A Virtual, Wind-Battled Landing on a Mountaintop Runway

Microsoft Flight Simulator’s live weather feature offers teachable moments flying into Mountain Air, North Carolina.

In Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020, takeoffs and landings at the highly detailed North Carolina airport are filled with challenges. [Image courtesy of Peter James]

Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020 (MSFS) offers an amazing representation of live weather. That was certainly the case the day I had a simulated flight out of the Mountain Air community (2NC0) in Burnsville, North Carolina, at over 4,000 feet. 

Winds were howling at full windsock speed out of the northwest, featuring great VFR but a scary wind shear potential and more. 

In MSFS, this highly detailed airport is filled with fun and challenge. Even the VFR sectional shown here has a preprinted warning of dangerous turbulence near Mount Mitchell to the east (the highest summit east of the Rocky Mountains). 

This airport is enhanced with a small purchase available online in the MSFS built-in store. It's one of the few scenery areas I have purchased because it’s so darn good. (If you purchase this, don’t forget to get FSRealsitic for added head effects, sounds, and vibrations left out of default aircraft in MSFS.)

The sectional has a bold note on how dangerous the winds and shear can be in this part of the country. If it’s in a fixed box like that, there’s history. [Image courtesy of Peter James]
The wind sock is standing straight out and gusting on this mountain top location. The aircraft is the payware-enhanced Black Square Bonanza featured at JustFlight.com.  [Image courtesy of Peter James]
I taxi past beautiful homes that line the airport runway. [Image courtesy of Peter James]
Golfers watch as I turn into the high winds to prepare for takeoff midway. The first half is all uphill, so I decided to cheat and go from here with the headwinds. [Image courtesy of Peter James]

With winds howling at an estimated 30 gusting to 45 knots, I decided to test the newly enhanced winds and shear model brought into the simulator a few months ago. In addition, ridge lift, thermals, temperatures, and sky cover all come together to the delight of virtual glider pilots. But anything good for glider pilots is even better for us, as these features have been lacking in flight sims I have previously flown. 

Runway 32, max power and prop, and off we go. [Image courtesy of Peter James]

The takeoff at over 4,000 feet msl was noticeably sluggish, but the powerful Beechcraft Bonanza did it well. With the 40-plus-knot headwinds, we were airborne immediately. The joy was short-lived, however, as the uphill runway, close terrain, houses, and trees started in with an immediate stall horn peeping, wind shear on the airspeed gauge, and control sloppiness. Usually takeoffs don’t require a battle or fight. I have found that’s always the case on landings but not on takeoffs. Here’s where the realism kicked in. It was a fight to several hundred feet off the departure end and as the terrain fell out from beneath you. I was all smiles as this was so much fun, but how would the landing be? Even on a calm day, this place looked challenging. 

Blasting out past houses as the ground falls rapidly off. The sudden change in terrain will wreak havoc on your vertical speed indicator (VSI), so be ready.[Image courtesy of Peter James]
Turning crosswind, you can see the postcard landing area in which you must align, battling the terrain and unknown wind violence. [Image courtesy of Peter James]
Wide right downwind battling in moderate to severe with wild VSI variability. [Image courtesy of Peter James]
Knowing I’ll be hitting the downsloping wind off the approach end, I try to stay initially higher than normal on base leg to build in some “insurance.” The entire downwind and base is fought with moderate to perhaps severe turbulence. The descent rate is 2,000 fpm just from downdrafts. Image courtesy of Peter James]
On the final approach, I exceeded more than 2,500 fpm down at one point even at 120 knots and full power. I'm now dangerously low, sinking below the runway. It's time to go around. Dangerous downsloping winds coming off the approach end are in full effect. [Image courtesy of Peter James]
I make a second attempt at much higher altitude, where I have a “cushion” built in, plus higher speed to give myself extra built-up energy to blast away at the expected wind shear. [Image courtesy of Peter James]
This time the flight path was perfect, but look at that almost 3,000 fpm sink rate flaps up at 115 knots. I powered through it but almost got flipped by the ridge immediately to my left, where a violent wind (maybe even a rotor) hit and nearly rolled me. This type of realism is absolutely incredible. [Image courtesy of Peter James]
Wildlife watches me as I shut down. Once you use an external view with the engine off, you can hear the wind gusting and blowing hard. This is one more example of what MSFS brings to life with its continually broadcast live weather. [Image courtesy of Peter James]

A week later, I returned to the mountaintop to see what calm weather might have in store. I chose the default Mooney Ovation for the mission. The winds were northwest at 1 knot according to the in-flight map that displays the live conditions. I figured it would be perfect, but at a simulated time of day, I once again experienced a hellacious downdraft on the departure end of Runway 14—this time more than 2,000 fpm down.

Huge downdrafts on the climb out of Runway 14, even on a calm day, followed by updrafts once I turned downwind all working with the terrain or sunshine. I had updrafts on the downwind then for Runway 14 that exceeded 2,000 fpm. What a roller coaster. I don’t know how to fly gliders, but this would be the place to learn. [Image courtesy of Peter James]
Mountain Air's private airstrip is the highest elevation runway east of the Mississippi River. [Courtesy: Mountain Air]

This photo shows the reality of the short final to Runway 14.  

My FS2020 comparison at the same location on short final, featuring spring foliage. The realism is amazing. Just remember this airport is slightly enhanced over the default as it’s a payware available on the in-game sim marketplace. [Image courtesy of Peter James]

This was certainly one of the most challenging airports I’ve ever seen in flight-sim life. I believe it is even more risky than Aspen, Colorado (KASE). I’d highly recommend it to you MSFSers—just have several aircraft lined up as you’re probably going to wreck quite a few on any given day. It’s a mental and physical workout as well. 

The Honeycomb flight controls offer precision and quality to get you through those crosswinds and wind shear days with ease.

Today’s flight simulators are continuously shortening the gap between digital flight and physical flight. No longer are the days of traveling to a training facility and climbing into a five or six-figure device to simulate flying an aircraft. With a comparable home computer and today’s leading-edge software programs, you can create a tangible training platform in the comfort of your own home. The Flight Sim Starter Set includes our most popular yoke, the best throttle on the market, and highly popular pedals to assure you stay on the centerline.

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Peter James
Peter JamesContributor
Peter is an experienced Part 135 business jet pilot with a passion for simulators and how they blend with the real world. Learning to fly at age 12, he supplemented his passion and career goals with the early versions of Microsoft Flight Simulator. With the growing realism of all PC simulators today, he frequently uses them for extra proficiency, and loves to show other pilots how great they are.

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