We are about 45 hours into my flight training at Galvin, and the focus right now is Cross Countries. This is any flight to an airport more than 25NM away, and if it’s your first time with a flight like this, you’ll find it feels very different than your previous training.

I’ve just completed my first cross country, from my home field of Boeing, up to Friday Harbor in the San Juan islands. About 70 miles each way. I felt like a newbie all over again. If you’re getting ready to cross country, let me present my Top 10 tips for cross-country that I learned this first time around.

10. Have a plan for your radios.

What goes in com 1 and com 2? Think about the fact you can hear both but only talk on one. One way to think about it could be“Approaches” on Com 1 and “Towers” on Com 2, but there’s other ways to do it. Have your next frequencies pre-dialed on standby.

9. Pre-brief your pattern entries for your airports.

Draw them - for all possibilities, at least once. Do not make the turn into the pattern be the first time you’ve ever thought about that turn.

At Skagit, partway through the cross country, I set myself up perfectly for the wrong runway. I got turned around, not clear on what runways were where and what the pattern was supposed to be. Don’t let this be you.

8. If using a tablet, have a nav log you can actually write on.

Writing while flying is hard. Make sure you can scribble down what you need to, on whatever you’re writing on. If it’s not easy, you’ll either lose time and concentration doing it, or you’ll skip it and miss info.

Mine had really tiny boxes I needed to zoom in to write in, and that’s just too much fiddling when you’re trying to steer the plane. Having a less than ideal nav log means I didn’t write down actual times crossed at waypoints to get a better sense of my ETA.

7. If you open flight plans, close them.

Flight plans keep you safe. But you have to activate and close them on time - or else you must amend them. An unclosed flight plan means they’ll send search and rescue after you. That’s a huge mess of trouble you don’t want if you’re actually okay.

This time out, I very nearly forgot about closing my flight plan because we had to change a full-stop landing to a touch and go for the sake of time. We were back in the air and I didn’t even realize about my flight plan until I was almost out of cell phone range. Yikes.

6. Always be briefing about what you’ll do next.

That includes what maneuver you’ll make next, who you’ll call next, what you’ll check next on your nav calculations and on your safety checklists. Don’t get behind the airplane.

It happened to me at least twice in this flight I was aware of, when I was scrambling to do all of those things at once; the plane was flying on ahead and things I should have done miles back didn’t get done until later. That’s being “behind the airplane” and it’s not a place you want to be.

5. If you’ve got visibility, use it to maneuver early.

Seeing clouds way ahead means you can maneuver early away from them and have more time to work your navigation. Maneuver early to get back to straight and level flight early.

The goal is to reduce the number of things you have to do at once, avoid task saturation - as that leads to mistakes.

4. Receive instructions and clearances without expectation bias.

You are in danger of hearing or seeing the pattern or runway clearance you expect - rather than what they’re actually telling you - and landing on the wrong runway!

In fact, that’s what caused my bad lineup at Skagit, I ran it in my simulator on the other runway before the real flight, and brought that thought pattern with me into the flight: I thought that’s how real life would go, and ran it automatically without thinking. Oops!

3. Regularly recalculate ETAs to each destination.

Not just your next waypoint. And not just once. Conditions change, frequently, and you need to know whether you’re ahead or behind all the way to the destination, by how much - and why.

I wasn’t writing these down or doing this constantly this time out. But my instructor was, in his head, all the time. When I get to my solo XC’s he won’t be there. I need to get into this habit.

2. Use every communication and sensory resource you have.

Get flight following. Use a Sentry ADS-B unit. Use VORs. Use in-cockpit GPS. At untowered airports, communicate your intentions more than you even think you should, and watch what other people are doing.

Use every available resource to know where you are, where you’re going, and the best way to get there safely.

1. Leave yourself extra time in your plan!

This is THE most critical lesson I learned. It’s like altitude with an engine failure - you can only lose it, you can’t get more. So build in extra time to burn. Like: 33% more.

We had 4 hrs booked on a 3 hr trip and we used all 4, squeaking onto the runway in the last 15 minutes of our reservation block. Without extra time, you’ll take shortcuts. You’ll get careless. And that leads to mistakes.

Last Thoughts

Cross-country is where a whole lot of your separated learnings come together. All at once. You make a plan for your cross-country. It can be a solid plan. And then after takeoff, it gets fluid.

The rules I’ve illustrated above aren’t about the solid plan, which is very by-the-book - they’re about dealing with the fluidity; and that takes recalculating, re-thinking, changing your nav plan, dialing up new frequencies you didn’t plan for, all while still flying the plane, still looking for traffic, still running your checklists.

The tips I’ve illustrated in this video are about how to do those things safely, while under task load, to avoid mistakes. Things won’t go according to plan - you can’t avoid that. Dealing with the changing environment is what you’re there as a pilot to do. But mistakes, you can - and should - avoid. It’s about being a better pilot, every flight, every day.

See you up there!