Today will be awesome, I’m 35 hours in, and I get to fly over some cool parts of Missouri. It will also be the longest flight across the most varied terrain I’ve flown over. (That’s not saying much though)

The weather is perfect. We’re setting this flight up so I can get a feel for the terrain and the airports for my long solo XC.

We’re leaving from KCPS and heading down to KFAM, then up to KFES and finally back to KCPS. Round trip it should be over 100NM. I know this area well, I’ve camped and ridden down here all my life and it will be cool to see it from above. I’ve ridden dirt bikes through much of this area, mainly on powerline service trails and through parks. There is a bunch of elevation change and lots of bluffs.

Planning was simple. I entered airports into ForeFlight and… well, that’s it. ForeFlight takes the fun out of planning so I pulled out paper and pencil. Maybe it’s overkill to do it on paper but I was traveling non-stop for work and missed so many ground school classes that I need to reinforce the maths and algorithms used to actually plan a flight.

Learning weight and balance was painful and took me too long to get it right. It’s incredibly simple now that I look back but when I first looked at the ARM, MOM and the graphing it made ZERO sense. I forced myself through it several times with no success. Grant took me through it a few times over lunch but I still didn’t get it, I just nodded along hoping not to seem like an idiot. It’s not his fault, he’s a great instructor but I just don’t absorb things in class – I need to do them by hand several times. There is some weird misfire in my brain and learning new algorithms takes a bit longer with me. It does, however, explain much of my academic career… and very likely caused my parents to want to pull out their hair. I’ll be watching my kids for the same issues, I can already see it in my boy. I digress… Anyway, if you are having trouble email me. I’ll tell you what is working for me since so many things didn’t.

flight planningBack to the flight planning, so, ForeFlight sucks all the joy out of planning your flight so I went out and spent $11.00 on the paper sectionals and looked over it, drew on it, then I taped it up in my office. I highlighted the obstacles and memorized the airports, airspaces, and their frequencies. All of this planning didn’t help. As soon as we were in the air I hugged a bluff and got way off course but I’m getting ahead of myself.

I met Grant at the hanger and checked the weather. We were going to get lucky! (The weather has been terrible for a couple weeks.) I did another weight and balance and we called the fuel truck. We added 18 gallons which put us close to the limit. Still very safely inside the margins but close. We were flying in 969MH so we’d get to have an iPad on the counsel with us. Guimbal made this cool flip out holder which (supposedly) powers the iPad which means we can use ForeFlight and the stratux ADS-B I built. Sweet. In-flight weather and we get to see the traffic around us. Anyway, I did an extended preflight and got ready.

Getting out of KCPS was rough, there was a TON of traffic. We sat in a really long hover and when we did finally get out we were uncomfortably close to traffic. I was glad to have Grant there, I would have not been able to remain as calm if I was solo. [foreshadowing for my long solo xc] KCPS is a busy airspace, it certainly teaches you to be on the ball. I should note: even with all the stress of a busy airport I’d rather learn how to enter a pattern in a controlled space than in some untowered space. [more foreshadowing for my long solo xc] Anyway, we got out and headed south.

I had planned this flight really well or thought I did but somehow I managed to not follow my plan whatsoever. I punched in the airport in the GPS, did the same in ForeFlight and I had my paper plan with obstacles and markers to look for with me. For some reason I started tracking this bluff and just followed it. I have zero idea why I did that but instead of checking any of the 3 navigational aids I had in front of me I just followed the landscape for way too long. Grant kept trying to get me to follow my plan but for some reason I just tracked that bluff while he asked me questions about settling with power and landing in confined spaces. Finally he had enough of me flying to the south east and slapped my wrist. We turned more westerly and headed in to KFAM. On the way down there we saw a Bell doing some ag work, we adjusted our course and watched him work the fields for a bit, he was low, super fast and doing amazing things. That’d be a cool job. Goals.

I made the appropriate calls as we passed other airports and we slid into KFAM without seeing any other traffic. We turned out of the airport and headed north to KFES. The wind was light and variable and as I made my approach it changed 180, we were effectively coming in with a very slight tailwind at the very last second. It literally changed as we passed the tetrahedral. Weird. We turned northly and headed back to KCPS.

I tuned in KCPS and the approach was uneventful. We set down with little effort. Man that was cool.

All in all it was an awesome flight. Just under 2 hours of flight time brings me to 37 total and I felt comfortable to fly it by myself.

Here are takeaways…
I’m downplaying getting out of KCPS a bit. By busy I mean it was BUSY. KCPS has news helicopters based there, medical helicopters, regional jets(I’ve seen a larger Delta jet take off from 30R), military traffic, tourist flights and a large university’s flight school all in this little old class D. The controllers had their hands full that day. It’s important to be brief on the radio. Know what you are asking for and be ready to respond when they get back to you. Also keep your eyes out for traffic. Again, I wouldn’t have it any other way. Learning at some tiny airport where you were never be around traffic would be a HUGE disadvantage and scare the crap out of me when you finally get around an airspace that is busy. I’m not saying you should go learn at LGA but if your intent is to be a professional pilot you need to understand what it’s like to be in an airspace that has a reasonable amount of traffic.

Planning a flight is important. I’m writing this after I’ve flown my long solo XC and something I depended on didn’t work out as planned. Redundancy is important. Plan, plan then plan some more. Don’t depend on ForeFlight or a GPS as your entire flight plan. Know how to use the instruments in the aircraft you intend to fly.

We as humans tend to follow natural landmarks or highways. Don’t do that. Follow your GPS track or maps.

Lastly – hindsight is 20/20… flying is cool, ground school is boring and painful… keep up with your ground school and when you can, tie them into your helicopter time. Look at the instruments, see that VOR, it isn’t there just to look weird and not do anything. It’s going to be on your written and might be on your oral and you WILL have to know how to use it. Have your instructor dial in a radial and explain how that works when you are in the air so PRACTICAL EXPERIENCES MATCH THE BOOK LEARNING. I promise a VOR will make far far far more sense if you see one in use and then your instructor explains what it actually does. I hate VORs.