Prepping the long X-C

June 23rd, 2014 by Amy Laboda

It is now one month before my annual summer airborne trek and, yes, preparation has already begun. In fact, my task list for these long summer outings starts a few months ahead, if you want to include the time I spend reserving hotel or condo space and cars in the most popular places (I use AOPA’s web discounts to help make it all affordable). That’s just good planning.

I double check all the paperwork for the year is good with my airplane. It generally goes through its condition check—the equivalent of an annual inspection—in April, and by late May any sore points have have been completely worked out by my A&P. In June it is time to ensure that all of my GPS and MFD databases will stay up to date throughout my journey.

It’s also when I start a push on my own pilot currency, to make sure that I’m ready for any of the weather my long cross country is liable to toss at me.  I never want to feel as if my skills aren’t up to the conditions. I hit the PC sim in my office to practice my procedures. Then I rustle up my flight instructor and torture him with a couple sessions of practice approaches, navigation, holding patterns and emergencies.

The emergencies are something I always have in the back of my mind. By the end of June, once I know

Emergency kits come in all shapes and sizes. Alternatively, you can build your own.

my general routing for the summer trip, I start gathering fresh supplies for my emergency back pack, which sits just behind the pilot’s seat (not in the baggage compartment where I can’t reach it without getting out of my seat). The back pack holds packaged water, a mylar blanket and first aid supplies for dealing with cuts, scrapes and “bleeders.” It also has a strobe light, signal mirror, emergency cryovac food and a multipurpose tool. We’ve got a tiny two-person tent that barely weighs five pounds packed, and if we’re going over a lot of wide-open space that’s worth tucking in next to my husband’s emergency tool kit, too.

That tool kit has come in handy more times than not. These adventures put more hours on our airplane than it often flies in the three months after we return. And hours mean wear and tear. We have, on occasion, even been seen to carry a spare part or two in our cargo area. Overcautious? Depends on where you are going. Do you know how much it costs to replace an alternator on Grand Cayman, or Roatan?

Once I’ve got my emergency back pack, tool kit and any spare parts together I can begin thinking about

AOPA's airport information web application can help you pick a fuel stop.

AOPA’s airport information web application can help you pick a fuel stop.

the routing. I know how far my airplane can safely go in one leg, and I know how long I can safely go, say, before I have to “go.” In early July I begin checking flight planning software and comparing possible fuel stops. Because I don’t know what the weather will be on my day of departure, and because fuel prices fluctuate, I always have two or three potential airports planned for each fuel stop. I’ll narrow it down the night before I leave, and even still, I might not make a final choice until I’m airborne and I see what the real flight conditions are like.

It sounds like a lot of work, getting ready for an epic trip. It can be, if you look at it as work. I see all the prep as part of the build-up, the anticipation that is half the fun of going. With that attitude, starting flight preparations early is all part of the fun.

Amy Laboda

Amy Laboda has been writing, editing and publishing print materials for more than 28 years on an international scale. From conception to design to production, Laboda helps businesses and associations communicate through various media with their clients, valued donors, or struggling students who aspire to earn scholarships and one day lead. An ATP-rated pilot with multiple flight instructor ratings, Laboda enjoys flying her two experimental aircraft and being active in the airpark community in which she lives.

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The opinions expressed by the bloggers do not reflect AOPA’s position on any topic.

  • Jamie Beckett

    Good advice from a smart and capable woman. I’m listening to you, Amy. Thanks for a great, concise review of how to conduct a long flight with a high level of safety and preparation.

  • Stuart Sibitzky

    My wife and I completely agree. Our annual cross-country is preceded by many days (weeks) of “what-if” for potential routes, fuel stops and of course RON points. We don’t carry spare parts but survival gear is a state requirement. One year the trip included Miami and New England. Generally though we hit the Midwest, Southern California, and the Pacific Northwest visiting family, kids and friends. Fore-Flight has eased the chore of detailed planning but the attention to detail remains just as important as ever. Our takeoff and return point is Fairbanks Alaska (PAFA).

  • Roxannaa

    This is a joke, right?

  • Rod Rakic

    Thanks for sharing Amy.

    Having just got back from another ferry trip, (This one ended up being from Wisconsin to Texas, the WX put the kibosh on making it all the way to Mexico City.) I appreciate the need for survival equipment… one thing that’s frustrating is figuring out a kit that would be “TSA friendly,” as I typically airline home after delivering the plane.

  • Rationalista2

    And for women pilots who want to fly the ultimate x-c, don’t forget about the annual Air Race Classic. It will prepare you for cross country flights like you’ve never been prepared before.

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