Walters Gets His Wings: Cross-country to Atikokan

I reached another flying milestone a few weeks ago. I flew to Atikokan.

It's not qute 'across the country' though

Jeff Walters' plane in front of the terminal building at the Atikokan Municipal Airport. (Jeff Walters/CBC)

I reached another flying milestone a few weeks ago. I flew to Atikokan.

First, with my instructor Melesa, and then on my own.

It was the first of two cross-country flights I will complete as part of my flight training. While Atikokan doesn't sound far from Thunder Bay, it's far enough to qualify as a cross-country flight.

Plus, it's an uncontrolled airport, something that I'm not used to, with YQT being my 'home' airport.

Before you undertake any cross country flight, there's a fair amount of trip preparation.

Plotting out your route on the map (yes, we still use paper maps), drawing in your drift lines (in case you get blown off track, it helps you calculate how long it will take to get back on track), and figuring out all of the calculations.

You also need to get the weather for your departure and destination, but also the weather en route. The wind 6000 feet above the ground can be very different than what is on the ground. You need to calculate your speed with the wind (in both cases, a headwind there, a tail wind back), and also how much you need to alter your heading to compensate for the wind.

How much fuel will you need? What is the total flying time? Are there any NOTAMs in effect that would prevent you from reaching or landing at your destination?

If it sounds like a lot of is. Luckily there's a 'whiz wheel' or flight computer you can use to essentially plug in the numbers, without having to use the cumbersome formulas.

The wind was quite different from forecast, so I had to use some navigation skills to ensure I flew the right track, and identifying lakes from 5000 feet above is a little tougher than you think, but the flights were a success.
The Atikokan Generation Station can be seen from nearly 40 miles from Atikokan.

While you're in the air, the phrase 'Avitate, Navigate, Communicate' becomes all more important. You need to fly the plane, continually check that you're on the right course, continually revise your estimated time of arrival, and then give position reports. If it sounds like there's a lot going on, there is.

As for the actual flight, it was a beautiful day, with smooth flight conditions and a clear sky. What is really neat is how you can see the OPG plant in Atikokan about 40 miles away! If you navigate right to the plant, well, you actually end up very north of Atikokan. You have to trust your map to get you to the right spot.

After a quick leg stretch, checking my fuel levels, it was time to head back to Thunder Bay.

That return leg was just as nice as the outbound trip. One more cross country to go...maybe I'll try for Sioux Lookout next time.


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