Slowing Down in Time

I recently wrote a Tip of the Week for Pilot Workshops called The Right Time to Slow Down. That tip describes a technique I that I teach to help pilots learn how long it takes their aircraft to decelerate from normal cruise to a good speed for initial approach when IFR or to enter the traffic pattern when VFR.

The basic idea is simple:

  • Set up your airplane at its normal cruise power and configuration.
  • If you have an autopilot, set it to hold altitude and heading (or to track to a fix directly ahead).
  • Start a timer.
  • Reduce power to your normal initial approach or pattern MP and RPM.
  • Note how long it takes for the airplane to stabilize at your target initial approach/pattern speed.

In an airplane like a Cessna 172, start the exercise at a typical cruise setting of 2300-2400 RPM. The airspeed should be 100-105 KIAS. Smoothly reduce power to 2000-2100, and in about 30 seconds, (as shown in the video below, captured in Microsoft Flight Simulator) the airplane will slow to about 90 KIAS, a good speed for initial approach or the traffic pattern. You’re stable, below the speed where you can extend the first 10 degrees of flaps and manage other tasks.

When I instruct in Beechcraft Bonanzas, I talk about the “happy place,” a stable configuration for initial approach and the VFR pattern. In a typical Bonanza, set the power at 17-18 in MP and 2300-2500 RPM, clean, for a speed of 125-130 KIAS. Slowing from normal cruise at about 23 in MP and 2300-2500 RPM to the “happy place” takes about 90 seconds, as you can see in the video below, also captured in Microsoft Flight Simulator.

Practicing this drill is a great exercise in an aviation training device (ATD) and in your airplane. You can experiment with several variations of speed, power settings, and flap settings (see also another Tip of the Week: Learning the Numbers) to help you quickly and consistently set up your airplane for common situations, reducing your workload and giving you more time for important tasks such as looking out for traffic, completing flows and checklists, briefing approaches, and following instructions from ATC.

Crosswind Takeoffs and Landings

Even with a brisk crosswind blowing across the runway, many pilots are reluctant (or neglect) to use all of the available flight controls during crosswind takeoffs and landings.

As the FAA Airplane Flying Handbook explains:

The technique used during the initial takeoff roll in a crosswind is generally the same as the technique used in a normal takeoff roll, except that the pilot must apply aileron pressure into the crosswind. This raises the aileron on the upwind wing, imposing a downward force on the wing to counteract the lifting force of the crosswind; and thus preventing the wing from rising…

While taxiing into takeoff position, it is essential that the pilot check the windsock and other wind direction indicators for the presence of a crosswind. If a crosswind is present, the pilot should apply full aileron pressure into the wind while beginning the takeoff roll. The pilot should maintain this control position, as the airplane accelerates, and until the ailerons become effective in maneuvering the airplane about its longitudinal axis. As the ailerons become effective, the pilot will feel an increase in pressure on the aileron control. (6-6)

Here’s a short video that shows this technique in action. During a recent coast-to-coast flight in my Beechcraft A36 Bonanza, I departed Portland, ME (KPWM) with a strong crosswind from the right.

The goal while landing, as described in the FAA Private Pilot ACS is to:

Touch down at a proper pitch attitude with minimum sink rate, no side drift, and with the airplane’s longitudinal axis aligned with the center of the runway. (Task IV. Takeoffs, Landings, and Go-Arounds)

When landing with a crosswind, you must also apply and hold aileron inputs into the wind while using rudder and elevator pressures to track the centerline, keep the aircraft aligned with the runway, and touch down in the proper pitch attitude.

Here are two short videos from the same trip that show this technique in action, first at Bradford, PA (KBFD) and then at Nashua, NH (KASH).

A Gusty Crosswind Landing at KBFD

I have been flying the A36 Bonanza on another coast-to-coast trek to work with the crew at Pilot Workshops. On such long xc flights, you often must deal with challenging conditions, and such was the case when I landed at Bradford, PA (KBFD) for fuel (video below). I had been flying directly into strong headwinds the entire day (unusual when traveling eastbound) as I tracked just north of a strong low-pressure system.

The gusty, shifting winds at KBFD were generally 30-40 degrees off any of the available runways, so with the help of the information in ForeFlight, I chose runway 14 and wrestled my way to the ground.

The wide, sturdy landing gear of the Bonanza handles crosswinds well (the max demonstrated xwind component is 17 knots).

Thoughts on a Long XC

I recently completed a long cross-country flight from Boeing Field (KBFI) in Seattle to Nashua, NH (KASH) to participate in a recording session at Pilot Workshops, which produces a range of training and proficiency products for pilots. I am a regular contributor to the IFR Mastery series of IFR scenarios. After the work in Nashua, I returned to Seattle via a southern route.

