Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, February 11, 2014

20 Tips For VFR Flying

These ideas may not save your life, or maybe they will

VFR flying can be more difficult than you might imagine. Accident statistics are studded with reports of highly qualified pilots getting themselves into unfathomable situations, usually as a result of a comedy of errors. Accordingly, we've put together a series of suggestions that cover a variety of problems and situations. There are only 20 listed below, but we could have added another 50 or so without breaking a sweat. Some of these don't relate to emergencies; they're associated with common-sense procedures to make VFR flying easier, safer and more fun.

1 Despite the near-universal adoption of GPS for en route navigation, resist the temptation to simply dial up the identifier of your destination and fly direct. Consider instead putting together a flight plan that includes slight deviations to stay near highways, airports or flat terrain. You'd be amazed how far you can deviate from a Great Circle route without adding significantly to total distance.

2 Think twice about cruise altitude. On short trips, the tendency is often to level at 4,000 to 7,000 AGL. Higher is nearly always better, for several reasons. Fuel burn is less, the airplane may actually be faster up high, and range will be extended. Most general aviation airplanes can reach 8,000 to 10,000 feet in only five to seven minutes more, and they'll be above much of the other traffic, benefit from longer radio range, usually operate above the convection layer in smoother air and have a larger pad of sky beneath them in the event of a problem.

3 While it's true you don't always have to fill the tanks, and tankering six hours of fuel for a one-hour flight is excessive—you have to burn fuel to carry fuel—remember the catch phrase of many fighter pilots: The only time you can have too much fuel is when you're on fire. You may never know what circumstances will dictate the need for more fuel, but if you don't have any extra, it won't matter. It's nearly always a good idea to carry as much fuel as possible, cabin payload and CG permitting, of course.

4 Make it a point to clean at least the windshield and front side windows every time you fly. My friend, well-known author and humorist Rod Machado, does that religiously, and if it's good enough for Rod, it's good enough for me. I've had too many instances of spotting another aircraft coming right at me, only to discover it's a bug spot with the light hitting at exactly the correct angle.

5 Get in the habit of minimizing extra weight by storing it in your locker or hangar. Obviously, this applies equally to VFR and IFR flying. Extra weight slows you down. You might be surprised at the amount of useless junk you're carrying around for no good reason. I did a little housekeeping to my airplane a few months ago and managed to find 50 pounds of miscellaneous stuff that I had been too lazy to off-load: extra oil, extra tool kits, extra tiedown kits, charts for most of the Western hemisphere, kneeboards, enough pens to write War And Peace, four sets of chocks (metal, wood, composite and unidentified), several IFR hoods, a couple of outdated show programs for Oshkosh, five life preservers (for a four-seat airplane), three cans of wax, two backup portable GPS units…you get the idea. Also, store whatever you do carry aboard as far aft in the airplane as convenient. The farther aft the CG (obviously inside the envelope), the faster you'll cruise.


Add Comment