My instructor had a commendable amount of patience as he walked me through the ins and outs of flight planning. I sat mostly stumped trying to remember high school algebra that was dusty as hell somewhere in the back of my head. Since I just passed the private pilot written exam, I knew that some of the calculation problems like finding the estimated time en-route, were going to be a problem for me. The issue was that I didn’t know what the formulas were, nor where to get the necessary data to plugin to the formulas, had I known what they were.
Here is what I did know:
I knew where were were headed, from KSNA (Orange County, John Wayne) to KCMA (Camarillo – an airport north of LA near some outlet mall).
I knew that we were going to take basically the same route as our last flight which was to Santa Monica airport, except this time we would fly over Santa Monica instead of landing there.
I knew how to plot that course on the map and measure the distance to all of the important waypoints, including the transition through bravo airspace over LAX.
I knew how to convert my true headings to magnetic headings and correct for magnetic variation to find magnetic course.
I knew how to find all of the frequencies of where we were, where we needed to go, and basically who we would be talking to the whole time.
Here is what I didn’t know:
How to calculate top of climb and fuel burn
How to calculate estimated time en route (I knew I needed true airspeed, but was foggy on where to get the wind and wind triangle info)
How to correctly and manually interpolate the data from performance charts in the pilot’s operating handbook to precise figures.
The interpolation tripped me up more than I anticipated because my high school algebra is embarrassingly rusty. So because of that and the time it took for other critical info to make it’s way into my Homer Simpson-like skull, the weather changed for the worse by the time we finished the flight planning process. So it was time to check the weather again. We could look outside and see quite a bit of haze/marine layer developing from over the ocean again. John Wayne typically has marine layer issues in the AM because the airport is only about 5nm from the shoreline of Newport Beach.
Our flight planning ended around 2:45 pm, and my instructor declared the weather “barely legal”. He folded up the IFR approach charts for himself to do the IFR approach just in case our VFR weather changed and pushed us below minimums from “barely legal” to “fully illegal”.
With that, we went out to preflight the aircraft. Today we were flying N5364K which is one of my favorite training aircraft at Royal Aviation because it doesn’t have any negative quirks that bother me. One of the other 172′s has a harder left turning tendency, not only during low speeds and climb, but practically during all phases of flight, so it requires a couple notches of rudder trim correction.
Anyhow, during preflight, I called up John Wayne clearance and got a VFR clearance for a “Mesa Local” which is John Wayne speak that tells them we want to go northwest towards the coast. The controller gave us the clearance with a heading of 220 and told us to contact ground. Preflight was totally normal, so we started the engine, tested the brakes, called ground just before leaving our parking area and ground told us to taxi to the tower run-up area. We completed run-up and called Riverside flight service station to open the flight plan that we filed back in the office. The guy at the FSS opened the flight plan and told us once again just how marginal the weather was. We thanked him, contacted ground to taxi for departure. Ground told us to continue our taxi on Bravo, and to take Kilo to hold short of 19R, which we did. We then contacted the tower freq for 19R and they let us go ahead and use the “big runway” 19R for departure.
Lights, camera, action, and we started our ground roll. I pulled back on the yoke and kept my eye on the airspeed to keep us at Vx – or 76 knots. We took our 220 heading provided by clearance and flew that until we got to the shoreline south of Huntington Beach. We then turned north to head for the Emmy and Eva oil platforms.
Just over the oil platforms, we reached our cruising altitude of 4,500′ which is required for us to transition over LAX using the VFR special flight rules corridor. Right at the edge of Long Beach Harbor, we made a minor 10 degree heading change and headed for the Santa Monica VOR. Because the skies were so cloudy, we had few visual references for position reporting. After about 12 minutes, we reached the Santa Monica VOR and continued northwest to reach the 101 freeway. After we crossed over the 101 freeway and could see VNY Van Nuys airport off to our 2 o’clock position it was time to head directly to Camarillo – also known as the town of the outlet malls.
We reached the top of decent over an area called conejo grade – which is a steep downhill road through the mountains north of Thousand Oaks. Since we had a Beech Baron closing from behind at a high rate of speed, the Camarillo controller had us sidestep to allow the Baron to land first.
We landed and taxied back for takeoff. Just after we took off, the clouds moved in really cramping our VFR style. We made it back over LAX and through the special flight rules corridor with a solid layer of clouds below us. We were still ‘barely legal’ VFR and didn’t have a good visual on nearby reporting points.
Once we were inbound over Long Beach harbor, we started our descent, and contacted SoCal Approach. They handed us off to John Wayne tower who gave us a right downwind for runway 19R. After landing on the big runway we taxied back to parking. It was a great cross country, and a really good day to see what the weather limits look like both on the ground and in the air. I can’t wait to get back up again.