Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Planning A Long Cross-Country


As the old chestnut proclaims: prior planning prevents poor performance


As pilots, we're used to planning flights, and we know preparing for all eventualities helps ensure safer and less stressful flights. Often, trip planning is straightforward, but occasionally, trips involve traversing congested or complicated airspace, and sometimes they're long, multi-leg flights.

You might think that the longer flights take nothing more than normal flight planning and only involve sitting longer while en route, perhaps with a refueling stop or two. But there's much more to it than that, especially when the total trip distance is more than the range of your aircraft. I recently completed a 1,600-mile flight in my G1000-equipped Columbia across seven states, crossing three time zones, and then the return flight.

Is George Healthy?
Let's begin with a simple premise. We all know that single-pilot operations, especially if IFR, can be some of the toughest flying, and a working autopilot is a beneficial component for a safe long-distance flight. When you're contemplating many hours of flight, any of which might be IMC, having your favorite electronic copilot onboard and performing at 100% can be crucial to a comfortable and safe flight. In fact, Part 135 operations can require an operational autopilot for single pilot operations. Similarly, the concept of being prepared would encourage ensuring that any panel-mounted or portable navigators have data current for the entire duration of the trip.

Planning IsThe Key
The first step is basic planning: the route, intermediate refueling and overnight stops, and alternate airports in case you need a Plan B. Depending upon the weather, you might even consider fully preplanning Route B.

One concept that isn't always taken into account is that flying slower may sometimes mean an overall trip that's not as long and is less expensive. Most new aircraft's POHs provide a range of power-setting options, so it's possible to choose one that minimizes the number of stops.

Take my Columbia, for example. Operating lean of peak at 82% of rated power means that at 16,000 feet, I'll cruise at a TAS of 209 knots at 18 gph. By reducing power to 51%, the cruise speed slows to 174 knots, the fuel consumption is reduced to 12 gph, and the range increases from 803 miles to 1,143 miles. That's an increase of 340 miles. Comparing the power settings for a 2,000-mile trip, the lower power setting would take about an hour longer flight time, but it would require only one stop rather than two. Because of the additional time it takes to descend, refuel and return to altitude, the slower flight could take substantially less total time.

Don't forget to take the winds into account. Consider flying at lower power settings with a tailwind because you can decrease the flight time and/or the fuel consumed, and the reverse with a headwind. Also, if you visually review the winds over a large area, like all of the Western states for example, you might find that choosing a routing to the north of a high or low might provide more favorable winds than simply choosing the shortest distance between your departure and destination.



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