Darren Smith, Flight Instructor
  Home | Login | Schedule | Pilot Store | 7-Day IFR | IFR Adventure | Trip Reports | Blog | Fun | Reviews | Weather | Articles | Links | Helicopter | Download | Bio

Site Map


Private Pilot
  Learn to Fly

Instrument Pilot
  7 day IFR Rating
  IFR Adventure

Commercial Pilot

Multi-Engine Pilot

Human Factors/CRM

Recurrent Training

Ground Schools


Privacy Policy
About Me


Support this Website

IFR Cross Country Flight Planning

by Darren Smith, CFII
from Instrument Checkride Reviewer

Navigation:   General Info Instrument Rating | 7-day IFR Rating | IFR Adventure | IFR Adventure FAQs | IFR Adventure Itinerary | Holding | IFR Risk | Trip Reports | Flight Profiles | Rating Requirements | After the IFR Rating | Checkride Reviewer | Visi-Hold | Are you ready?

1.  Schedule your time properly. 
If you know how to plan a cross country, schedule 30-60 minutes ground session to explain your plan to the instructor. If you got it right, you'll fly the dual cross-country together.  If you don't have good skills yet in cross country planning, you'll need to schedule at least a 2 hour ground session to plan your flight.  Don't show up at a 2 hour flight lesson without a cross country plan, your instructor simply wont be able to accommodate a flight and a planning session.

2.  Get the equipment you'll need

  • IFR enroute Chart(s). You'll want up to date charts that cover the route you'll be flying.
  • Approach plates for every airport you'll be flying into, plus alternates, plus emergency alternates.  Might as well buy the whole state for $5.  I've seen students show up with free printouts from the web then conduct their IFR flight and get stuck because they only had the ones they printed instead of the plate for the airport we needed to go to the bathroom at.
  • Airport Facility Directory (A/FD). You'll need this to find all the detailed information on the airports you'll be flying to. It must be a current version as they are published every 56 days.
  • Plotter. We'll need to measure courses on our charts so we'll need a plotter.
  • Flight Computer. I recommend a basic E-6B.  Your checkride examiner will most likely not allow you to use a fancy computer for your checkride, so I do not recommend using it.  If you are permitted to use it, your examiner may likely 'fail' it and ask, "Now What?"
  • IFR Navigation Log. You can buy these at FBOs and various pilot stores, there are versions available on the Web and lot's of FBOs have flight planning logs just hanging around for you to pick up and use. At a minimum your Navigation Log needs to include spaces for Course, Heading, Distance, Time and Fuel.
  • Kneeboard. You need a way of organizing the information in the cockpit and something to write on when you're updating your navigation log. For the instrument pilot, I suggest one of those fancy ballistic nylon deals with all the extra pockets.  You'll be surprised how useful that is when you're in IMC.
  • Pencils and Eraser. You're going to be writing stuff down during the trip.  That's multiple pencils by the way, don't bring one, break it, and then ask what to do next.
3.  Practical tips for cross country flights - additional equipment you'll want
  • Let’s face it, the better equipped your aircraft, the easier the trip.  Things like autopilots, GPS equipment, radar, and storm scope/strikefinder equipment only assist you in safely arriving at your destination.
  • Additional handheld equipment such as a radio & GPS.
  • Consider purchasing the Carbon Monoxide Detector.  This is the card or sticker with the spot that turns brown when CO is present.
  • Aircraft supplies:  tow bar, oil, tie down ropes.
  • Pilot organization:  extra pens, flashlights, a kneeboard, spare batteries, and failed instrument covers.  Consider a laptop with flight planning software and an external GPS antenna which can be a great backup for lost/destroyed charts or a broken (installed) GPS.
  • Winter flights:  Extra clothing such as baggy sweatpants to put over your clothing to add extra warmth.  Bring another jacket to hang over the back of the seat to put on quickly if necessary.  See Simple Rules for Winter Flight for practical tips on Winter Flying.
  • Over water flights:  Black plastic bags to get into to preserve body heat, life jackets with strobes, and an inflatable raft.  See article: Ten Commandments for Overwater Flight
  • Things you never want to use:  first aid kit and survival gear such as an axe, matches, signaling mirror, etc.
  • Personal comfort:  medications, chewing gum, small snacks & water, spare sunglasses and/or eyeglasses, cell phone and/or calling card.
  • Happiness items:  favorite book, camera, extra cash.
4.  Cross Country Planning Overview - from your ground school preparation:
      The night before:
  1. Verify you have current charts and plates.
  2. Obtain the departure and destination information from the AF/D
  3. Draw the airports, runway length/width, runway numbers, pattern altitude, and traffic pattern on your nav log. Study the approach lighting for the airport so you know what to expect when you pop out of the bottom of the cloud base.
  4. Notate all frequencies to be used on your nav log.
  5. Highlight your course on the enroute chart.
  6. Put the Checkpoints (VORs) on your Navigation log.
  7. Measure the distances between the checkpoints and enter that on the nav log.
  8. Get an outlook weather briefing from the FSS.
  9. Emergency planning
    • What if you can't complete the flight as you planned it?
    • Enroute weather changes?
    • Lost communications plan? 
    • What if you get lost?
    • Fuel emergency?  Off airport landing?
    • Equipment emergency: what's your backup plan?
      One hour before:
  1. Compute a weight & balance, considering fuel.
  2. Very thorough pre-flight, especially checking oil and cleaning the windows.
  3. Obtain a standard weather briefing from the FSS.
  4. Determine cruising altitude...
    1. Base of the clouds.
    2. Length of the trip
    3. Airspace requirements
    4. Cruising altitude rules
  5. Determine your alternate requirements.
  6. Determine Wind Correction Angle (WCA) from Winds Aloft - you'll use this as a rough estimate of staying on course.  Your navaid will be primary.
  7. Calculate True Airspeed, Ground Speed, Fuel Usage, RPM Settings from POH
  8. Determine the Time between checkpoints.
  9. Determine the Fuel used between checkpoints.
  10. Determine if fuel is adequate for the trip, including reserves + alternates.
  11. Review any en-route ATC services.
  12. Prepare and file a IFR flight plan.
  13. Develop an alternate plan in case you can't complete this one.
  14. Work up a Personal Minimums Checklist (download)
      Just before:  (last minute checks)
  1. Weather decision points: 
    1. Convection & Turbulence (Radar, METARs, TAFs, AFs, Airmet Tango)
    2. Icing (METARs, TAFs, AFs, Airmet Zulu)
    3. Frontal Activity
  2. Take off & arrival minimums - one last check to make sure you're legal. 
As you fly each leg we'll note the Actual Time Enroute (in minutes past the hour) to compare with our estimates.  We'll also calculate an Estimated Time of Arrival (in minutes past the hour). If the estimate and the actual vary significantly, we'll need to recalculate fuel consumption and Fuel Used.

