Choosing Great Cross Country Checkpoints

I’m always asked… What makes a great cross country checkpoint? What do the checkride examiners want to see? I’ll share a few ideas with you and let you share some of yours.

What do you think makes a great cross country checkpoint? Leave your comment below…

Here is a sample of a letter on the mountain like I was talking about (click to make it larger)

  • Rich

    Besides the obvious VOR, either by instrument or visual. I also use power line sections, railroad tracks and the real good one is power plants with tall stacks.

  • John S.

    If I am trying to fly GPS direct to an airport and part of my route is in the middle of nowhere, there’s often no choice but to use VOR radials (the points where the radial intersects my GPS direct nav line). I used those for my cross country flight planning because there was litterally nothing to use for a visual checkpoint at the last 100nm or so of the flight and the examiner liked it.

  • Andy Kuns

    Something I’ve learned  is that a good checkpoint may be 5 – 10 miles away from your route. I used to choose checkpoints that were very close to me, which usually did not work since they were under the plane and I could not see them very well.

    A good combination I’ve found that works well for me is a combination city/airport. You can place the airport by where it is at in relation to a city as well as the runway layout.

  • Jeff Wallach

    Good and relevant video clip (I am getting prepared for my Commercial check ride in a couple of weeks!)
    I like to use:
          Power Plants (helps with wind direction as well if coal or gas fired)
          The FAA visual checkpoints with the Flags on the Sectionals
          Major Interstates
          Large  man-made Resovoirs (lots of them in Texas
          Some long trailing Power Lines (usually the larger high tension towers)
          Long rail road tracks

    Keep up the great work!

  • Mikeplacek

    jason, thanks for fixin my pass your checkride video, i cant wait to take my checkride, i      appreciate all your videos, they are so helpful, hope to meet you soon.

  • Tracysmithppasel

    I like large, isolated lakes as well.

  • Kenn3621

    Railroad tracks, High tension electrical transmission lines,  Power generation plants (Smoke and High stacks), large bodies of water,  Tall monuments and distinctive buildings, and weird things people set in the oddest places, like a large red fiberglass womans High heel (The red slipper) south of Denver not far from I-25.  As for names on water towers, I was flying in the jump seat on a UH-1H when one of the WOs flying asked the other if he could read the name on that water tower. They couldn’t but I could read the interstate exit sign for Kearney, Neb. Before I could alert them that we were probably close to the airport, Kearney tower asked the helicopter overflying the runway to please identify.  After we landed they had a great chance to visit the tower and have a few minutes of mostly one-sided conversation

  • Ghuerinxruiz

    Thx Jason!!! Im going to start to fly solo and later im going to make Cross countries and that will help me so much.

  • Deblv2fly

    Hi Jason,  On my first cross country I thought that all of those towers on sectionals would be great checkpoints.  I did not see many of them. In NJ we do not have the drought situation regarding small lakes that FL has.  Their unusual shapes  combined with other landmarks are fairly easy to see.  Thanks for the great videos and tips.

  • FRadford10

    good video as usual you are a great help and have and excellent attitude towards aviation

  • Ethan H

    Perfect timing with this video!  Just talking to my instructor about picking good checkpoints yesterday as I was planning my first night cross country which I’m getting ready to go on in a few hours from now which brings up a question.  How do you identify checkpoints at night?  Would lighted towers be something to use at this point? 

  • Akabigwill88

    Hey Jason great video some really good tips. But using a river can be good but what if the river has been dried up? And I think a city can be useful at times especially if it is isolated.

  • Davidkade

    I just finished my long cross country, and my only regret is that I did not make my checkpoints close enough together. I went about 20 miles, and 10-15 would have been better. I did pick probably the best checkpoint ever on my flight from StCharles county Smartt field (KSET) to Jefferson Cith, Mo (KJEF) on my first leg. I passed over the Callaway County Nuclear Plant. Cooling towers, containment building, with nothing around it, that’s a checkpoint!

