View Full Version : Cross-country planning advice needed

07-14-2014, 05:32 PM
I've completed my first solo x-country flight and will do my 150nm flight this Friday. I could use a bit of advice.

The long leg includes flight over part of Pennsylvania that is somewhat short on good checkpoints. I'm flying from KMPO (Mount Pocono) to KIPT (Williamsport). The first half of the leg is no problem, including flight through Wilkes-Barre airspace and good visual references. The second half of the leg is where it gets tricky. My instructor told me that all his students who choose this route all pick the little town of Benton and then never find it. Looking at Google's satellite view, I can see why, it's nestled in a valley that runs perpendicular to the flight path. There are a few roads on the chart that cross my flight path that I could use, but I'm leery of this because the chart doesn't have every road and one two-lane looks like almost every other two-lane.

So my question is this: What is the best practice in this case? I could certainly fly to the Williamsport VOR, but that defeats the purpose of demonstrating pilotage. Any advice would be appreciated.

champ driver
07-15-2014, 07:22 PM
Looking at Google maps and a very old sectional I have here, I see your route. If I have the correct airports, it's only 70 nm total, and the first half has relatively easy landmarks, so that only leaves you with about 35 miles to worry about, is that correct? How long does it take you to fly 35 miles in your plane with no wind, about 20 minutes as a rough guess? You and your instructor know the area much better than me, but, I don't see too much problem with using Benton as a checkpoint. It doesn't look like it's in a very steep valley, more like a shallow open valley to me.

If you can hit your first checkpoints in the first half you should be able to fly the rest of the way without any problems. You do need to hit the first ones on course, especially the last good one where you cross the river between Wanamie on the right and Shickshinny on the left. Also, there is a very distinctive zig zag in the river there, you should be about 2 miles north of the one bend. If you can hit that on course, just hold the same course the rest of the way and you should be close. The winds should change very little along the way, unless there's a cold front passage or something like that. Benton, from the bend in the river is only 13 miles, maybe 10 minutes. I see a small narrow lake on the north side of your course about 4 miles from the river, you should be able to see that on your right. From there, Benton is only another 9 miles, or 8 minutes. There is a kind of crossroads near Benton too 3 intersections within about a 6 mile diameter. You should be able to pick out the larger roads, they'll be paved, the smaller ones may be dirt.

When flying, pick a target, something on your course in the distance, a peak, a big white barn, something, anything to aim at and then fly the heading to maintain a track right to that target, as you go along you pick new targets one after the other. That will help you maintain a course too. Don't spend too much time looking down at maps and doing paper work, you may drift off course when you're not paying attention.

Like your instructor said, you may not see Benton, then again you might. If not, it's only 24 more miles to go, maybe 20 minutes, Williamsport is a large town, at least 5-7 miles diameter, that a pretty big target to hit, and you should see it coming from 5-10 miles away. Plus that large bend in the river leads you right to the airport.

What altitude are you planning on flying? The higher you fly the easier it is to see landmarks. Plus you can also set the VOR up for a checkpoint with a crossing radial. Set the VOR on the 198 degree radial, which is right over the big bend in the river at Muncy. If when you cross that radial and don't see the river, you're probable too far north, if you were too far south you're close enough that you should still see the river. Does that make sense?
That bend in the river is only 5 miles from the airport and you should see it from there.

Let me know if this helps and if you have any other questions,

07-16-2014, 09:23 AM

That's exactly the sort of advice I was looking for. Thanks so much for taking the time to give me such a detailed reply! I'm thinking of either 4500MSL or 6500MSL depending on the sky conditions. The forecast is calling for partly cloudy conditions, so I'll have to see what I get before I decide.

champ driver
07-16-2014, 02:38 PM
Oh, I forgot to tell you the most important thing, don't forget to have fun and enjoy the experience!

07-17-2014, 06:39 AM
I am really looking forward to it, I'm sure it will bring some new challenges, but I've done my homework (I spent two hours last night preparing my trip log and notes and reviewing procedures). I took a step back and thought that it's a x-country, not strictly 100% pilotage so I incorporated your suggested Williamsport VOR references into that last part of the first leg. The last leg will be almost pure VOR with the visual references as backup. The weather forecast looks fabulous, a nice fat high-pressure area all over the northeast with calm winds, a great day to fly!

champ driver
07-19-2014, 06:59 PM
Well, how did it go?

07-19-2014, 09:04 PM
It went well. My instructor had some suggestions (which come from his experience) and we tweaked my checkpoints. That made it much easier to navigate. I hit the radial you suggested, right over Benton, so that worked well. I did a couple of touch-and-goes at Williamsport (after having a really tasty lunch at the Cloud 9 restaurant which I highly recommend!) and then headed for KSEG. I did a go-around on my first approach, I was too high on final, but the second attempt went smoothly. The leg from KSEG to KMPO was a piece of cake. Visually, I had the river on my left for the first half but since I was tracking the VOR, it really could not have been easier. It was a beautiful day for flying!

Today, we finished up a number of things. I spent most of the time under the hood which began with a zero-zero takeoff then a flight of about 20 miles to Wyoming Valley airport and an approach to short final. Wyoming Valley has a grass strip as well as the paved runway, so I did my first grass takeoff. Then it was over to KAVP for some tower-controlled pattern work and then back under the hood for unusual attitudes and then another approach to landing at KMPO. I still had some time left, so my instructor left me to do some solo pattern work. On my first landing, when I changed my viewpoint just prior to the round-out, I saw a line of turkeys crossing the runway right in my way. I applied full power and executed a go-around. The lesson I learned is not to assume anything. Next time, I'll take a quick glance down the runway a bit earlier so that, should a go-around be necessary, I'll have a bit more time to react properly. In hindsight, I think I was just a bit worn out from a lot of concentrated work and should have just called it a day, another lesson learned.

It turns out that I need a bit more solo x-country time to meet the FARs, so next week I'll finish that up. My instructor says he thinks I'm ready for my check-ride. Our next time together will be for a simulated checkride after which he will sign me off. So, weather and schedule permitting I"m about two-to three weekends away!

07-20-2014, 03:14 AM
Very good! Glad you're having fun.

11-26-2014, 08:38 AM
Gday from Aussie you blokes,this thread brought to mind a friend of mine who was doing a navex and set off into to the bush out the back of Kalgoorlie in Western Australia,just two way points,one was a homestead on a station. On the way there the weather closed in and he just turned around and went home. After landing and at the aeroclub bar he was expressing his disappointment to his instructor that he would have to do it again when the weather cleared up. He was very surprised when his instructor said that he had signed off on that exercise as he had made all the right decisions and came home because of weather and that is what these exercises are all about,making good decisions. Cheers Ross