Cross country flying has a certain mystique attached to it that tends to inhibit many pilots from adding that extra dimension to their flying. With x-c jaunts added to your flying, now you will get to enjoy not just hours and altitude but a trip to some new place as well. So, how does a pilot get started on the x-c adventure?
For many of us, the leash was broken by simply taking up a thermal to sufficient altitude that we were able to blow over the back of a 500 ft. ridge and making it safely to a landing area while not getting hit with rotor. Wow!!! I went x-c!!! How far? Subjective experience was what mattered. The actual number for me on my first one was maybe a couple of miles. For Alegra my wife, her first x-c was in a meet. When feasible, we love to take new x-c pilots with us for their first cross country flight. That way, we may even have an in the air dialog about the new landing area that they will be evaluating and vicariously experience again that first x-c flight. In practice, that rarely happens so if you don't happen to be able to attach yourself to somebody going, don't let it stop you. Just be at safe altitude and in decent conditions for the task you will set for yourself. That task is simply to go and land in a new place.
Preparation for that first x-c has presumably been done already with learning good approach and landing skills and some questioning of pilots who have flown from the site you will fly from. It pays to know in advance what pitfalls can await you in your first exodus from the fold. If you haven't talked to anybody about your proposed trip, the main concerns are "Always be within reach of an acceptable landing area" and "Stay out of controlled airspace". A third item can make life more comfortable, "Land near a road where it will be relatively easy to hitch a ride".
Always give yourself enough altitude that you will be able to reach a field that you are sure will be acceptable and have time and altitude to evaluate the field, wind direction and to set up for landing into the wind. Flying downwind, you will be surprised at the distances that you can travel and ultimately you will use that new, experience based, brain computed, flatter glide path to comfortably add miles to your flight but ---------AAS Always Anticipate Sink and don't take my word for that "flatter" downwind glide. Learn it by taking conservative stepe.
What has to be considered in the choices for landing field?
- 1) Size and orientation towards the expected wind direction: Don't casually assume that the wind will be in the same direction where you land that it was at launch but if the fields are not large, pick ones where the geometry favors that direction. If there are no visual clues as to wind direction, test the local direction by passes or 360s that will let you find where the wind is actually coming from.
- 2) Hazards both around the field and within it:
a)If there are buildings near it, hunt for power lines going to them. Spot
phone poles and know where the lines go. Don't expect power lines to simply
run along roads. I was once surprised by lines running diagonally across a
field in my early x-c days. No longer.
A few years ago I was very concerned in the air when I saw poles along a beautiful field without visible wires. I worked to avoid the invisible wires on approach only to discover that prisons don't have wires above ground. It looked like an industrial complex from the air. Another prison looked like a country club. This brings up the matter of the benefits of asking pilots/people what interesting places are around the place you are flying. I mention the prisons more as entertainment than as a standard cross country flight hazard. b) Fences or ditches within the field: You will generally be warned of ditches by color. Fences almost always have poles. Electric fences will have very small posts but they can usually be spotted either as establishing a pattern or you will see differences in color in the field where the fenced animals have been eating within the fenced area. c) Slope in the field can screw up the best planned approach and often the slope can't be seen until you are too low to make any drastic changes. My personal solution is to plan my approach so that I can always turn 90 degrees when on final and land at least across the slope. I usually try to pick fields where I think that I can land up hill. It's great insurance.
- 3) Crops: To somebody who doesn't farm, grass, hay, green things are often
simply "stuff". To the farmer that grew them, they are money and often survival.
There are a host of color hints as to the nature of the field. Learn what
fields look like from the air with the concept of "what is in them?". If you
screw up and land in a crop field, do as little damage as possible on your way
to the edge and then try to find the owner and plead for mercy, offering to pay
for the damage you have caused.
Ok, to date, you have always landed in "the" landing area for the sites you have flown. Today, you have worked up and over or along a ridge and having always stayed within reach of a field that you have conservatively considered to be suitable for landing, you decide to break the leash. It doesn't matter how far away from launch it is, what matters is that it is new and not within sight of launch. Do it! You will find a euphoria almost matching that of your first flight and find yourself wondering why you didn't do it sooner. Come on, let's go!