The first step in planning your cross-country VFR flight is to check departure, enroute and destination weather to confirm that you can safely, and legally, conduct the flight. Remember, VFR weather is 1000/3 and you must remain at least 500 feet below, 1000 feet above, and 2000 feet laterally from clouds.
Now, mark your departure airport and your destination on your sectional aeronautical chart.
Consult the Airport Facility Directory for both airports to determine runways and other airport information. Check NOTAMS for both airports to see if there are any changes to the Directory information.
Now, use your plotter to draw a straight line between the departure and destination. You may need to alter the course around restricted airspace and other areas you need to avoid.
Place your plotter on the course line you have drawn and measure the course with respect to true north by measuring at the mid-meridian - the true north line closest to the middle of your route. The reason for this is that the meridians converge at the poles.
Now, convert this course with respect to true north to a course with respect to magnetic north. You perform this conversion by finding the isogonic line that represents the variation from true north along your course. Subtract east variation and add west variation.
If you REALLY want to make this calculation easy, fly your cross-country along the east coast of Florida, along the agonic line where the variation is zero!
To calculate your compass heading to fly along the route, use the mnemonic TVMDC: true heading adjusted for variation equals magnetic heading; magnetic heading adjusted for deviation equals compass heading. Deviation adjusts for compass installation, and is typically a small number. It is marked on the compass correction card in your airplane.
To remember the mnemonic, think of: True Virgins Make Dull Company. Learn this quickly, because as soon as the PC police learn of this podcast, it will be banned!
Note checkpoints along your route that you can use to measure your course progress. Typically, these will be objects, such as bridges, towers, and distinctive river bends. You will use these to gauge your flight progress regarding your groundspeed and course maintenance.
Now, consult Chapter 5 of your Pilot's Operating Handbook (POH) to determine your true airspeed at your cruise altitude. Your cruise altitude for a VFR flight at an altitude above 3000 AGL must be at an odd altitude plus 500 feet heading east and at an even altitude plus 500 feet heading west.
Look at the FD Winds Aloft Forecast to determine the prevailing winds along your route closest to your planned altitude.
Now, use the wind side of your E6B computer to determine your groundspeed (for a refresher, listen to RFT episode 146) and then use the calculator side (RFT episode 148) to determine the time to reach each checkpoint.
Complete a navigation log, such as https://www.packafoma.com/aviation/flight-plan-forms/vfr/, for the flight and your preparations are complete.
Finally, file a flight plan (not REQUIRED, but really RECOMMENDED), and have a great flight!