost always at high altitudes in a big jet, so I don't really see much of the area. This flight, only 143 miles, at 18,000 feet, afforded a rare view of the metropolitan congestion from Boston to New York. What's more, I left at 3:30 p.m. on Nov-7. The sky was thick with clouds. FL180 put me just above the majority of it during the cruise part of the flight. And by the time I was arriving at White Plains, daylight was waning into early dusk, with a fiery sun setting on the horizon. All in all, there was a lot to look at, and the sense of being out there in the real world was almost tangible.

The airplane (you can find pictures of it on Barry's site) performed marvelously. Note: it seems to be the custom that Premaircraft always provides their own panels for their aircraft, so you don't have to hunt around for some King Air style panel to dress up your flight. They provide a custom panel for your B1900 that seems to me to be the finest panel yet published for this class of aircraft. The plane climbed easily at 1800 fpm to the desired cruise altitude, as it should, and even more surprising, it descended at 1800 fpm without building up undesirable speed. Throttles at idle and 1800 fpm descent managed to hold 180 KIAS, just as you would want.

The plane was a little nose-up at 140 knots and one notch of flaps, on approach, which is not unusual. I also noticed that, unlike many other small turboprop models, this B1900 lost speed due to drag when the landing gear is extended -- good job! I found the autopilot glideslope following on the money, and smooth as glass, without a lot of undesirable porpoising.

Between the lovely late-autumn route and the lovely new airplane, it was a very successful outing. I strongly recommend the plane for you turboprop afficianados; it's another success story for Barry Blaisdell's expert group.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Cambridge Bay, NU

Cambridge Bay (ICAO: CYCB) airport has been a focus interest of mine for years, ever since FS98 began to afford us a more complete world to fly in. YCB is one of the northernmost airports in the world, and yet, despite its remoteness, it is a relatively high-use resource, serving as a hub for access to the whole western side of northern Canada. The photo above shows two typical planes parked at the main terminal, in the foreground a Fokker F-28 short-range jet operated by Canadian North (call sign "Empress"), and in the background, a Hawker-Siddeley HS.748 twin turboprop operated by First Air.

The photo shows the airport as represented by the default scenery in Microsoft Flight Simulator FS2004. It's not an exact recreation of the real airport, but it's close. There are two parking areas, one for commercial arrivals and one for the use of private traffic; this is the commercial ramp. As you can see from the following image, approach to the airport in a landing situation is enhanced by four features:
  1. The gravel-surface runway has medium-intensity edge lighting (MIRL)
  2. Strobe (pulsating) lead-in lights help the pilot see the runway orientation from a distance or when visibility is poor
  3. VASI lights are almost as good as a radio glideslope indicator for planning that perfect touchdown
  4. NDB beacon "MG" (not shown) provides guidance to runway 31. This NDB is service class MH, meaning that it provides up to 37.5 mile range receptivity.

There is also a VOR facility located at the opposite end of the runway. "YCB" is an H VORTAC with a service range of 195 nautical miles. As shown on the Canadian enroute charts, this VOR is oriented to true north. The entire airport is located in the arctic control region, and as such, all headings and bearings are given in true rather than magnetic degrees.

Unfortunately, there is a problem with the VOR as modeled in the default scenery - MS provided it with a local magnetic variation, so it is not usable with the navigation charts. But if you have the AFCAD utility for FS2004 (afcad224.exe) you can fix the VOR yourself. Just open the nearby airport, CYCB, choose "View Navaids" from the menu bar, and right-click your mouse on the VOR symbol northwest of the airport. You'll be shown a pop-up menu; choose "Properties." In the properties page, the next-to-last item is "Magnetic Variation." Change the value to 0.0, click OK, and save the airport. That's all. You will then be able to use the VOR for long-distance navigation, and for approach procedures to runway 13T/31T.

After making this change myself, I tried flying from CYCB to nearby Gjoa Haven (CYHK), a mere 205 miles, with the HS.748. The enroute chart shows a course of 094T (True) degrees from the VOR. I tried that, and while it began to deviate a bit from the proper course near the end of the flight, all in all it worked great.

The real challenge in the far north is to develop the ability to navigate with just the radio aids that were traditionally available to pilots there, before GPS, because that's all they had in those days. With some knowledge, skill, and practice (and the use of the proper charts), you should be able to do the same.

For additional information about the airport and the region, Wikipedia provides a useful starting point.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Getting to Holman, NT

One of the lesser known communities in the Northwest Territories is Holman, ICAO code CYHI. Located on the same island as Cambridge Bay, the town is not visited by any regular airline service, yet no communities in the far north with air strips are completely ignored. It's a fair bet that Ken Borek Air makes occasional stops here, and I wanted to duplicate a likely flight.

Ken Borek Air uses the DHC-6 Twin Otter for flights to smaller communities, but when cargo carrying is important, or there are a lot of passengers, the best choice is the DC-3. Borek Air has several DC-3 upgraded with modern avionics for safer flying. These planes offer conventional radio navigation tools -- you can hold a VOR outbound radial with the autopilot -- and dial an altitude. So I chose the DC-3 for my flight, updated with Marc Beaumont's "dc3_pan3" panel from Avsim, a splendid add-on if you plan to use the Borek Air DC-3, also available for download on Avsim.

