Cross Country Planning

Objective

Understand the tasks associated with cross-country flights and VFR flight planning.

Reading

This is the required reading for this lesson. Numbers in [brackets] indicate the starting and ending page in the referenced reading material. Read all the pages and sections referenced.

Summary

The notes below highlight the important parts in the referenced material. Reading the notes without having read the actual referenced material is generally not sufficient to pass the written exam!

PHAK - Chapter 16

  • Getting the charts
  • Coordinates
  • Magnetic Variation
  • Calculations
    • Time, speed, distance
    • Fuel consumption
    • Wind drift
  • Tools
    • Websites
    • Spreadsheets
    • Flight Calculators (E6B)
  • Navigation using
    • Dead reckoning
    • Landmarks

Sim Pilot Notes

These notes highlight the differences between simulator and real-world flying. These differences are most often due to simulator limitations or specific VATSIM rules.

PHAK - Chapter 16

  • All listed CTAF frequencies listed on charts are replaced by VATSIM's Unicom frequency 122.800
  • Navigation using landmarks can be challenging in a simulator depending on the quality of the scenery

AIM Para. 5-1-5

  • A flight plan is not required for VFR flight however it is strongly recommended that you file one.
  • For VFR flight above 2,900 AGL the correct cruising altitude is:
    • Magnetic Track 000-179 - Odd 1000's + 500 feet
    • Magnetic Track 180-359 - Even 1000's + 500 feet
  • /U: your plane maybe has some sort of radio nav capabilities, but doesn't have a DME receiver, so it can't display the distance to the tuned station.
  • /A: your plane has radio nav capabilities that include a DME, but doesn't have any system (such as an Inertial Navigation System, or a GPS) which would allow it to navigate directly to any point that isn't located at a radio beacon.
  • /W: you can fly in RVSM but have no GPS and no FMC.
  • /G: you have an aircraft which has a fully-functioning GPS with route-editing capability, and/or a Flight Management Computer. However, you are a GA aircraft and/or otherwise not an aircraft capable of flying at FL290 or higher. This is the code VATSIM controllers generally expect to see a GA aircraft with GPS using.
  • /L: you have an aircraft which can fly in RVSM (that is, at or above 29,000) with a fully-functioning GPS with route-editing capability, and/or a Flight Management Computer. Typically a jet aircraft: either an add-on that comes with a GPS or FMC, or, a default plane with an add-on module that functions as your FMC.

Flight Planning using SkyVector

Although all calculations can be performed by hand using paper charts and a calculator, probably the best tool available to VFR pilots today is SkyVector (www.skyvector.com). Although primarily a chart website for real-life aviation, SkyVector is able to be used for simulated flight as long as you do not try to file a flight plan. After creating an account (and accepting all the disclaimers) it is possible to create airplane profiles which will assist with time and fuel calculations. All calculations in this example use numbers obtained from the POH for a 1976 Cessna 172 (172M).

As an example, we will plan for a flight from Astoria Regional (KAST) to Tillamook (KTMK), a short flight along the Oregon coast and similar in length to the one that you will be assigned for the checkride. By hovering the cursor over the airports, you can see both the current METAR as well as well as the Terminal Area Forecast (TAF). We have entered the aircraft that we set up in the profile and an altitude of 3,500 feet. In the flight plan window we can see the distance, the Estimated Time Enroute (ETE) as well as the expected fuel burn (in gallons).

SkyVector Flight Plan

Since SkyVector is aware of the real-life weather, it is able to perform wind correction en-route as well as converting the true heading shown on the charts to the magnetic heading used for navigation. Now, by selecting the Nav Log link, SkyVector will calculate all the necessary numbers to perform our flight. However, although all the calculations have been performed for us behind the scenes, we still need to know what all these numbers mean. So let us have a look at the generated log in details:

SkyVector Nav Log

  • Starting in KAST and climbing to 3,500 feet
    • The winds are reported 064 at 3 knots, temperature is 9 degrees Celsius (7 degrees below standard).
    • True airspeed in climb will be 71 knots
    • We will track 177 degrees True, True heading is 174 degrees, correcting three degrees for wind, magnetic variation is -15 degrees
    • Magnetic heading to fly is 159 degrees, Ground speed will be 72 knots and Distance to top of climb (TOC) will be 11.6 NM
    • It will take 9 minutes to climb to 3,500 feet and we will burn 1.7 gallons of fuel (with 35.2 remaining in tanks - we used up 1.1 gallons during startup and taxi)
  • At our cruise altitude of 3,500 feet we can expect:
    • Winds 343 at 16 and temperature 12 degrees Celsius (3 degrees above standard)
    • True airspeed in cruise will be 100 knots as indicated in our Flight Plan
    • We will track 177 degrees True, True heading is 179 degrees, correcting two degrees for wind, magnetic variation is -15 degrees
    • Magnetic heading to fly is 164 degrees, Ground speed will be 115 knots and the Distance in cruise will be 28.6 NM
    • We will cruise for 15 minutes (for an accumulated total of 24 minutes) and we will burn an additional 1.7 gallons of fuel (with 33.5 remaining in the tanks).
  • During our descend into KTMK we can expect:
    • Winds 356 at 13 and temperature 13 degrees Celsius (4 degrees above standard)
    • True airspeed during descend will be 105 knots
    • We will track 177 degrees True, True heading is 177 degrees, no need to correct as the wind is directly behind us, magnetic variation is -15 degrees
    • Magnetic heading to fly is 162 degrees, Ground speed will be 118 knots and the Distance during descend will be 4.3 NM
    • We will cruise for 2.4 minutes (for an accumulated total of 26 minutes) and we will burn an additional 0.2 gallons of fuel (with 33.3 remaining in the tanks).

Note: To convert true heading shown on paper charts and in on-line METARs, you need to add or subtract the magnetic variation. SkyVector already displays the magnetic heading on the chart so in calm wind conditions, that would be the heading to fly! The variation can be found on the airport diagram - the closest airport with a diagram is Portland. The chart is showing a variation of 15.7 degrees East. "East is least - West is best". We subtract 15 from our true heading of 177 and get a magnetic heading of 162 degrees.


Tomas Hansson (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.)
Chief Flight Instructor, VATSTAR
DISCLAIMER: all information contained herein is for flight simulation purposes only.
March 2021

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