GETTING LOST THE SECOND MAJOR FEAR TO CROSS COUNTRY FLYING
In last months Instructors Corner we talked about the "Miss the Obstruction" method of teaching landings and said that it could help us in learning to land short if we were flying cross-country and needed to land out in a short field. In that column I mentioned that there were two major fears that keep many of our SSA soaring pilots from attempting cross-country flying. One was the out landing. The other is GETTING LOST. How do I know this? For one reason, they were my biggest fears. Secondly, I am fortunate enough to have the opportunity to travel some and get to talk to other soaring pilot both individually and in groups. When talking with groups of pilots I normally ask how many fly cross-country on a regular basis and get a small number of people who will raise their hands. I then ask how many pilots would like to fly cross-country in the future and the vast majority raise their hands. Finally, I ask how many people would fly cross-country if there was an airport every one mile on line with their intended course and everybody normally raises their hands. This tells me that those pilots have the same fears that I have.
Learning how to land in a short space will help reduce the fear of having to land out. However, the fear will not be completely eliminated, as you will be going into a field that you have (in all likelihood) never been in before. However, the "getting lost" fear can be eliminated now that there are inexpensive (less than $150) handheld GPS units on the market. These units come with no database but can be loaded with surrounding airport coordinates very easily with a plug in adapter and access to the Internet. Im willing to bet that if you belong to an SSA club or chapter someone on your field can help you with getting the GPS set up. Then once the local airports are in your system you can start learning how to use your GPS. You dont need to go cross-country to learn how to use your GPS. Fly locally and practice. Get used to it. Once you learn how to use a GPS you will never be lost unless, of course, you are not checking your position with your sectional chart and your batteries die. You may not make your destination and you may not make it back home but you surely will know where you are.
Using your GPS locally is also a great way to start figuring out if you have a good day and hence, a good chance of making your planned cross-country flight. One of the first things you need to know is approximately how many miles forward you can expect to get on a given day for every thousand feet you give up on your altimeter. This is an extremely important number to know for cross-country flying in sailplanes without all the fancy computers. Now certainly we all know there are many variables that can change the results each day and even during the day.. However, we have to get started somewhere. Some rules of thumb are as follows. On a calm day without much wind you should be able to get the following:
Sailplane Miles Forward for each 1000 feet Loss of altitude
SGS 2-33 3
SGS 1-26 3
Grob 103 5
ASK 21 5
How do you know if these numbers are going to work out for the day? Test them. Now during the test dont get out of gliding distance from the home airfield and its best to do this the first couple times in a two place plane with an experienced cross-country pilot helping you. Heres what you do. Find an airport that is upwind of your field. Write down the distance from that airport and your altitude. Fly your best L/D speed. Check your speed across the ground on your GPS and you can get a feel for the amount of headwind (or tailwind if you went in the wrong direction). Adjust your best L/D speed for the wind. Now fly 1000 feet off your altimeter and write down your new distance to your chosen airport. Compare that to the original distance and see if you did better or worse than your estimated miles forward for each 1000 loss on your altimeter. A word of caution here. If you happen to hit a cloud street on the way out and you are not losing any altitude or very little then beware. This is not a good test! While it may be a great cross-country day you may still be flying too far away from your home airport until you have more practice.
With practice you can learn a lot with a handheld GPS flying around your field. It is this type of practice that will help you build your confidence for your first cross-country flight and the many that follow. There are many, many other things that need to happen before you go on your first cross-country flight such as planning the flight, getting a crew, etc. but well cover that in another Instructors Corner.
Send your comments or articles for the Instructors Corner to: Frank Reid, P.O. Box 1510, Lancaster, SC 29721