This post is part of the five pieces that make up 2013’s How To Fly Across.
Okay, so you are generally planned (“I’ve got to fly from KSMO to KHTO…”), you know your big problem (“getting past the Rockies is my challenge”) and how fortunate you are. You have made some basic rules for your flight, have everything packed up, but how do you approach each day?
With a lot of flexibility.
The wonderful thing about the modern aviation world is how much awareness you can have about the weather and route you are going to travel. I put in the end destination (usually KLEB) and study the weather on WeatherMeister (if I am on my laptop) or on ForeFlight (on the iPad or my iPhone). We are usually flying during the summer and I have strict rules about not tangling with thunderstorms (what with their ability to pull the wings off planes). So sometimes there is a delay for our launch, or we will alter our route a little to avoid a wing of storms sweeping across the country.
I look three hundred miles out to what will probably be the next stop. ForeFlight has a nice new range ring feature that lets me see where that is. In general, with the entire family on board, we lean toward the larger airports. Except for the times we have a really specific destination (like when we were looking for hill country BBQ in Texas), it is better to land at a Class C than an un-towered field. We are more likely to get a crew car we can use to find lunch, and more likely to have WiFi in the FBO so we can check email and weather.
I look up that possible airport and a couple others near it. I use AirNav and check the reviews of the FBO on the field (or compare them if there is more than one). Sometimes in the reviews of the FBO there will be an important piece of information like, “Stay away from Louie’s for lunch, terrible food.” Thanks!
When I am landing at a strange airport and there is anything unusual about it (KSEZ, Sedona, Arizona is on top of a mesa), I peek at the NTSB database and see what sort of accidents have occurred at that airport. For Sedona that was really helpful. There were a few planes that flew into the cliff walls just south of the airport. You could see, studying the topographical map, that when taking off to the south (the usual departure) there was a path out to the desert if you veered a little right (and followed the Interstate). Getting impatient and turning East too soon meant you might get up against that cliff face and panic. I thought about that a lot the first time we took off from Sedona.
Now we have ForeFlight in the cockpit while we are flying. We can do a lot of this planning on the fly (as it were) and make decisions about where to land with a lot of information at hand. There are lists of FBOs and attractions at every airport in ForeFlight. It is unfortunate that the people at AirNav seem so backward, because it would be ideal to have their text comments integrated into ForeFlight and available offline.
I took a flight recently from Santa Monica up to San Jose and I realized how simple and second nature this has become for me. And, ultimately, the trip across the country is really a series of flights that are very close to the duration from KSMO to KSJC.