I have flown many true cross-country, even coast-to-coast, trips, VFR and IFR. I have ferried airplanes, traveled to events such as EAA AirVenture, helped Pilots N Paws get pets to new homes, and made many personal treks throughout the West. But this trip was my first coast-to-coast flight with all the tools and resources currently available to a GA pilot.

For several reasons, I chose to fly the A36 rather than ride the airlines. It had been a couple of years since I’d made such a long-distance trip in the Bonanza, and I wanted to exercise the latest avionics upgrades (viz., G500 TXi, GTN 750Xi, and GFC 600 autopilot) that had been installed just as the pandemic began. Of course, I was an early adopter of ForeFlight on an iPad Mini, connected to the panel with a Flight Stream 510. I also wanted to avoid crowded airliners and airport terminals, and I visited friends along the way.

Videos from the Flight

Videos from the trip are available at my YouTube channel. See the Across the U.S. in a Bonanza playlist to watch the flights in the order flown, including videos of three sightseeing trips not included in the data below.

An RNAV Approach at KSBM

The video below shows the landings at all the stops along the route.

Flight Statistics

Here are the basic statistics for the round-trip flight, not including three side trips. To view each planned route of flight on a chart at, click the links in the Flight Leg column.

Flight LegDist Flown (nm)Direct (nm)Hobbs TimeBlock Time
Flight Statistics

Direct v. Airways

Of course, a nonstop direct route on a trip of this length isn’t possible in a typical single-engine piston. For example, I chose to fly airways across the Cascades and Rockies on the first segment to Billings (KBIL), but even that route isn’t significantly longer than a direct flight (603 nm versus 577 nm).

I also flew west via a T-route around the Chicago Class B airspace on the IFR leg from KSBM to KASW rather than file a direct route across Lake Michigan (294 nm flown v. 288 nm direct).

As you can see in the summary table above, the total distance I flew (as recorded in ForeFlight) was, in the end, only 266 nm longer than direct routes would have been. That’s just a couple of hours’ flying time in the A36, even on such a long round trip of 5625 nm and some 37 hours of Hobbs time. And in the real world, zigs and zags to avoid weather and SUA airspace or to follow ATC vectors always add to theoretical direct distances. For a detailed discussion of this point, see Flying (and Filing) Direct v. Airways.

Transformational Tech

Before I get into specifics about the technology that I used, let me emphasize a key point. New avionics and services such as SiriusXM and FIS-B don’t make the airplane more capable. Even with a modern glass panel, my A36 can’t fly higher, faster, or father than it did when it left the factory in 1989. It still can’t tango with ice or duel with thunderstorms.

And state-of-the-art, integrated avionics–including a modern digital autopilot that’s fully connected to the other boxes in the panel–may not be necessary for typical IFR flights of 2-3 hours to familiar places.

Of course, technology like WAAS does make more approaches with precision-like minimums available. (For details about forthcoming changes to the definition of precision approach, see Draft AC 90-119 Performance-Based Navigation Operations.) As of October 2021, there were 1291 category 1 ILS approaches in the U.S. system. At present, nearly 4100 approaches offer LPV minimums; almost 1200 of those procedures are at airports not served by an ILS.

The ability to fly those RNAV (GPS) procedures offered more options on a couple of IFR legs, and it certainly reduced the stress of flying over areas of widespread IFR. Except in the sparsely populated West, I always had several airports with LPV minimums available nearby. Basic GPS was also vital. Several VORs and DMEs were out of service, or procedures were NA unless your aircraft was equipped with a “suitable RNAV system” based on GPS.

More Capable Pilots

But the benefits of the latest avionics and associated technology go beyond flying specific IFR procedures. We all recognize that tools like ForeFlight make planning, filing, and adapting while enroute much easier than in the days of paper charts and phone calls to FSS. A modern glass panel, besides being more reliable than a set of mechanical gauges, helps you collect and process information and reduces time spent estimating ground speed, fuel requirements, and other details, leaving more brain cycles for maintaining situational awareness and making informed decisions before a situation becomes tense.

In other words, today’s avionics and related technologies make you–the pilot–more capable, if you use them wisely.

For example, ForeFlight’s organized preflight briefings guided me through the details of complex weather and helped me review NOTAMS and other information. Not taking dictation from an FSS briefer meant I could see, absorb, and interpret important information, especially when operating in unfamiliar areas. I felt well prepared for each leg.

Features such as recommended routes simplified flight planning and gave me more time to consider options. Choosing a recommended route also meant I was always cleared as filed, reducing potential for confusion and errors before takeoff. Flight Stream connectivity made data entry errors less likely and saved time before takeoff because I could send routes directly from ForeFlight to the GTN 750Xi.

ForeFlight also helped me choose IFR alternates, which I selected not just to meet legal requirements, but also based on comments about FBOs, fuel prices, and availability of services, all of which were presented in the app. Note that I didn’t choose airports with the cheapest fuel. I selected airports that offered or were near services such as maintenance, hotels, rental cars, and airline rides, should they have been needed. (Thankfully, the A36 performed flawlessly.)

