Five Gadgets for Solo Cross Country Flights

3 min read

I remember planning my first cross country flight. There were sectional charts thrown across the floor, highlighters in the dog’s mouth, crumpled flight plan forms in the corner, my aluminum E6B lodged into the drywall from where I chucked it in frustration…those were the days. Much like we’ve graduated from outhouses to indoor plumbing, we no longer have to rely on the ancient tools to successfully complete a cross country flight.  Here’s my list of five gadgets that you should consider for those flights beyond the local area. We recommend visiting in case you are having delay issues or other problems.

  1. iPad with a Navigational App

This one almost goes without saying. In aviation, charts are required. While learning on a paper chart might still be practiced and preached in many flight schools, using paper charts for cross country flying is like driving a manual transmission in a city full of hills. Embrace technology on this one. ForeFlight, Garmin Pilot, FlyQ, Stratus Insight… pick one of the many options available to be your “go-to” for cross county planning and flying. Choosing the app first will help you with gadget #2. 

  1. ADS-B Receiver

We’ve seen the aviation market go through several revolutions. Radios, headsets, and GPSs have all had a profound impact on the way we fly. ADS-B is the most recent revolution. I cannot imagine flying without its conveniences. Modern ADS-B receivers provide GPS location, weather, traffic, attitude information, obstacles, and much more. Flying solo means you have only one set of eyes to look out for other traffic. ADS-B is another set of eyes—super eyes. Make sure you buy a receiver that will work with your navigation app. As an example, if you are using Garmin Pilot, you’ll need a Garmin receiver (GDL 50).

  1. ANR Headset with Bluetooth or Aux In

Active noise canceling (ANR) headsets will increase the clarity of incoming transmissions.  Hearing that transmission the first time will give you more time to focus on more important tasks like flying the airplane. Since you are splurging on a valuable headset, be sure to get one with Bluetooth capability, or at least an aux input. Many of the aforementioned apps have the ability to provide audio alerts. “Traffic,” “Terrain,” “500 Feet,” meaning your navigational app becomes your copilot. Your headset is now the conduit for those audio alerts.

  1. Backup Radio

Aviate, Navigate, Communicate. Those are your flying priorities. Flying is number one, but communicating remains a priority. Having a plan for when the panel goes dark will make a tense situation that much more bearable. Make sure your backup radio has good batteries and that you know how to operate it in the air. Most portable radios will require an adapter for your aviation headset to plug into. The PJ2 COM radio has the standard twin plugs built in, so there’s one less thing to worry about.

  1. Sunglasses

While not a gadget, this one is needed so you can see those gadgets and to make your flying more enjoyable. One of my personal favorite flights to make is a trip to get breakfast to neighboring airports. We normally take off just before the sun rises. I recall one flight where I was poking fun at my passenger and fellow pilot who had a pair of sunglasses in his shirt pocket. “The moon isn’t that bright,” I quipped. Thirty minutes later I was squinting into the sun while on final approach. A good pair of non-polarized sunglasses is essential for comfortable, safe flying. The non-polarization is essential so you can see those gadget screens. This set is my current favorite.

What is on your list of must-haves for flying cross country?