Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Planning A Long Cross-Country

As the old chestnut proclaims: prior planning prevents poor performance

On The Road Again
Sure, you obtained a weather briefing and you're prepared to begin the flight, but often, the actual weather won't match the forecast. For long-range flights, weather often becomes a tactical problem at some point. Use Flight Watch if you have no other options, but having satellite weather can prove a lifesaver. The variety of weather data available is truly outstanding.

On my recent trip, all of the usual weather sources indicated the Midwest looked pretty risky. The briefer specifically said that an IFR flight might be difficult. I've flown the Western and Midwestern states enough to know that the forecasts don't necessarily paint the full picture. On a recent trip, 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 another 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, as 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 them entirely, and the best way to do that is to remain VMC as much as possible. You'll find that most controllers that operate in areas with convective activity will pretty much honor any request for deviations. If you're going to need to deviate, ask for it early and usually try to fly upwind of the weather. Even though the frequency may be quiet, the controller is often busy on another frequency, so ask early. Asking at the last minute might have you staring at a large dark cumuliform cloud with your options for escape narrowing 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 completed your outbound trip successfully, you only have one more objective: the flight 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!


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