Your connection with the sky

August 17th, 2012: X-Country Solo via VOR…or not

Some days don't quite work out as planned, but don't let that stop you from getting something accomplished.

While I wasn't aware of the plan, today I was scheduled to fly solo via VOR to Rancho Murieta, a small airport on the east side of Sacramento. Although this was all well and fine with me, I wasn't aware of the plan in advance, so I didn't have time to prepare a flight plan as I usually would have which meant working one up as part of my 2 hour lesson. This actually put some pressure on, number one, because at best, Rancho Murieta was a 2 hour flight there and back, number 2, there was a lesson right after mine in the same plane, and number 3, I had not drawn up a flight plan via VOR before. I dove right in and started to do my best, but it was pretty evident in the first 15 minutes or so that this just wasn't going to work out.

I was still struggling with writing up the flight plan via VOR and had a lot of questions for JP, and while I could have just jumped in the plane and winged it, pardon the pun, I just just wasn't comfortable with that. Even though I knew that I could set up the airport in the GPS and fly the route that way, that wasn't the objective, so while it would have been a nice solo experience, it wouldn't have provided the actual instruction I needed for this particular lesson.

Since everyone, including myself was starting to get a little nervous about the timing, I made the decision to abort the flight and use the time concentrating on other things, like fully understanding and completing the proposed flight plan. I broke out the sectional map and JP and I went at it, spending a lot of time going over not just the VOR route, but many other aspects of the sectional as well, something we actually hadn't spent a lot of time doing at this point. If you've spent any time with a sectional map in front of you, you know that these things are really intimidating. There is so much going on that you can barely tell what lies underneath all of the various information, codes and symbology, all of which is there for very important reasons.

We spent the next hour and 15 minutes going over the sectional, the route, and diagramming VOR tracking on the white board. I have to say, it was extremely valuable and despite not being on the agenda today, it was time very well spent. I know I've said this before, but a lot of flying is about being flexible, and today was one of those days where we put a lot of theory into use. Making the decision "not to" fly is equally if not more important than making the decision "to" fly, and in this case, it was exactly the right choice.

By the time we were finished, not only did I have a much clearer picture of the route I would now take tomorrow instead of today, I had an acurate and well thought out flight plan, and a much better understanding of VORs and the sectional map in general, certainly nothing wrong with that lesson.

With a half hour left on the clock and the plane waiting outside, we climbed in and flew the pattern at Skypark a few times practicing sort field and soft field take offs and landings, and even managed, out of necessity, often the case at Skypark, to get in a few cross wind landings.

All in all I much preferred the decision to abort the flight and get comfortable with the planning than I would have jumping in the plane and heading off unprepared. You'll hear it over and over again in your training, Aeronautical Decision Making and Situational Awareness...this is what it is all about.

Another great day as a (student) pilot!


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