New Ways to Preflight Your Destination
By Susan K. Parson, FAA Safety Briefing Editor
We didn’t have to use stone tablets and chisels when I was first learning to fly in the late 1990s, nor did I have to use hamster wheels or, worse, bicycle-style pedaling for propulsion. Even so, I sometimes feel like a fossil when I think about tools and techniques that now seem so quaint — even downright primitive. At the cross-country stage of training, for example, part of the drill was to get the flight school’s dog-eared copy of the Airport/Facility Directory (now called the Chart Supplement) and look up the airport(s) to be visited on a dual or solo cross-country flight. Step two was to use paper and pencil to create a kneeboard-sized sketch of the runway configuration, using the edges to note things like frequencies and FBO information. Instructors also expected us to depict any obstacles on the approach path. I specifically remember that part because I had an ongoing informal competition with a fellow student whose hand-hacked airport diagrams were miniature works of art.
The work involved in creating these DIY airport sketches did have its benefits. Having to find, decipher, and depict safety-critical pieces of data helped embed this information more deeply in my sometimes-befuddled brain. Today, however, there are much better ways to make preflight visits through and to the airspace and airports that you intend to use. Even if you don’t subscribe to any of the amazingly capable apps that abound these days, you can use Google Earth to skim over the terrain and explore your departure and destination airports. The app I use enables you to “pre-fly” a trip through the waypoints you load, and it offers three-dimensional airport depictions. Having been a map- and chart-geek for most of my life, I can happily spend hours using this online magic just to explore.
For the finishing touches, though, nothing beats seeing an actual flight to the place you plan to go. You can find plenty of such videos on YouTube, but the FAA has taken a more intentional approach through its growing series of From the Flight Deck videos. This video series provides pilots with actual runway approach and airport taxiway footage captured with cockpit mounted cameras, combined with diagrams and visual graphics to clearly identify hot spots and other safety-sensitive items. The blue circles denote videos in development and clicking brings up a dialog box with the projected video release date.
Airports circled in green have a video already; just click on the circle for the name of the airport and a link to the actual video. The ones I’ve watched are around seven minutes long, but of course you can watch them as many times as you like. I especially like the way that the charted area appears in the upper left corner of the “real life” video footage, so you can simultaneously see both views and hear the explanation. It’s a terrific, cost-free way to know before you go, so you can operate anywhere with competence and confidence.
Susan K. Parson (firstname.lastname@example.org) is editor of FAA Safety Briefing and a Special Assistant in the FAA’s Flight Standards Service. She is a general aviation pilot and flight instructor.