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The Flight Sim Deck: Understanding SIDs & STARs [FYC]

Greetings everyone! I want to talk about a crucial part of IFR flight planning, that being Standard Instrument Departures (SIDs) and Standard Terminal Arrival Routes (STARs). SIDs, and STARs, are predetermined routes with speed and altitude restrictions that will guide you to and from the airport. Most airports have multiple published SIDs and STARs. Each one is setup to accommodate the direction you’re departing and arriving.

There are two different kinds of published charts. One being from the National Aeronautical Chart Office (NACO/FAA) and Jeppesen charts. They have subtle differences in layout but are based on the same idea and legend. If you would like to learn more about the differences between the two there is a great article on thinkaviation.net.

Typically air traffic control will instruct you to climb or descend via the SID/STAR. But there are situations where ATC will cancel certain procedures while flying a departure or approach. They might have you skip a few waypoints and send you direct or cancel speed or altitude restrictions. Don’t be caught off guard if this happens. 

One of my favorite free sources for charts is Airnav. This website covers the U.S. and its territories. From the home page click airport and then type in the airport code of your choosing. You’ll be taken to the airport page and from there you will find the SIDs, STARs, and approach plates toward the bottom the page. The next and most popular source you can use for charts is Navigraph. This website is a subscription based source that has both U.S. and international charts.

The last thing to cover before we talk about the charts themselves is how do you know which SID and STAR to use for your route? There are several sources to get routes. The most complete source being Simbrief. This is a free website that requires you to setup an account. Once your account is made you can easily plug in your departure and arrival. From there Simbrief will instantly build the route for you. It also provides several alternative routes if you wish to use one different from the main selection.

Another very easy to use source is Flightaware. This website is a live real world flight tracker. Here you simply type in the departure and arrival and you will be taken to a page listing all the airlines that run that particular route. After picking the airline you will go to a specific page for that flight. There it will show you the full route that the airline filed on that particular day. The only down side is that this only works for flights in the U.S. and flights traveling to and from the U.S.

Now that you know where to find SID and STAR charts, we’ll talk about understanding the charts themselves. Each SID and STAR have a unique name given to them. These names might abbreviate pop culture terms, sports teams, or points of interest in the area among other things. As you can see with the list of SIDS in Atlanta, two referencing the movie “The Lord of the Rings,” with GNDFL2 (Gandalf) and HOBTT2 (Hobit). You can also see another two that reference the movie Star Wars, with JJEDI2 and SITTH2 on the following page. The number you see next to the SID/STAR represents how many times the chart has been amended. The next time the SITTH2 departure is updated it will become SITTH3. After ten amendments the count goes back to one.

Let’s take a look at a SID out of San Diego International (KSAN). This SID is called the ZZOOO TWO, referencing the local San Diego Zoo. The transition we will use is MTBAL. The first thing to look at is the Departure Route Description located on the upper left. This description will clearly spell out the procedures that you need to follow. If an airport has multiple runways you will see different sets of instructions for each runway. Some SIDS are meant for just one side of the runway while other SIDS will include instructions for both ends of the runway.

For the ZZOOO Two we only have instructions for a runway 27 Departure. Upon takeoff we’ll climb with a heading of 275 at 500 ft per nautical mile, to reach 520 ft. Then crossing the JETTI waypoint at or below FL120 and not exceeding a speed of 230 knots. The line above the altitude lets you know this is a cross at or below point. If the line was under the altitude it would mean cross at or above. Two lines means you must cross at the published altitude.

The last thing to note about JETTI is the waypoint symbol with a circle around it, this is called a fly-over point. This means you must fly over this point before making the turn. Fly-over waypoints can be in place to avoid obstacles or to comply with noise abatement. The other waypoint symbols are called Fly-By points. These points are a little more lenient when making turns as you’re not held to flying precisely over them, hence the name fly-by.

After Crossing the ZZOOO waypoint we have our first transition option. A transition connects you to the rest of your flight plan. At this point flying the SID/STAR ends. If CENZA was our transition we would turn to a heading of 099 at 4000 when reaching the transition. The departure description gives one last instruction that If we’re a turbojet we won’t fly higher than FL230 while on the transition. If we’re a turboprop this altitude restriction is FL150. This altitude hold won’t be for long as you will eventually be cleared to your filed altitude.