  • Besides VOR cross-radials, you can do the same thing with your ADF assuming your plane still has one.  I look for NDB’s to one side or the other of my route and draw a line from it perpendicular to the route.  You don’t even need an NDB if you know where an AM radio station is located.  Hmmm.   If I know in what town the station is located, I CAN tell the name of that town off to the right.

  • Mark C.

    I have to disagree about cities, especially at night. If you can cross-reference a city to some other landmark like a major road you can usually identify it, and you should have some idea of where you are from time and distance calculations. At night, the major lighted towers are great, as are interstate highways with a decent volume of traffic. My favorites are large lakes, they’ll show up from a long distance and usually have a distinctive shape. Also, any stacks which will have smoke or steam rising, power plants, paper mills, close to home here we have an ethanol plant that can be seen for 150nm. Sometimes I’ll follow a road until I find a distinctive curve or corner, or maybe a bridge over a river or gorge. Up north here in the winter, power line rights of way are terrific with snow on them, but only the biggest ones are very useful in the summer. I personally find railroad tracks very hard to see and not good checkpoints. Race tracks, fairgrounds, and the like can be very good. In flatter country, prominent hills make great checkpoints and also directional references. In some areas, paved roads are rare enough to stand out. 

  • Markevans36301

    I have to agree with several of the others and disagree with you about cities and towns, sure they are not the best but some times they are the best available.
    You also act as if pilotage is used alone which of course it is not, with the proper use of your compass and stopwatch that less than perfect checkpoint becomes completely acceptable.

  • Tomplatner

    Jason, one suggestion I have is to use Google earth and pre flight your route virtually. Google earth will give you a preview of what you should expect to see and which landmarks are distinctive. I did this last fall in Minnesota where we have a lot of lakes and it really helped.

    In Google earth you can even set the altitude to match your intended flight altitude.

  • Camosmurf

    My stick buddy in flight school in the army used a rail road crossing over a river for a checkpoint on a night checkride. While it may have been OK during the day, a dark railroad bridge over a dark river is not such a good idea as a checkpoint at night. As we were coming to the river, a train was coming up to the crossing. What luck! The tresle was lit up perfectly! Still, I use it as an example of what not to do. A really good checkpiont, day or night, is a power plant. They usually stick out like a sore thumb ine day and are lit up like a christmas tree at night

  •  also sky towers.bays.large lakes,mountain peaks and islands and large seaports could make make good checkpoints

  • Polifrone5

    I fly out of KHPN (Westchester Airport) in downstate eastern NY just a few mikes north of New York City. At one time the World Trade Center was used as a major checkpoint, now that they are gone the Hudson River, Lady Liberty and Empire State building are just a few that ALL pilots use. Although the New York area might not have the busiest airports it is the most conjested with FIVE major airports within 35nm of one another, JFK, Newark/Liberty, Teterbrough, LaGuardia Westchester and Stewart AFB plus another thirteen smaller towered class Delta airports within 50nm. So knowing and recognizing the major historical landmarks says to most pilots…..I’m in The Big Apple (Manhattan).
    Departing to the north of the city (Hudson River Basin) the Ramapo mountains rise about 2,500-3000 feet MSL so its an abrupt change of scenery….you know you are just west of the city, plus most likely you would have flown over either West Point Military school/base Tappan Zee Bridge or the George Washington Bridge…all of which stick out like a sore thumb. Keep a map or your IPad Maps handy and plan your travel accordingly. Class B, C and D all exist so it can be like flying through a maze. We at the flight school here at KHPN fly Cirrus SR20 and SR22 Garmin Perspective glass cocpit so its nice to have terrain awearness built right in. These landmakes make it easy for dusk/night VFR, but since it is so conjested, it is easy to bust through Brovo airspace while looking at the one of the greatest landmarks of all time The Statute of Liberty.
    Come visit me at KHPN and i’ll take you on a scenic tour of NYC….. 

    Rocky P

  • Scott Woodland

    As always great videos.  Checkpoints: major roads crossing each other always work.  I like power plants too, as they can visible a long ways off.  Of course living and flying in the central valley of California it is hard to get too lost :).  BTW, the letters on mountains… usually related to the name of the city immediately adjacent to the letter.

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