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Bob,

 

Pilots generally go through an "approach brief" about 50 miles or 30 minutes out. They'll obtain the current weather or ATIS, plan which approach they're going to be using, review the approach procedure, review the missed approach procedure and generally make sure they're ready ahead of time so they're not trying to go through all that stuff when they're trying to fly the approach and the workload is high.

 

If controllers are online, generally the time you want to do your own approach brief is right after you've talked to the approach controller. On first contact with him, he should generally give you the approach (and thus the runway) to expect and you should already have picked up the ATIS information if it exists before getting handed off to him.

 

If I don't have a controller, I generally do my approach brief after I begin my initial descent from cruise.

 

If a controller is not available, you can get the weather for your destination airport in XSquawkBox by typing ".wx CODE" where CODE is the ICAO identifier of the airport. So for example, ".wx KLAX" would give me the METAR for KLAX. If you don't get a response when you type that, you either made a typo or the airport is too small to have weather. In that case, just use the weather from a larger airport nearby.

 

Keep in mind that while landing into the wind is preferred, if the wind is low you might see pilots landing in the "normal ops" direction for the airport. For example, at KLAX normal ops is west ops, so pilots will be landing/taking off on the 25 and 24 runways even if say the wind were 090 at 7. The airport doesn't shift into east ops unless the wind is consistently above 10 knots.

 

Unfortunately, there's no way to know that unless you're just familiar with the airport and its procedures. But, the good news is, when controllers are not online and you're flying on Unicom, there is no "wrong" runway. If you don't know the airport procedures, just land into the wind and if anyone tells you you're wrong, just say "thanks for the tip" and don't worry about it. If you're on Unicom, you're not wrong - just coordinate over Unicom with other pilots in the area.

 

Yes, the winds can change during approach. However, it's pretty rare to get such a dramatic wind shift that you have to completely change runways. As I said, you don't have to get too worked up about it when the wind is below 10 knots. Landing with the wind when it's say 8 knots is no big deal and not worth completely changing runways for.

 

Finally, let me say that from your posts, you seem completely married to your FMC. It sounds as if you're in a situation where if you can't put it into your FMC (and well ahead of time) you're stuck and unable to do anything else. If I may, that's not a good position to be in as a pilot.

 

I'd highly recommend that you ignore the FMC for a while, break out a Beech King Air or similar and learn traditional navigation. Once you've mastered it, you can come back to the FMC and the "big iron", but you'll be a MUCH better pilot for having done it. No longer will you panic when the controller says "intercept the LAX 323 radial."

 

The best way to master it is to study this site:

 

http://www.navfltsm.addr.com/ (written for MS pilots, but still applies to X-Plane)

 

and to join the ZLA pilot certification program:

 

http://pilotcerts.laartcc.org/page/overview.html

 

The ZLA program will take you step-by-step through increasingly complex navigational challenges and is a lot of fun.

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I'd highly recommend that you ignore the FMC for a while, break out a Beech King Air or similar and learn traditional navigation. Once you've mastered it, you can come back to the FMC and the "big iron", but you'll be a MUCH better pilot for having done it. No longer will you panic when the controller says "intercept the LAX 323 radial."

I learned traditional nav using VORs and NDBs in the 172, and I'm really glad I did (especially once I swapped out the fixed-card ADF for a slaved dual one). Everything moves much more slowly, of course, giving you more time to understand what's going on. Now I fly the x-plane.org B1900 most of the time, and all that experience from the 172 has served me well, even with the Beech's gl[Mod - Happy Thoughts]. The B1900 with XHSI (which is fracking awesome) and a Navigraph update thrown in there is a great setup for moving beyond basic navigation and flying more complex instrument approaches and really getting to know the autopilot, too.

 

http://www.navfltsm.addr.com/ (written for MS pilots, but still applies to X-Plane)

That's where I learned it from, and I still p[Mod - Happy Thoughts] that link out to pilots.

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