Cross Country Flight Planning
In todays episode of Flight Training Radio Jason shares some tips for making and planning great/safe cross country flights.
Cross Country Flight Planning
New & Notes
Lot’s of news to cover. Real quick. First and foremost is the changes to the FAA written tests. Plural because they are changing all the test. Whether we’re talking Sport Pilot ATP and the changes that are happening. Actually questions have been taken away. They haven’t added any questions yet. To my honest opinion. It’s gonna take them quite some time to add questions that they are all a big government association and they don’t move as fast as we would like sometimes. What they have done are taken away questions.
For example, they are getting rid of questions in low ram, the T web, the transcribe weather broadcast, microwave landing systems. Literally, I mean I heard of them. They never knew what to do with them. I’ve heard all about them because of the written test. I did some research. Microwave landing systems or MLS was really a predecessor to the ILS System. It competed alongside the ILS System for a while now. However ILS and GPS. Obviously you can tell one battle and the FAA got rid the Microwave Landing System back in 1994.
It is right now as I am speaking, 2013. If you went out and took your instrument pilot written test tomorrow. You could possibly find a question on Microwave Landing System. Makes absolutely no sense in my mind. Just go to show you the kind of snails pace. They moved that some time. You know what this is good is the step to the right direction. How long is going to take them to add questions? Well, I don’t know but you got to realize there will be a huge GPS questions coming in. The flight planning sections. Probably it won’t completely change. Is this going to happen over night? No.
If you going to take your written test in the next year. It’s only good news for you because if anything they’re going to take those silly questions that means absolutely nothing because the technology they are talking about there doesn’t even exist anymore. So good news for all pilots for now.
Took in a year or two and they start to add some new questions for that. So I know I have good friends with some people from the committee to help out with those questions and everything else. So I’ll be keeping you guys up to date to all that. Few other little bits of News and everything here. Most of you know the OshKosh Schedule. We are speaking on Friday. Lot’s of Great stuff. That is saturday night by the way. Co Hosted and Co-Sponsor with AOPA. Very blessed and thankful to have you on board.
CROSS COUNTRY FLIGHT PLANNING
It is the reason why we really learn to fly. Nobody learns to fly to stay in the traffic pattern do touch and gos or to go to the practice area to do step turns their whole life. No, we become pilots so we can get up and go places. I mean that’s what we want to do now whether that cross country be a quick 50 nautical mile or a hop to a nearby airport for breakfast. You know our trivia a more serious flight. A true cross country and cross a few different state even. So this is what I’m talking about. It something I go through on a regular basis. We always try to fly and visit friends or anything like that or looking for a good excuse to fly so I kinda run to my process then open it up.
Something I always doing. I am doing this when flying or not. Really. If I know I had a big flight coming up. I begin checking weather early. I am talking as much as ten days to a week out. Now when you are ten days out nothings in stone. Trying to get a rough idea. You know I am not really jumping any aviation websites ten days or even a week out. I am jumping on websites like weather underground looking at their ten day forecast. Looking at their seven day forecast.
Is that technical aviation stuff? No. But You know what? It gives me a just kind of a good big picture of what can I expect. Trust me, I had many times looking at the seven day forecast and the seven day forecast is changed. It happens all the time. I just want to kinda get a big picture because what I’m trying to establish is the trend. I want to see what kind of trends happening in my area.
For example, right now in Florida. Typically we get what we called afternoon thunderstorms in the summertime like this. Afternoon thunderstorms used to happen at 4-5pm. We just knew. You don’t book flights around 4-5pm. It’s gonna be pouring. A little popcorn storm, some they called them. You know it’ll be here and it’ll be gone but it would be nasty if it’s here. However lately that’s change. We’ve been given those afternoon thunderstorms. I think one just ripped through around lunchtime 11-12pm early afternoon, late morning thunderstorms. If anything, this is been pouring theme for the past two weeks. I was looking at these forecast ahead of time. It’s something I could tell and something I could look for.
Of course, as I get closer. When I get within 48 hours. Even further back. I love to look my prognostics chart, Surface Prognostics Chart. Because I know if I see a low pressure system moving in. I know that means for my chances to be able to fly. Whether if I can watch pressure system slowly sneak in it’s way in. I know I just increase my chances to be able to fly. Same thing goes for warm fronts and cold fronts.
We’ve been trying for these past months to plan to fly over to New Orleans to visit some friends of ours. However two weeks ago there was a stationary front hanging out. And I know when you see a stationary front in the 48 hour prognostic chart. You are probably gonna see it 48 hours later in the current prognostic chart as well cause it’s just not moving somethings gonna come in there and kick it up and out of the way.
