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VFR FLIGHT PLANNING



Flight Planning, per FAR Part 91.103 Preflight Actions, pilots that are acting as PIC of an aircraft are required to become familiar with all of the available information concerning that flight, if outside of the vicinity of an airport.


The information pilots need to know is the current weather reports and forecasts, fuel requirements and availability, any alternate airports and associated information, along with any ATC delays.



Basic Types of Navigation:

There are many ways to navigate by air. The simplest are pilotage and dead reckoning.


Pilotage -

It is navigating by way of easily recognizable landmarks. Some examples of good landmarks to use while flying in VFR conditions are:

  • Highways

  • Large bodies of water - Rivers, lakes

  • Golf courses

  • Recognizable structures

  • Wind or solar farm

On all sectional charts is a scale that has both nautical, statue and kilometers. When determining your position using checkpoints, you must remember that in aviation we use nautical miles (NM) which is different than statue miles (SM). By looking at the scale 1 inch = 6.86 NM. For example, if your check points are ½ inch apart, they would be 3.43 NM between each other.

Plotter on top of Chart


Be cautious, never approach TV antennas less than 500 feet above the tallest antenna. Antennas wires, and guy wires are invisible, sometimes the structure itself can become invisible from the air. The taller structures are marked with strobe lights making them visible to pilots.


More on navigating using landmarks in the How to Choose the Best Cross-Country VFR Checkpoints lesson.


Dead reckoning -

Is navigating by plotting a course and computing time, distance, course, and airspeed with a plotter and E6B flight computer.


With all four items put together, along with any corrections for wind direction and velocity, the result is Ground speed (GS).


Ground speed (GS) – gives the pilot the time at which they will arrive at a given checkpoint or destination.



Flight Planning Tools:

There are two ways to plot a flight plan. The Old School way and with today’s technology the New School way.


The Old School way of plotting your course, is by using a few tools. The most obvious item for course plotting is VFR sectional charts.

  • Plotter

  • E6B Flight Computer

  • Internet resources

  • Flight plan form

Whereas the New School way is by using any digital device i.e., IPad, Tablet or phone and using the resources on aviation apps such as, ForeFlight, FlyQ EFB, etc.



VFR Cruising Altitudes:

This section will most likely be the easiest one you will ever learn and remember as a student pilot.


While flying VFR there are certain altitude requirements in Part 91.159 we as pilots must comply-with. We must maintain an appropriate and safe altitude depending on what compass direction we tend to fly.


All VFR flight altitudes are conducted between 3,000 feet AGL up to not including 18,000 feet MSL.


When flying on a magnetic course of 0 (zero) degrees through 179 degrees, always use odd numbered altitudes plus 500 feet.

  • (3,500 feet, 5,500 feet MSL and so on.)

When flying on a magnetic course of 180 degrees through 359 degrees, always use odd numbered altitudes plus 500 feet.

  • (4,500 feet, 6,500 feet MSL and so on.)


Memory aid: East is odd plus 500 feet, and West is best plus 500 feet.



Inflight Guide / Resources:

After you've completed your flight log, highly consider creating an inflight guide to keep on your kneeboard during flight.


By having an inflight guide or any resource is to make your life easier during your flight, as well as having paper backups just in case your digital devices have any issues.

(See: Real World Scenario below.)


Items to have include:

  • Paper copy of your flight plan you filed.

  • Print outs of Airport Diagrams - local, landing destinations and a few other local airports (in case of any unforeseen weather, airport closures, and emergencies.)

  • NOTAM information - NOTAM (D) for those airports.

  • Emergency quick reference - light gun signal chart, emergency squawk codes.

  • And anything else that may help you.



Remember:

All VFR flight altitudes are conducted between 3,000 feet AGL up to not including 18,000 feet MSL.

  • When flying on a magnetic course of 0 (zero) degrees through 179 degrees, always use odd numbered altitudes plus 500 feet.

  • When flying on a magnetic course of 180 degrees through 359 degrees, always use odd numbered altitudes plus 500 feet.

Memory aid: East is odd plus 500 feet, and West is best plus 500 feet.




Real World Scenario:

This actually happened one late spring afternoon, when flying to Chandler, AZ. At Chandler airport the temperature was becoming pretty warm. We had stayed at the airport to take of a few issues with another airplane. After a couple of hours, we were ready to takeoff and fly back to Riverside, CA.


I had my IPad setup prior to takeoff, but with the cabin temperature being really hot inside. It was just a few minutes after takeoff when my IPad overheated and shutdown. Now I was flying with navigation or digital charts. I remembered I had a paper VFR sectional chart as backup in my backpack. About halfway back to Riverside the inside cabin temperature was cool enough, that my IPad was able to work again.


The point of this actual case study is your digital devices are very good to have, but they will overheat. Especially on hot mid-late spring and summer days. So, really think about carrying a paper backup of sectional charts and Airport Diagrams, so it doesn’t happen to you.




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