Flight Twelve is your forth cross country training flight. You make use of the planning skills learned in Flight Eight, practice the en-route procedures introduced in Flight Nine and radio navigation skills introduced in Flight Ten as well as as an introduction to using the En route Flight Advisory Service and learning new skills related to diversions and lost procedures.
Diversion procedures are intended to facilitate changing your destination while en route in the event of encountering unexpected weather that calls for a diversion from your original route. You need to have some criteria for deciding when to divert and for selecting a suitable alternate airport and route. You also need to be able to promptly initiate a diversion and to make an accurate estimate of the heading, ground speed, arrival time, and fuel consumption to reach your alternate destination.
As far as lost procedures are concerned you need to be able to recognize when you are lost and select an appropriate course of action. This normally entails identifying your position using prominent landmarks, radio navigation or contacting ATC for assistance or a combination of these techniques. If weather is deteriorating or fuel exhaustion is imminent it may be necessary to plan a precautionary landing.
A diversion may become necessary if you obtain information en route that indicates deteriorating weather ahead or if winds aloft have changed so that your groundspeed is reduced to the extent that you need to plan a fuel stop in order to maintain adequate reserves.
En route Flight Advisory Service
For en route weather updates and pilot reports you can contact the En route Flight Advisory Service (EFAS) also known as Flight Watch on 122.00.
To call contact Flight Watch you transmit and receive on 122.00 and reference your position with respect to the nearest VOR. For example
“Oakland Flight Watch, Cessna 12345, 20 miles west of the Modesto VOR“
By providing information about your position you enable the Flight Watch specialist to reply using the nearest radio outlet. When the specialist acknowledges your call with something like
“Cessna 12345, this is Oakland Flight Watch, go ahead”
You can respond with your complete request.
“Cessna 12345 request current conditions at Fresno”
The specialist will then provide you with the information they have which may consist of the current conditions at your destination and any relevant pilot reports. So for instance you can request current weather information about your destination while you are still too far away to pick up the ATISor you can request pilot reports. Flight Watch allows you to verify that conditions are as forecast and to find out what other pilots along your route of flight have reported. Flight Watch will not open or close flight plans and is not set up to provide complete weather briefings. The purpose of Flight Watch is to provide updated en route weather advisories and to collect and distribute pilot reports. Pilot reports are a great source of information about cloud bases and tops, icing, turbulence, visibility or any other information that can be of use to other pilots. To make a pilot report simply contact Flight Watch and advise them of your aircraft type, altitude, location relative to a VOR and details of the flight conditions you are experiencing.
Information you obtain from Flight Watch could indicate that the weather at you destination has deteriorated to the extent that it no longer meets your personal minimum requirements. This would be sufficient reason to initiate a diversion. During your training your instructor will specify your personal minimums and will often incorporate these in your solo endorsements. However even after you have obtained your private pilot certificate you should establish your own personal minimums. These are a set of parameters for weather that establish the minimums you are prepared to accept in terms of visibility, ceiling and wind. Anytime conditions are forecast to go below these minimums you should cancel your flight and if conditions en route no longer satisfy your personal minimum requirements you should divert to find better conditions or if a diversion is not possible land as soon as possible.
This way your decision making is simplified and you are less likely to fall victim to “get there itis”. Many weather related accidents occur because pilots are so keen to reach their destination that they fail to cancel a flight or divert even when weather deteriorates. If you establish a standard operating procedure that says that if the weather goes below certain predetermined limits you will cancel the flight or divert without question you will be much safer than if you make a subjective judgment each time you fly. The decision to cancel the flight or divert should not be influenced by any outside factors like how urgently you need to reach your destination, or how inconvenient it will be to cancel the flight. When making go/no go decisions and choosing whether to divert simply concern yourself with the question “Can I definitely complete this flight in compliance with my personal minimums?” If the answer is no then cancel the flight or divert or land if you reach a no conclusion whilst en route. In aviation good decision making will do more for your safety than good flight skills. Use good judgment to avoid getting into situations where you need superior skills.
