My CFI has told me that in my checkride I will begin a planned cross country flight and will be diverted to another airport shortly into the flight. My question is, how do I effectively plan for this? I am unable to get for example NOTAMS, weather predictions, runways and their lengths etc. for the airport I'm going to (because I don't know what it is)

From what I have read I will be acting as PIC on the checkride and as such I don't feel like I can comfortably satisfy CFR 91.103 when I don't even know where I will be flying to.


4 Answers 4


This thread should be a great source of tips and tricks :)

The way to think about this is to think about the purpose of being asked to divert during your checkride.

What the examiner will be looking for is not that you have all of the information for every possible airport you might be asked to fly to. The examiner is wanting to see that if you had to divert unexpectedly for whatever reason, that you are able to do this safely. That's the bottom line.

In order to do this, you should start working on the problem during your ground planning, and for the purposes of your checkride, this will be no different to planning any other flight.

Plan for your alternate. You should have charts, frequencies etc and of course, enough fuel. Your examiner is not going to ask you to divert to somewhere when you reach your destination, it's going to be somewhere en-route.

As part of any good plan, you are going to familiarise yourself with possible diversions along the route. If you had an urgent situation (not a dire emergency where nearest available is the only choice) requiring you to divert when you were flying solo after you gained your license, where would you go?

This doesn't mean that you need every possible piece of information for every possible airport but it does mean:

  • Do I have enough fuel to make possible diversions?
  • Do I have charts on board covering the areas to the left and right of my plan? - Have I folded my charts so that it's easy to see what possible diversions there are easily?
  • Do I have Jeppesen (or whatever) on board and is it up to date?
  • Have I checked the METARs and NOTAMs for anything significant for those likely diversions.
  • Do I have my E6B or other planning tool and do I know how to use it fully?
  • Do I know what ATC agencies I would talk to along the route if I need assistance, even if flying in uncontrolled airspace?

In your notebook for the planned flight, write down the likely diversion airfields with their key details.

The list above should be part of any plan, not just for your checkride.

One of the key things you're going to need to figure out is "how long will it take me to get to the diversion"? In order to know this, you're going to need to know the wind at the altitude you are going to be flying at. The way I handled this was to draw a circle on my chart, marked with the wind at altitude, then the corresponding ground speed already worked out on my E6B and written into the circle for each cardinal and mid-cardinal point on the compass rose. You can glance at this little chart to instantly see that if, for example, the requested diversion needs me to fly a heading of 320, I will be doing 86 kts for an airspeed of 100 kts. This saves you having to actually use your E6B in the cockpit to do this. Mark off 0, 45, 90, 135 etc.

If you think about it, doing this in planning will prepare you for any *sensible" diversion you might be asked to make.

When it comes to the time of the diversion, the primary thing your examiner is looking for is do you get "aviate, navigate, communicate"?

The second thing the examiner is looking for is "can you safely divert from en-route"?

If you have planned thoroughly, and you follow aviate, navigate, communicate, then almost by definition, you will safely divert.

So your examiner suddenly says, OK, see that completely unexpected giant sandstorm ahead, you need to get down soon. Please divert to "Mark Watney- Space Pirate" airport.

Avoid the single, most important thing in this whole exercise at this point. Do no go into heads down mode. It's easy to do if you are unprepared. Your head should be down for at most 15 seconds. Do each thing one step at a time, then scan and lookout. If you are well prepared and planned, then not going heads down will be easy.

You now need 3 things immediately - everything else can come later.

  • What heading do I need to fly?
  • How long will it take me to get there?
  • Can I make it?

For the heading, grab your chart, find the airport, then take a rough heading you need. You don't, at this stage, need to be super accurate. Within 10 or 15 degrees will be good. The important thing is to begin flying to towards the diversion. You can get the ruler out and refine your heading once you've got the initial diversion sorted out. Don't forget to aviate. Keep your head moving, keep your scan and lookout going. When you set up for the new heading and turn on to it, remember the gross error check as you roll out.

How long will it take? Again, you don't need to be super accurate. Grab a quick measure of the distance from the chart and your ruler. Then look at that wind chart you prepared earlier. Get your estimated ground speed.

Can I get there? You should know the aircrafts' fuels consumption numbers so do the quick calculation in your head.

During all of this, remember to aviate at all times. Also, remember to conduct your normal en-route and turn check lists.

Now it's time to communicate. If you are in controlled airspace, let them know you've diverted then start looking for who you might need to talk to along your diversion and get the next frequencies into the box.

When you are safely flying towards your destination, you can start to do some more detailed in-the-air planning to refine your estimated heading and fuel use if needed. You can also now deal with "do I have the NOTAMs and METARs" I need? It's OK not to have them all for every possible airport (you should have them for the most likely ones) because you can always call up ATC. That's one of the reasons they are there - to help pilots dealing with unplanned contingencies.

Remember, the examiner is looking for prior planning and aviate, navigate, communicate. If you do this, I hope that you will see that the unexpected diversion is not actually that scary.

This is primarily a planning exercise, not a flying exercise. Arrive in plenty of time. Recognise that every minute you spend planning will reduce your stress and workload in the air and aim to be ready to go, twiddling your thumbs and itching to get airborne, 15 minutes before your planned time to walk to the aircraft.

You might notice that I've repeated myself a lot. That's deliberate. Prior planning and aviate, navigate, communicate it what this is all about.

Good luck!

