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Beyond the $100 Hamburger

posted Jul 25, 2005

Getting tired of the same old routine flights to familiar destinations? One thing you can do is to change your routine. After a few trips to our regular fly-in breakfast or lunch destinations, I think many pilots don’t go through all the steps of planning out the flight, selecting checkpoints, estimating times, etc. We know how to get there and about how long it will take, so it’s easy to get complacent and just take off in the general direction of our destination without formal plan in hand.

Here’s a suggestion for keeping your flying skills sharp. Next time you are planning a flight somewhere, try to make a plan that uses all 3 types of navigation techniques: ded reckoning, pilotage and radio aids to navigation (VOR, NDB). If you’ve got a GPS, try not to use it during this exercise. Go back through the steps you did for your first few cross-countries as a student pilot. If you are having problems with those, find a flight instructor to help refresh your memory.

See how close you can get to your estimated enroute time and predicted fuel burn. Sometimes the actual winds aloft are quite different than the forecast. Calculate your actual groundspeed while in flight, and make a revised estimate of your remaining flight time. Get some practice with flight following and getting updated weather from Flight Service while you are in the air. Try to file a pilot report with Flight Service at least once per cross-country flight. Challenge yourself to land within 10 minutes of your predicted arrival time and within 3 gallons of your predicted fuel burn. If you miss those goals, try to figure what happened. Possible sources of error are your preflight calculations, your in-flight calculations, the actual airplane performance compared to the POH performance numbers, and differences between how you planned the flight versus how you executed the flight.

Once you get consistently good at planning and executing these flights to airports you are comfortable with, stretch yourself some more by exploring some new airports. Being able to fly yourself dramatically expands the range of places you can go for a quick weekend trip.

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