Diversion practical test standards
Having decided to divert select an appropriate alternate airport and route. The alternate needs to be someplace where conditions are significantly better than your original destination and that can reached whilst maintaining adequate fuel reserve. Assuming you have adequate fuel and that at the time you initiate the diversion weather conditions are still above your personal minimums you should plan on spending some time planning your diversion before deviating from your original course. To do this select a reference point on the ground that you can positively identify and either fly towards this point or hold over it if you are already there. If you hold while planning the diversion reduce power to conserve fuel while holding. From the known reference point on your chart plot a line to your new destination. Be sure to continue to scan for traffic and do not fixate on your chart. Using a new line on your navigation log go ahead and calculate a compass heading, estimated time en route and fuel requirement for your new course. Use the procedures described in Flight Eight to complete this new line in your navigation log. If weather is deteriorating rapidly or you are running low on fuel you may not have time to hold and do the complete calculations but instead you should establish an approximate magnetic heading referencing your course line to a VOR compass rose on your chart and start to fly in that direction immediately. If you are in imminent danger of not being able to maintain VFR flight conditions or have a low fuel situation contact ATC and declare an emergency. They will then attempt to identify you on radar and can provide radar vectors to a suitable alternate.
Assuming you have been able to take the time to properly calculate a new course to your alternate be sure to position your self over your planned course line before you start flying your planned compass heading and make a note of the time when you leave the fix or check point from which you calculated the route. Once en route to your new destination make sure you have the frequencies and runway information you need for the new destination. The Airport Facility Directory will provide this information. If time permits call flight service to advise that you have diverted and to provide a new estimated time of arrival for your new destination. If arrival at your alternate is imminent be sure to initiate communications sufficiently soon to ensure a smooth arrival. If you have not already done so be sure to close your flight plan once on the ground at your alternate. With extra workload of diverting it’s easy to overlook closing your plan. So as always when you land ask yourself “Did I close my flight plan?”. If not get on the phone and do so immediately.
Diversions are a feature of the private pilot practical test and the examiner will be looking at how well you locate the alternate airport as well as how accurately you estimate the heading, groundspeed, arrival time and fuel consumption and how well you handle communications, pattern entry and landing at the alternate airport.
Lost Procedures practical test standards
No one likes to admit they are lost and pilots are no exception. However the ability to recognize when you are lost and to take decisive steps to rectify the situation are of great importance to pilots. If the check point you are expecting does not appear when you expect it or what you see outside no longer matches what you see on your chart you may well be off course. Initially use your chart to identify geographical features that can define your position. Try to always use more than one feature to determine your position. If pilotage does not work use your radio navigation skills. Hold your position over a feature on the ground and tune in and identify a VOR. Then center your VOR indicator with a FROM indication. This will tell you which radial you are on. Plot this radial on your chart. Then tune in and identify another VOR. Center the VOR indicator with a FROM and plot this radial on your chart. You are located at the point where the two radial intersect. If you are having trouble receiving VOR signals try climbing to improve reception. This may also enable you to see more landmarks to use to verify your position. If neither pilotage nor radio navigation provides you with the information you need then call for help. Any air traffic control facility can assist but if you are not sure who to call (because you are not sure where you are) then start with a flight service station. If you are not sure which frequency to use try 122.2 on which most flight service stations have the capability to receive and transmit. Let them know you are unsure of your position and that you need assistance. They will probably give you the frequency of an ATC facility with radar capability. On contacting a radar equipped facility you will be given a transponder code to squawk which will enable ATC to locate you using radar. Having identified you on radar they can provide vectors to get you back on course. Do not hesitate to ask for assistance if you are unsure of your position. If you are lost and low on fuel or unable to maintain VFR conditions you should declare an emergency on 121.50 and be prepared to make a precautionary landing.
A good way to practice lost procedures is for your instructor to have you fly by instruments for a while using a view limiting device and then ask you to establish your position visually or by using radio navigation.
Practicing diversions and lost procedures is often a final step before your instructor allows you to undertake solo cross country flights. You solo cross countries will be closely supervised and your flight instructor will have to review and approve each flight plan with a specific logbook endorsement.
On completion of your solo cross country flights you will be ready to start final preparation for your practical test. Practical test preparation is the topic for Flight Thirteen.