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Cross Country Adventures
One aspect of flight training that most pilots never gain exposure to is cross country flying. And by cross country flying, I am not referring to the 50 mile requirement for every private pilot. I am referring to cross country training in the literal since; flying across the United States of America. I just returned from such a flight beginning at Flying Cloud Airport and ending at Tampa Executive Airport (7 hours of flying and 1200 miles). The knowledge and experience gained from a flight of this time, distance and difficulty encompasses the skills required for every private pilot or instrument rated pilot.
I always look forward to the days leading up to such a long cross country. I view the flight more as a mission to get somewhere than a typical training session. I enjoy the strategy session prior to departure as much as the flight itself. The strategy on a long flight like this starts with interpreting the weather and then developing a plan to overcome it. In small aircraft this plan normally starts by figuring out a route, altitude, and departure time to stay clear of thunderstorms, icing, low clouds, low visibility, headwinds and terrain. The next part of the strategy is making sure that there is a plan B and always a safe “out” in the event that the strategy that was planned didn’t work.
On the actual flight there are lessons learned that are difficult to encounter and address on the typical 50 mile cross country training flight. These training opportunities include, unfamiliar clearances and routing, talking with ATC en route (including accents), fatigue and its effects, diversions, route changes, and fuel management to just name a few. One of the most valuable lessons learned is the thought process and decision making steps that must occur when unexpected circumstances like mechanical issues, unexpected weather, or passenger needs arise.
For me, this cross country represented more than a piloting adventure. It also allowed for a trip down memory lane with regards to my own flight training. I flew over where I received my Sea Plane Rating where the Rock River joins the Mississippi River. Minutes later I saw the airport where I took my Instrument Rating. Later in the flight I went over the Wabash River which I spent hundreds of hours flying over when I taught in West Lafayette, Indiana. Towards the end of the trip we flew down the coast of Florida which reminded me of one of my earliest logbook entries on a similar trip with my father.
Going on a flight of this nature will help you correlate all of your previous training and use it to accomplish the goal of getting somewhere. There is also no better confidence builder than to plan a long flight and carry it out. After a long flight, it is rewarding to sit over a nice meal and enjoy the accomplishment and adventure of piloting your own plane from the Great North to destinations unknown.
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