Sunday, 4 May 2014

Plan B

At the moment my level of anxiety about my cross country flights is a lot lower than it has been. I mean I survived the Muskoka Peterborough one relatively intact. And that was the big pressure one really. I knew that the requirements for my PPL are for at least one trip of 150nm and two stops. I was very conscious of the fact that I had to do this at some point. I’d have to conquer this mountain.

Now that I have, I’m left in the situation where all I need is another 2 hours of solo cross country and it doesn’t really matter where and how I get them. The (admittedly self-inflicted) pressure should be off a little, right?

Well kinda. Maybe.

Yes the Muskoka/Peterborough trip was epic. But looking back it wasn’t exactly designed to be that tricky either. Everything that Bob gets me to do has a purpose and is carefully planned. For example I can see that the initial cross country route has been carefully selected for a number of reasons. It’s not just a casual grouping of airports. As well as meeting the PPL reqs it also

  • Starts and finishes in airspace that is familiar to the student (you go right through the practice area)
  • It has many significant geographical features to aid with navigation (Lake Simcoe is massive and obvious and if you miss Peterborough it isn’t the end of the world)
  • It encompasses 3 different types of airport, Class C controlled, a Mandatory Frequency airport and an ATF airport.

It is obviously carefully picked to be challenging and force you to deal with less than familiar situations but it is also manageable

Let’s look at the route west then. This one has obviously been chosen with the following in mind

  • It’s out west, 99.9% of our flights are out to the east
  • The airspace gets messy, you have to watch your altitudes very carefully.
  • You get the option to (and are strongly encouraged to) use “Flight Following”
  • The route is not so geographically obvious, giving you the option to play with radio nav aids like VORs

Initially I was getting a little anxious about doing this solo. I’m still worried about getting lost and the lack of a plan B was worrying me.

You see for the first solo cross country I always had a plan B. At first it was to just try and find Muskoka, I could always just land and then come back. Then it was to head for Peterborough and if I couldn’t find it, just fly until I found Lake Ontario. Once I’d taken off from Peterborough, I always had that option. Find the lake and follow the shoreline home.

The route out west doesn’t have such easy get outs. I could very easily “miss” Waterloo if I’m off course and don’t realise it. Tillsonburg – well if I thought Peterborough was tricky to spot from the air, this is 10 times worse. I even argued with Bob that it wasn’t the runway but a road he was pointing out to me!
And the fly til you see a big lake is problematic because if I get seriously turned around I could be heading for Lake Huron, Erie or St Clair!

This has been gnawing at the back of my mind for a while, coupled with the fact that I’ve been busy and not had time to review the video footage yet. This usually helps me pick out landmarks that I may have missed the first time.

Then I had a “light bulb” moment. I turned to RTH and said “if I do get lost, I’ll be on flight following right”

“yeeeees” he replied, not sure where I was leading with this question.

“they have me on radar right, that’s why I have to wait for them to tell me I’m ‘radar identified’ right?”


“They know where I am. So I ask them for directions. I mean I’m not going to be asking for a vector every five minutes but if I get stuck out there, it’s an option right?”

RTH agreed that indeed it was, he’d never done that before but we agreed that even if they couldn’t provide a steer or a heading to the nearest airport, they could at least tell me the frequency of someone who could.
All I need to get out of trouble is to be able to ask for help and to be able to dial in a frequency on the radio.

That I’m confident I can manage. So I’m happier, I have a Plan B.

The funny thing though, about having an alternative plan, is that often the very fact that you’ve devised one means that you’re never actually going to need it.

I’m a little anxious, a little nervous but fundamentally I think it’ll be ok.


  1. I've had flight following proactively tell me that I'm off course. It happened on my night solo cross country out to London. I had done all of my planning, but ATC had me follow the lake for longer than I had expected. When I was released to fly direct I took a guess at my new heading. Evidently I was a few degrees off, because I got a "London isn't that way."

    So yes, flight following knows exactly where you are and is happy to give vectors.

    - D

    1. good to know, that makes me all kinds of happy. I honestly don't know why but I've kind of got it into my head that you'll end up in some kind of "trouble" if you end up asking ATC for directions. I suspect though, that you'll end up in more trouble if you don't !!!