As you gain flight experience you will plan longer flights. The commercial cross country requirement is a straight line flight of at least 300 nautical miles with 3 landings and takeoffs at airports other than the departure airport. This long cross country as it is often referred to will be one of the most memorable experiences during your flight training. To make it memorable will require good solid planning. Preparation for the all aspects of the flight is vital.
Where do you want to go? How do you decide? Remember that what you want to gain from this trip is the best flying experience possible. Flying straight and level on a clear day is great but landing at numerous varied airports is also a great learning experience. Do not plan for all the same airports on your return leg as you landed at during your outbound leg. This trip is not so much about getting somewhere quickly (although that is fun to) as learning as much as possible during trip. Tracking an airway, watching the VOR flag flip from to to from are all things you will never see if you only fly GPS direct. You could easily land at 5 different airports on a 300 mile trip and another 5 on the way back. In addition to the education you will receive you will experience the beauty of flying in North America in a way that few people ever do. You might be able to visit with friends or family in a distant city.
When planning a longer trip decision making with regard to weather will be one of the biggest challenges. Although there are times in the year where pilots can fly 500 miles in any direction and return the next day all as VFR flight there are also seasons of the year where there will be weather delays. What is your personal ability and limits when it comes to visibility, ceiling, and winds? Are these realistic? How do they compare to the VFR requirements? Have you ever flown with visibility of 3 miles at 500 ' AGL? It is one thing to know the requirements, it is a completely different to experience these things by yourself over unfamiliar terrain. When you have a Harv's Air aircraft away from base we do not want to put any pressure on you with regard to returning the aircraft on a prearranged date. We have however had pilots delay the trip for weather when the reported en route ceiling was 5000'. On the other extreme we have had pilots "push the weather" to come home because "my passenger had to back at work on Monday" Clearly this would not justify flying in marginal weather.These are all things you should be preparing and training for. Talk to your instructor or other staff member at Harv's.
Something I hear after a pilots long flight is that they are tired. You would not think of a long flight as hard work but consider the following; How well did you sleep the night before what with all the excitement? Have you been eating and drinking normally? Keep in mind that many airports that you land at will not have food available. The restaurant is often several miles away and going there could delay you several hours. With good planning you have some snacks and water with you and can enjoy them even as an in flight service. Spending long periods at altitude will also tend to dehydrate you. A little water will prevent this. You notice we say a little, bathroom stops also have to be carefully planned. There is nothing more annoying then to level off at 8500 feet and have your passenger say "I need to go to the bathroom" There is also nothing more uncomfortable for them than to not be able to go, so again planning is required. Speaking of planning pilots rarely leave "on time" or at the planned time of departure.One way to improve this is during flights prior to the "long cross country" practice getting ready. How accurate are you? There will be many more details for a longer flight but many or most can be arranged the day before.
Two weeks ago, we looked at some material that has been put together by AOPA in regards to fuel starvation. This, of course, was in response to
The first question is this:
How much fuel do you really have in those tanks?
From there, let the deluge of questions continue!
What is the capacity of your tanks?
Are they normal, long range, or super long range?
Do you know the difference between usable and unusable fuel?
Did you use the right dipstick?
Is it possible to “eyeball” the fuel? If so, have you learned what heights in the tanks correspond to the rough amount of gallons that you have in that tank?
What is the range of the aircraft? What about the endurance?
What are the numbers that are published in the POH in relation to fuel burns really telling us?
Next, whatis the maximum range of the aircraft, and what is the maximum endurance of our airplane?
Which is more important, range or endurance and why?
What is the speed related to this answer?
If you ever needed to, could you set this up in your aircraft?
What effect does the wind have on the airplane?
Why do we put that navigation log together?
Why do we need to check our ground speed and to get a revised estimated time of arrival—notjust once—butwith regularity?
What would happen if you discovered that your ground speed is less than what you had planned on yournavlog?
With those questions in mind, let us next consider the following:
Can we trust those forecasted winds?
Do these winds remained constant over a given leg?
On which planes are the winds more critical to consider-a C152 or a C172?
When planning, what happens if we have to divert around something?
Are there sufficient fuel stops on the route?
Will these places that we have considered be open?
Are there NOTAMS that have changed the availability of the fuel?
What if we got there and we could not fuel up? What then?
What would happen if bad weather did not allow me to get to a fuel stop?
How does that mixture thing really work?
Are you using the proper leaning techniques?
What will happen to your enduranceand range if you do not properly lean?
What is the difference between best power, best economy, and recommended lean?
Should you have an exhaust gas temperature gauge at your disposal, do you know how it works?
When do we lean?(A big hint for this question-- as instructors, we still hear a lot of this “Above 3000 feet only” stuff. Is this true?)
Do you ever actually get out after a flight and dip your tanks to figure out what your actual burn is?
Can we trust the fuel gauges?
Can they be used to tell us other things that are useful?
What if you saw them decreasing at a rate more rapid than you were used to?
Might they be saying something then?
What is the importance of the blue dye?
And what if you see an excessive amount of blue die around the aircraft’s wings and/or fuselage?
