Archive of the categories: Cross Country Flying

IFR Checkride Prep: Alternate Airports and the 1-2-3 Rule

Screen Shot 2016-03-02 at 9.49.08 PMNext month I will be taking my Instrument Rating checkride! I am very excited, not because I have any desire to fly straight into some big puffy clouds, but because it is an important step in my progress of being a more experienced and qualified pilot. I’ve finished two big hurdles already, I have gotten my 50 hours cross country PIC time, including a few solo cross country flights, and I’ve passed the FAA written exam. I’m also about half way through the commercial ground school. I was planning on taking that written exam before the Instrument checkered, but I’m not sure if that will happen yet. In any event, I will be studying aviation every night. 

One question that I anticipate coming up on the checkered is “How do you know if you’ll need to list an alternate airport on your IFR flight plan?” And no, it’s not acceptable to just say, “I’ll list one anyway, just to be safe.” The examiner is going to give me a weather forecast at an airport and I’ll have to tell him whether or not I need an alternate. I will refer to the 1-2-3 rule of IFR flying. It’s pretty simple. 

From ONE hour before to ONE hour after your planned ETA at the destination airport, the forecast has to be at least 2,000 foot ceiling and 3 mile visibilities. If those weather minimums are met, than no alternate airport is required. But if the ceiling or visibility is less than TWO thousand feet and THREE miles, then you need an alternate. And there are some rules about your alternate, depending on the available instrument approaches. 

If an IAP is published for that airport, you must be able to land at the alternate minimums specified in the procedure, or if none are specified: 

(1) for a precision approach procedure: ceiling 600 feet and visibility 2 statue miles. 

(2) for a non precision approach procedure, ceiling 800 feet and visibility 2 statute miles. 

(3) If there is no instrument approach procedure published for your alternate airport, the ceiling and visibility minimums are those allowing descent from the MEA, approach, and landing, under basic VFR. In class Echo airspace below 10,000 feet MSL, basic VFR is 3 statute miles visibility and cloud clearance of 500 feet below, 1,000 feet above, and 2,000 feet horizontal. 

New Year’s Day Flight to Catalina

Happy New Year!  Thought it would be fun to do a lyric video and since it was New Year’s Day, I tried to pick a fun song! Hope everyone had an amazing day yesterday and isn’t letting the newness of 2016 wear off. Today is Day 2 of book of 366 days! Can’t wait to see what is in store for 2016!! 

This video is yesterday’s flight out of Oceanside to Catalina! Weather couldn’t have been better and we saw a couple of whales out swimming around.  Rather than overflying the airport and doing a sort of circle back / teardrop entry on the 45 at KAVX , we flew over Two Harbors and came around the back and entered  on a 45 for right downwind for Runway 22.  Fun flight, and such a treat that Catalina is a short 55 mile hop from Oceanside! 

Flying Adventures From Oceanside to Carlsbad, Chino, and Back

Yesterday, I did a quick little cross country flight up to Chino, a county-owned “reliever airport” right next to the big Ontario Airport up there in San Bernardino County. As part of my cross-country training, I need 50 hours of cross-country flying time. For the FAA’s purposes and logging,  a cross country flight includes “a point of landing that was at least a straight-line distance of more than 50 nautical miles from the original point of departure.” From my home airport, Chino is a straight line of 48 nautical miles. But, if I fly from Oceanside to Carlsbad Airport (KCRQ), and take off there, it is a 54 NM straight line. So I flew from Oceanside to Carlsbad, picked up Andy and a friend, and we flew that hop up to Chino and back to Carlsbad. Then, I popped in the cockpit GoPro and flew home. Here’s footage of that short six mile flight from Carlsbad to Oceanside.

YouTube Playlist Specifically for Studying for the IFR Written Test

I’ve been busy studying for the IFR written test, which I plan to take in the next month. When I took the Private Pilot written test, I found it helpful to listen to test questions while driving around in my car. There were some good apps for this, but I nothing on Youtube. For the IFR written, I’ve decided to make my own study guide, and publish it on YouTube. I’ve been putting questions together on a YouTube playlist. I cover everything from hazardous weather to aircraft icing, airport signs to gyroscopes. I’m trying to add videos daily. Some of the questions are “easy” and some are harder. I do some questions that are challenging to me, and some questions that I think might help others. Check it out!

