Flight planning for the road

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Shawn Turcotte
  • 21st Space Wing safety office
Whether traveling this summer as a passenger or operator by car, motorcycle, rail, or air, there is no substitute for proper "preflight" planning. Military pilots will spend as much as two hours of mission planning for a 1-hour sortie. How much time will you spend preparing to take that 15-hour road trip this summer? Regardless of time spent, ensure the following "preflight" checklist items are considered:

Vehicle Preflight: Perform a thorough vehicle inspection (all lights working, engine & belt condition, tire tread adequacy, fluid levels "in the green", etc...) Unless you are a line mechanic, consider taking your vehicle to a certified automotive facility and have their professionals perform a standard pre-departure inspection. Ensure all safety equipment is working and you have proper safety gear for the mode of travel (helmets, goggles, seat belts, functional mirrors, etc.). If you notice something amiss before hitting the on-ramp on your way out of town, taxi back and fix at home station. Ask yourself: is it worth it?

Crew Rest: Driver fatigue can be deadly and accounts for approximately 100,000 accidents annually according to the National Traffic Safety Administration. How do you avoid fatigue? Get a good night's sleep (six-10 hours is recommended for optimal alertness) before a long trip. Avoid departing at the end of a work day. Take a break from driving every two hours. Pull over and stop when drowsiness, discomfort, or loss of concentration occurs. Once fatigue has set in, the only cure is sleep. Before cranking up the air conditioning, downing a third cup of coffee or blasting the radio in an attempt to get more mileage out of your fatigued body, ask yourself: is it worth it?

Weather Briefing: Get an appropriate weather briefing for your "route of flight." Clear skies and unrestricted visibility at home station could quickly become below minimums at your destination. Monitor radio transmissions for advisories and frequently recheck weather at each en route stop. Have an emergency kit based on weather considerations (blanket, flashlight, gloves, candles, extra food/water, etc.). Ask yourself: Is it worth it?

Ops Limits: Every pilot knows the exact performance limits of his/her aircraft. Do you know your vehicle operating limits? Probably not, so here are a few tips:

1) A good rule of thumb for calculating the speed at which your vehicle will hydroplane regardless of weight is 9 x square root of your tire pressure (i.e. -- a vehicle with 36 pounds-per-square-inch tire pressure will hydroplane at 54 mph or greater)

2) Maintain at least 2 seconds of following distance while in highway "formation." At 60 mph, this allows over 176' of stopping distance under normal conditions. Increase separation based on the vehicles in front of you (motorcycles stop much quicker than automobiles and large trucks can block vision such that hazards may not be seen in time to react)

3) Avoid the need to remember such fancy rules or do mental math in public by simply practicing sound ORM principles. Ask yourself: Is it worth it?

Select an Alternate: Are you prepared to divert 100 miles off-course? Have a backup plan should your original routing become unusable or unforeseen delays force changes in your flight plan. You can get back on schedule if you increase your speed and drive the next three hours without stopping. Are you running out of crew rest? Is it worth it?

Make it to your travel destination on time and stay safe this summer. Preflight planning won't keep your engine from flaming out unexpectedly on final or guarantee a smooth ride at altitude, but it will ensure the unexpected is planned for and safe options are available to complete your travel mission. ACT (Assess-Consider-Take Action) safely and always ask yourself: Is it worth it?

"21st Space Wing Traveler, you are cleared for takeoff..."