I have had a good run at Cooking Lake Aviation so far, having spent the majority of the last five years of my life there, I am beyond grateful for the people I’ve met, the views I’ve seen and the things the academy has let me accomplish.
Particularly, these last six months with the school have been some of the most satisfying of my life. Being able to bring an individual with no previous experience or knowledge of flying an aircraft to the level of being able to accomplish their first take off and landing by themselves, creates a new level of pride and confidence in my work that I have never felt in any other work environment.
The first solo is a major accomplishment indeed, but it only gets better from there. Not only do we continue honing the pilot-to-be’s skills and knowledge, we begin to develop one of the most critical skills a pilot must have to make full use of his/her license: navigation from airport to airport. Teaching the cross-country aspect of flight is by far my favorite lesson to teach, and the feeling of navigating the prairies on his/her own for the first time only adds additional fuel to the addiction we all know as flying.
Navigation pulls together everything that has been taught so far: proper planning, the ability to interpret weather charts and data, and proper flying skills. All of this is done with the goal in mind of bringing a student to a brand-new airport, far away from anything he/she had been previously used to.
The Private Pilot cross-country requires a student to complete a 150 nautical mile flight, including 2 stops at aerodromes other than your departure aerodrome. The cross-country flight begins with a VFR Navigation Chart (VNC) as well as a navigation log. Using various tools and methods, the pilot measures the tracks required to fly the plane to the destination, taking in mind direction of flight, upper winds and cruising altitudes. We then show the student how to select proper checkpoints along that route, checkpoints which will allow the student to navigate along their pre-determined route, and allow for the calculation of ground speeds and estimated arrival times at the destination. Despite the plethora of technology pilots have available to them, including sophisticated GPS systems such as the one in our G1000 units, we teach the students to perform their cross-country flights utilizing a method known as dead-reckoning, the most challenging and rewarding form of navigation.
Dead reckoning is the practice of navigating along pre-planned tracks above the ground, using nothing but those predetermined tracks, checkpoints, their map, and a simple flight calculator, known as an E6B. We teach the student how to calculate the wind correction angles the pilot will have to fly to compensate for drift created by winds blowing in directions opposite the intended direction of travel. On top of these calculations, the student is also required to determine fuel burn, time to climb, weight and balance, and research the arrival airports using various resources including the aircrafts operating handbook, and the Canadian Flight Supplement, a comprehensive index of Canada’s airports.
Once all the planning is completed and looked over, the student and the instructor head out on the students first real cross country experience. Calculating wind drift and performing ground speed calculations, ensuring proper radio calls are made, and referencing the map to stay on the intended track. It’s obvious to note that the student soon realizes the attentiveness and decision making needed to arrive at the destination on time and safely. This of course is all coupled with some amazing views of the countryside. With the extensive list of cross-country routes Cooking Lake Aviation has approved, everything from gouging valleys to piercing mountain peaks are all part of the picture painted on the windshield.
Overall, from an instructor standpoint, it is neat observing and interacting with a student who, at the beginning of the flight, seems rather worked up, anxious & restless, but then begins to whole heartedly enjoy themselves and feel a sense of accomplishment! At first, it is normal for a student to feel overwhelmed with all the tasks of a cross-country. Then, as the student becomes familiar with the procedures and calculations, the student develops a sense of confidence where he/she can succeed. And that succession, is the beginning of the journey to becoming a great pilot.
After a student successfully completes the routing with an instructor, they are sent to fly the route solo. Seeing the student on the ground after completing a full cross-country route, with a smile on their faces and stories to tell, is hands down the reason why this is my favorite lesson to teach. This is the lesson where the idea of becoming a pilot transforms from a dream, to reality.
Follow along with Nathan on his pilot journey via Instagram: @flyguyposa