Cross Country FAQ


For many pilots, the cross-country phase is the most exciting part of their training. It provides a chance to expand your horizons from your home airport and the designated practice area to new destinations, first with your flight instructor and then solo. Or perhaps it's because you are that much closer to the completion of your training. It also means more questions; here are some that we are asked frequently.

What methods can I use to assist me if I get lost?

If you think you are lost, try to locate any large landmarks such as lakes, rivers, towers, railroad tracks, or Interstate highways that you may be near. When you see such a landmark, use it to find your location on the sectional chart. It helps if you are able to climb to a higher altitude. Navigation aids, dead reckoning, and pilotage are skills that can be used as well. Lastly, don't forget air traffic control — controllers are there to assist you in many ways, including finding you if you are lost; call and confess your situation and help will be offered. Once you established communication with ATC, follow their instructions.

Lost procedures (Four Cs)

  • Climb for a better view, improved communication and navigation reception, and terrain avoidance.
  • Communicate by calling the nearest flight service station on 122.2 MHz. If the equipment is available, you may be able to get a direction-finding steer to an airport or another known point. If you can't raise Flight Service, try calling the nearest control tower, center, or approach control. For frequencies, check the chart in the vicinity of your last known position. If that fails, switch to the emergency radio frequency (121.5 MHz) and transponder code (7700).
  • Confess to air traffic control that you are lost and need help.
  • Comply with the controller's instructions. ATC wants to get you home. You can reduce your chances of getting lost in the first place by using flight following when it is available, monitoring checkpoints no more than 25 miles apart, keeping navigation aids such as VORs tuned in, and maintaining good situational awareness.

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Can I bring my friend with me? He is not a pilot.

No. You cannot bring anyone with you on your solo flights. The rules are very specific on this point: Solo means solo. Carrying passengers of any kind is not allowed. You also cannot act as pilot in command (PIC) of any flight carrying a pilot as a passenger, whether that pilot is a fellow student pilot or even an airline captain. Your passengers must wait until you earn your private or recreational pilot certificate.
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Are there any flight planning computer programs that I can use that will help me plan my flight?

Yes, there are a few. Two very commonly used programs are DUATS and AOPA's Internet Flight Planner. You can access them both in the Virtual Flight Bag section on this Web site. However, you should consult with your instructor before you make use of these flight-planning aids; he or she has an obligation to teach you the manual process for planning your flights.
AOPA's Internet Flight Planner >

How do I open and close my VFR flight plans?

To open a flight plan you will need to contact the closest FAA Flight Service Station (FSS). You will find the radio frequency above a VOR frequency box on a sectional chart. To close a flight plan, you can contact FSS by radio or call them on the telephone. The standard phone number is 800/992-7433 (800/WX-BRIEF).
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How do I use VFR traffic advisories?

Using VFR traffic advisories, also knows as radar traffic advisories and commonly called flight following, is easier than most pilots think. Pilots have to remember that this service to VFR aircraft is provided based upon the workload of ATC. When ATC is busy, providing services to IFR flights always has priority over the needs of VFR flights. When you are ready to receive flight following, contact the nearest ATC facility such as an approach control or center and request flight following by telling them who you are, where you are, and where you would like to go. An example would be "Washington Center, this is Cessna 12345, 10 miles East of the ABC VOR, en route to the Martinsburg airport, requesting flight following." ATC will respond with a transponder code for you and, once they have you on radar, they will offer you flight following. Don't be shy about using the system. It's there for you, and it can make your flying a lot more enjoyable — and safer.
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