Pixel Plane Final Day - San Francisco Here I Come

It's a beautiful day for my final flight. My plan is to depart from Half Moon Bay, follow the coast north past the Golden Gate Bridge, cross to Oakland and arrive at KFSO runway 19R. I can keep under bravo airspace for half the trip, but I'll need Norcal to give me clearances to transit and land at KFSO. For this final flight I'll be flying entirely manual - no autopilot assist for headings.


The departure from Half Moon is idyllic.


I pass several ships trailing white wakes in the Pacific.


When the Golden Gate Bridge comes into sight, it's a magnificent orange steel lattice, sharply contrasting with the marine blues of the water.


I reach my turning point, Sausalito falling behind me.


The bay transit is quick, Oakland's shore coming into view.


I turn to my final heading, Oakland sprawling beneath me, with San Francisco across the bay.


I set down on San Francisco's runway 19R and taxi to the general aviation area. The airport is alive with departures and arrivals, aircraft strobes pulsing everywhere.


I feel a bit giddy. It's been 2722 nautical miles, 37 airports, and 24 hours of flight time to get here. I've been up to ten thousand feet and down to sea level. I've been here in real life, ten years ago with my wife, biking the Golden Gate Bridge and having lunch in Sausalito.


So, it's been a bit fun, riding a commercial jet to get here in reality, but flying a virtual Piper Warrior to journey here in X Plane. Seeing the United States transition across the myriad of landscapes between the east and west coasts was amazing.

For those interested, my trip was:

  • KAVP - Wilkes-Barre Scranton, PA
  • KSEG - Sellingsgrove, PA
  • KUNV - University Park, PA
  • KJST - Johnstown, PA
  • KHLG - Wheeling, WV
  • KVTA - Newark, OH
  • KAOH - Lima Allen County, OH
  • KFWA - Fort Wayne, IN
  • KSBN - South Bend, IN
  • KORD- Chicago O’Hare, IL
  • KMLI - Moline, IL
  • KCID - Ceder Rapids, IA
  • KDSM - Des Moines, IA
  • KRDK - Red Oak, IA
  • KAHQ - Wahoo, NE
  • KGRI - Grand Island, NE
  • KLBF - North Platt, NE
  • KAKO - Akron, CO
  • KCOS - Colorado Springs, CO
  • KPUB - Pueblo, CO
  • KTAD - Perry Stokes, CO
  • KLVS - Las Vegas, NM
  • KABQ - Albuquerque, NM
  • KGUP - Gallup, NM
  • KFLG - Flagstaff, AZ
  • KGCN - Grand Canyon National Park, AZ
  • 1Z1 - Grand Canyon Bar Ten Airstrip, AZ
  • KLAS - McCarran International Las Vegas, NV
  • KDAG - Barstow-Dagget, CA
  • KPOC - La Verne, CA
  • KLAX - Los Angeles, CA
  • KSBA - Santa Barbara, CA
  • KPRB - Paso Robles, CA
  • KSNS - Salinas, CA
  • KSJC - San Jose, CA
  • KHAF - Half Moon Bay, CA
  • KSFO - San Francisco, CA

A few observations from the journey:

  • The transitions cannot be understated. You can see it in any US map. A sea of rounded green mountains to the east, and sharp tan peaks to the west. It's like flying over a gradient which starts green and transitions through ochre and sandy hues. At times, near New Mexico, the landscape could have been part of another world.
  • The US is a bit like a tent, with the Rocky Mountains as the apex. Elevations on both sides of the mountains continued to be high for some time, making the midwest navigation difficult for a Piper with a ceiling of 11,000 feet.
  • From the Rockies west, there is a surprising amount of military airspace.
  • As I traveled, I wrote about the places I found interesting at each stop. Every place, even the smallest municipal airstrips, had someplace interesting to explore.
  • I learned a lot from this trip, fumbling my way through reading VFR sectionals, following navaids using my plane's instruments, understanding different types of airspaces and their requirements, and flying in a variety of conditions. At the beginning of the trip the CDI, ADF, and DME were a mystery to me, but they were second nature by the end.

So, what's next? One of the things I'd liked to learn more about is radio work and interfacing with ATC. X Plane's built-in ATC is more like a talking GPS, and doesn't really give you this experience. I'll probably get a subscription to Pilot's Edge, which essentially turns X Plane into a multi-player server, connecting other simmers into a virtual airspace, while offering full ATC services from actual ATC operators. They have detailed training ratings taking you through basic to advanced VFR and IFR communications. Real pilots use the service. It's a bit intimidating, to be honest, but seems to be the next step in learning authentic procedures. I've been following a pilot and X Plane enthusiast on YouTube who loves Pilots Edge (and has also built his own full-sized simulator). Check out his videos to get a flavor for it:

So, as I set the chocks against the Warrior's wheels it feels good to be at the end of my trip.

But, I realize, it's just the start of a new leg.