Cross Country Training - Airplane

Cross Country Training - Helicopter
Instrument Rating
  • A short cross-country IFR flight, about 50nm from your airport. We'll plan and fly these just like any cross-country to get familiar with cross-country planning.
  • A "long" cross-country to meet the requirements. Dual IFR Cross Country – 250nm along airways or ATC routing, instrument approach at each airport, 3 different approaches
Instrument Rating
  • A short cross-country IFR flight, about 50nm from your airport. We'll plan and fly these just like any cross-country to get familiar with cross-country planning.
  • A "long" cross-country to meet the requirements.  Dual IFR Cross Country – 150nm along airways or ATC routing, instrument approach at each airport, 3 different approaches

Does Everybody Do This?   Yes, and this is why:
  • It's considered the best practice for IFR cross country flight planning.
  • You'll be expected to perform cross-country flight planning on your check ride.
  • You'll use the same method when you make long cross-country flights to determine the maximum capabilities of your aircraft.  How far, how long, how much, how high, and what airport.

Your Thoughts...

Name: (Anonymous posts deleted)

E-mail: (if you want a reply)

How did you hear
of this website?
Message:  (What should I write?)
Business Card
News Group
Safety Seminar
Word of Mouth
(Required) Enter number from image to send:


Check this out...
  Home | Login | Schedule | Pilot Store | 7-Day IFR | IFR Adventure | Trip Reports | Blog | Fun | Reviews | Weather | Articles | Links | Helicopter | Download | Bio
All content is Copyright 2002-2010 by Darren Smith. All rights reserved. Subject to change without notice. This website is not a substitute for competent flight instruction. There are no representations or warranties of any kind made pertaining to this service/information and any warranty, express or implied, is excluded and disclaimed including but not limited to the implied warranties of merchantability and/or fitness for a particular purpose. Under no circumstances or theories of liability, including without limitation the negligence of any party, contract, warranty or strict liability in tort, shall the website creator/author or any of its affiliated or related organizations be liable for any direct, indirect, incidental, special, consequential or punitive damages as a result of the use of, or the inability to use, any information provided through this service even if advised of the possibility of such damages. For more information about this website, including the privacy policy, see about this website.