How do you plan for the initial climb on your cross country flights? This is a question I never really considered as having more than one potential answer, but I guess there are a few options…
From 2009 through 2014, I had the pleasure of teaching ground schools with one of the best teachers I’ve ever met, you know him as JQuinn1B9. Jim is a great instructor with a boatload of satisfied former students, now pilots to vouch for him. Back in the spring of 2009 we created a ground school course and divided up the topics to teach in class. At that point one of the topics I was assigned was the cross country flight plan. He got the e6b flight computer, so I thought I got a good deal…
But anyways, I taught the procedure I grew up flying with and that was that. Then one year I had to miss that day and Jim taught the topic. Imagine my surprise when one of my primary flight students from the course showed up to do his first cross country flight plan and he did something I had never even seen… Let alone taught! I was expecting method 1, he did method 2, let’s take a look…
Method 1 (Matt’s Way):
When it comes to cross country flight planning and flying for that matter, I’m a climb on course type of pilot. That’s how the airlines do it, it’s how I learned as a teenager and it’s how I’ve always taught it. Have a solid plan for the climb out and you’ll be good. You start heading towards your destination, or at least your first waypoint immediately and don’t waste any time.
Method 2 (Jim’s Way):
Upon departure for a cross country flight, takeoff, exit the traffic pattern in a climb and climb up to your initial intended altitude by making circles. Then, fly directly overhead the airport at your intended cruise altitude to start the trip.
After my student created a flight plan with the second method, I decided to give it a shot and see what how it worked. We did it that day and I realized, like Jim had previously, the method had some advantages, for sure. Though, I’ll admit I later taught my student how I like to plan and fly a cross country flight with method 1 and he adapted well to the climb on course method.
Now let’s compare/contrast the two methods…
Method 1, Matt’s Way, Climbing on course
Pros: You get on course immediately, you clear the departure airport area as efficiently as possible, lastly, it’s how the airlines do it and they are awesome! (that last part was a joke… just incase you didn’t get the subtle humor) Additionally, by having your rotation time as your “start” time you can easily determine the ETA’s along your route and jot them down while still sitting on the ground, not having to worry about anything other than keeping the brakes engaged.
Cons: It is difficult to accurately plan for the climb using a combination of surface winds and winds aloft. Similarly, it is difficult to maintain a track with the nose up during a climb.
Methods 2, Jim’s Way, Climbing in a Circle
Pros: It’s easy to maintain spatial awareness in reference to the departure point airport while you climb. You are able to get the plane trimmed, level, “cruised out” and start your time with more accurate winds (it’s still “guess work” since winds aloft are only forecasts for one and are only published for a few locations as well) on your first leg. Lastly, it is easier to accurately plan for initial climb.
Cons: You will be lingering in the airport area and it can be difficult with over lying abutting airspace around your departure airport. You will determine your start time in flight as you pass over the airport, this will require filling in your ETA’s (on your old-fashioned cross country flight plan sheet) while also flying the aircraft, this isn’t that big of a deal, but it is a task with higher requirements of you than writing this information while on the ground.
Either way, I’m not here to try and sway you from one side to the other, I think both methods can be effective. I prefer the climb on course method, probably because that is how I learned it and have taught it for so many years. However, I admit that the circling climb could be equally as effective and in some cases may even be a better course of action. Maybe you climb on course, maybe you climb in circles or maybe you do something completely different, in which case I’d be interested to hear what it is you do… Either way, there are a lot of good options out there.
-Fly safe, @MTElia1B9