Japan Tour 2004 :: Flight Simulator :: Overview

  Do you think these little pictures are too small? Me too. To see the full-size version of any screenshot, click on it.

My earliest experience with Flight Simulator was one of frustration. Once I learned how to control the plane, however, I began planning trips. The first was a trip from my home in Greenville, North Carolina (near the coast) to the Smokey Mountains and back again. As my skill and confidence grew, I began to seek out more ambitious flight plans online. The first of these was a tour of New Zealand, the second a tour of Europe. During both of these, I took screenshots, but did not keep a systematic log. Then I found Ari Kesäniemi's Around the World in 21 Days website, and decided that I wanted to do something similar.

This tour is less ambitious than Mr. Kesäniemi's. It is entirely restricted to one country, and most of the legs can be flown in less than one hour.

Why Japan? I lived there for close to a year in the early 1990s, and wanted to get back. For the time being, this is the closest I could get. It's also a dramatic place to fly. In area, the country of Japan is roughly comparable to the state of California. Like California, it has mountains and ocean in close proximity. The mountains are not Himalayan in scale, but they are dense -- so dense, in fact, that only 12 percent of the land is flat enough to grow crops on. Japan is a very rugged country, and therefore one that is fun to explore from the air.

The tour begins in the Volcano Islands, south of Japan, turns west to the Ryukyu island chain, and then moves north through the home islands of Japan itself, keeping mostly to the east. When it gets to the northernmost point (in Hokkaido), the tour turns around and heads back south, visiting towns and locales in the western part of the islands. I find little pleasure in long journeys over water, so my itinerary does not return to the little islands where it started. There are 40 airports and 39 legs; if one were to fly each leg in a straight line, the total mileage for the trip would be 4,365 nautical miles. Since I am sightseeing, getting disoriented, and having fun, the total will be somewhat more than that.

The Rules

The rules of this trip are as follows:

  • Realism is high, and will get progressively higher as my skills improve and the tour goes on. For example, about one third of the way through the tour, I stopped using autocoordination for rudder and aeleron control.
  • Fuel is limited. Since I am flying short distances, this should not be a problem so long as I keep an eye on the fuel gauges.
  • Obey all ATC instructions. However, since I don't have detailed air charts for Japan, I am not trying to observe airspace restrictions.
  • Navigate by visual landmarks, dead reckoning, VOR, and NDB. GPS makes some of this superfluous, but it also takes the fun out of things; I will be using it, therefore, only in an emergency, or to obtain airport data.
  • Like most people, I have a family, a job, and other interests. As a result, I only fly for an hour or so a day -- sometimes more, sometimes less. But in the virtual world of the tour, time passes only when (a) I am flying and (b) when it is too dark to enjoy the scenery. I.e., when the sun sets in the virtual world of the tour, I set the clock ahead and begin flying at dawn the next day. As you can imagine, time goes by much slower in the sim than in real life. For instance, I began this tour at dawn on 19 May 2004. By the time that the first day of flying was over, eight days had passed in the real world. I finished the tour on 10 July 2004, during which time three days had passed in the virtual world and 59 in the real world.
  • Weather is real-time weather in the place where I'm flying. This is somewhat unrealistic, because the time of the weather report is not necessarily synchronized with the virtual time of the tour. For instance, it might be midday in the sim, but evening in Japan. This can make a difference: weather is related to time of day, because the main force that drives weather is the sun. This is why, for example, there is usually less wind at night. At present, however, I do not know enough about the weather engine in Flight Simulator to program it myself, so I am content to get real-time updates from the locale I am flying in.
  • I can switch planes in the middle of the tour, though not in the middle of a flight. Having said that, most of this tour will be flown in the Mooney Bravo. I like this plane for several reasons: it's agile, it's fast (for a single-engine plane), and it has big windows, front, side, and aft.