This guide will focus on all the necessary prechecks and precautions that a pilot must keep in mind when planning their cross-country getaway. Read on to find out more.
Planning the perfect getaway? Then there is no better way than a cross-country light aircraft trip! While many people think that planning a cross-country trip is a straightforward task, it requires quite a lot of planning and forethought, especially if you want it to be a truly memorable and risk-free trip.
This guide will focus on all the necessary prechecks and precautions that a pilot must keep in mind when planning their cross-country getaway in their light aircraft. By the end of this guide, you will learn about route planning, precautionary checks, weather assessments, and other factors that fall under regulation and common sense.
Why Choose Light Aircraft for Cross-Country Trips?
When it comes to cross-country trips, there are a wide range of aircraft that you can choose for your adventure. There are two common types of light aircraft that are perfect for the job:
- Fixed-wing light aircraft.
- Flex-wing light aircraft.
Fixed-Wing – A Traditional Cross-Country Flying Experience
Fixed-wing aircraft are a type of light aircraft that follows a traditional aeroplane design. It has rigid wings made from lightweight materials and excellent fuel efficiency and control. You also get a range of instruments that can be used to fly cross-country in various conditions, such as at night, or during a light fog. Of course, to fly outside of Visual Flight Rules, you will also need to possess the right certifications on top of your Private Pilot Licence (PPL).
Another benefit of flying these planes is that they offer more seating capacity than other light aircraft. For example, instead of just one or two people, fixed wings can seat up to six people depending on the model of the aircraft. This type of aircraft is perfect for when you want to take friends or family with you on a cross-country trip.
Due to their design, these aircraft also offer a higher level of control than other aircraft in the same category. Fixed wings are the default choice for people who want to train to become pilots too – and the best part is that there are several types of fixed wings that you can choose from depending on your needs.
Flex-Wing Aircraft – A Unique and Thrilling Ride
If you ask any pilot about their favourite type of light aircraft, then chances are that they will name flex-wings as one of the best types of aircraft to fly. As the name suggests, flex-wings have a wing system made using fabric that lightly flexes when in the air. The benefit of flying flex-wings is that they are incredibly light which makes them highly fuel-efficient – in other words, you can go further and explore more in these aircraft.
However, a fundamental drawback of these planes is that they don’t seat a lot of people. Most flex wings are designed to seat either one or two people at a time. While this aircraft wouldn’t be suitable for taking friends or family, it is the perfect aircraft for solo trips or when you want to take your significant other on an adventure of a lifetime!
To top it all off, these aircraft also feature an open cockpit design. This means that instead of a traditional fuselage, the only thing separating you from the outside environment is a windshield that is set at the front of the plane. This cockpit-less design truly makes flex-wings one of the best aircraft to fly because not only do you feel the air, but you also get a fantastic view of your surroundings.
This is primarily why these aircraft are used for sightseeing and photography. We highly recommend flex-wing aircraft to anyone who wants to take a life-changing adventurous trip with their loved one across the country!
Planning and Executing the Perfect Cross-Country Trip
Now that you have an idea about the perfect types of light aircraft for cross-country trips, let’s look at how you should plan and execute the trip for maximum fun and minimum risks.
Here is everything that you should know:
Coming up with a Robust Flight Plan
A flight plan is your best bet at reducing or even eliminating the risk associated with cross-country flights. The important thing to consider here is the duration of the flight. Since you will be travelling cross country, it is important that you consider everything about your flight. A typical flight plan includes small details like altitude, wind speed/direction, weather information, terrain type, duration, and more importantly, routes! Some of these details may seem trivial but they are incredibly important in planning a cross-country trip.
After drafting your flight plan using initial details, focus on where you want to visit. Keep all destinations in mind as this will help you come up with an effective route. Consider all the checkpoints in between like other airports, refuelling stations, and more.
Please keep in mind that there are many things that can potentially go wrong with long-distance flights, but luckily, you have a powerful tool that you can use to minimise these risks: your flight plan.
We recommend that you write up a detailed flight plan and then have it cross-checked by veteran pilots who can help you strengthen it – they may even help you come up with a completely new and better plan that can maximise your experience.
Checking for Weather
A thorough weather assessment isn’t just a formality but a strict requirement. If you are planning to go cross country, you will need to take into account even the smallest details about the weather on the day that you are planning to take off.
Look for current weather patterns and study past patterns as well. This will help you come up with the probability for the type of weather on that day. We highly recommend that you check aviation-approved weather sources and put emphasis on visibility, wind speed, or other related weather events.
Please note that you will only be allowed to fly under Visual Flight Rules (VFR) when operating light aircraft. Visual Flight Rules are a set of guidelines that dictate the appropriate conditions for flights. The only way you will be allowed to fly outside of VFR is if you have additional certifications related to instrument flying or if you have a Night Rating, which can allow you to fly in the dark.
Understanding Aircraft and Human Limitations
Understanding human and aircraft limitations is one of the best ways to reduce or eliminate risk from any flight. As mentioned, while rare, anything can go wrong on long-distance flights so it's better to secure yourself on all ends – which includes understanding the limitations of your aircraft and yourself. Start by considering the total duration of the flight and ask yourself if you can reliably complete the flight.