Are the fuel tanks connected?
By what mechanisms do our airplanes get their fuel from the tank to the engine?
Are there ways to transfer fuel from one tank to another?
What is the purpose of the fuel pump in some airplanes?
Do we have backup pumps?
How often should we change the tanks?
How do we properly change the tanks?
The engine on an airplane with multiple tanks and a fuel selector quits on you--what do you do?
How does the fuel ventilation system work?
What about the “collar” in some of our airplane tanks?
What are they for?
Why are we taking a fuel sample with every flight?
Under what conditions is fuel contamination most likely?
Where are all of the drains on the airplane that we are going to fly?
How many are there?
What if your fuel drain came out clear as opposed to blue?
What are the colors of 100 low lead, Jet A, and mogas?
What does water contamination looklike?
And, what are we actually looking for on a winter’s day when we check the fuel? Water?
How much fuel did those line people or dispatchers really put in my tanks?
How can I be sure?
Do you carefully check your fuel amount after fueling?
Can you convert liters to gallons, and gallons to litres?
Just exactly what are those line people putting in my tanks?
Did you verify that the line person or dispatcher put those caps on tight and right?
Did you know that fuel trucks and fuel tanks are color-coded?
Now that you do, what are the colors of these trucks and/or fuel tanks for Jet A and av gas?
What would you do if you suspected that someone had put the wrong fuel your tanks?
What would happen if we accidentally took off with Jet A?
Would the engine run?
And, if so, what will eventually happen?
What exactly is the reserve for?
How much am I supposed to carry as a reserve?
Related to the reserve—you may have come across the phrase "the golden hour rule" when referring to fuel and the reserve.
What does this mean?
Do you follow this policy?
You are about to do a solo cross-country. You calculate that you only need 19.5 gallons of fuel (including the reserve.) However, the weight and balance calculations tell you that you have a lot of weight to spare. How much fuel do you take?
Wow! That’s a lot of questions!
Hopefully, they show that we clearly don't give a stuff in our tanks enough thought.Each one of the questions listed above could very likely become an article on its own.
But that isn’t all.
I'm sure that if you think long enough and hard enough, you could think of atleast a dozen or more questions that I haven't asked in this article! Perhaps in the last two weeks you have thought of some!
Hopefully, this exercise has shown that by thinking critically about the stuff in our tanks—andhow its quality, quantity, and distribution methods relate to how long we can fly—wecan avoid a fuel starvation scenario and the forced approach that it will most certainly give us.
If you fail to manage your fuel properly, can you really call the result a forced approach?
A short time ago, I happened to be checking the numbers in the navigation log of a student who was hoping to go on a solo cross country. From the start I could see that the student had put some time and effort into carefully planning this flight.
The navigation log was neat and tidy, and everything appeared to be filled in with care and meticulous calculation. Here was a post PPL student who was still dedicated to filling out a nav log with the discipline and attention to detail worthy of a flight test. To say the least, I was impressed. How many of us start to get a bit “lazy” after getting our ticket?
Not this student! No GPS direct for them!
After looking over the numbers, I asked the student a few of the standard questions. "What are your times, your headings, and your distances?" Everything looked in order. "What about the circuits at the airports that you are going to? What are the runway conditions, and what about your radio work, and all that airspace?"
The answers here all seemed to be pretty good as well!
However, when I came to questioning the student about their fuel, things started to take an interesting turn.
"So," I started questioning, "how much fuel do you need?"
"19.5 gallons!" Was the student’s reply.
"And how much do you plan on taking?" I asked.
"Well, I only need the 19.5 gallons, including the reserve, so I should be okay with just a bit more than that!" The student replied.
It was at this point we took a careful look at the weight and balance. It was soon apparent that the solo student could easily take full fuel and still have the weight and room to spare for more! In fact, the student would be able to take full fuel and then breakfast, lunch, and even dinner with them! Quite possibly there was so much weight to spare that even the plates and cutlery to dine withcould have been taken along!
As we did this, something started to take root in this student’s mind. With further questioning, I could see that these roots were going to go deeper.
"So why would you only want to take the minimum fuel in this case?" I asked the student.
"Wouldn't you want to put some extra time in your tanks, even if you don't think that you'll need it?"
Fuel starvation is a common mistake in the aviation world. Pilots consistently insist on turning their airplanes into gliders. What is more, they seem to be doing this at an alarming rate! It is such a problem that AOPA has created a series of amusing and satirical—but yet soberingvideos based on this fact.
So, before you begin reading too much more I would like you are encouraged to check out these great videos done by AOPA:
Pretty amusing stuff, isn't it? Amusing, that is, until your engine is the one that becomes silent. Basically, AOPA just wants to get those of us who do piloting stuff to think more carefully about the fuel that is in our tanks. After all, how many of us just fuel and go—with little thought to the blue liquid that keeps us airborne?
After watching these videos, and after encouraging the student to take on some more fuel, I thought that maybe I should give it some more thought as well. And so I did. The few remaining brain cells that I have started to think hard. Very, very hard! (So much so that smoke started to come out of them!) As the questions and thoughts came to my mind, I jotted them down.
