CYKA Kamloops

c119_CYKA

One of the grand things about flight simulation is that you can fly gear that you wouldn’t normally have access to, and visit unfamiliar places you might not ordinarily be inclined to go.

Even so, I always get a little uneasy flying through mountainous terrain.  I think that’s largely because of two factors.

First, my home province in real life is largely flat.  In Ontario, aside from parachuting and soaring/gliding areas, there isn’t an awful lot of stuff you can run into at four or five thousand feet.  At that altitude CFIT just isn’t going to happen.  West of Saskatchewan, though, at four or five thousand feet you can still run into dangerous stuff like… well, land.  Hard, rocky, vertical-slab-like land, commonly referred to as mountains.

Second, one of my first experiences with simulated mountain flying taught me a hard lesson.  About a decade ago I had sim-flown from Tacoma up into the Alaskan panhandle.  I  was being radar vectored toward an airfield by Anchorage Center, that position being manned at the time by an honest-to-goodness USCG pilot who had accrued real-life flight hours in that very area.  I had some Alaska charts on CD but was feeling lazy and didn’t fire them up to have a look.  Bad move.  That sim-controller—whose word I trusted utterly, owing to the sterling reputation of his service and his own familiarity with the locale—unintentionally vectored me into the side of a mountain.  No kidding.  It demonstrated the need for one to be intimately familiar with the sectionals and approach plates before one gets anywhere near the destination.  This is what you would do for a real flight, and although you can get away without it in the sim world, why train yourself to have a bad habit?

So with those two things back of mind, I always have a bit of trepidation flying into hilly places.  And Kamloops—which is ringed by mountains, with only a few narrow river valleys allowing an approach to the city—is all but guaranteed to raise the spectre of that first mountain experience.  Sure, in the picture above it doesn’t look all that bad; gently sloping mountains and foothills, right?  On an approach plate it looks a little different.

CYKA_LOC_DME

That is what Kamloops looks like in the eyes of a pilot that doesn’t typically have to deal with mountains.  A six thousand foot asphalt runway surrounded by inconvenient orange walls of death that one should try not to run into.  (Keep in mind there is a not a single hint of any thousand-foot terrain variance in the CAP4 [Ontario] approach plates.)  The minimum safe altitude in a 25 nautical mile radius is only a couple thousand feet below the 10,000ft/250kt speed restriction.  The localiser is offset a few degrees from the actual runway angle, because otherwise it would be a tad too close to a meeting of machine and mountain.  Best of all, there are little beacons lit up at night to show you roughly where the mountains are.  All turns have to be completed within the limits proscribed by the beacons or you stand a good chance of being strawberry jam on the side of a hill.  Keeping within the narrow band of beacons is relatively easily done in a small single-engine GA plane, less so in a multi-engine turbine-equipped aircraft.  The night circling procedure specifically cautions pilots unfamiliar with the area against attempting anything of the sort.

What makes an airport like this scary is that there’s not much room for error.  As you leave the initial approach fix, the surrounding terrain will gradually creep higher than your altitude.  If you suffer an engine or equipment failure, there is not a lot of other flat land around as a good forced landing site.  If you have to go around, or the winds do not favour the relatively straightforward Rwy 26 arrival, you will have to circle around (verrrrrry carefully).  And let’s not even think about what would happen if the weather closed in and the approach went down to minimums.  No thank you.  I’d be thinking about the alternate long before I got down to decision height.

Anyway, fun place to land in the simulator.  Not sure I’d want to try it in real life.

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