Do (GA) pilots necessarily have to plan every flight, or can someone just go up and fly? Please note I don't mean actually 'filing a flight plan', but does every flight need to be carefully plotted out in advance?

I can get in my car and just drive. If I really wanted to, I could point its nose West and drive until I wanted to stop. In the first years of flight, like during the barn-storming era, a pilot with a plane could hop in and fly as long as he had gas, it seems like there is less enjoyment of "flying for flying's sake" and more 400 hours of planning for a 4 hour trip.

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    $\begingroup$ Are you talking legal requirements..? $\endgroup$
    – falstro
    May 29, 2014 at 23:37
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    $\begingroup$ No, not at all, unless that is why there is so much planning, if the legal can't be separated. $\endgroup$
    – CGCampbell
    May 29, 2014 at 23:38
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    $\begingroup$ When reading about what it takes to gain your PPL, one of the requirements is, or was, a three-point cross country flight. That would, obviously be planned out, because that is WHY you're doing it, or one of the reasons. But once I have my PPL, can't I just 'go fly?' $\endgroup$
    – CGCampbell
    May 29, 2014 at 23:39

2 Answers 2


You didn't specify the jurisdiction that you were asking about, but in the US there is a regulation that covers the minimum that you must do before flying.

Much of it is common sense:

  • You want to check the weather, because it can impact you much more than it usually does in your car and you don't want to get stuck in a really bad situation.
  • You want to check the Notices to Airmen (NOTAMs) to make sure that you can use the airport (i.e. it isn't closed, or the runway isn't closed, etc.)
  • You want to make sure that you have enough fuel, because you can't just pull over at the nearest gas station when you get low.
  • You want to make sure that the runways are long enough and that the airplane can climb well enough so that you don't crash into something.

That being said, if you are familiar with the area and the airports in the area, you have used them before and are already familiar with the performance numbers for your airplane, then you don't really need to do much more than check the weather/NOTAMs and make sure that your airplane is legal and safe to fly.

Things are a little different than back in the barnstorming days, but then there are fewer accidents too. :-)

§91.103 Preflight action.
Each pilot in command shall, before beginning a flight, become familiar with all available information concerning that flight. This information must include—

(a) For a flight under IFR or a flight not in the vicinity of an airport, weather reports and forecasts, fuel requirements, alternatives available if the planned flight cannot be completed, and any known traffic delays of which the pilot in command has been advised by ATC;

(b) For any flight, runway lengths at airports of intended use, and the following takeoff and landing distance information:

(1) For civil aircraft for which an approved Airplane or Rotorcraft Flight Manual containing takeoff and landing distance data is required, the takeoff and landing distance data contained therein; and

(2) For civil aircraft other than those specified in paragraph (b)(1) of this section, other reliable information appropriate to the aircraft, relating to aircraft performance under expected values of airport elevation and runway slope, aircraft gross weight, and wind and temperature.


It is not necessary to create a detailed plotted flight plan for every flight. However, a pilot is required to ensure that they are able to safely land the aircraft in case of an emergency (including engine failure) at any time.

This is generally not a problem if the pilot is familiar with the area (such as around their local airport or a frequently flown route). However, if the pilot is intending to fly in an unfamiliar area, they will want to do some research beforehand to find out information about things like:

  • nearby airfields
  • airspace designations
  • terrain (mountains)
  • obstacles (antennas)
  • restricted and prohibited areas
  • temporary flight restrictions (TFRs)
  • weather forecast

In some jurisdictions, the pilot is also required to carry official charts for their intended area of flight. The rules can't force the pilot to read them, but if anything goes wrong the investigators will check to make sure they're present.

During flight training, students are usually required to create a detailed flight plan for a flight.


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