  • $\begingroup$ Thanks a lot for taking the time to write such a detailed response! This is exactly what I was looking for. One small additional question. Do you think the examiner would think its cheating to use the GPS to get distance + true course quickly and then use your wind trick? $\endgroup$
    – Nick
    Apr 17, 2016 at 6:37
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    $\begingroup$ You're welcome. Is GPS cheating? Yes! Your examiner will likely not allow you to use GPS or some software flight planning tool - even if it is approved use. They want to know that you can plan in advance and can use dead reckoning navigation if needed. What would you do in real life in a total electrical failure or, you find that the batteries on your tablet have died, or it has crashed, just when you need it most? $\endgroup$
    – Simon
    Apr 17, 2016 at 6:42
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    $\begingroup$ One thing I learned is to use my pen instead of a ruler to measure the distance: place the pen on the chart with the tip at the diversion destination, and your fingers holding the pen at your current position. Then lay the pen against a line of latitude. Since each division on a sectional is 1 nm, you can easily measure the distance. You can derive ETA now by knowing that at 90knots, you travel 1.5nm (tick marks) per minute, and at 120 knots, 2nm (tick marks) per minute. eg 35nm should be 17-22 minutes ETA. $\endgroup$
    – rbp
    Apr 18, 2016 at 11:04
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    $\begingroup$ Contrary to what @Simon said, it's not cheating to use GPS. Examiners want to know that you can use every available tool at your disposal. Can the GPS die? Sure, and (s)he'll likely ask what you would do if the GPS is inop. But if you have it and don't use it, you can get dinged too. $\endgroup$ Jul 11, 2016 at 21:43
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    $\begingroup$ @hashinclude What jurisdiction? In CAA land, at least when I did my test some years ago, portable GPS was explicitly forbidden. If fitted to the aircraft, yes the examiner would expect you to demonstrate that you could use it but you can bet it would "fail" not long into the flight. The first navigation leg was required to be conducted using dead reckoning. publicapps.caa.co.uk/docs/33/…. However, as you can see in the current test conduct documentation, GPS is permitted for the diversion leg but remember, the examiner can switch it off. $\endgroup$
    – Simon
    Jul 12, 2016 at 5:20

The answer is: you can't plan this.

This is done to see how you react while in flight to a non-planned diversion, and can happen anytime in real life.

It's used also to evaluate how you manage stressful situations, how you manage both flying the plane and searching through the documentation to find the plate of the new destination.

Of course, this means you should have with you all the required maps and approach plates for all the airfields in the vicinity of the planned path (wether its paper or in an electronic device).

And even if you don't have some required information, the tester will ensure you are able to safely proceed when encountering any unexpected situation, and thats the bottom line of any pilot.

  • $\begingroup$ See my answer. I absolutely disagree that you can't plan this. $\endgroup$
    – Simon
    Jul 12, 2016 at 5:24
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    $\begingroup$ @Simon Well, I don't really see the point: you and I are more or less saying the same thing, but your answer is far more complete. My first sentence is just a bit exagerated, of course you need to plan ahead, but the goal is also (IMHO) so see how you react to something you didn't plan... $\endgroup$
    – kebs
    Jul 12, 2016 at 11:36

Your CFI has likely sent candidates to your examiner in the past and will have a good idea of her tendencies on checkrides. Use this advance intel to your advantage, but play along and act surprised in the moment. The diversion is supposed to be unplanned.

One really useful tip to prepare for a diversion is to build a wind card. Ask your briefer for the winds aloft at your planned altitude, and use your E6B or other flight computer to compute groundspeed and wind-correction angle for courses of 000, 090, 180, and 270, i.e., the heading you will hold to travel along the ground in the four cardinal directions and how rapidly you’ll do so along each.

For example, see below. I suggest arranging them along the four points rather than a flat list.

  • Winds: 220@12
  • Airspeed: 115 knots
  • North
    • GS: 124 knots
    • WCA: -4°
  • South
    • GS: 106 knots
    • WCA: +4°
  • East
    • GS: 122 knots
    • WCA: +5°
  • West
    • GS: 108 knots
    • WCA: -5°

Your diversion course will not likely be due north. However, having done the math up front for the cardinal directions, interpolating between the two nearest your actual diversion course will provide rapid, straightforward estimates.

I had to fly my diversion under the foggles as a demonstration of dead reckoning. The DPE also “failed” the GPS but flipped it from the map page to the nearest airports page. I gave my estimated heading and time beforehand, but I was also giving position calls on the diversion airport’s CTAF using the distance I could see on the GPS. It wasn’t a big deal, but I had to fly to another airport — tiny and tucked in behind trees, so hard to find — to demonstrate dead reckoning.

Instead of being eager beaver on the radio, I should have quietly used the resource to my advantage. Prepare thoroughly but also act a little surprised rather than having canned responses all pre-planned.


Since this is going to be your PPL check ride you wont need approach plates or any of that. A current sectional is what you need. You can plan for this, just as you would if you are planning a cross country later. You look along your planned flight path and select possible airports to divert to in the case of an emergency. I carried a small ruler. You should have that or use a pencil for distance measurement. My examiner wanted to know course, distance, time en route and fuel burn to get to the airport. If you did a solid flight plan you will already know the possible diversions and have an idea of how to answer the questions. Before you turn to your new course make a show of checking the area for other aircraft. Clearing turns are not out of the question. Remember, your examiner is looking for your attention to safety as well as your ability to fly. He knows you can fly a plane or you wouldn't be taking the check ride. He is looking for your ability to fly safely. You can use the instruments in the plane. If you have GPS, punch up the airport and hit the direct to button. If he doesn't like that, he'll tell you to figure it out on paper. You can still use an E6B. SAFETY SAFETY SAFETY. A good plan is a safe plan and that includes possible diversions. The problem is you are looking at a chart, trying to figure out your course etc. and you are not looking outside. He is looking for that. Your answer does not have to be immediate. You are busy flying the airplane first, figuring out your diversion second. Once you have your course you can turn to your new heading, get trimmed, then figure out the rest.

The diversion test is not difficult if you have planned ahead. Good luck on your ride!


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