Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Going The Distance

Tips for planning a long cross-country

going the distanceAs pilots, we’re used to flight planning. Flights are usually straightforward and easy to plan, but occasionally, they involve multiple legs and traversing congested or complicated airspace. Longer flights require more-than-normal flight planning. I recently completed a 1,600-mile flight in my Garmin G1000–equipped Columbia across seven western and midwestern states and three time zones. It was apparent to me that, to do it right, longer flights entail more than just sitting longer en route and making additional fuel stops, particularly when the flight is more than 1,000 miles." />
On The Road Again
Sure, you obtained a weather briefing and you’re prepared to begin the flight, but much of the time, the weather won’t be as forecast. For almost all long-range flights, weather becomes a tactical problem at some point. Use Flight Watch if you have no other options, but if you have an airplane with a Garmin 396, 496 or G1000, XM Satelite Weather can prove a lifesaver. The variety of weather data available is truly outstanding. [See the “Garmin G1000: Cross-Country Tips” sidebar for some useful tips.]

On a recent trip, all of the usual weather sources indicated that the Midwest was looking pretty risky, and the briefer specifically stated that an IFR flight might be difficult. I’ve flown western and midwestern states enough to know that the forecasts don’t necessarily paint the full picture. On this trip, although I was IMC and in rain for protracted periods, when the weather looked iffy, I was able to remain VMC by deviating. From the start of every trip, I use the G1000’s weather display to periodically check the weather at my final destination. On my trip, it rained at my destination throughout the entire day. Being aware of the weather was very useful because it encouraged me, while I was dodging thunderstorms, to think long and hard about Plan B. Luckily, when I arrived at my destination eight hours later, the rain had abated to light showers.

Any time you fly long distances, especially in the summer, you can expect convective activity. Many articles have been written on how to deal with thunderstorms, and the new weather displays certainly take some of the worry out of it. The smart pilot’s trick is simply to avoid thunderstorms entirely, and the best way to do that is to remain VMC for as long as possible. You’ll find that most controllers who operate in areas with convective activity will honor almost any request for deviations. If you need to deviate, ask for it early and try to fly upwind of the weather. Even though the frequency may be quiet, controllers often are busy on other frequencies, so ask early. Asking at the last minute might have you staring at a large dark cumuliform cloud with the chance of escape decreasing rapidly. You’re pilot in command, so you should use your authority to deviate if necessary. Just make sure you inform ATC.

A Long Way Home
Once you’ve successfully completed your trip, you only have one more objective: flying home. All of the flight planning needs to be done in reverse. The good news is that, for the most part, you can usually just reverse the original route. But weather can require different routing, so bring along all of your flight-planning tools. There’s great pleasure in completing a long and potentially difficult trip successfully. Airplanes are made to fly, so look at a map of the country and start planning!

Garmin G1000: Cross-Country Tips
When flying cross-country, the most important variables are weather and its effect on aircraft range. The Garmin G1000 provides some very useful tools to help manage both.

going the distance1) USE WINDS TO YOUR ADVANTAGE Weather briefings provide localized snapshots of forecast winds. Often, that isn’t good enough for an en route response to actual weather. The G1000 with XM Satellite Weather makes it a snap to visualize winds and determine the best altitudes and routings to benefit from them. Using the soft keys on the Weather Map page in the MFD, select Winds and the appropriate altitude, and you’ll be able to see a depiction of the prevailing winds. If you increase the map’s range to include your destination, you’ll have a sense of how to utilize winds or at least minimize their effect throughout the full trip.

going the distance2) STAY AHEAD OF THE WEATHER Once you’ve begun your flight, your best bet is to focus on each leg, but don’t forget the remainder of the trip. Set the Weather Map page on the MFD to display the appropriate types of weather information using the soft keys, and then increase the map’s range to include your destination. You’ll be able to see cells, fronts, AIRMETs and SIGMETs, etc. all the way to your destination. You don’t want to use the information to thread the needle through a gap in a front, but it can help you to make early routing decisions to avoid undesirable weather. For example, you can use it to stay upwind of cells, to take advantage of wind circulation around highs and lows, and to avoid areas with significant weather.

going the distance3) KNOW SURFACE WEATHER CONDITIONS The G1000 gives you a simple way to keep an eye on weather conditions near your aircraft and along your route of flight. Once again, configure the Weather Map page using the soft keys to show the METAR status for all airports that report ATIS, AWOS or ASOS. The color of a triangular flag by each airport icon indicates whether the airport is VFR, MVFR, IFR or LIFR. Increase the map display range to somewhere between 50 and a few hundred miles, depending upon the speed of your aircraft, and the flags will give you a general sense of the surface weather conditions throughout the area. You can even scroll the map to the area around your destination airport to get an overview of weather conditions on the ground near your destination.

going the distance4) USE THE FUEL RANGE RING TO HELP MANAGE FUEL Improper fuel management is one of the most common causes of aircraft accidents. The G1000’s Fuel Range Rings can prevent accidents from fuel exhaustion. From the MFD Navigation Map page, press the Menu soft key, press ENT for Map Setup, choose the Map group, and then change FUEL RNG to ON—two Fuel Range Rings will be displayed on the MFD Map page. The inner ring shows the remaining distance to reserve fuel, and the outer ring shows the remaining distance to empty tanks. The default reserve fuel time is 45 minutes. Change the time to reflect your personal minimums (think at least one hour). If your destination is outside the reserve fuel ring, then you don’t have enough fuel to meet your minimums. You can either divert or reduce power to see if the lower power setting and lower fuel consumption will allow you to land with appropriate reserves.

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