The cross country phase of your initial fight training is some of the most fun you will ever has a pilot. It is the first time you will ever be able to explore from the air! Here are some ways to get the most out of your x/c training experience:
- Visit a place, not just an airport: most students on their cross country flying will land at their destination airport, turn around and come back. This is fine for those first solo x/c flights but eventually you should plan to stop at your destination airport, park, secure the airplane, and go off airport to visit something. Go get lunch somewhere on Nantucket (KACK), go see the Cape Cod National Seashore (KPVC), or even Niagara Falls (KIAG). This will force you to learn how to interact with an FBO if there is one, examine the weather forecast over a much longer timeframe, and give you some pretty great bragging rights to your friend about what you did yesterday.
- Mix up the airspace: You should make a point to go to airports of all shapes and sizes. Controlled, uncontrolled, large and small (within limitations of course.) You need to be comfortable going in and out of all of these types of airports and how they each operate differently.
- Go further than you have to: This especially applies to flight students working on their commercial certificates. The regulations state that a cross country is a flight 50nm from the original point of departure to a destination with a landing. Do not do yourself the disservice of trying to plan flights that are only in the 50-60 mile range. With guidance from your instructor, take on flights that will send you further out to 100 miles, 150 miles, 200 miles or more. The more distance you cover the more you will learn. No one ever said they had too many hours in their logbooks.
- Test yourself: We can all plug an airport into a GPS and follow the line on the screen there. While it is fine to have that running as a safety backup, test your pilotage and dead reckoning skills while you are up there. There may come a day when a navigational aid fail you and you have to rely on this type of training to solve your problem. There is going to be plenty of time to enjoy the scenery from altitude but don’t let that get in the way of you becoming a better pilot.
- Test your plan every day: Write up a flight plan to somewhere fun and far, preferably to the max range of your airplane from your home airport. Leave that flight plan loaded in to whatever app or website you use as a flight planning tool for a week when there is forecast to be some type of weather rolling through. Check in on it every day and take note of how the changing weather effects the times, headings, and fuel burns. As a front comes through you may see those numbers change drastically. Constantly ask yourself whether or not it would be a good day for that flight based on the current and forecast weather. Is the weather good along the entire route? Is there going to be a turbulence? Where and why would that happen along the route? This is a great exercise to build your ability to analyze a situation from the comfort of your home.