If our transition is (IPL) Imperial or MTBAL instead of flying to CENZA we will proceed to JORRJ at or below 14000 heading 085 and from there flying a heading of 066 to GRIDR. At this point you’re connected with the other two transition options for the SID. Heading 072 will put you on the route for the IPL transition and heading 011 will put you on the MTBAL transition. Again during this phase you are expected to maintain FL150 all the way to the transition if you’re a turbo prop and FL230 if you’re a turbojet.

Now that we know the 3 different directions this route can take us, we’ll look at the notes on the middle left. The first note is telling us that our aircraft needs to be equip with radar. RNAV1 is saying your aircraft needs a navigation system that’s accurate within 1 nm 95% of the time. If it were to say RNAV2, the same applies except it’s 2 miles of being correct 95% of the time. The next note is requiring a DME/IRU capable aircraft or GPS system on board. Next you’re being informed that some aircraft may be vectored to the 3 waypoints after flying the downwind. This means ATC will tell you what heading to fly to reach the waypoints rather than following the SID. The next note is telling you to advice ATC if you cannot meet the altitude restriction of 14000ft at JORRJ. This ties into the next note that mentions parachute jumping is going on at all hours of the day at 13500 and below near JORRJ. Lastly you are being told that if your aircraft is not equipped with GPS and you’re using the MTBAL or IPL transition that the PGY DME must be operating.

The last piece of information to discuss is the upper right of the SID. Here you will find all the useful frequencies for the area. This includes ATIS, clearance delivery, ground, Lindbergh tower, and So-Cal departure. Note: if you’re flying online, some or all of these frequencies might be different from the real world frequencies.

After going over the SID lets take a looks at the STAR. The STAR we’re using is called LDORA Two. First thing to do is take a look at the route description in the lower left. For this arrival there are 3 transitions we can use to enter the STAR. These are Blue Mesa (HBU) BRAZO and OURAY. These 3 transition waypoints will lead you to FREZE. You’ll notice the Blue Mesa transition has a maximum altitude restriction (MAA) of FL260. This means you cannot fly above that altitude. From FREZE track a heading of 037 for PEEKK. Then it’s onto LDORA at FL130 and a speed restriction of 210. Remember this is a fly-over point because of the symbol that’s being used. From there fly a heading of 064 and ATC will vector you the rest of the way to the runway. If you lose communication with ATC you are to fly the ILS approach for runway 35L.

The route we’re flying requires the OURAY transition which has us track a 036 heading to FREZE. Once you reach OURAY you’ll notice an oval shape at the next waypoint KNOSA. You can see the same shape at HBU, FREZE, and PEEKK. These are points where you can enter a holding pattern if needed. This might be done to create separation between aircraft or if you’re too high on the descent. This holding pattern allows for the issue to be corrected before moving on.

We should cross FREZE at or above FL200, as indicated by the line below FL200. Continue the 037 heading to LARKS where we need to cross at or above 17000 or at or below FL190 and slowed to 250 knots. You will also notice a triangle symbol at this point. This is a non-compulsory reporting point. You are not required to report to ATC at this point unless told to. If the triangle was solid that is compulsory reporting point and you would be required to report. After LARKS it’s onto LDORA where we need to cross at an altitude of 13000 and 210 knots indicated by the line above and below the restriction. Remember LDORA is also a fly-over point. This means you must hit this waypoint. After LDORA you will be vectored to the active runway.

The last thing we’ll look at is the notes. The first 3 notes are similar to the SID. Radar is required. This is an RNAV1 approach and a DME/IRU or GPS is required to proceed. This STAR is also for turbojet aircraft only. Once you contact DENVER on TRACON you can expect your runway assignment. Expect PEEKK when Denver is landing south as there is another STAR named PEEKK3. Descend via mach speed until reaching the transition. At that time your descent should be 280 knots until ATC instructs you to lower your speed. If your aircraft is not equipped with GPS and you’re using the BRAZO transition the ALS, RSK, and PUB DMEs need to be operational. If using the Blue Mesa (HBU) transition without GPS the HBU DME must be operating.

After completing the STAR it’s onto the final phase of flight which is the approach plate. These plates are what guide you down to the runway. Because there is a lot to talk about with approach plates, it will be the subject of the next tutorial. Hopefully these examples have given you a good foundation to build on. Most modern jets will do most of the work for you through VNAV. But take what you’ve learned here, continue to study and grow!   

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