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What You Need to Know About Planning Your First Solo Cross-Country Flight

As students progress through flight school, there are certain milestones everyone reaches – from the first take-off to manning the control wheel without a flight instructor to recovering a stall. There are many significant points throughout training that stick with a young pilot. Perhaps the most significant, however, is the first solo cross-country flight.

Let’s explore some aspects of a solo cross-country flight and how you can prepare for a successful trip.

How Long is a Cross-Country Flight?

A cross-country solo flight must consist of:

Flight of 50 nautical miles total point to point distance from the departure airport to another airport.

There is also a long cross country required that must be:

  • flight of 150 nautical miles total distance
  • full-stop landings at three points
  • one segment of the flight consisting of a straight-line distance of more than 50 nautical miles between the takeoff and landing locations
  • three takeoffs and three landings to a full stop (with each landing involving a flight in the traffic pattern) at an airport with an operating control tower

In order to obtain a private pilot certificate, students must meet these specific cross-country flight requirements. In addition to the 20 hours minimum flight training with an instructor, students must complete 10 hours minimum of solo flying in a single-engine airplane, including the solo cross-country requirements defined above.

For those students that don’t know if they’re qualified to undergo their first solo flight, look at FAR 61.93 for specific training requirements.

Before a student pilot can fly cross-country alone in a single- or multi-engine airplane, that pilot must have received and logged training in a number of different areas, such as understanding airspace regulations, reading weather patterns and completing certain maneuvers.

Tips for Planning Your First Solo Cross-Country Flight

When it comes to planning your first cross-country flight, pilots should follow the tips below to help ensure a safe, successful and fun experience.

Pre-Flight Planning

Take your time on planning. Begin planning your first solo cross-country flight route several days before take off by reviewing your flight school materials, textbooks and flight notes. GPS and other navigational tools can be used to help plan the trip, but many flight instructors will require you to do your first couple of solos the traditional way, using paper logs and maps. It is important to be proficient in the basic functions of the GPS, but you shouldn’t be overly dependent on it until you have mastered the basics of navigating the air. Always remember to bring your navigation log to keep track of checkpoint times, radio frequencies and diversion points.

Examine Weather Conditions Along Your Route

Beyond planning your route, perhaps the most important task during planning is examining and monitoring the weather along your route. Use all available data to make your flight plan, and outline a solid diversion plan should you come across adverse weather conditions or mechanical problems. Study and keep note all of the airports along your route, as well as the best alternates, in case you need to change your flight path due to inclement weather.

Know When to Wait it Out

Is weather an issue? Are you suffering from sleep deprivation? Don’t make the mistake of taking-off if you don’t feel comfortable or properly prepared. With certain situations such as rough turbulence, low visibility or even pilot fatigue, flying becomes much more dangerous. Make a plan, but also be sure to listen to weather reports, air traffic controllers and your own body if you’re not ready to fly. It’s better to be safe than sorry!

Review Air Traffic Control Frequencies and Communication Procedures

A key part of flying is knowing who you will be talking to and when. Review all of your communication procedures and frequencies so you know who you will talk to first, second and so on, as well as what to expect en route to your destination. If you are fairly new to the concept of “flight following”, simply ATC’s tracking of both your own and others’ planes, watch a YouTube video to know what to say and what to expect with readbacks and handoffs. You should also discuss this with your flight instructor or other, more experienced pilots who may have good insights and tips. Long flights also provide the perfect opportunity to rehearse your radio communications. Having ATC following your aircraft is extremely valuable as they’re your first resource in the event of an emergency, and keep you at a safe distance from other aircraft, so it’s vital you know proper communication protocol in the air.

Know Arrival Procedures

On the day of the flight, be sure to call your destination airport to find out the right runway to land at, inquire about fixed-based operator (FBO) availability and check local weather conditions. Upon landing, you may need fuel, oil, deicing services, supplies or even just a 30-minute break in the pilot’s lounge, so make sure the FBO can accommodate you and your aircraft.

Plan Your Return Trip

Don’t forget the return leg! Sometimes, you can put so much thought into just getting to your destination that you can forget to properly plan the return leg. Essentially, do the same tasks you did for your outbound trip; make sure to examine the weather at the time of your return and make all the necessary calculations to get yourself home safely.

Challenge Yourself

If you’ve already flown to a certain airport with an instructor, then you are most likely familiar with the route. If your program allows, don’t be afraid to challenge yourself by flying to a new airport which will aid in furthering your flight knowledge and piloting skills. Setting course for a new destination on your cross-country flight can provide an unique challenge that will help you further your skills sets and can boost your confidence in the sky.

Preparing for your Cross-Country Flight

Undertaking your first cross-country flight is an essential part of obtaining your private pilot certificate. Always take the proper amount of time to conduct pre-flight planning and discuss flight procedures with your instructor. There’s nothing more exhilarating than breaking free from the restraints of flying with an instructor and completing your first successful solo cross-country flight. So, when the planning is done, don’t forget to enjoy yourself – after all, this is perhaps the most exciting part of your flight training. Have a great time!

Do you want to learn how to fly? Get in touch with the flight instructors at Inflight Pilot Training today.

We are a premier pilot training company serving the Twin Cities and surrounding areas. With a reputable training program and an extensive roster of highly skilled, certified flight instructors, it’s our goal to help you achieve the rating or certification you want. We can help you reach your goals – get in touch with our team of flight instructors to find out more.

For additional information on Inflight training programs, contact us today or call (952) 698-3000.