Some Cross-Country Basics

by Dan McDowell

Imagine the beauty to be seen as the fall colors stretch for miles before you. The beauty of flight enhanced by the beauty of the season provides the opportunity for the renewal of the passion for aviation and flight. Thus with fall rapidly approaching, this is a perfect time to think about and review the basics of flying cross-country.

The Dictionary of Aeronautical Terms defines “cross-country” as, “flying from one airport to another over a distance that is long enough to require the use of some form of navigation.” Though that may be a bit broad in scope, it does bring clearly to mind that cross-country flying requires intelligent forethought and planning. This is beyond what would be done for the simple point A to point B flight for the proverbial $100.00 hamburger!

As with any flight, a conscientious pilot will begin by thoroughly planning the intended trip. This planning should include detailed weather information, accurate course plotting and checkpoint selection, headings, distances, fuel requirements and more.

It is also extremely important to know the fuel capacity and consumption rate for the aircraft you intend to fly. This information can be located in the Aircraft Flight Manual as well as the Pilot’s Operating Handbook. Remember that FAR 91.151 requires that pilots have at least 30 minutes of fuel remaining to be able to fly past the first point of intended landing during VFR daylight operations. VFR night operations require 45 minutes of fuel remaining.

Another important part of safe and efficient cross-country flying that is often overlooked is the practice of good cockpit management. Most experienced and professional pilots keep their cockpits neat and organized from the start of their flight until their mission is completed for the day.

Be sure to organize your charts in the sequence that you will need them and see that they are properly stowed.  Secure all loose items in the cockpit. Be sure that all the equipment, charts and tools needed during your flight are within easy reach.

While taxiing or flying, it is unwise to lay or store charts and other items on top of the instrument panel. Placing charts on the panel can greatly increase eyestrain due to glare, and it reduces the clear forward visibility. This in turn can seriously degrade the pilot and co-pilot’s (or front seat passenger) ability to see traffic in front of the aircraft.

Always have a definite place to store everything you bring onboard the aircraft. Once used, be sure to return that item to the same location from where it was taken. Not only does that prevent cockpit clutter, but it also helps the pilot to easily remember where specific items are located. When flying daylight VFR, it is possible that a pilot will use “pilotage” as the form of navigation. It is easy and requires no special equipment beyond a chart or two. When using “pilotage,” it is suggested that a pilot should work from the chart to the ground. In other words, look for the landmarks that are shown on the chart. This is helpful because it is likely that many landmarks may exist in a pilot’s field of vision. Yet some landmarks, even those that may appear quite prominently, may not be shown on the chart. By working from the chart to the ground one can be generally assured of finding the right landmarks and staying on course.

It is also suggested that pilots orient their charts so that north on the chart is pointing to actual north, thus the landmarks seen on the chart will appear in similar orientation along the route of flight.

Always use the checklists and never perform checks solely from memory. That one forgotten or missed item can be the beginning of a cumulative chain of events (chain of causation) that can lead to ultimate disaster.

These reminders and more are important to every pilot. By reviewing and practicing good flying and safety skills and techniques, along with practicing good cockpit management, flying will be safer, more efficient, and more fun!

This entry was posted in Columns, Columns, MN Aeronautics Bulletin, October/November 2012 and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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