So certain things you can look at and really see. Seeing that frontal activity and knowing what it means. Knowing that a low pressure is typically a bad weather. Knowing that a cold front coming through is always a good thing depend on which side is the cold front you are actually on. I start planning weather wise way out. And again maybe you guys some things you do. Feel free to comment below.
I really like to start my weather planning early. Now we haven’t got into hand and paper plain and out. This cross country. We just see that this cross country could even happen at this point. Something else I wanna bring up to is always have a back up plan. I mean a backup plan in a few different ways.
Back Up Driving Plan
First off a back up driving plan. If it’s somewhere you actually have to be. I am a big fan of “you really never have to be anywhere.” By the way it’s somewhere you feel that you must be there. You need a back up plan to drive and you have a time frame set because if it take you 3 hours to fly there. You know it’s going to take you 6+ hours to drive there. So you need to have a time set by “Hey listen 7 hours out when I leave to fly. It doesn’t look like it’s going to be good. I’m cancelling. I’m hopping in the car and I’m going.” Have that back up plan. Have that way out. Again I keep eluding back to the JFK accident. Low time, IFR at night, over the ocean, inexperienced, heading to a wedding, prominent figure, felt like he had to be there and probably too much airplane form. I mean, that alone. I just count 9 things. 9 Links of a chain in an accident. Right there before you even left the ground. I can tell you 9 negative things about making that decision right there.
Again, you never have to be anywhere. Rather you stay home and stay alive than risk something crazy. You know I’m not a big fan of like gloom or doom sort of stuff. But you have to be real about this sort of things. So always have a back up driving plan.
Most of my back up plans in place. I’ve decided the flights basically a go. Everything is good. Nice high pressure system working his way to the area. The next thing I’m going to run through. You are going to laugh at me but before in each and every flight I run to that I-am-Safe Checklist. Honestly, it’s not a checklist I’ve made up. It’s a checklist that the FAA made up. So you want something it’s going to be on your checkride. Something going to follow you through all your flight training and that’s I-am-Safe Checklist.I think that’s silly.I don’t want to go on a checklist. I know if I am okay or I’m not okay.
You know what? For me it’s just friendly reminder to think about everything. I mean again I would share to you guys. The E in the SAFE, at the end. The FAA jot it down for emotion. I would change that for Eaten. Have I eat anything? As guys I am trying to say we don’t have all that emotion. Plus the essence. And S is for stress. Stress and emotion to me is just the same. So I change that to “Have I eat anything? Nothing’s worse if you go to fly and you feel light headed. How do you feel? Will you able to make that flight? In regards to that. Did you get enough sleep? You know I’m an 8 hours asleep kind of person. I wish I could sleep less. But that’s just not me. I need to sleep and I know to be effective in the cockpit.
Trust me having done flying across America. Again, to refresh your memory when I took my Cessna 150 from Daytona Beach to Carolina Island, California and back to Florida to California and back two weeks out and two weeks back. It took us a month to do it. You will learn real quick with I-am safe checklist. And making smart decisions to stay on the ground when you’re flying 3 to 4 hours a day in Cessna 150 through the mountains. It takes it’s toll on you. You may say “Ah, 3 hours that’s not long in Cessna 150 in the summertime through the rocky mountains. Three hours is more than enough. And that’s something you’ll learn as you fly more and more. So reset that up like high pressures in the area. Everything’s look good to go. Pass the I-am-Safe Checklist. I am personally feeling I am good to go. Airplane checks out. Everything’s fine. It’s kind of really playing this thing out. Of course, I’ve been looking it sectional charts and everything else and get the rough idea of what I want to do. Finally, sitting down with pen and paper. And really mapping this thing out.
If I am going VFR Day. I love to have my VFR Checkpoint about every 10 miles. Now, I know you can’t always have that. I know some of you have to stretch to 15. I certainly don’t want to exceed 20. Because in between them, there’s a lot going to happen. If I am going to exceed a checkpoint that far breaking up some sort of VOR or some sort of means of navigation. If I ever got lose. That’s a time where I don’t want to put myself in. So I like checkpoint for every 10 miles.
You know sometimes I had to go a little bit out of my way just to get on with a certain checkpoint. That’s something I am willing to do as well. May not be the most direct route. You know what? Certainly the safest route. Especially with that checkpoint and airport.
