[Guide] Always have a plan B, or C, or

Summary

When you plan a flight you prepare yourself mainly for the case where all goes fine, however as we cannot control the weather nor if something happens during the flight (engine failure or others emergencies) or simply that the airport we planend to land on is suddenly closed due some events (crash, bad weather and more) we need to have multiple plans.

Main planning

If you didn’t read yet the great tutorial from @EpicPrimus [HOW-TO] learn VFR using a flight I would strongly suggest you to check it out first.

As first step for a planning, I decide (based on the time I have, the fuel I can have on board, and the weather) from where to where I want to go and make first a straight route between the 2 airports / airfields. I then start to add “navigation points” or “waypoints” between the two, being VOR or visual reference points such that the distance between two points is never greater than 10 min max. Why? Because flying straight in VFR is always more problematic than you imagine, you may drift due to side winds, or you may have turbulences, or your plane is not well trimmed and will always tends to turn in one direction or simply you are a bit distracted and don’t keep your heading correctly. If the distance between two waypoints is too big your error at the end will be bigger too and you may simply miss your waypoint… with the risk of losing yourself (and in worse case enter airspaces you should not).

In today worlds we all have some sort of GPS to help us, but you cannot just rely on them, as any equipment they can fail (for example battery or temperature issues), and then you can quickly end up in huge issues.

A navigation plan is done by knowing the heading you should fly, and the time you will take to reach the waypoint. Each time you reach a waypoint you calculate when you should reach the next one, such that you know in advance when you should have reached your waypoint.

Selecting waypoints

Make sure either VOR or highly visible / easy to spots waypoints. As I said before, you will have deviations during your flight, therefore it’s extremely important to be able to identify without doubts that you are flying over your waypoint and not another town which may be the one you are expecting. If you start to deviate from your route you will have really an hard time to reach your destination.

Good waypoints are:

  • Unique crossing highroads
  • Unique antennas / transmission towers
  • Big isolated towns
  • Lakes

And now you plan B,C,…

Secondary route

In case the weather doesn’t allow you to fly what you planned, you should have a second planned route or be able to re-route yourself during the flight. In real life, re-routing is extremely stressful, therefore if you prepare yourself before it may be needed it’s all stress you spare yourself.

The solution is to have multiple navigation plans, one for the most straight route, and others which may take side routes to avoid areas where you could have clouds or fog building.

This is specially important if your weather is already not clear sky at the beginning, and you may need to fly over hills and mountains as those are areas which may build low level clouds.

Secondary airport / airfields

As important as secondary routes, you must have alternates. Meaning what if you cannot land on your destination? What is your plan? Going back to the start may not be an option due to your fuel, at some point you will not be able to return to your base anymore therefore you must have 1 or 2 more airfields / airports where you are allowed to land and ideally where you can fuel your plane again.

Be prepared to the worse

In route airfields

While you are doing your navigation plan, I strongly suggest you to check which airfields / airports you have during your route. That would allow you, in case of an emergency, to land on a runway instead of in middle of a field. Therefore have a look before starting, where you could land in case… I would not print out all the documentation for all the airports with me, but I would have at least a clear idea where I could find an airport while I’m flying.

While flying check out for fields

A good practice is to always look down, while flying, where you could land your airplane in case of the worse case. That means, check out for fields, or other areas where you could somehow land your plane, even if everything goes fine. It doesn’t cost much, and yet it may saves your life.

Fuel management

With all those possible plans, make sure you have enough fuel for your plans B or C, otherwise those are useless. That’s why we always plan (here) with 45 min fuel reserve, plus the time to reach the alternate. On top of that, if you made multiple routes use the longest route as base one for your fuel calculation.

In case you see your weight & balance is out of the allowed range, then you will need to make a shorter leg with refuel.

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