It wasn't long before I had a lengthy list of reasons and questions that we can use to think about our fuel more critically. In fact, so many things came to mind that we are now tempted to rewrite the entire section called “Fuel” on PilotTraning.ca!
So, next time—two weeks from now—I am going to share these thoughts and questions that I’ve come up with. In the meantime, I would like to encourage you to come up with your own list as to things that we should consider when thinking about fuel... how are you going to ensure that you avoid running out?
This way, you can talk with your instructors, and get some ideas. Then, we can compare lists.
Now, if any of you do run out in the next two weeks, let it be known that I told you to think carefully before you took off...
So, to be continued!
“In life,” it is often said, “attitude is everything!”
After all, keeping a positive outlook can really help one as they go about their day to day tasks. Looking on the bright—or sunny—side of things often eases a tough day. When everything seems to be crumbling and not go anything like you had hoped (for instance—your last attempt at a steep turn, or a “soft” soft-field landing!) how we respond to it will certainly have an effect on those who surround us—and ourselves.
Whatever happens in life, keeping a good attitude can make all the difference. Having a bad attitude, however, can end up breaking us.
“In life,” it is often said, “attitude is everything!”
It also turns out that this adage ends up being true whenever we go flying.
Proof of this can be found in an equation that all of us have learned and memorized from our earliest days of flying. It goes like this:
How often have you heard your instructor say “Watch your attitude?” Well, it is for good reason! Of course, it isn’t for quite the same reason that your Mom had when she used to warn you about a certain something with that “Motherly” tone of voice. You know—the one that she used on you when you refused to eat your broccoli! Rather, your instructor is appealing to the “equation” that we learned so early in our flight training—and to the very subject of our discussion here.
Last year at Oshkosh I can remember a number of pilots who sported fun T-Shirts that smartly gave this equation in a humorous pictorial form. What’s better, this shirt neatly linked together the sound of your Mom admonishing you to eat your broccoli with this important element of the flying world!
You see, these shirts have a drawing or a photo of an attitude indicator, and then just below it the phrase “Watch your Attitude!” They sell like crazy! I can hardly wait until someone comes up with the idea to link a button on the shirt to a battery pack that when pressed will utter the “watch your attitude” phrase in a voice that sounds just like Mom! Just imagine the sales then!
That aside--one of the most amusing things about these shirts is that attitude indicator is typically drawn showing the blue on the bottom, and the brown on top! This should not happen! (Unless, of course, you are doing aerobatics. That, however, is another story for another day!)
Now, before I go too much further, I want to take you back to the basics again. Yes, in time, that attitude indicator will be a much bigger part of your flying. This will become particularly apparent when you enter the world of instrument flying. For now, however, I want you to go back to grade school. Don’t stare at the attitude indicator. Now don’t go ignoring it entirely, but do not place your eyeballs on it in such a steady and laser like gaze that it starts burning holes in your instrument panel!
Well, back to the basics. Remember that as a VFR pilot, you are supposed to spend the most of your time looking outside. You see, that is where all of the other planes will be in their VFR worlds, and missing them is contingent on your eyeballs being outside! (By missing them I mean “not colliding” into them!)
The various flying “attitudes”—as we all should know by now—are not based on the way that you feel in the morning. Rather, our attitude when flying is based on the way things look outside. Where exactly are my nose and my wings relative to that horizon that I see in the distance?
If you don’t know this, then you are likely in big trouble!
The secret to good flying is maintaining a good attitude!
Now that said, let us not forget about the second part of the equation. Power is also an important component. Having a degree of strength gives us the ability to let that attitude act! (Ha! Get it?)
Put the nose in a certain position relative to the horizon, and your plane will behave a certain way. If we put the nose too high with not enough power, then we end up in a stall—as the saying goes, the houses get smaller. However, they will only do this for a little while, and then they will get bigger! Put the nose too low with too much power, and we are soon screaming along at the redline mark on our airspeed indicator. Doing this too much is certain to send pieces of our plane in every which direction—but mostly down. Down as in kind of like the broccoli that you would throw on the floor in a vain attempt to get your dog Fido to eat it.
(“Hmmmm...” you may have wondered, “if Fido won’t eat the broccoli, then can it really be all that good for me anyway?”)
It is important to memorize the various attitudes and the corresponding power settings that your instructor shows you. Watch where your nose is relative to the horizon, and be able to see small changes in the order of half degrees. Your airspeed indicator, Altimeter, VSI, and all those other performance instruments will then do exactly what you want them to be doing. They will become obedient to your every wish, instead of you seemingly having to constantly chase them and try to make them behave.
In fact, don’t forget that if you spend too much time chasing the instruments (too much head inside!) instead of keeping that attitude outside alright (more of the eyeball out!) it may turn out that your attitude Indicator ends up showing blue on bottom and brown on top.
This is just like those funny T-Shirts! Should you find brown on top, I can guarantee you that you will hear your instructor sounding very much like your Mom!
“Watch your attitude!”
Always strive to keep the sunny side up, (well, blue, actually!) and you will likely find that many things in flying—like in life—will go so much the better!