When I am flying VFR at night. I do what we called IFR (I Fly Roads). That’s what I’ll do it at night time. There’s no reason just to go blazing through the darkness. Trust me, been there, done that. Don’t make the stupid mistakes I’ve made. I’d like to follow lit roads. Obviously, innerstate hi-ways, turn pipe, and where I can actually see. And if you are really in a dense area. You could go airport hopping and airport to airport. But you know It wasn’t about to but my point is…if you have an engine failure at night where do you going to go? I mean what’s going to happen? Always be prepared. You know what? By following that road. You’d make it easy to follow your checkpoints. Find your checkpoints. Because there’s plenty of prominent airports. Everything else of that might main hi-way the spot and you give yourself certainly a way out. In the event, you have an actual emergency.
Some other thing I’m thinking about as I’m planning. I’m planning. I’m planning a diversion locations. I’m looking at “Hey, If I get to this point and the weather’s bad. I can always come back to this airport or I realize this airport has fuel and it would be open at a time I’m flying by.” This are certain things to look at. Trust me, I’ve made this mistake too. Flying back and when I thought was early enough landing at airport at 6pm and the FBO was close and have no self serve fuel. Completely my bad. I should have made an assumption “Hey, if the suns up the airport should be open.” But that’s not always the case in some of these places. Especially in a smaller airport truly close at 5pm and don’t have self serve fuels. So certainly things to look at there in the airports directory. Calling these airports. Learn more about them. Their hours of operation and “Hey, it’s close. Is there a way to get fuel?” So things to look at there.
Just never hesitating on that cross countries to say “No, I am not going any further.” You know what? I don’t like looks to be ahead of me turning around because my friends if you made it as far as you are. It must not be that bad behind you. What I mean is? If you ventured that far out and came that far. It must not be that bad behind. I knew you would just blazing through any old thing out there. Sometimes a 180 degree turn is the best flight maneuver you can practice and certainly perform in a real world situation.
Never hesitating to turn around and go back. I talk about to having a back up driving plan. One thing I always do. Guys if you haven’t taken your checkrides yet. This is a huge tip. I’ve share some of this videos before. Maybe you haven’t seen them. Is to have a back up route.
This is what I mean. And I’ll use the checkrides as the example cause I love talking about checkrides. Let say if you are a private pilot checkride. Your examiner gives you “Hey, were gonna planning VFR country from airport A to Airport B. However in between is just this giant restricted area. If you were to draw a straight line from airport A to airport B. It would take you blazing right through that restricted area. Well you ask the diligent pilot in command. No, first and foremost restricted area. We can fly through when their called. However in the event that hot we never have a back up route. So I’m gonna first and foremost. I’m gonna plan a direct route from airport A to airport B going right to that restricted area. Assuming that restricted area is cold. Now in a certain point were going to say “Hey, we are 20 miles out from that restricted area.” You know exactly where to call. Were going to have a designated visual checkpoint on this. You say “Hey, when you get to checkpoint 3. I’m gonna call this approach controller and ask him about the status on that restricted area ahead.” I call them up and if they will say that the restricted area is hot. I have my back up route which it takes me south to this VOR. You know southwest to this airport and then direct my airport. So I get around of that restricted airspace. So always having a back up route.
Your checkride examiners is not going to give you the easiest flight plan. They want to go and see how you navigate around this airspace and how you got a back up route. It’s like pre-planning a diversion. It’s a possibility and you know it could happen. So plan and prepare for. You know I have back up route even for you may not doing a checkride but even in somethings other flights. Always have a back up plan. Always have some sort of way out. You know that I can count on or an alternative route that I can count on in event of weather. In the event of airspace TFR’s doesn’t matter. Always having a back up. Does this take a little longer to plan? Well, yeah, it does. But you know what? It makes you a whole lot better flight planning. Makes you a whole lot safer up there in the air. Always have those back up route. And really the last thing I want to share with you guys and go ahead I’m taking your questions.
The last tip I have. This is something I learn from flyin across America for those real long fligh. I’m talking cross countries. If I have to set a hard rules and one of these hard rules is a 3 hour maximum. I know my airplane holds roughly 4 and a half to 5 hours of fuel, depending on the circumstances. However I have a hard maximum that I will not fly a leg longer than 3 hours and here’s why.
