The Federal Aviation Administration defines a “cross country flight” as a flight that “requires a point of landing that is more than 50 nm straight-line distance from the original point of departure.” As a part of the training to obtain a private pilot certificate, the student must accomplish at least 3 hours of dual cross country training, and at least 5 hours of solo cross country flying (along with some additional distance and leg requirements) and a dual night cross country flight.
Soon after my first solo flight, Evelyn Johnson my instructor began preparing me to begin the next phase of training, which was cross-country flying. Now, this training took place long before we had GPS satellite navigation in our aircraft. We were using land based navigational aids such as the NDB (non-directional beacon) and VOR (VHF omnidirectional range) that showed us with some precision, where we were throughout the flight.
Before we ever jumped into the airplane and took off for a distant airport, I spent hours studying about Sectional Charts, the navigational aids just mentioned, and how to: plot a course, correct for wind drift, correct for magnetic deviation, plan time and fuel usage. I learned about controlled airspace, how to communicate with Air Traffic Control, and how to understand the different runway markings and taxiway signs. All of this study took a few weeks and during that time, I would go to the airport and cram, and spend some solo time perfecting my landings and maneuvers.
Eventually, Evelyn said, “I think we are ready for our first cross-country flight, Eric.” I want you to plan a trip the Tri-Cities Airport for our next lesson. Do all of the planning and conduct a “Weight and Balance” check for the flight. Bring all of your planning to me and we will review it, and then we will make the flight.
The following week I showed up with all of my flight planning materials, and Evelyn meticulously reviewed all of my paperwork. She made some suggestions and corrections but overall, I had successfully planned for the flight. “OK Eric, go on outside and pre-flight the plane, and I will be out in a minute,” she commanded. Soon we were rolling down the runway and climbing out to our cruise altitude of 3,500’ MSL. I leaned the engine, checked out all the of the engine instruments, and turned to my True Heading, which should have taken us to Tri Cities airport.
After a few minutes Evelyn asked me, “Eric, where are you, show me on the chart?” I looked outside and looked at the chart and said, “I’m lost.” “OK Eric, where is the largest road below us,” she asked. “Right there Evelyn,” I pointed. “What road do you think that is on the chart,” she pointed. “This one I believe, because there is a railroad track paralleling the road, and here it is on the chart,” I said. “You’re right Eric,” she beamed. “Now keep your head out the window, check your Directional Gyro and maintain your True Heading, and in a few minutes tell me where you are again,” she directed.
I was able throughout the rest of the flight to show Evelyn where I was at all times. I was able to use dead reckoning and pilotage, to make the flight all the way to Tri-Cities airport. Soon we landed safely, and we went into the FBO to ask the attendant to sign my logbook as proof of my landing. “When you do this flight solo Eric, make sure you get someone to sign your logbook to show you were here,” she pointed. “So Eric, on our way back, I want you to try and navigate home using pilotage and dead reckoning, but I also want you to fly the VOR from the Tri –Cities back home,” she stated. Again, we took off and headed back home. I picked up my True Heading, leaned the engine, and checked all the engine instruments. “All OK,” I said. “OK, let’s pickup the 265 degree FROM radial from the Holston Valley VOR, and see if you can track it back home,” Evelyn taught. I did and I was able to correct for the southerly winds that were blowing us off course.
Soon, were back home on the ground and Evelyn spent some time critiquing our flight and providing me with some really fine instruction. “OK Eric, you did very well today; next flight we will go to McGhee Tyson and then Chattanooga airport for your next cross-country,” she said. “Do all of your planning and let’s discuss it before we go,” she said. That next flight went very well, and I learned quite a bit through some mistakes I made. Evelyn taught me on that flight how I could contact the Flight Service Station in the event I became lost. She also taught me how to use the NDB to track my progress and to navigate using that instrument.
My next phase of training was my solo cross countries, where I took off from that little airport and flew to Tri Cities airport all by myself, and then the next flight which was Morristown to Tri-Cities to Morristown to Knoxville to Chattanooga and back. All of those flights were safe and yet, I learned so much from some minor mistakes. With all of my cross-country flights complete, the next phase of training included night flying and the preparation for my check ride. I will share more about those flights in my next blog post.