I started out from Inuvik, CYEV. I know Borek Air visits there (or at least it used to), and there are connections to Inuvik from further south. There is a defined air route from the YEV VOR to Paulatuk, which continues on to Holman. Consulting the enroute chart for northern Canada, ENR_LO5, shows the first leg has an outbound radial of 035 degrees, and the second is 054 True. Armed with this information, I fueled up my DC-3 and taxi'd out to runway 5 at CYEV for take off.

The 035 radial worked as promised, providing a clean, true course to CYPC more than 200 miles away. The leg from YPC to HI, both NDB stations, was not so easy. The good news was that the YPC NDB has a range of 70 miles, and the HI also, meaning that about 140 of the 154 mile leg is covered by radio nav.

I set out around 12:30 noon, in full daylight, expecting to make a day landing at Holman, but such was not meant to be. The trip lasted about three hours because of 20 knot headwinds, and I didn't arrive until 3:30. Well, of course, at this time of year, dusk is deepening into night at these latitudes, so I had very little daylight to use. The gravel runway has a VASI, though, and medium edge lighting, so it was not really difficult, and by 4pm I had trundled onto the gravel parking ramp and shut the engines off.

It's not the sort of trip you want to make every day, but it does give a good feeling of accomplishment to finish a journey with such minimal navigation aids along the way. All in all, it was a good trip, and the old DC-3 is still a good bird.


Here is a photo of Norman Wells. The foreground shows a terminal building and garage, a parking ramp, and in the center is the Turbo Beaver for flights to Tulita, Deline, and other localities. A Dash-8 by First Air is just arriving.

Canadian North also stops here, with daily B737-200 flights from Yellowknife, and Borek Air makes stops all along the route from Fort Simpson to Inuvik.

Norman Wells features an NDB positioned for approaches to runway 27 (shown in the picture), and a VOR. There is no ATIS or AWOS. Destinations reachable from Norman Wells include: Fort Good Hope (north), Wrigley (south), Yellowknife (daily flights), Inuvik-Zubko, and of course Tulita and Deline.

Here, you can see the DHC-2 as it prepares an approach to CZFN Tulita (Ft Norman). The runway is gravel, but features VASI to help your visual approaches, and edge lighting for those night time arrivals.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Getting to Know the Arctic

The picture at left is of a Cessna 182 parked on the ramp at CYSR, Nanisivik, in Nunavut, Canada. Located at the northern end of Baffin Island, Nanisivik is well above the Arctic Circle and one of the northernmost airports in the flight simulator world. The picture was taken at 9:30 a.m., just as the sun was beginning to brighten the sky. It won't be real daylight for another hour yet.

To really get to know the arctic, you have to do some flying there and face some of its challenges. To see what you're up against, there are three routes that will give you a good sampling of the far north.

For a first flight, you can set up your plane (I used a Cessna 208 Amphibian) at Nanisivik at 9:00 a.m. local time on 3-November, and build a flight plan from CYSR to CYIO, Pond Inlet. It's not a long journey - about 119 miles, and it's a good idea to include both the local NDB (YSR, 382.0 kHz) and the NDB at Pond Inlet (YIO, 214.0 kHz) in the plan. You will try to navigate between those two beacons, keeping a course of 157 degrees. GPS is the best way, but you're welcome to try it with just your ADF needle. At Pond Inlet, the runway is called 2/20, but it's a lie. That's the true compass heading of the runway; but your magnetic compass will show the runway aligned on a 360/180 north-south line. Oh, and beware the local mountains. You should have no trouble with the approach, but en route, there is a lot of hilliness to fly over.

Other short routes you may enjoy in the far north are, CYCO to CYCB, CYFB to CYXP, and CYVQ to CZFN.

Cambridge Bay (CYCB) is somewhat of a hub in northern Canada, serving as a jumping-off point for flights to Gjoa Haven, Taloyoak, Kugluktuk, and Resolute Bay. It is usually served out of Yellowknife by 737-200 planes (equipped with gravel runway kits).

The flight from Norman Wells (CYVQ) to Tulita (CZFN) is very short, just 38 miles. I used the Premair (Barry Blaisdell) DHC-2 Turbine with wheels, N6102Y. The flight was hampered by snow and a lot of cloudiness, and at Tulita all the regular parking slots were full, I had to park on the snow, but it was a successful conclusion to a 30-minute flight. This little flight is travelled by a local air service out of Norman Wells daily.

Happy landings!

Sunday, November 2, 2008

First Air Routes

Travelling in Canada's far north is not familiar to most air travellers, so I would like to spend a little time familiarizing you with the routes, customs, and airlines that actually travel up there.

Notice that northern Canada is divided into four main regions or provinces: the Yukon, Quebec, Northwest Territories, and Nunavut. Air travel is organized in a similar way. The regional hub in each province is: Whitehorse (CYXY) in the Yukon; Yellowknife (CYZF) in Northwest Territories; Iqaluit (CYFB) in Nunavut, and Ottawa (CYOW) or Montreal-Dorval (CYUL) in Quebec. These are the gateways by which other major carriers provide access to the far north, and most likely, anyone entering this region will come through one of these four airports.

