Fly Girl in Training: Short cross country practice

Mid-December cross country flight over Lake Berryessa in Northern California.

“Fly like I’m not here.”

In advance of our short cross country flight from Sacramento to Ukiah last month, my instructor, Stan, told me to prepare as if I was going alone. That meant planning the route, altitudes, fuel burn, descent profiles, as if I was pilot in command. Because some time soon, I will be.

Flying a short cross country in a Cessna 182. To my instructor’s chagrin, I faced hardly any wind or turbulence.

Part of earning a private pilot certificate is learning how to navigate and fly cross country. One requirement for the license is completing a cross country flight of at least 150 nautical miles with landings at three points. Alone. As a student.

Smooth flying and good visibility makes this student pilot happy.

It boggles people when they find out I’m allowed to fly by myself as a student. But I explain it’s a lot like learning how to drive. As a student pilot, I’m allowed to take a plane out all by myself. But, like student drivers, I’ve got limitations on when I can fly (during the day, with calm winds for now), who can be with me (only my instructor, no passengers allowed) and where I can go (airports within 25 nautical miles where my instructor has given the okay).

Stan et moi flying in the Cessna 182 a short cross country distance from Sacramento to Ukiah.

Much like other formative experiences, so much learning happens when the training wheels are taken away and students can explore, make mistakes and learn on their own. This is an especially critical process with flying as pilots are required to execute a number of important judgments–not the least of which is keeping the plane in the air and knowing where you are and where you’re going.

Gorgeous Winter flying.

Happily, I kicked ass at this short cross country challenge (if I do say so myself). Using ground references and dead reckoning to navigate (no GPS allowed for this girl), I followed my flight plan precisely to the minute. (Until I entered the pattern at the wrong angle, got discombobulated and decided to start the approach over, ahem.) The best part though? I felt confident and in control. The flight itself seemed easy and I found myself envisioning the trip without Stan in the right seat. (Which is good because I’m sensing that scenario is coming up here pretty soon.)

My favorite part of the trip? Getting to Ukiah in 45 minutes while seeing incredible views like this and not spending two and a half hours in the car!

Next up, some reflections on our long cross country practice which involved an almost-three hour lesson and stops at 10, yes, 10 airports.

Happy flying!


Other Fly Girl in Training posts:


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