Instrument Cross Country

One of the requirements for taking the instrument flight test is the instrument cross country.   Quoting from FAR § 61.65.d.iii (flight experience):

For an instrument-airplane rating, instrument training on cross-country flight procedures specific to airplanes that includes at least one cross-country flight in an airplane that is performed under IFR, and consists of
(A) A distance of at least 250 nautical miles along airways or ATC-directed routing;
(B) An instrument approach at each airport; and
(C) Three different kinds of approaches with the use of navigation systems;

My instrument instructor was Ken Thompson who, as many of you know, was also my colleague at Bell Labs and one of the creators of the Unix operating system.  And we wouldn’t be proper Bell Labs scientists if we didn’t research the minimal instrument cross country out of Morristown.  It turns out to be MMU-POU-AVP-TTN-MMU: just 252Ľ nautical miles.  We waited for the perfect warm front with low ceilings and little wind and launched on October 17 of 2000, in 54E (which had no GPS at that time).   Ceilings ranged between 200 and 500 feet AGL, winds were fairly light from the north east, and it was raining lightly and steadily.  It was only my second flight in actual conditions.

I studied the maps and the Airport/Facility Directory, that treasure trove of Tower En Route canned flight plans – the airspace around New York has so many airports that most seemingly optimal flight plans just won’t work; you’ll get a clearance that’s completely different.  Here’s what we filed (Đ means direct) and pretty much got what we asked for.





Morristown-4 SID, Brezy, Đ IGN, Đ



Dutchess-4 SID, Weard, V106, Đ



Scranton-1 SID, Đ FJC, V149, Mazie, ARD, Đ






Ken warned me to be prepared to be on instruments almost immediately after takeoff.  We were in the clouds just 15 seconds after the wheels left the ground and only glimpsed ground on short final at each of the approaches.  It was an eye opener to see that, in cloud, you really can’t see what’s up and what’s down – it really isn’t any darker looking down, or any lighter looking up.   We never came out on top, so I never needed the hood.

Ken was enthusiastic.  He explained how north-east winds were just perfect for the purpose because we would get the NDB approach into Morristown, we could choose between an ILS and VOR approach into Poughkeepsie, choose between ILS and NDB at Trenton and we would, therefore definitely get our three different types of approaches.  I was just trying to keep the shiny side up and keep up with New York Approach.

We made our first approach (the VOR/DME-6 POU) and landed to give me time to get the clearance for the next leg and set up for it.  While cruising along for the second leg I settled down somewhat and actually started to enjoy the experience.

But then, as I concentrated on keeping the needles crossed for the ILS-4 AVP, and reported in to the Tower controller, the controller came back with:

“November Three Zero Five Four Echo, Wilkes Barre Tower, how will this terminate?”

That  was a new one for me.  I looked at Ken who, with a huge grin on his face, looked back at me and said:

“Yes, how will it terminate?”

Obviously, no help was going to come from my instructor, so I pressed the mic button and said:

“Terminate?  We fully intend to survive this one, Three Zero Five Four Echo”

Laughing, the controller asked whether we were going to land or miss.  Finally comprehending, I told him we’d miss.  Maybe not a good idea, because I then experienced what it’s like to climb back up and write down a clearance at the same time without the help of an autopilot.

We landed at Trenton (NDB-6 TTN) to get fuel.  Then, as we were heading back to Morristown, on a heading of 270 or so, at 2000 feet, being vectored to the NDB-5 MMU approach, we listened to New York Approach telling a King Air to descend and maintain 3000 and intercept the NDB approach course.  The King Air acknowledged.  A few minutes passed and then New York Approach came back to the King Air:

“King Air 123, Say altitude”

“2000, 123”

“November Three Zero Five Four Echo, immediate left turn, heading zero niner zero”

That got our attention.  As we turned 180 degrees, the controller started to tell the King Air in no uncertain terms that he had not cleared him for the approach, and therefore not cleared him to descend below 3000.  The King Air apologized in a small voice and was then told to continue the approach and go the tower.  We were then turned around again and the controller thanked us for our cooperation; he cleared us for the approach and told us to go to the tower.

We tuned in to Morristown Tower just in time to hear the King Air announce going missed.  The crew was told to contact New York Approach; we almost felt sorry for them.  We broke out at 900 feet or so and landed with 4.5 hours for the log book.

April 2007, Sape Mullender