There are only three systemic carriers in the far north: First Air, Air North, and Canadian North. Air North operates out of Whitehorse and mostly serves the Yukon, with links to small communities in the Yukon and to Vancouver and Edmonton. First Air and Canadian North serve the entire far north, except for the Yukon. There are also a number of smaller connecting airlines that provide local service: Air Tindi, out of Yellowknife, would be a typical example. Borek Air also flies in the area, chiefly as a charter airline.

First Air, as shown in the route map above, has two main hubs: One in the west, at Yellowknife, and one in the east, at Iqaluit on Baffin Island. Boeing 737-200 jets provide links to Edmonton and Calgary out of Yellowknife, and to Montreal and Ottawa from Iqaluit. Apparently the connection from Rankin Inlet to Winnipeg Intl. is no longer in use.

The really interesting thing about the First Air network is the large number of small air strips it serves. Most of these have gravel runways and at most an NDB to provide navigational guidance. All of the runways, though, regardless of other factors, are lighted. This is because the3 daylight hours are very short in the far north-- in December and January, dawn may not come until 10 a.m., and by 3:30 p.m., were back into night for all practical purposes again. Up around Resolute Bay and Nanisivik, there won't be hardly any daylight at all for a couple of months. Yet air travel is the only reliable form of transportation available, and is very important to the survival of northern communities.

What equipment will land on 4000 foot gravel runways, fly 200 to 250 knots, and quickly connect the more remote fields to the regional hubs? First Air relies on the Hawker-Siddeley HS.748, a trustworthy airplane in heavy use for connecting links throughout the world since 1980. This airplane will carry up to 10,000 lbs of passengers and cargo, land on a gravel runway, take off in 3500 ft, and fly at 200+ knots in cruise mode. What's more, us virtual pilots are lucky: Rick PIper has built an excellent airframe and custom panel for the HS.748, and you can download it at both and

Airports like Pond Inlet, Clyde River, in the east, or Lutsel k'e, in the west, are a challenge, because they offer very few services for the pilot. Locating the airport can be difficult. Even navigating to the airport can be a challenge given the paucity of long-range navigation aids in the far north. Most airfields don't even have an AWOS or ASOS transmitter to find out the local altimeter reading or prevailing winds. It's as if somebody graded a strip, threw some gravel on it, and called it an airport. And First Air travels there.

In the west, the situation is somewhat improved. Norman Wells, Inuvik-Zubko, and Fort Simpson, are well-equipped airports with asphalt runways, VOR and NDB navigation aids, and both CYEV at Inuvik, and CYHY at Hay River, have ILS approaches. You can't beat that.

Needless to say, the focus airports (CYEV, CYZF, CYFB) all have ILS, ATIS, and all the normal facilities. Norman Wells, CYVQ, is a secondary hub for surrounding communiites such as Deline and Tulita (I don't know the name of the regional airline that flies out of Norman Wells). Borek Air also provides transportation services all along the corridor from Inuvik to Ft Simpson. Rankin Inlet is also used for similar purposes, providing access to Hall Beach, Igloolik, Repulse Bay, and Coral Habour.

Besides the Boeing 737-200 and the Hawker-Siddeley HS.748, both of which are essential to air travel in the far north, there are an interesting variety of additional equipment in use for shorter range commercial traffic and charters. Chief among these are the DeHavilland DHC-6 twin otter, which is a work horse for routes of 80 to 150 miles, and the Cessna Caravan, which provides both passenger and cargo capacity for routes in the hundred-mile range. Also in use are the Beechcraft B200 commuter turboprop, Beechcraft C99 commuter, and your Cessna 172/182 will be in good company.

One of the most interesting and challenging features of flying in this area, over and above the bad weather, limited daylight conditions, poor runways, and few navaids, is dealing with the screwy behavior of the magnetic compass. The north magnetic pole is located in this area, which means the lines of longitude, as seen by the magnetic compass, are not nice straight lines; they curve, and in the more northern reaches of the area (the far north of the far north) they even curve back, so a course -- say, from YCO Kugluktuk-Coppermine, to YCB Cambridge Bay, may change its compass heading by 30 degrees between the departure and arrival points. Using a magnetic compass for guidance is a very unreliable way to operate in this area. It is useful only over short distances of 20 NM or so. Because of this, the arctic region (a specifically delineated region north of Yellowknife and west of Iqaluit) does not use magnetic headings for VOR and runways; these entities are aligned to true north instead.

For additional details, I recommend the online en-route navigation charts provided by IVAO.

The scenery in the far north can be a bit boring. The area tends to be flat, and the ground textures tend to be snow, snow-covered hills, snow-covered lakes, snow-covered towns, and snow-covered snow, all of which looks mostly like ... snow. You probably won't want to spend all of your time flying there, but I think an occasional visit will broaden your knowledge of flying and sharpen your skills, not to speak of showing a part of the world not many people experience.

Good luck!