VFR Flight Planning, Routes
Preflight planning is a very important element of any flight and especially so when going on a cross country flight. There are a number of items to be done in preparation for a VFR cross country in such a way that nothing is overlooked and the intended flight is done as safely as possible.
The most important parts of preflight planning involve checking flight information publications, aviation weather reports and determining airplane performance, including the computation of weight and balance and fuel requirements.
The influence of altitude, temperature and wind must not be ignored and you should be familiar with the pressure and density altitudes and the effect that they have on aircraft performance. Verifying available runway lengths and comparing them to your takeoff requirements and the rotational and initial climb speeds recommended in your airplane's manual (POH).
The checklists presented here can be used as a guide for this phase of your preflight planning and we have divided it into a couple of sections. Part one is what we call the preliminary preflight phase which can be done at any time at your leisure.
The basic steps are as follows: route selection, navigation log, weather information, fuel requirements, mass/weight & balance and performance calculations.
Be sure to read the tips from EuroControl about VFR flight preparation and visual navigation, then the items to do any time before the flight are listed below.
Using a navigation app is the new modern way of flying but do not forget the basics should technology fail, personally I fly using a iPad mini but make sure that I have a paper backup, just in case.
Select your destination airport (airport planning) and obtain aeronautical information from either one below:
- AIP, Chart Supplement (Airport/Facility Directory) or Jeppesen (Bottlang)
- Most aviation authorities have an Online eAIP
- Current VFR flight charts or sectionals
- Aviation App: ForeFlight, Garmin Pilot, Jeppesen Mobile, Avidyne IFD100, SkyDemon, PocketFMS...
Plot the legs/course on the map/sectional or navigation app:
- Draw and highlight the course line, check for airspace restrictions
- Determine Minimum Safe Altitude (MSA) along your route
- Determine course limits left and right, this will help recognizing that a course correction is necessary
- Using a protractor measure the true course per leg
- Select acceptable checkpoints, every 10 NM or 10 min
- Note radio navigation aids along the route to verify position and checkpoints (GPS, VOR, NDB)
- Calculate total route distance
Obtain departure, destination and alternate airport information (from the AIP / Jeppesen).
A current AIP (online), Chart Supplement (Airport/Facility Directory), Jeppesen Airway Manual and the latest NOTAMs are needed to obtain:
- Current conditions of runways and taxiways
- Field elevation when flying in mountain areas, make sure to calculate density altitude
- Communication facilities, check for ATIS frequencies along route
- Radio navigation availability
- Important remarks as obstructions
- Transponder codes for the FIRs
- Other information pertinent for the FIR
From the latest VFR / Sectional charts obtain information relating to:
- Airport layouts, circuit/pattern altitudes
- Local terrain and obstructions along the route
- Airspace restrictions (Controlled Airspace) along intended route
- Check for bird sanctuary areas (min alt 1000 ft AGL)
- Military low flying, danger (shooting ranges), restricted and other prohibited areas
Fill out your preferred navigation flight log:
- Enter departure and destination airport information
- Draw destination airport diagram and an arrow showing the arrival direction to the airport (helps in visualizing how one arrives at the airport and how it looks from that point of view)
- Fill out checkpoints
- Measure and enter true course
- Determine and enter magnetic variation
- Measure and enter distances between checkpoints
- Fill out distance remaining box
- Calculate total distance
Some miscellaneous items:
- Safety vests (strapped on during flight) or life raft / dinghies needed onboard, these items need to be serviceable
- Some airports require crew to have a fluorescent vest when about on the apron
- Carry your ID, license and aircraft papers, insurance etc
- Make sure to have a good wristwatch, preferably one with UTC and local time
- Have the correct checklist with you for the type of aircraft, know the emergency items by heart
- Sunglasses (non polarizing) and a spare set of eyeglasses (if required)
- Valid identification papers (visa, passport) for anyone onboard
Review any takeoff and landing distance performance from the aircraft flight manual. In case of aircraft powered by two or more engines: re-check the engine inoperative procedures and one engine inoperative performance data.
Obtain an ICAO Flight Plan (this one is active, fill in online and print it out), or a FAA Flight Plan (not in use anymore, kept here for historical purposes), its the same as for a certified aircraft. Make sure you check the weight and balance before you go.
Written by EAI.