Long Cross Country

The current requirements for private pilot training (14 CFR 61.109) dictate a long cross country flight “…of 150 nautical miles total distance, with full-stop landings at three points, and one segment of the flight consisting of a straight-line distance of more than 50 nautical miles between the takeoff and landing locations”.

I see students doing  flights like KEMT-KAJO-KCMA-KEMT. While that meet the requirements, I feel it leaves a lot of pilots who really have no experience or confidence to take on a longer flight; this leads to pilots who don’t really use their license.

For my flight training in the Los Angeles basin, I feel that students need to a do a flight that is much longer than that.

My normal long cross country solo flight is KEMT – KPTV – KSMX – KEMT. This was the flight I did as a student, but as I became an instructor, I found it met a number of requirements I think are important:

  • Get well outside of the LA basin, crossing the mountains (if you aren’t comfortable crossing the mountains, you won’t go very far from LA)
  • Go to airports you have never been to 
  • Go to both towered and non-towered airports
  • Deal with an airport (SMX) that has scheduled air service. This means areas that GA pilots can’t go and a need to know how to identify them, as well as increasing the chance of being present with “caution wake turbulence”.
  • Fly long enough that you will need to to stop, figure out where to park, get fuel at an unfamiliar airport, get food, use the bathroom, etc. These are things students rarely do during training.
  • Deal with areas that may have very different weather than your home airport.
  • Experience navigation in areas that are more sparsely populated and where there may be fewer landmarks or roads to follow
  • Learning how much time you need before and after a flight and at stops. Students usually significantly underestimate the total time they’ll need.

There are some other things that may come up in planning for this flight.

  • PTV is a CalFire Base. Good to know what that means and how it might affect you.
  • Almost everyone notices the “Special Military Activity” area over the mountains north of Los Angeles. Using flight following, you should have no concerns about going through that area. In fact, I’ve never been aware of any special activity there; I’ve found some indications this was established as a route for cruise missile testing, but can’t confirm it.
  • The direct route is probably not a route you want to take
  • How high is high enough over terrain when you’re worried about terrain?

When students get to the point of planning, I ask that they start by giving me their proposed waypoints and altitudes. After we’ve agreed on a general route, you can make a rough estimation of how long this might take. Then we can move on to planning for stops, figuring out expected runways and pattern entries, coming up with alternates, and move on to finding dates to try to make the flight. It often takes many “tries” before students actually get to take the flight (weather, planes, and life often intervene).

One thought on “Long Cross Country

  1. I agree. I found this to be a fun challenge with a lot of variety and interesting planning decisions to discuss and consider. I ended up flying it KEMT – KSMX – KPTV – KEMT due to strong winds forecast later in the day at KSMX. It was a very good experience and definitely increased my confidence as a pilot.

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