Flying a Cross-country Flight


Note your takeoff time on your log; now that you know your departure time, also note your estimated time of arrival at your destination.  As you head toward your SHP, after clearing the circuit, contact Flight Service Station (FSS), advise them of your takeoff time, and request your flight plan be opened.  If you depart from a controlled airport such as Langley Airport when the Tower is operating, they are supposed to open the flight plan automatically for you, but it is worthwhile confirming with them that the flight plan has been opened in case there has been some sort of mix-up.1


Once you have reached your cruising altitude, follow the correct procedures:

  1. set your power based on the indicated airspeed;
  2. lean your mixture to best economy (or power);2 and
  3. set your heading indicator to your compass.3

Cruise procedures

When you cross your SHP you must turn to your first heading and note your time in the log.4  With respect to heading, be sure to correct for compass deviation.5  This is a good time to fine-tune your power setting.  Start right away with your orientation; hold the map relative to the direction of flight.  Relate distant targets to your map for identification—as you identify your position, place a discernible dot on the map.  Repeat this numerous times.  You must fly the heading you predicted—if you don’t, you would not be able to accurately adjust for actual winds and drift.

ETA updating and Course Corrections.

Prepare for your first checkpoint and note your predicted time over.  Once over the checkpoint, note the time on your flight log and draw a dot to show your position.  You must then answer two questions: What is my revised ETA?  What is my new heading if necessary?  You should use your flight computer for the first question (although accurate mental math would not be criticized).  Be sure to fill the Checkpoint Record and Revised ETA Log on P. 1 of the Navigation Planner correctly—this will help you stay organized.  For the second question, you must use either the Opening-closing method or Double-track method.  Recalculate your ETA using the ¼-way point or the ½-way point.  This will confirm your checkpoint calculations.6

Using Flight Service

When able, monitor the “en route frequency” (126.7 MHz) throughout your flight (when you are not monitoring a frequency in a control zone, that is); you will be able to hear the transmission of weather information (such as SIGMETs), and this is the frequency they will use to contact you if necessary.  At your midway point, attempt to contact FSS, advising them of your ETA update and requesting weather information.7




Prepare for your destination airport well in advance.  Conduct a pre-landing briefing , reviewing the approach procedure you will use, the runway configurations, the elevation and circuit height, and the radio frequency.  Remember to close your flight plan; if unreported, FSS will start looking for you right away.  If you are beyond your ETA, make an effort to advise FSS, including the use of other aircraft as relay.

Flight Safety

  1. Watch for traffic throughout the navigation exercise.
  2. Avoid being preoccupied with the cockpit work you have to do.
  3. Do the paperwork in stages, pausing intermittently to check for other traffic.
  4. Be sure not to allow other aircraft dangerously close to your aircraft.

1 In the US, the tower units will not open flight plans, and you have to contact a FSS after departure with this request.


2 Do not do this below 4000’ ASL if you are in Langley Flying School aircraft.


3 Failure to set the compass is a major error on the flight test, and could lead to error navigation and a failure.


4 Take care to fly over your SHP with accuracy and accurately record the time—candidates on the flight test have failed the navigation exercise for not conducting accurate groundspeed checks (which would produce an erred ETA).


5 Remember that you must fly a “compass heading” rather than a “magnetic heading.”


6 The most frequent cause of failure for the ETA exercise is that student get “stupid” answers from their E6Bs, and then don’t have the confidence to correct the error by checking the accuracy of the numbers used—i.e., the time and distance from the SHP to the first checkpoint.  If necessary—and to save the flight test—select two new checkpoints for the groundspeed check and redo your work.  Could a Piper Cherokee possibly go 140 KNOTS on a day when the winds are calm?  Could it go 80 KNOTS?  As Donn Richardson, a Flight Test Examiner for Langley Flying School says, “. . garbage in . . garbage out . .”


7 A couple of things here are worth noting.  First, always monitor the weather ahead during a flight—remember too that the METARs are history, while the TAFs are what “will be.”  When you contact FSS, always report the frequency you are contacting them on (because they monitor a bunch of frequencies), and always inform them of your aircraft type, your position, and your destination airport.  Position reports of this nature make for more effective Search and Rescue as the range of a possible search becomes reduced.  Every time you contact FSS, they make a note in their logbook.