This past week I planned for and took a flight with my husband up north to view the fall colors. For the week preceding our trip I talked a lot about our plans for our trip and booked the plane that we would be renting. I spent some time investigating the island that we planned on visiting on our trip. Our trip would be from St. Cloud, MN (KSTC) to Duluth, MN (KDLH) and east to Madeline Island (4R5) and then return to St. Cloud. I called the Madeline Airport to make sure that it would be open and if there was transportation available to town which was two miles away. During the week I kept an eye on the weather and continued to make plans for our trip.
The evening before our trip I pulled out my sectional, plotter, E6B, AFD, and POH for the 152 that I would be flying. I began the process for planning our trip. I put my sectional out on the table. For this trip I would actually need two sectionals because I would be flying outside the Twin Cities sectional and onto the Green Bay sectional. I would need both for navigation. Prior to pulling out the sectionals I had gone onto a couple of navigational aid sites NavMonster, AOPA, and Skyvector. I knew that the distance from St. Cloud to Duluth was 110 nm , 59nm from Duluth to Madeline Island, and 156 nm from Madeline Island to St. Cloud. All of the distances of each leg were within the 152’s fuel range with the required reserve. I had planned on a fuel stop in Duluth and a chance to stretch our legs before we continued on to Madeline Island.
When I began plotting our trip on the navigation log it was going fine for the first leg. I had already flown this leg a year ago so its planning for checkpoints wasn’t a big deal. I drew my course line on my sectional from Duluth to Madeline Island on my sectional and started to plot my checkpoints and that’s when the uneasy feeling started to creep in. I plotted my first checkpoint east of Duluth and that put me out over water. Lake Superior to be exact. Just how in the world to do verify your checkpoint over water? Do you look for your abeam point on land? The shore would be approximately 15 miles south of my course.
Next realizing that the course that I chose put me over water I put my plotter down, measured and found that I planned on flying over approximately 28 nm over open water. Now I’m not flying a float plane and the only place I can land is on land so …If I lose an engine in a single engine I essentially become a glider which my plane will do for a time but not long. I have to admit for a very short minute I considered continuing with my plans. Afterall it was only 28 nm and that would only take about 20 minutes . What could happen in that short amount of time? It was time to reconsider my plans.
I started taking a fresh look at my sectional. If I changed my course from St. Cloud to Superior, WI which is just a few miles east of Duluth I could still fly to Madeline Island as planned only over land instead of 28 nm of open water. I originally choose Duluth because of familiarity. I had already flown into and out of the Duluth airport. I researched the Superior Airport KSUW and found that I actually liked the runway orientation better for the winds than Duluth’s runway. There would be less crosswind for landing and taking off at Superior. I began working on my navigation log once again and started plotting my checkpoints to Superior. Then I plotted my checkpoints from Superior to Madeline Island and back to St. Cloud. The next thing to consider was fuel. Madeline Island reported none. I would have to fuel in Superior before heading on to Madeline Island.
I felt more comfortable with the changes from Duluth to Superior. The only amount of open water we would be over was 3 nm. At any point in time I would only be 1 1/2 miles from land if there was a problem. The other consideration with Madeline Island was the fact that they didn’t have any services there for the airplane. No mechanics, repair parts, or fuel. I was renting the plane and the thought crossed my mind Just how much does it cost to get a plane off an island that isn’t working and how do you do it? As it turned out because of the change in the weather we didn’t pursue our trip out to the island. But the thought of having trouble stuck in the back of my mind as we continued home instead of going to Madeline Island.
The experts in aviation say that every accident is a chain of events. Rarely is there just one item that contributed to the cause of the accident. I thought of my plans for last week and possible accident scenarios. The point I want to make is that with so many options for technology that I think people get complacent. Before I got out my sectional I didn’t see anything wrong with my plans because I was just looking at one aspect of the planning. I was seeing the miles as related to fuel but not really seeing the course I was planning. I don’t have GPS or any kind of navigational system other than VOR tracking. I need to rely on what I see outside the plane as I fly, my instruments for direction and my sectional with checkpoints marked for reference along my course.
If I had hopped in my plane without doing the work of plotting my course on the sectional and marking my checkpoints. At some point I would find myself in a dangerous position, over open water. You can fly a plane like driving a car and say that I want to go east about 59 nm and it should take me about 37 minutes at about 95 kts. Which is what I knew to be true for the trip to Madeline Island. Believe me it is so much less work to plan a trip that way than to sit down and mark out the checkpoints, figure out the wind correction and ground speed, and figure out how many minutes to each checkpoint but the necessity of doing the planning is to keep me and others safe.
Another issue of safety that I noticed as we were flying was the terrain. When I plan for a trip I look for things on the terrain that are important because of the height, mainly towers along the route. I marked the towers along my route there and back. When we were on our trip my husband made the comment “There aren’t as many places to land the plane the farther north we go.” He was correct. Where we live is primarily an agricultural area with a lot of farm fields for emergency landings. As we travel north the terrain changes mostly to heavily wooded areas with very few roads and fields.
When I was learning to fly there were three things that they said we should always know at all times: Number one was where I would land the plane in an emergency, number two was how much fuel I had on board at any given point in time, and the third was where was the wind from. It became apparent to me as we were flying that there were fewer places to choose for an emergency landing. This is important when you are choosing a course to fly in order to fly safely.
There were many lessons learned this past week. The most important lesson I learned was to do the work of planning for the trip. If you do the work, correctly and thoroughly you will be better prepared to fly safely. I didn’t say that you will fly without any problems but you didn’t create any problems for yourself because of lack of planning. Again I say, “Do the Work!”