One of my favorite parts of flying is the planning. I love choosing where I plan to fly and the route I will take. I take out my sectional and spread it wide open across my kitchen table so I can start plotting my trip. I gather the necessary tools to complete the task: my current sectional, plotter, E6B(flight computer), 152 manual, crosswind chart and my current AFD.
Before I could fly solo, I would take out my sectional and look at how many airports there were and where they were. I would dream about flights I would take and who I would take with me. Then the time came for me to plan my first cross country. I didn’t sleep the night before. I had so many unanswered questions about what I was to do. My CFI said we would go over the plans before we would fly my plan. I was so nervous. I kept looking at all the boxes on the nav log and realized that I didn’t know as much about flying as I thought I did.
He looked at my nav log, checkpoints, weather information, and sectional. We went over what I had filled in and made changes where we needed to. We spent some more time using the E6B on the ground so when we were up flying I would be able to confidently compute my ground speed as I checked the time in between checkpoints. While I was learning about the E6B the teacher in me was thinking about all the cool applications for it in a classroom. I was already writing lesson plans in my head for math and science. I thought a unit on flying just might be the thing to get my 5th & sixth grade students interested in math and science again. For now, I was the student.
Next week I have a flight planned to fly a place I’ve never been before. It involves landing on an island just outside of Bayfield, WI. It will take extra planning on my part for it to be a safe flight. I will spend a lot of time learning as much about the airports I will be landing at as possible. One of the things I like to do is go to Navmonster.com to look at the satellite photos and track the path into the airport with the bird’s eye view. It helps me visualize more of the flight and landmarks than are shown on the sectional. I do it several times and imagine I am in my plane flying overhead and seeing what is below me. It really helps me for my airport approaches. I look at all the runways, their lengths, and possible obstacles to avoid. I will call the airport the day before and the day of the flight to make sure everything is as I expect it to be. I don’t like surprises.
Another item on my list for flight planning is checking out alternate airports. The area I will be flying to is on Lake Superior. The weather can change quickly near bodies of water. Just this morning as I try to look across the lake I live on I cannot see the other end of the lake because of fog. As much as I want to fly to Madeline Island, a place my husband and I visited on our honeymoon, we will not go if the weather is not suitable. We will choose some other destinations for our trip if the weather doesn’t look good or cancel our trip altogether.
Fuel management is another area of great importance for flight planning. The FAR/AIM give you the required amounts of fuel you are required to have on board for daytime and nighttime flying. Those amounts are the minimums! I like to carry as much fuel as possible, with out exceeding my weight and balance. I don’t try to stretch fuel between two checkpoints, so if I run into problems that delay me from landing or need to divert, I can safely accomplish landing with enough fuel. Running out of fuel just shouldn’t happen.
Weather is something I will be watching from today until my flight day and what is forecast for after it. It is important to watch what is happening with the movement of fronts across and around my planned flight areas. There are so many good weather information tools available for pilots for planning. The main thing is to use them.
The day of our flight we will get a standard briefing and file a flight plan for our route, we will do the pre-flight inspection on the plane and make sure it is fueled up and flight worthy. Most important is the me, the pilot, is also ready for flight which means that I have slept, feel healthy, have eaten and am not dehydrated before we start.
If the stars align, the weather is good, the plane is ready, and I am healthy we will take off for a day of adventure and to see sights not seen from above before.
I can’t wait to be one of those set of wings overhead that everyone looks up and imagines “I wonder where they are going?”