Learning to fly is an amazing experience. And flying solo is a part of the experience that can really get your blood pumping. You have no one else to depend upon except yourself. It’s an empowering, yet frightening experience. Once you start venturing away from the practice area, a whole new world of experiences opens up for you.
I can remember my first few solo cross country flights. I was in a Piper Warrior renting at $55 an hour wet (try to find that today). I had a close encounter with a yellow Cessna 195, landed with a flat nose wheel tire, and asked a tower controller if I could turn on course…into the path of a DC9. Yes, there were some growing pains, but each flight was filling up that oh-so-important experience bucket.
Fast forward to today with more than a decade of flying, I still find myself on many long, solo cross country flights. While the excitement never subsides, I’ve found these five tips really help to make my flights safer and more enjoyable.
1. Bring a backup of everything. I was recently flying along on the second leg of a five hour flight and my headset microphone stopped working. No worries, I can always use the hand mic. What?! Who took the hand mic out? Luckily, I had a backup headset in my bag. Using an iPad for charts? Bring some form of paper or even another electronic source just in case – even if it’s slightly outdated. Flashlights? At least two. And a hand-held radio is a must.
2. Keep you flight bag on the right seat. The seat is empty anyway so you might as well keep your toys handy. Your backups are always close at hand.
3. Learn the Avionics. Do you know everything there is to know about that GPS in the panel or the navigation app you’re using? To pass some time over the desolate Kansas landscape, start learning the functions. Use this opportunity to experiment with setting up VNAV, performing flight calculations and editing flight plans.
4. Take advantage of flight following. I’m not a big fan of talking to ATC, but long flights are an excellent opportunity to practice radio communications. It’ll also help keep your mind on the flight. Having the resources of ATC to help look for aircraft is extremely valuable and they’re always just a key of the mic away in the event of an emergency.
5. Listen to Music. Instructors hate this tip. How dare you institute a distraction in the cockpit!!! Studies show that people are more focused and productive at work when they are listening to music. After several drowsy long flights, I started listening to music. It definitely helps keep your brain in the game. I only listen en route. Adhere to your own form of sterile cockpit rule and turn it off when you approach your destination.