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Private Pilot, Training

Rest Week

August 17, 2014

Total Hours: 44.4

I know what you’re thinking, more rest already? Well I had a good excuse this time, even better than a hurricane. My girlfriend came to visit! In the end last week’s hurricane wasn’t much to write about, we didn’t even get a drop of rain here on the west side. But I enjoyed having some time off, which I spent relaxing and taking care of some chores before Liz arrived. After her arrival I squeezed in a few morning sessions early in the week. We covered some of the cross-country planning basics and completed my first two cross-country flights.

Cross-country isn’t what it sounds like, but you probably already figured that out because I’m in Hawaii and how cross-country could it be? You are correct in thinking that we do not literally have to fly across a country. To meet the aeronautical experience requirements for the private certificate a pilot needs to have 3 hours of cross-country training (no length specified), one nighttime cross-country flight of at least 50 nautical miles total distance, and one solo cross-country of 100nm total distance.  Because the flights are measured in total distance we don’t need the 100nm to be direct between departure and arrival points.  In fact, we start and finish at the same airport.  Here on the Big Island we can accomplish the necessary distances pretty easily with a flight up to the northern point, Upolu, and then a stop in the mountains at Waimea-Kohala airport. Regardless of the distance the thing that makes cross-country really fun is taking a trip away from the Kona airport!

The first flight I took was a quick out and back to Waimea-Kohala airport as part of the 3 hours of cross-country training. Waimea is nestled in an idyllic spot between Mauna Kea and the Kohala mountains. The winds can make it a challenge, but we had a perfect calm morning. On the way back from Waimea we stopped for a quick off airport operation and then returned to Kona.

The second flight was essentially a test run of my cross-country solo route. It was a chance to practice real life navigation, the critical part of cross-countries. Just like a cross-country trip on the ground it can be easy to get turned around or lost.  And we don’t exactly have streets or signs in the air to use for reference.  So how do we navigate?  I’ll give you a quick rundown of the basics. We have a few different methods we can use: pilotage, dead reckoning, radio navigation, and GPS. We learn about all four methods during the private but in practice we primarily use the first two. I believe this is for two reasons; we fly short distances in helicopters and we fly close to the ground. This allows us to easily use pilotage and dead reckoning as our primary navigation tools. Most of our helicopters do have GPS, which offers a lot of handy information, but thus far I have not used it for true navigation. And while I’ve learned a lot about radio navigation, a topic I’ll cover more in the future, I haven’t practiced it in the cockpit.

Let’s talk about pilotage and dead reckoning in more detail. Pilotage is the simplest, and oldest, method of aerial navigation. Follow the landmarks from point A to B. That’s it! We often use pilotage to follow the main (and only) costal highway along the west side of the Big Island. It doesn’t get much easier than that. Dead reckoning throws in a couple of other elements. First we plan out our route on a sectional chart.  Then we find the distance and bearing between points and figure out the heading and time needed to fly between them. With this information we can use the magnetic compass and a timer in the aircraft to fly the legs from point A to B to C and so on. It’s pretty simple but for one thing, wind! Not only can the wind push us off course, but it can also speed us up or slow us down. So the headings, and the estimated times, that we create during our preflight planning often do not come out perfect. Despite this they are still a helpful tool for navigation and maintaining situational awareness.  That’s a fancy way of saying not getting lost!

This is a simplified shot of a sectional chart with my solo cross-country flight path outlined on it.

Solo XC Flight Path

Screen shot of a sectional from Skyvector.com with my solo XC flight planned out.

Kona airport is the green dot on the left.  Upolu is the point at the top.  Waimea-Kohala is the point furthest east.  And the spot furthest south is Captain Cook, not an airport but an extra leg that helps my flight meet the requirements of the FAR’s.  I will fly the route from Kona to Upolu, back south along the coast and then east to Waimea.  Then west to the coast, transition through the Kona airspace to the south and follow the coast to Captain Cook.  The final stretch will take me back north to Kona airport and the end of the flight.

That’s about it for this week. After my cross-country flights I took several days off to enjoy some of the Big Island with Liz. Again it was a needed break. Next week I’ll be taking my cross-country solo, roughly as shown above, and then preparing for my private checkride. I’m nervous due to the amount of information I have to know and also about my performance in the maneuvers. I have confidence in my ability as a pilot though and I simply hope I can stay relaxed and let those skills shine through.


About Orin Bakal-Molnar

Besides aviation my biggest passion is climbing. I love spending my free time on the side of something big! But I'm almost as happy doing anything outside in the wild. Travel, photography, and fly-fishing are a few of my other pursuits. And of course there's nothing like meeting new people and sharing good conversation.


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