Things are a bit messed up right now, so if you do get the chance to go somewhere, you’d better know what you’re doing, because getting it wrong might result in a military escort followed by an unplanned landing at an unfamiliar airport.
GOING SOMEPLACE? You would be surprised how many pilots just decide to go someplace new, and don’t even pick up the charts or books available to find out what they need to know to have an event-free trip. Today, if you find yourself jumping in the plane to head out to a new and exciting destination, you absolutely must review what lies ahead in your flight.
CRACK THE BOOKS
If your flight is VFR, pick up the Airports/Facility Directory and look at the information on your destination airport. What is the recommended pattern altitude and what is the recommended pattern — left or right! Are there any published obstructions at your destination? Can you expect wildlife on the runway at certain times of the year? Take a good look at the book and a very good look at the charts! What airspace will you encounter enroute? What if you divert? Know where you’re going, how you’re getting there and what that means. There are currently class B restrictions as well as isolated restrictions around certain major metropolitan areas and outdoor gathering places like stadiums. You’d better know where they are and be able to avoid them.
If your flight plan is IFR, your preparation is just as important. Take a minute to review the enroute and approach plates for your trip. Do you have the right charts to handle a diversion around thunderstorms, or do you just have your destination plates in hand? For your destination, review the approach plates with care, noting any missed approach instructions and equipment requirements.
ALL FLIGHTS: Get a complete briefing from FSS, tell them how your flight will operate, VFR, IFR, etc. UNDERSTAND all NOTAMs relevant to your type of flight and monitor 121.5 if able while airborne. If you’re intercepted by military aircraft, you’ll be talking to them on that frequency and will need to know how to respond and how to react. See AIM 5-6-2.
WHAT ABOUT YOUR IFR ALTERNATE? Just because it is an alternate doesn’t mean you should ignore it. One of the main factors that will cause a diversion is weather that is below minimums or is too severe to fly into. This means that the chances that you will need to use your alternate are at least 50-50 on an average day. To prepare yourself properly, you need to do the same pre-flight review of your alternate airport. After all, if you do end up having to land there, you should be familiar with the approaches and their requirements before you have to use them during an unexpected diversion. There are some tricks to making a good choice, see Alternate Thinking for some good tips.
IF YOU HAVE A SIMULATOR, even a simple one, load up the most likely approaches and fly them a few times, to get familiar with them. When you actually reach the airport — in real life — you will have a feel for what to expect, instead of having to stumble your way through the approach cold. Don’t forget to use the same approach for your alternate’s approaches — it is easier to fly something that you are familiar with than it is if you’re not!
IF YOU CAN’T FIND ANY INFORMATION, CALL THE AIRPORT. Talk to the FBO or airport manager, and ask them for information about the airport, along with any challenges that might be in the area. One New York airport that we talked to told us about glider traffic that, while not on the field, could present an unexpected challenge if you were coming in under the overcast from our direction. Having this knowledge helped us to steer well clear of the glider traffic and avoid any mishaps. Right now, you may want to ask about any local restrictions that are now or have recently been in effect. Things are changing quickly … and sometimes changing back … so you will do yourself a favor by steering clear of restricted areas — even if they were restricted yesterday and not today.
BOTTOM LINE: Having the right information in your cockpit before your wheels leave the ground is always important, but it is much more important today. Taking the time to get a preview of what awaits you at your destination. Get a thorough and complete briefing from a Flight Service Station and request all NOTAMs for your route of flight and any possible routes you might divert to while enroute. You need to be ready and prepared for almost any challenge that Mother Nature or man can throw at you, instead of confused and challenged when a last minute change throws you a curve. Be prepared and you won’t miss the clammy hands and sweaty brow… or the clean underwear.