After a ‘dramatic’ long cross country solo flight for my CPL, I learned a lot of things. The most impotant I learned is what ADM (Aeronautical Decision Making) really is, it is not only making decision at a certain moment just go or no-go, like scenarios given in FAA writen tests or checkrides, but also a systematic process for consistently determine before flight and during the flight. Real-life ADM is much more complicated and life threat.
Follwing are some tips and suggestions for whom planning long cross county solo flight.
Flight planning and before flight:
- Don’t overestimate aircraft’s performance: because long XC planning with small error could lead to a huge difference, and changes from forcasted wind direction and speed could enlarge this difference to a gigantic error! Choose a reasonable altitude and RPM setting, and TAS as well, for GPH maybe a little bit higher, 10% more than POH says is enough.
- Add some time ‘margin’ to planned time. If calculated flight time around 180 mins, it should add 10% to 20% for unexpected delay or unplanned fly around (weather or airspaces). And also add 10 mins (VFR) to 20 mins (IFR) extra for approaches, holding and terminal ATC vector. Sum all time to load fuel and tell dispatch the total time.
- Be prepared for worst case in summer time, due to thunderstorm will coming unplanned and building up super quickly. Note that the weather forecast is not a ‘stage script’, thunderstorm isn’t an actor/actress either, it would not follow what forecaster says. Be alert to any changes and plan an alternate flight plan to other destination, in case of bad weather.
- Read Aviation Forecast Discussion (AFD) at AWC website for preflight decision: https://www.aviationweather.gov/fcstdisc/, or read AFD at ForeFlight app.
- Be familiar with other en-route airports in case of diversion. Make sure download related and current charts in smartphone or tablet before flight.
- Choose FBO(s) at destination airport(s) , learn FBOs’ information and have a look at its website, opening hours and some extra rules are not mentioned at ForeFlight, and make sure it is not close due to COVID-19.
- Learn how to lean mixture and practice at least once before long XC solo.
- Schedule a dual flight with instructor before XC solo flight, just practice landings and diversion procedural, especially cross wind landing and/or short field landing in case of diversion.
- Review & recall diversion procedule, bring a E6B to help diversion calculation. Real-world diversion may not require precise calculation result but reasonable and helpful for quickly decision.
- Be familiar with emergencies and abnormal procedurals, read FSM and chair flight.
- Be prepare finishing the flight with instrument navigation method, and prepare IAPs of destination airport(s).
- Request an airplane with autopilot operative!
- Water and food. Water requirement is more than short XC flight. In-flight food is meal size, not snacks. Hand sanitizer is required before eating.
- Traveler Kit for one-two day(s) hotel lodging, include toiletries, sun protection and spare underwear.
- Jacket/coat or sweater if cold weather expected.
- Flashlight for night flight.
- Powerbank and cables to recharge smartphone and tablet, it is better to take plugin as well (to use wall power).
- Driver license or ID card and credit card for car rental and booking hotel.
- Life vest. If fly over open water and may beyond glide distance expected, preparing for ditch land.
- Put checklist at a place where easily reach, in case of emergency/abnormal situation.
- Ask flight following all the time.
- Lean the mixture if practicable.
- If feeling boring, review emergencies and abnormal procedurals and checklists, brief destination or en-route airport’s IAPs.
- Lower altitude, if weather and airspace allowable, may receive LTE/4G/5G signal, using smartphone to get weather and FBO’s information.
- After setting a frequency from ATC, write it down somewhere, in case lost comm. Monitor GUARD frequency (121.5) or momently tune to 121.5.
- Liston to ATIS/ASOS/AWOS of en-route airports to know cloud height or ceiling, build a big picture in mind.
- Reference aviation weather theory and FAA cloud chart https://www.faa.gov/news/safety_briefing/2015/media/Cloud-Chart.pdf, to identify potential thunderstorm, may let an unexpected diversion “as expected”.
If diversion is needed:
- Replan the flight, diversion route should be as simple as possible, less en-route turning and fly around could save time and fuel. Quickly familiar with diversion airport’s information and set frequencies in avionics system. Don’t be hesitate to ask ATC’s help if needed.
- Get FBO’s information, if time allowable, contact selected FBO via its UNICOM frequency.
- Ask anyone’s help, you deserve it!
- Flight from a post-diversion destination:
- A brief/estimated plan is needed, just plan it as simple as possible. Time and fuel consumption no need very precise but cover the whole trip needs. Use ForeFlight or similar app could very helpful.
- Take a nap/snooze in FBO or wherever quiet.
- Take out some food and prepare water as the flight need.
- Monitor weather information all the time, use a computer which provided by FBO to brief a flight, and make the decision.
- If IFR flight expected, file a flight plan at FBO.
- Divert once is enough, not twice. Make sure the trip can be made safely.
- In case land out overnight:
- Secure and tie down the airplane, set up gust lock, refuel full tank if overnight. Take out personal item from cockpit.
- Book a room of hotel and/or rent a car. If unsure, book a refundable hotel first. Some FBO may cover car rental fee if refuel.
- Sleep well is the king!
- Make sure take out all personal documents and airplane’s key before leave the hotel room. Make sure take out all personal item and airplane’s key/card before hotel check out.
- Make sure a comprehensively preflight would be done next day.
Enjoy the trip any way!
“The Art of Aeronautical Decision-Making”, by FAASafty: https://www.faasafety.gov/files/gslac/courses/content/28/216/The%20Art%20of%20Aeronautical%20Decision.pdf