I know at least a dozen pilots who rediscovered the value of GA during the pandemic by taking trips that would have been impossible or uncomfortable on the airlines. Unfortunately, I also know a few who wanted to make such trips but didn’t because they were unsure how to get started. They understood how to fly an airplane; they just hadn’t learned how to travel in one.
You won’t find this topic on most flight school curriculums, but with a little preparation, it’s easy to leave the pattern behind. That’s true whether you’re flying a taildragger at 500 feet or a TBM at FL 300—the mindset is more important than the airplane.
Planning and Gear
For real-world traveling, you’ll need to go beyond the knowledge-test trivia and focus on more practical topics. Start with fuel. You need to know how much you’ll burn on your trip, but you should evaluate multiple scenarios. Will weather, airspace, altitude or terrain affect your route? Also, consider how much reserve you really need—the minimums specified in the regulations are just that, a bare minimum. The goal is to have enough fuel to stay flexible as conditions change.
Instrument pilots have to consider an alternate airport, but it’s a good idea for VFR pilots too. Airports can be closed because of weather, disabled airplanes and pop-up TFRs, so it’s best to have backups in mind. You might go so far as to have “bailout” options at multiple points and carry enough fuel to make these reachable.
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