Teaching and Learning Flying - Private Pilot, Single-Engine Airplane

VFR Cross Country Planning


Planning for a specific flight is the fourth major area of preflight preparation. (See Preflight Preparation lesson plan.) For student and recreational pilots seeking private pilot certification, cross-country flight, for the purpose of meeting aeronautical experience requirements, as defined in FAR 61.1, means a flight with a landing more than 50 nautical miles from the point of departure.


Thorough preflight planning provides the essential foundation for exercising good judgment in making go/no-go decisions, and choosing among alternatives. Preflight planning contributes substantially to safe and efficient flight.
Cross-country emergency conditions
  • Lost procedures
  • Adverse weather conditions
  • Precautionary off-airport approaches and landings
Filing a VFR flight plan


Private Pilot PTS (FAA-8081-14 with Change 1), I.C. To determine that the applicant:
  1. Exhibits knowledge of the elements related to VFR cross-country flight planning by presenting and explaining a preplanned VFR cross-country flight near the maximum range of the airplane, as previously assigned by the examiner. The final flight plan shall include real-time weather to the first fuel stop, with maximum allowable passenger and baggage loads.
  2. Uses appropriate, current aeronautical charts.
  3. Plots a course for the intended route of flight.
  4. Identifies airspace, obstructions, and terrain features.
  5. Selects easily identifiable en route check points.
  6. Selects the most favorable altitudes, considering weather conditions and equipment capabilities.
  7. Computes headings, flight time, and fuel requirements.
  8. Selects appropriate navigation systems/facilities and communication frequencies.
  9. Confirms availability of alternate airports.
  10. Extract and records pertinent information from NOTAM's, the Airport/Facility Directory and other flight publications.
  11. Completes a navigation log and simulates filing (or files, in case of this lesson) a VFR flight plan.
Commercial Pilot PTS, I.F. adds:
  1. Plan one leg for night operations
  2. Plan suitable (alternate) course of action for various situations
  3. Select most favorable altitude or flight level, considering weather conditions and equipment capabilities


To develop the student's knowledge, skill and judgment in VFR cross-country planning to meet the applicable practical test standards and to enhance the safety of flight


  • List the four major areas of preflight preparation
  • Discuss the elements of VFR flight planning
  • Demonstrate selected elements of VFR flight planning
  • Coach student practice in planning a VFR flight:
    1. Assemble equipment/materials
      Sectionals/Class B Charts
      Plotter/straight edge/pencils/erasers
      Navigation log/flight plan forms
      A/FD and/or other source of airport info
      Pilot's Operating Handbook/Flight Manual
      Weather/NOTAM info
    2. Obtain, record all relevant weather info (include 3 airports per leg)
    3. Study, record relevant airport info
    4. Plot course
      Choose check points
      Measure and record course(s) (true and magnetic) and
      Distances (between check points and total)
    5. Estimate and record fuel for start, run-up, taxi and takeoff
    6. Choose altitude(s); estimate and record time, fuel and distance for climb
    7. Select and record radio aids for navigation and communications
    8. Identify airspace, obstructions, terrain features, alternate airports
    9. Choose power setting
      • Estimate TAS
      • Calculate TH, MH, CH, and GS
      • Calculate and record time (between checkpoints and total) and fuel for cruise
    10. Estimate time and fuel for approach, alternate, reserve
    11. Weight and balance: calculate and verify within limits
    12. Takeoff and landing performance: estimate distances; verify OK
    13. Check navigation log complete
    14. Flight plan: complete form; file


    • Failure to assemble all relevant, necessary materials/equipment
    • Use of expired aeronautical charts
    • Inadequate, incomplete weather briefing
    • Improper interpretation of weather information
    • Inadequate study of airport info
      Include one alternate airport per leg
    • Poor choice of checkpoints: Too far apart; Too far from course
    • Poor estimation of fuel required
      Include fuel for start, taxi, run-up, takeoff, climb, cruise, approach, go-around, fly to alternate, approach, land, plus 30 minutes (day VFR)
      Be conservative
    • Failure to properly calculate weight and balance
    • Failure to properly estimate takeoff and landing performance
    • Failure to complete and file a VFR flight plan

  • Greg Gordon MD, CFII