Friday, September 5, 2008

Preparing for my first cross-country

I was really hoping to be able to make up for some of the lost flight time due to the Japan trip. Unfortunately, Mother Nature was not in any mood to allow me into the sky today. I can't be too upset since we desperately needed the rain here, but it's no fun as a VFR pilot to look out the window all day and see low clouds, low visibility, and plenty of precip. Instead of going up, Dave and I sat down to discuss airspace in a session of ground school.

My airspace knowledge is pretty solid after lots of reading and studying of the regulations so we quickly moved on to cross-country flight planning. Technically speaking, any time you fly away from the immediate area of your departure airport you are flying cross-country. For many training requirements, however, the definition includes a clause that one point of landing must be greater than 50 nautical miles straight-line from the point of departure. So to keep things simple, any time I talk about cross-country flying it means I'm headed off 50 miles or more.

Discussion complete, Dave decided that we're going to use tomorrow's lesson for my first cross-country flight. We're going to head East and fly to Pickaway County Memorial Airport (CYO) in Circleville, OH. It's roughly 55 nautical miles away and is pretty much due South of Columbus for those looking at a map. I left with the homework to complete my flight plan and call Flight Service (pilots call these folks for weather, notices to airmen, and other important information used in planning a flight) to get the weather and winds.

My flight plan on a Sectional chart - image from
If you click on the above image to see it full-size, you can see my route in red with my checkpoints marked with squares. You need checkpoints to confirm your route and check your groundspeed. This form of navigation, where you look out the window and reference objects on the ground, is called Pilotage. As you can imagine, selecting proper objects is rather important. Things like lakes, airports, intersections, railroad tracks, and highways can be great checkpoints. I'm not entirely sure that my last checkpoint before CYO (high-tension power lines) is going to be easy to spot from the air but I figure it will be a good learning experience one way or the other.

Once you have the route, you measure the distance between the points and based on your known airspeed and reported winds aloft you are able to determine the time in transit. In calculating compass headings you have to make corrections for variation in the Earth's magnetic field (corrections are printed right on navigation charts) and your own compass' magnetic deviation. Using a flight computer, winds are plotted and the correction angle (turning into or away from the wind to stay on your desired course across the ground) and headwind or tailwind can be determined. Add all this up and you will have your total trip length, both in terms of distance and time, and necessary headings to fly.

I'm really excited to truly go somewhere and hopefully I can learn a lot tomorrow afternoon. As always, I'll have a post on here about the lesson and I'll be reporting back on just how well my first try at flight planning worked out up in the sky!


  1. Yeah, on my cross country I had a couple of waypoints that had powerlines as features, and I couldn't see them at 1500 agl. Thankfully there were a lot of uniquely shaped lakes to navigate by.

  2. Yup, I figured they were a bad idea but no better time to test the theory than with a CFI on board. As you'll see in my write-up from tonight, I won't likely be using power lines again anytime soon!