The performance calculations in ForeFlight were surprisingly accurate. When I checked my actual progress against the ForeFlight navigation log, I was always within a minute or two of the ETA at a particular fix and fuel used was within a couple of gallons of the preflight estimates.

Speaking of fuel, I had CiES fuel senders installed as part of the last panel update. I had calibrated and proven them before I launched on the trek to the East Coast, but they showed their value on this flight. I always knew exactly how much fuel I had used, and checking the fuel computer in the GTN 750 Xi at every tank switch confirmed that I would have at least my one-hour reserve when I landed, even if my route had changed. I impressed the line techs at each stop with my estimates, always within one gallon, of how much fuel would be needed to top the tanks.

In the past, I carried boxes of paper charts that might expire at some point. In fact, a data update occurred while I was enroute to NH, but updating both ForeFlight and the boxes in the panel took only a few minutes. More importantly, I knew that I always had the proverbial “all available information”–including charts, the Chart Supplement, and other data–while preparing for and flying a leg, regardless of how many boundaries I crossed.

SiriusXM satellite weather, not limited by range like FIS-B, is valuable on long trips. But even FIS-B weather is a godsend, especially when displayed on a tablet and in the panel. On the leg to KSBM, I could see far ahead of ATC, and I requested a reroute that kept me clear of an area of thunderstorms as they moved north, away from my destination.

Enduring Impressions

This trip reinforced impressions from earlier cross-country adventures.

I’m always surprised by how empty the skies can seem. I certainly didn’t see many aircraft, except at airports. And often I was tempted to ask ATC for radio check to make sure that the quiet frequency wasn’t a sign of a radio failure in my airplane.

ATC provided professional, helpful service no matter where I flew. The accents of the controllers changed subtly as I cruised into different regions of the country, but the calm efficiency of the folks on the other side of the conversation didn’t vary, even when weather and traffic complicated the situation.

I waited out a couple of vigorous fronts, both in Maryland and in Albuquerque, but in general, the weather cooperated. I had only three solid IFR legs, and ice, thunder, and other hazards never threatened. I always had comfortable alternatives.

And finally, a modern digital autopilot is transformational. At a basic level it reduces mental and physical fatigue. But having confidence in its ability reliably to fly procedures, and new features such as VNAV, make single-pilot IFR operations immeasurably safer and more comfortable. In fact, although I flew this trip solo, I operated as if I were as part of crew, and that made the adventure across the astonishing variety of landscapes that is America not only possible, but enjoyable.


Ride along on this typical IFR flight from Boeing Field (KBFI) in Seattle to visit Pacific Coast Avionics at Aurora, OR (KUAO), south of Portland. The video (link below) includes ATC communications and shows the rhythm of a typical IFR flight: Clearance, Takeoff and Departure, Enroute, Descent, and Approach.

As you’ll see in the video, I filed a preferred route used for low-altitude IFR traffic between the Seattle and Portland areas. I also pass along tips for copying IFR clearances and ATIS/AWOS information.

Leaving KBFI, I flew the NRVNA ONE departure, an RNAV procedure. At KUAO, I flew the RNAV (GPS) RWY 35 approach to get below a solid cloud layer that topped out at around 4000 ft.

I hope you enjoy the views of cloud surfing along the way as I use the Garmin G500 TXi, GTN 750Xi, and GFC 600 autopilot.

Video of the return flight from KUAO to KPWT (for fuel) is here.

More Practice with New Avionics

Here are two videos that show practice approaches with the new Garmin G500 TXi, GTN 750 XI, and GFC 600 autopilot.

The first video shows the departure from Boeing Field (KBFI) and the RNAV (GPS) RWY 20 approach at Bremerton, WA (KPWT).

The second video shows the ILS RWY 20 at KPWT, flown with the autopilot off, but with cues from the flight director.

Unfortunately, I had a problem with the audio connection while recording these videos, so they don’t include ATC or intercom audio. I’ll fix that issue for future videos.

RNAV (GPS) approach to LPV minimums
ILS approach with flight director

Video: KBFI to KHQM at Dusk

I made a short flight from Seattle to the Washington coast at dusk to fly an RNAV (GPS) approach at KHQM. We were between weather systems, but I enjoyed an interesting sky and a sweeping view of the Seattle area after takeoff. Notice also the wispy ground fog in the valleys and the serene scene Hoquiam at the end of the day.

Enroute to KHQM

KHQM: RNAV Approach and Landing

I took advantage of a CAVU day in the Pacific Northwest and flew the A36 Bonanza from Boeing Field (KBFI) in Seattle to Hoquiam, WA (KHQM). To practice using the avionics, I flew the RNAV RWY 06 approach in VFR conditions.

Here’s video of the descent, approach, and landing.

Descent and approach to RWY 06 at KHQM