First Cross Country Flight Video – Carlsbad to Lancaster


For those interested, here is video from part of yesterday’s cross country flight,  – my first ever – from the takeoff at Carlsbad’s Palomar Airport (KCRQ) out to Bonsall and then the landing at Fox Field (KWJF) – and spotting two landmarks, “the prison” and “the racetrack”. I learn something every time I fly. Yesterday, I filed my flight plan under the wrong tail number. It wasn’t that big of a deal, but I know I will never do that again!  Thanks to my awesome instructor Andy for letting me bring the GoPro up and being patient with all my questions.

Understanding Pressure Altitude and Density Altitude


At my next stage check, I know I’m going to have to explain pressure altitude and density altitude. And when I become a CFI I’m going to have to teach other people what they are, so I need to learn it. And understand it. And most importantly, be able to explain it. Thank goodness for Youtube videos, I can get some free education that will supplement everything I’m paying to learn at Pinnacle.

Pressure altitude is simple – it’s what you get when you dial 29.92 in your altimeter.

Density altitude is pressure altitude corrected for temperature and humidity. Or, pressure altitude corrected for nonstandard temperature. Another way of thinking about density altitude is this: Density altitude is the altitude the airplane feels like it’s at.

At some point my examiner is going to ask me to calculate density altitude. I know there are two pieces of information I need to figure this out. Pressure altitude and temperature. I can get the temperature right off the thermometer. I can find the pressure altitude by setting the altimeter to 29.92 and reading the altitude off the altimeter. Another method of calculating pressure altitude: take standard pressure, subtract the current pressure, multiply it by 1,000 and add the field elevation.

If you don’t have a flight computer, or an E6B, you can find density altitude using this formula:

Density Altitude = PA + (120 x (OAT – ISA Temp)

PA = 120 x (Outside Air Temperature – Standard Temperature (always 15))

In the wintertime, when it’s cool, and especially near sea level, density altitude isn’t really a big deal. In the summer time, when it heats up and air is humid, density altitude can be a big deal. Not so much here in Carlsbad, but in other areas, particularly high elevation areas where it gets hot, density altitude is very important. Remember, a high density altitude is NOT a good thing.

A surprisingly accurate rule of thumb (usually any error will be less than 200-300 feet) for determining the density altitude is easy to remember. For each 10-degrees Fahrenheit above standard temperature at any particular elevation, add 600 feet to the field elevation. (And, conversely for each 10-degrees F below standard temperature, subtract 600 feet from the field elevation.)

Example: It is 79 degrees Fahrenheit at Carlsbad, so that’s 20 degrees about standard temperature (standard temperature is 15C/59F) Add 1200 feet (600×2) to the field elevation of 330. Density altitude calculated by the rule of thumb method would be 1550. Using the 29.92 barometric pressure calculated on a flight computer, density altitude would be 1,673. So, pretty close.

Understanding True Course, True Heading and the Wind Correction Angle


I am prepping for cross-country and beginning to think everything would be easier if wind didn’t exist. When you’re planning your route, you have to constantly correct for wind. And this involves something called the wind correction angle. It is the difference between the magnetic course you want to fly, and the magnetic heading you actually fly. In order to stay on course to a point, you need to compensate for the effects of the win, and steer the nose of the airplane into the wind. We use our E6B flight computer to find the effect of the wind in regard to ;

Groundspeed (rate of airplane’s progress over the ground)
Airspeed (rate of airplanes progress through the air)
Drift angle (angle between course heading and track)
Heading (the direction in which the nose of the airplane is headed)
Course (the intended path of the airplane over the ground).

Using the wind correction angle and your E6B flight computer, you can convert your true course to your true heading, and also find out what your ground speed will be for your flight. So again in summary, the difference between the magnetic course and the magnetic heading is the wind correction angle.