22. Hakodate to Chitose - 22 June 2004

 
  Approaching Mt. Komaga (right)
 
  Crossing Uchiura bay, with conical Mt. Horobetsuko on left
 
  Following the coast
 
  Snow-clad Sapporo mountains
 
  City of Sapporo on coastal plain
 
  Old Chitose visible on right, New Chitose on left, shrouded in mist
 
  Final approach; note arc-shaped terminal building on right
 
  Facing Sapporo mountains

This was one of the most exciting trips so far. Straight-line distance is only 72 nm, but I wanted to see some of the sights, so instead of immediately cutting across the water I followed the valley northwest to Mt. Komaga (3,678 ft).

Thin clouds at about 1,500 ft, and I wanted to look around, so I clomb to 5,500 for the duration of the journey. The view was spectacular, with the mountains of Hokkaido surrounded in mist like islands in a sea of foam.

Rounding Mt. Komaga, I turned northeast across Uchiura Bay toward Mt. Horobetsuko (6,211 ft) and Mt. Horohoro (4,337 ft). Tracking the Chitose VOR, I flew eastward over the coastline.

As I neared the VOR, I requested clearance for landing at New Chitose airport (RJCC), and was refused: IFR only! I was surprised (though when I reached Chitose I could see why), but filed an IFR flight plan and started taking directions from ATC.

I was routed north toward the other side of the island. On my left, to the west, I could see the tall, cone-shaped Mt. Kombu in the distance. Nearer to me, and with snow on its peaks, was the Sapporo range.

As I neared the coast, I could see the city of Sapporo itself stretched out on the plane. Then I received word from ATC that it was time to turn around for my approach to Chitose. As I did, I saw a Dash-8 taking off from Sapporo and heading for Chitose. This is a faster plane than my Mooney, and I ended up following it in. Fortunately, it landed and vacated the runway quickly and I did not have to execute a go-around.

If I had had my druthers, I would have landed VFR. Good thing for ATC! Visibility below 1,500 was poor, with thin sheets of cloud obscuring the runway threshholds until the very end, so ILS was not a luxury.

The other point of confusion arose from the close proximity of old Chitose and New Chitose airports. They are right next to one another and the runways are oriented in the same (north-south) direction. As I neared the airport, I saw it in front of me -- and to the side. What happened? Instruments showed that I was lined up with the runway. I checked FS9's internal map and realized what was going on: I was in the right place, but because visibility was poor and old Chitose was closer, that's what I saw first. Apparently, old Chitose is now being used by the Japanese military, which is a major presence on Hokkaido.

An illustration here of why it's important to fly with current charts: the ONC for Japan has not been revised since November 1988, which is why the Russian islands north of Hokkaido are marked as belonging to the now non-existent Soviet Union. New Chitose opened in 1988, so I'm not sure why both airports aren't marked on the chart, but that's the way it is.

I followed the glidepath down to the runway. Don't know if it was turbulence or something else, but the ride down was bumpy, and I bounced a bit at the end. I was careful, though, not to let the ship bounce down hard, reminding myself that there was plenty of runway if I needed it.

I taxied off to the gates, passed an old DC-3 (soon to be a regular in my travels, thanks to GA-Traffic), and parked, with a spectacular view of the mountains. As in the real world, the New Chitose terminal is in the shape of an arc.