One of the goals I set out to accomplish this year was to spend more time with Microsoft Flight Simulator’s airliners. I want to eventually do a few long-haul routes as a kind of ultimate test in both the sim and my skills flying airliners. I decided to get that process started with a much shorter flight between Los Angeles International (KLAX) and San Francisco (KSFO).
Takeoff in the fog
My first flight in Microsoft Flight Simulator in 2021 hopefully sets the theme this year for trying something new and the Airbus A320neo is definitely on my list of aircraft to learn. The A320neo is the latest and greatest version of the popular A320 line of airliners and is the smallest of the three default airliners in Microsoft Flight Simulator.
Starting on the runway and ready to go, the immediate and first impression was that I was going to be taking off in some low visibility. Low fog patches dominated the area around Los Angeles and KLAX was partially covered in that fog. With the afternoon sun already low on the horizon it did look spectacular at least!
Powering up through the fog, visibility immediately above the city was much improved and after a few minutes I was treated to some beautiful mountain vistas and views of the Pacific ocean as my A320 climbed and turned north. At first we were confined to just 6,000 feet but were soon ordered up to 18,000 and finally over 30,000 feet.
I’ve not got a firm grasp on the A320’s systems yet, however, the autopilot operating in climb mode seemed to have no problem accepting an altitude change and powering the engines appropriately for the climb. I may be missing some parts of the systems management but in some ways this was easier than on some of the GA aircraft which don’t have the auto throttle’s managing speed and power in the climb. More knowledge here is important and essential but on the whole everything was going according to plan.
Enjoying the cruise
With so much automated at this point, it was just a matter of monitoring the systems and instructions from air traffic control. Otherwise it was all about sitting back and watching the scenery go past. At this point we were well over 30,000 feet and you could see quite a bit of the terrain around the area including the sharp ridge lines and mountain peaks of the Los Padres National Forest and Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park.
I’ve never been to Los Angeles or the areas near it but I have been to San Francisco and as we left the southern California area and entered into central and then the more northern parts, terrain and scenery started to appear familiar.
San Francisco airport is located south of the city so I unfortunately didn’t get to see very much of the city on approach – but I wouldn’t have been able to see very much anyways as San Francisco was also shrouded in fog.
Hand flying the approach
The Airbus A320neo has plenty of automation and with the appropriate configuration and airport equipment, it can land almost entirely on its own. I’m not there yet and so once arriving near the airport I took manual control and hand flew the airplane the rest of the way.
This went largely to plan as I came in for a landing on runway 19L. Unfortunately, I don’t know the A320 that well yet and I let speed bleed off much too quickly. Moving the engines to maximum power at the last moment was the only saving grace for this awkward landing and I ended up having to go around – remembering that it was better to ground around than try and make a bad landing work.
Fortunately, I had learned my lesson and the next landing approach was much better. I came in more or less right on the glideslope and managed to get the A320neo down without too much drama. I then taxied off the runway and over to a gate.
All things considered, with my still nascent knowledge of airliner operations, I’d say this went pretty well. The folks in the back probably wouldn’t have been too happy but I did get the airplane on to the ground so I’ll count it as a win. Every time it gets better!