Safety Publications/Articles


New twist on flight planning

Add a tool to your curriculum

A student pilot is planning a solo cross-country, thrilled to be putting newly learned skills to practical use for the first time. A course has been drawn on a sectional chart, cross-hatched at several en route checkpoints. The magnetic course has been determined, the terrain has been scrutinized, and a range of possible altitudes has been selected in accordance with the hemispherical rule. An outlook briefing has been obtained by telephone with Flight Service.

But the final touches won't be put on the planning until tomorrow morning, when the flight is to launch. That's when it will be time to get a detailed preflight briefing during which your student will superimpose over the emerging scenario a mental picture of the weather: cloud coverage, winds aloft, visibility. If, after all the information has been acquired, evaluated, and correlated, the decision is "go," then the student will calculate compass headings, groundspeeds, time en route, and fuel burn; fill them in on a nav log; file a VFR flight plan; and head for the airport. There, you will check the planning in accordance with the federal aviation regulations, and if you are satisfied, authorize the flight-just as flight instructors and students have done for decades.

But don't just give a quick scan to your student's planning and send him on his way. Now there is a new way to put a finishing touch on all the hard work your student has done-at the same time you check the cross-country planning and add the necessary logbook endorsements. AOPA's Real-Time Flight Planner, a new online service developed with Jeppesen and unveiled at AOPA Expo 2003, gives you a powerful tool to demonstrate how all this planning comes together to provide an up-to-the-minute context for today's flying-as well as give your students a glimpse of the kind of flying that may await them after the private pilot checkride. More information on the planner, and a link to download the client application that resides on your PC, are available on AOPA Online.

Click the En route Chart tab and magnify your region. Under the preflight menu, click "plan route" and fill in the information. Your cross-country route will automatically be overlaid on the screen, allowing you to see immediately if the route will intersect any temporary flight restrictions (TFRs) or special-use airspace. Now click on Weather and access the DUAT service of your choice. You can superimpose weather maps, satellite images, and weather radar depictions. This graphical presentation, combined with complete briefing information, makes it easier for your student to visualize the flight ahead. Review the student's navigation log, then click on the "NavLog" tab. Compare his nav log with the one prepared by AOPA's Real-Time Flight Planner. Return to En route Chart, click on the course line, and drag it to a new checkpoint to show how a route change would affect groundspeed, fuel consumption, or total flight time. Quick access to AOPA's Airport Directory Online lets you double-check runway lengths and radio frequencies, or select an alternate destination.

Weather not flyable? Use AOPA's Real-Time Flight Planner as a ground school teaching aid, providing a speedy and convenient way to monitor weather trends along the route and giving your student practice decoding forecasts and observations, and evaluating the data they contain. When you are done, store your route for another day, or bring it up again later for an updated look at the proposed flight. Or spread out your sectional chart on the classroom table or in the pilot's lounge, map out other possible cross-countries, and use AOPA's Real-Time Flight Planner to fill out airport data and check notams. Store a pilot profile, two training aircraft profiles, and as many as five of your training routes online, giving you access to the system from any computer with Internet access and the application installed.

If you are fortunate enough to fly in an area unencumbered by complicated airspace or TFRs, plan a strictly theoretical cross-country in another state or region to show your students how the other half lives-while preparing them for what may await them in future flying. Especially in areas where TFRs are common and ever-changing in dimension, review these theoretical routes often to impress on your new pilots the urgency of getting up-to-date information about flight restrictions. For those of your students or new private pilots who are thinking of pursuing an instrument rating, AOPA's Real-Time Flight Planner provides a realistic preview. With its Jeppesen low-altitude en route chart, it will calculate and display direct or airway-based IFR routes and nav logs identical to those used by instrument trainees and rated pilots.

Many VFR-only pilots want to have a better understanding of the Victor airway system and how to use it, even though it is not required subject matter in private pilot training. Display it for them! Then, next time you are flying dual, demonstrate how using an airway fix or intersection can help simplify position reporting to air traffic control when requesting clearance into Class B airspace, making initial contact with ATC before entering Class C airspace, or when simply requesting radar flight following. Show them how to file a VFR flight plan on an airway-based route; many students would be glad to know that, route permitting, it is possible to file your departure airport, a single Victor airway, and the destination instead of having to give the briefer the names of a half-dozen VORs over the telephone.

Changes in airspace restrictions come quickly these days. Transgressions warrant aggressive responses and spectacular media coverage, and pilots are under ever more of an obligation to conduct themselves with care and professionalism. AOPA's Real-Time Flight Planner is the tool to help you teach your students how to meet that standard on every flight.

Dan Namowitz is an aviation writer and flight instructor. A pilot for 19 years and an instructor for 13, he resides in Maine.

By Dan Namowitz

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