Re: Cross Country Planning
- From: "Andrew Sarangan" <asarangan@xxxxxxxxx>
- Date: 10 Jun 2006 07:46:25 -0700
Roy Smith wrote:
"Brian Smith" <n6703j@xxxxxxxxxxx> wrote:
Reflecting on the way I was taught to do pre-flight planning for a cross
country during my primary training, I believe that too much emphasis was
placed on calculating detailed information about the planned course and not
enough emphasis went into preparing for contingencies.
I was taught to draw my course line, pick out landmarks, and make a
navigation table. The table included heading (to nearest degree), time (to
nearest minute), fuel reqd (to 0.1 gallon), etc. for every segment. In
practice, very little information is needed in order to complete a VFR
flight when all goes as planned, especially in this day of GPS navigators.
The problem with teaching students to do all of these calculations is that
it discourages them from diverting from a plan in flight. As soon as you
make the slightest deviation from the planned route, most of the data
becomes invalid. If pilots get the impression that they actually need this
information in order to navigate somewhere, they won't have confidence
deviating in flight, because they would have all that info.
It distresses me just how bad most pilots are at DR and pilotage. A
typical task I'll give on a BFR is to take me to someplace perhaps 10 miles
away without using electronic nav at all.
Most are unable to do it, and I suspect part of the reason is exactly what
Brian is complaining about. I don't know what student pilots today are
taught, but when I did my training (about 12 years ago), I laboriously
filled out planning forms working out headings to the nearest degree and
times to the 1/10th of a minute (or was it to the second?) with my wizz
wheel. An absurd process, and most student pilots are smart enough to
figure out that it's absurd given today's technology.
The problem is that what they don't see is that under the layer of absurd
groveling over manual calculations there is a fundamental concept which is
worth understanding. Where am I now and where do I want to go? What's the
no-wind course and distance to get there? At my current speed, how long
will it take? What will the wind be doing to me? Does it look like I'm
progressing according to plan? Basic, basic, basic, but it gets lost in a
sea of pointless arithmetic.
When I say, "OK, here we are over the top of Stewart Field, take me to Sky
Acres", what I want to see is somebody pull out a chart and eyeball a
course (by reference to the nearest VOR rose) and distance (again by
reference to a VOR rose, since they're 5 NM radius). It would be just
dandy if the student measured the VOR rose with their thumb and said,
"Well, it's about three thumbs away, so that's about 15 miles, which at
about 2 miles/min means about 7 or 8 minutes, and we've got a good
tailwind, so let's call it 6 or 7 minutes". And some similar WAG at the
A typical scenario has me beating the info out of the student, who
eventually heads off on some heading and maybe starts to wander 30 degrees
left or right. After 10 minutes of this, I'll say something like, "well,
do you think we've gone too far or not far enough". No clue.
- What landmarks would let me know I accidentally flew left of my planned
Absolutely. In traditional navigation practice, there's the concept of a
"danger bearing". As long as Big Wumpus Light bears 270 or more, I won't
hit the rocks. You can do the same thing with pilotage in an airplane. I
know I can't tell exactly where R-5206 is (and I've been flying around it
for 10 years), but I do know that if I stay south of the little lake with
the sandy beach, I'm fine.
- What might limit my options to choose a lower than planned cruising
Yeah, this is another one that infuriates me. A standard BFR problem I'll
give is to plan a X/C trip to an airport that takes you directly over the
Catskills (what passes for mountains around here). I give them an area
forecast which has a ceiling just about at the mountain tops. I can't tell
you how many students just plug the destination into a software flight
planner and tell me the precise course, distance, and time but never even
look at a chart to notice where that course is taking them.
- What sources of updated information will I have available in flight?
Anytime I'm with a student on a X/C (VFR or IFR), I insist that the very
first thing we do after leveling off in cruise and getting the plane
trimmed up and leaned is to call Flight Watch for a weather update. A fair
number of IFR pilots are surprised that ATC is willing to let them go off
frequency when requested.
- What airports short of my planned destination have fuel available?
- What airports near my destination have runways with different alignment
than my planned destination?
Comments? Additional questions to answer during planning?
I like to look at a weather forecast and ask, "How likely is it that the
forecast will be wrong, and if it's wrong, in what way is it likely to be
wrong?" For example, if there's a line of T-storms associated with a front
marching west-to-east, I know it's going to get here sooner or later; the
only question is when. This means when I call Flight Service for an
update, I can ask very specifically for the one piece of information I need
to know: "Where is the front right now?".
Also, "Is the trend improving or worsening?" That's a critical question.
I'm much more comfortable going out in marginal weather if I know the trend
And, finally, "In what direction is better weather?" If I know I'm near
the edge of a system and better weather is to the north, I know which way
to run if things go downhill.
This was exactly the problem with my training too, and I am afraid I
might have passed on that practice to some of my early students. Flight
plans were done because they had to be done, not because they might be
useful for flying. I knew someone who did a meticulous flight plan and
said he was ready to go, only to discover that he had all his headings
I think part of this problem stems from the FAA written exam. Anyone
who has taken these exams knows that you have to get your ETA down to
the last second, or the fuel to the last 1/10 of a gallon. The answers
are spaced that far apart.
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