Cross Country Flying and Navigating

I’ve always enjoyed exploring maps. Whether it’s a state road map to explore a new road trip or better yet an aeronautical chart to plan a new flight, the possiblitites are intriguing. One thing I learned long ago is that map reading is an art. The seemingly simply chart can suddenly become complicated when read in the air. Trying to match up a road I see with the chart can send even the best cartographer into a tizzy.

So the day started with high expectations and a long list of tasks to achieve and train for. Our first objective is to fly our planned x/c to a little used airport to practice various landings. The student planned the route and did the wind corrections and we hit our first checkpoint. I told him how the central valley is lots of farming area’s and it can be hard to pinpoint location as one patch of farm looks like another.

Sea of Squares

As we cross into the valley about 6 miles SE of course he discovers the sea of squares and he realizes he’s lost. All that preflight planning at a table that isn’t hurtling through space at 120 mph is far different than being in the plane and and trying to match up what we see on the ground to what’s on the chart. We discuss the airport he did see that was nearby and as he turn towards it to reacquire our landmarks we spot our destination.

Cross Country (Sea of Squares) from Ron Klutts on Vimeo.

We were abeam the airport we wanted and so it was a 90 degree turn to see it. The lesson he learned here is that what we want may not always be in front of us. Subconsciously we always think we are going were we should and therefore we just look straight ahead for our landmarks.

11,800 feet of Runway

Our ultimate goal was to go to Castle KMER and their 11,800′ x 150′ foot runway. It’s an old Air Force base and was home to B-52’s. So the long and wide runway is our training environment for the afternoon. I wanted the extreme length so we can practice flaring and flying down the runway for a mile, yes, a mile of it so he can develop the sight picture of what it’s like a foot or two off the runway. In addition we are transitioning to the Cessna 172 from the 152 and the sight picture over the cowling is very different.


All this proved to be a little taxing for him and we were pushing his skills into new areas. It was a long day with many objectives and he was feeling a little overwhelmed. The return flight proved to be the saving grace in this. We departed the pattern after our low passes and turned on course. This time the planning worked out and we hit the landmarks he planned on as the sun was setting. It was a glass smooth evening and no traffic and it was serene and everything we wanted a flight to be.

The grin is returning to his face and the struggles of earlier are fading away. Any thought of not continuing flight training is washing away as the sun sets and the city lights come into view. It’s what I love about night flying, smooth air and great views of the city lights and the Bay. The flight ends with a spectacular view of the SF Bay Area as we return to Palo Alto. We are both energized despite a long day of training. We decompress at a local restaurant with great food and a well deserved beverage.