Some pilots, especially pilots with certain health conditions may not be able to complete long-distance flights – and that is completely okay. As long as you know your limitations and operate within them, you will always be safe, but if you knowingly push yourself then you will unnecessarily put your life and your aircraft at risk.
We recommend that you consider drafting an emergency plan as well. Drafting such a document can make all the difference during unforeseen circumstances. Always remember that great pilots with a track history of successful flights have a robust emergency plan in place.
Please also consider the limitations of your aircraft! A pilot must know all the details about their aircraft including fuel tank capacity, stall speed, top speed, braking capabilities, and more. Knowing these details can greatly improve your flight experience and may even help you get out of tough situations!
Regardless of whether you travel cross-country or not, you will always have to ensure that your aircraft is in top-notch condition before taking off. Several pre-flight checks must be satisfied before you even step inside the cockpit. This includes checking and rechecking fuel reserves, engine health, and other important details about the aircraft. Always make sure that your aircraft is up to date on its inspections and that it does not have any outstanding issues that may become a problem during your cross-country flight.
If you don’t have enough experience with these flight checks then we recommend that you take the help of your fellow aviators in determining the overall health of your aircraft. Top flight schools, like Sherburn Aero Club, also have in-house aircraft engineers that can help you diagnose and find issues in your aircraft before they pose a threat!
Checking for Restrictions and Obtaining Permissions
Before you take off, please familiarise yourself with all the appropriate airspace restrictions. This will help you plan a route around restricted airspace or momentarily restricted airspace, also known as Notice to Airmen (NOTAMs). Failure to adhere to these restrictions can result in serious action against the pilot. In severe cases, you might even have your licence temporarily, and even permanently, invalidated.
Another key factor in flying cross country in a light aircraft is to obtain all the required permissions related to your flight. Confirm whether you will require special permission to land at airfields! Please note that some private airfields will require you to take formal permission in order to land. In some cases, you might even be charged a landing fee, which you should take into account in your budget for the trip.
In the hours leading up to your flight, please go through all the necessary checks related to your aircraft, and its overall health, and double-check your flight plan. Make sure that there are no sudden changes in weather conditions and check for updates regarding temporary airspace restrictions.
Keep checking for weather updates until you take off! If there is any change in weather, it's better that you know on the ground than in the air, especially if you are flying a flex-wing light aircraft. Keep in mind that these aircraft may have an open cockpit design which means that you will be exposed to the environment. Any weather changes related to rain, hail, or fog may severely impact your flight so it's highly recommended that you be thorough!
If you do run into sudden bad weather, then you should refer to your flight plan which should highlight alternative routes. Remember, once you are in bad weather, the best strategy is to manoeuvre out of it, if possible. Your flight plan will contain a set of alternative routes that you can take without putting your journey at risk.
Finally, keep all necessary documents with you during your flight as you may be asked to produce them at various checkpoints.
If you have done everything correctly, then you will be able to execute a perfect and smooth cross-country flight. While the requirements for a cross-country trip may be strict, it is an important part of a pilot’s job – and if you follow these steps for every long-distance trip, it will become like second nature and you won’t have to spend a lot of time planning long-distance trips in the future!
Training for Cross-Country Flights in Light Aircraft
If you are ready to take on the world of aviation, then you must start with the basics. For the best experience, we recommend that you enrol in a top-notch flight school that can take you from the basics of aviation and guide you through the theoretical and practical knowledge required for a cross-country flight.
All pilots must go through a series of tests that eventually lead to a final cross-country flight that covers all aspects of a pilot’s training. Enrolling in a flight school will not only help you hone your piloting skills, but it will also give you access to a range of light aircraft that are perfect for cross-country flights!
Furthermore, experienced flight instructors can also help you guide you through your first cross-country flight. This is an extremely important step that can help you figure out the basics of planning for long-distance flights.
WHY CHOOSE SHERBURN AERO CLUB
Sherburn Aero Club, which has been operational since 1964, is the ideal place for most of your training and flying needs. It is one of the largest flying clubs in the North of England and also one of the largest in the country.
For those who wish to experience the thrill of a flight for fun or to help fuel their aviation dreams, Sherburn offers experience flights for the newbie, as well as the veteran in various types of light aircraft.
The flight experience option is also available for people who wish to take to the skies for special occasions, even if they aren’t into aviation in the long run.
If you wish to begin your career in aviation or wish to take to the skies as a hobby, Sherburn’s flight training school offers private and commercial licences, along with pilot medicals to ensure a smooth journey going forward.
With a large fleet of new aircraft and an airfield refurbishment with new runways, hangars, and an extended clubhouse, we cater to brand-new flyers who have just started their journey to the skies, as well as seasoned flyers who have been operating aircraft for decades.
Sherburn offers a dedicated day-long Flight Radiotelephony Operator’s Licence (FRTOL) course for those wishing to get the certification, running the first Sunday of every month.
In addition to that, if you are looking for a hangarage for your own aircraft, need servicing or repairs, want to buy a new aircraft or aviation equipment, or are just looking to enjoy and watch the aircraft, Sherburn Aero Club is the place to be.
Call us at 01977 682 674, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or message us via our online contact form for more information on light aircraft, training requirements, licencing procedures, and perfectly planning and executing a cross-country light aircraft trip!
Photo by Gary Ellis on Unsplash