Once we decide on a location I begin the plan. I use the AOPA Real Time Flight Planning (RTFP) software. Yes, there are a host of other free planners but this is the one I like, your mileage may vary. I then follow up by researching our airport locations for each stop and any additional stop as an alternate based on fuel, food, multiple runways, potential lodging and the all important member comments. One of the two sources that I use for airport info is Airnav, which provides all the airport specs from phone numbers, runway info, lighting, ownership, rental cars, you name it, it's in there. Yep, just like the commercial. The comment section is always a good read. Fellow pilots provide feedback about service, fuel prices and the eats.
My second source for airport info is the AOPA online airport directory. It provides a lot of the same information as Airnav and has a neat feature to print this out in a 'knee board' size sheet which really is nice for in flight info. Again, I read through all the member comments and search for anything that may not be on airnav. I also add notes to the knee board print out or high light info so it's easy to read while in flight. Some of the things I look for is noise abatement procedures (must keep the airport neighbors happy), traffic patterns (noting the right handers), FBO hours of operation and if there is a courtesy car available. If I remember I'll explain later the courtesy car to all the non-pilot readers.
Ok, the basic blueprint for the flight is completed, now comes the fun stuff. I monitor the weather (wx) a few days in advance for the day trips so that we have a rough idea if the flight will even happen. Once the extended forecast is looking good I will monitor a host of web sites that provide all the wx info a pilot could wish for. I will check in with the AOPA wx pages (not happy with the recent changes there)and various other sites such as Duats, Duat, Vansairforce, and the AOPA RTFP. I have included a few of the graphics that pilots use for planning.
Forecast Map and Flight Rules
Wx Prognosis and Surface Analysis
As you can see there is a good bit of info to review and digest, but I think it's what makes the flight planning fun. With the wx outlook shaping up I then decide to lock in our club aircraft through the online scheduler. This is the easy task of planning, look up your dates, point and click your departure and return times and your ready to go. If anyone is in a club I highly recommend taking advantage of the Online Scheduler, it's easy to use and keeps good records. Ok,wx is looking good, we have a list of places to visit and things to do once at our destination, the aircraft is scheduled and my charts and Airport Facility Directory are current and have been reviewed. After flowing through the process it becomes second nature and I approach each trip the same way. The night prior to our planned departure I review the electronic flight plan and all information I'll have on my knee board.
The morning of the flight I will once again review the flight plan, update and factor in the weather for my flight to include winds aloft, wind relative to my flight path, winds effect on fuel burn and wx at our destination. I make a call to Flight Services for a final live wx brief and file a flight plan.
Mary and I usually have our bags packed the night before so it's a quick load and go to our breakfast stop. Once at the airport we follow the same routine to uncover, and load with my pre-flight uninterrupted until complete. Once on board I begin my checklists and get things set up for our departure. When I am ready to start I make a final call to Flight Service and open the flight plan, then fire up and get taxi Clearance to depart.
That's pretty much what goes into the planning and departure for our get-away flights. I hope you enjoyed a quick glimpse into the "what goes on".
As a fellow pilot and keeper of a flight journal put it, "Trepidation over planning a trip to a new airport? Understandable. Concern over flying into an uncontrolled field? Understandable. But is it a justification for not going? No more so than planning a dinner at a new eatery on the far side of town. Like eating any pizza, you have to do it one bite at a time." Another great quote from Flights of the Mouse.
The courtesy car. Some FBO's have a courtesy car available for pilots or flight crews to use for a short period of time. As an example, I planned to fly into Bristol, CT to watch the Little League Baseball Mid-Atlantic playoffs. I inquired about a courtesy car and Interstate Aviation, Inc., at 4B8 Robertson Field had one. I asked about going to the ball fields to watch a single 6 inning game. I guesstimated about 2 hours or so and the man on the other end of the phone said no problem. So, that would have made the day by saving on car rental and pick up followed by drop off. The car is usually first come first serve and one should always top off the tank or at the very least put back what was in it. A word of caution, plan on driving something along the lines of your first hand-me-down car. Don't expect leather interiors, seat heaters, or a looks like it's wet paint job. Hey, it's free and it runs!