First off, three hours of straight flying is so fatiguing, mentally, physically; all around. Until you done it you would understand. It’s not like 3 hours of just being a passenger and there’s nothing to think about when you are a passenger. You will just relax, reading a book, taking a nap; whatever. You’re flying. You’re constantly in a highten state super engaged involve. There is no time to take that sit back nouch and relax. I don’t care if you have an auto pilot. It doesn’t matter. You are always in the highten state when your flying. So it’s exhausting mentally. Its 3 hours. Honestly, aren’t you ready to get out in that little airplane? Get out; go to the bathroom; stretch your legs; rest for a second; grab a cup of coffe; wake yourself up a little bit in that 3 fatiguing hours. Whatever it is but it’s also a great time to stop and get fueled because think about this but yes my airplane has 5 hours of fuel. So I’ve plan a 4 hour leg. While I’m planning a 4 hour leg. However, the wind just, it was only 2 knots stronger than I thought it would be. But two knots over 4 hours and add 15 minutes till enroll flight test. Now you’ve flown 4 hours and 15 minutes. You have 45 minutes worth of time and fuel. You’ll always start push it with your VFR Day. You are certainly in your VFR night minimums.
You get to that airport and you realize. Maybe there was an incident on the runway. Trust me, this has happen before. Going to land in airport. Nothing major but there’s an aircraft tried to land and blow a tire on landing. Everybody’s okay but that aircraft disabled on that runway and the tower is showing you away until it get somebody out there to move that airplane. You are just thinking? Where am I go now? The next airport is 20 minutes away. And now you found yourself in a real pickle. If you treat 3 hours and it’s for me. It could be 2 hours for you. It depends on your aircraft. If you have long range fuel tanks. I find 3 hours seems to really work well for me. I think it probably work well for you too. Making that 3 hours that maximum.
So if you get to that airport and there’s disabled aircraft or the weather is less than Ideal you have to divert somewhere else. You know, Okay, no big deal. I have 2 hours of fuel left. I can do 60% basically of what I just did. Flight time wise to get to other airport. It’s just the smart decision. I don’t ever like to push it over 3 hours. You know my butt hurts, my back hurts, I got to go the bathroom, mentally fatigue and I’d like to get some more fuel. Again, the only time you have to much fuel is when your on fire. Okay? Other than that you want to have that fuel. Alright? So had a hard maximum set for yourself and plan your legs accordingly. Plan your stocks accordingly. Maybe you want to say “Hey, right now I’m kinda inexperience.” I’m taking the aces advices and make my hard maximum 2 and a half hours or 2 hours. Just something along this line. You got to experiment maybe about 3 hour mark. As you get more and more experience.
Listen, the more you land it’s more airport you got log in your logbook. I mean there’s plenty of upside to it too. All the cool place that you got to check out and everything else. Makes experience you got landing in other airport. Set yourself on these long cross countries. A hard maximum amount of flight time that you are going to fly.
I am taking your comments and questions. Here’s Larry chiming in. Let’s see let’s talk about Larry our resident CFII extraordinare. He said he uses acronym WCRAFT. Which you guys heard me talking about it before. Basically, looking at our weather. No ITCZ delays. Take off and landing distances. Really just going over. I mean if I-am-Safe Checklist just for you. The WCRAFT acronym is really for your airport, your route, where as the pave checklist could be more specifically for your aircraft and your environment. There’s a lot of great stuff and great checklist and acronyms that we can go through and look at this sort of stuff. Also you know, Call airports ahead of time. Check for fuel availability.
You know you are talking about a story a too, Larry. Flying back home from Kentucky. Another big decent size cross country in the 182. Landing on the airport. I did not call ahead. It self serve fuel. I thought everything’s going to be okay. I landed, that’s just getting dark. I pull up the self serve fuel. There’s a big sign on it and says “Out of Fuel, Sorry for inconvenience.” Yes, this is some inconvenience you put upon us. Listen it’s not like you just drive down to the next shell gas station on the next traffic light. You got to get up. You know start that plane back up. Taxi back out. Take off. Get to the next airport. It’s time consuming and difficult to get back out there and do that. So Larry, you are exactly right. Larry also talking about says “Jason a win card and handheld radio are his requirements for cross country.” What’s he’s talking about is I did a video a while back called My #1 Checkride Tip. Still standing as my #1 Checkride tip and it was to create a wind card. Google “Jason Schappert #1 Checkride tip” something like that. I am sure it would come right up. See if you can see that there, that video.
There, creating a wind card really help you with your diversions. Certainly my handheld radio shared the story of my student who had an alter failure at night and did not have a handheld radio. However he manage to and still land to safely because his son had he taught his son how to turn on and off the runway lights at various airports by clicking. You showing his son how to do that. Thankfully, his son just turn his lights right at the alternator. Literally failed and he knew the lights are on. You knew you get down and land in there. You have no way of turning out lights on or else in controlled airports. Certainly having that handheld is super important.
So that’s all I have for you. Enjoy the rest of your day guys and always remember that a good pilot is always learning.