M12: Route Planning

At the request our esteemed M12 chairman – Craig Albright, the following is a M12 route planning exercise from the Florida panhandle (Pensacola, FL/Gulf Shores, AL area (Jack Edwards - KJKA) to Las Vegas, NV (Henderson – KHND).

For those COPA members who rarely fly long XC flights, or for those of you that are not familiar with this area (like me) this is a good exercise to start planning your own routes to M12.

It also reinforces the magic of COPA and the wealth of knowledge that exists in our fine organization. Even though I have a lot of flight hours (close to 20,000), the majority of that was in the military and at Northwest Airlines where I had “people” do the flight planning for me (and I was flying very high in pressurized high performance jet aircraft). As everyone knows, it’s an entirely different matter when you are alone in your Cirrus doing everything yourself.

So the following is a sample planned IFR flight plan and my thoughts and Craig’s thoughts for the approximate 1,500nm flight to M12.

Even though I am based in Minneapolis, MN, I will be in Pensacola for business during October and have never flown the “southern half” of the USA to the western part of the country, so I was not at all familiar with the routing and planning issues.

Straight line distance looked to be about 1,500 nm so I was originally planning 3 direct legs, each about 500nm. My plan was to do 2 legs on day 1, overnight and then the final leg into KHND the next morning.

Close to a straight line route, I saw the following:

KJKA - Jack Edwards (Gulf Shores AL) to KADS (Addison, Texas) just north of Dallas. 495nm

KADS to KAEG (Double Eagle) just northwest of ABQ. 512nm

Layover at KAEG

KAEG - KHND (Henderson). 410nm

I’ll be flying in a Normal Aspirated SR-22 and those leg lengths work great for my personal physiological needs.

I have Oxygen available for when the altitudes require it (not that I am a fan of using it…).

Looking at the IFR lo-alt charts however, I see that high elevation starts to be a big issue and unlike the direct routes I always get in the flat midwest, I doubt ATC would agree to this DIRECT routing.

So on second thought, I decided to look at the Victor airways.

It looks fine to go direct to KADS (and this keeps you away from giant and extremely busy KDFW).

From KADS to KAEG, I think a better routing is:


















From ACH onward I will need to be at a minimum of 10,000’.

I would layover at AEG, then the next day fly:


















Minimum altitude varies from 9-11,000’ along the route, so O2 should not be much of an issue for too long.

Craig lives in Arizona, so he is more familiar with this area. I sent the above to him, and he reviewed the proposed flights above and commented as follows:

  • I inserted 3 points into your initial straight line leg from KJKA to KADS. AEX, SPS, and CDS will keep you out of the MOAs. Flying during the weekdays, they could be active. Of course, ATC would have you deviate if they were.

  • KADS looks like a good choice for a break. They have cheap fuel.

  • KAEG would be a great overnight stop (although their gas is expensive) but… October in New Mexico is synonymous with thunderstorms in the afternoon. And, with the mountain ridges east of ABQ and the usual western winds, the thunderstorms often build in that area. The problem is the north-south terrain in the ABQ area. The orographic lifting from the westerly flow creates some great thunderstorms in the afternoon. Sometimes they extend N-S for a long ways. You may be better off stopping sooner and east of that area.

  • For those of us who live in mountainous terrain, we often fly VFR in VMC because the MEAs tend to be high. I’d probably fly up to Vegas VFR at 6,500’ and avoid the higher terrain in the Flagstaff area.

That also bring up another option:

Fly a more southerly route and avoid the higher terrain around ABQ altogether. Note that it is a little longer route.

Here’s a quick south route without thought to fuel or lodging:


Once you’re in AZ, you can fly the rest of the way at 6,500’ and go under the MOAs between PHX and LVS.

  • On your original more northerly route, assuming that you are in VMC around PGS, consider going VFR at that point with Flight Following. Then, you could simply fly PGS direct VPVTR direct KHND. It will be pretty easy to descend and stay below Bravo at KLAS.

  • Once you get into NM and assuming good VMC, I’d probably just go VFR with Flight Following. That would make things a little more flexible at non-O2 altitudes.

None of the above should be considered the last word on anything. It is just an example of the type of route planning decisions and dialog between two pilots planning a long flight.

Hopefully other pilots will add to this thread with their own planning thoughts from their specific home locations to M12.

See you at M12!

Thanks for starting this thread!.

I too, have been thinking about this… the difference, I am coming from the NE (Maryland) and, I will be in a UPDT (tm Sanjay) SR-20. My distance looks to be around 1800 miles however, I will need to add some, in order to go South.

I do NOT want to plan to fly over the higher terrain. With that in mind, I will probably want to follow Craig’s suggestion of the more Southerly route - to go around the big rocks and then up the West side.

I am interested in this planning session - and thoughts on planning from Maryland -


John Ylinen suggested I add some screen shots of the route.



KADS - KAEG IFR route overview

KADS - KAEG VFR route overview

KADS - TXO portion IFR

KADS - TXO portion VFR

TXO - KAEG portion IFR

TXO - KAEG portion VFR

OTO - KAEG portion IFR

OTO - KAEG portion VFR

Remainder of route to come on next message.

Remainder of route:

KAEG - KHND overview IFR

KAEG - KHND overview VFR

INW - KHND portion IFR

INW - KHND portion VFR

PGS - KHND portion IFR

PGS - KHND portion VFR

BLD - KHND portion IFR

BLD - KHND portion VFR

More southern route:



Let me emphasize the routes that go through El Paso area (ELP VOR or KELP airport).

No big rocks. Transit at max of 9,500’ VFR. Several interesting places to stop for southwestern hospitality. Few military areas. And NO BIG ROCKS!

When I picked up my plane with 65 total hours, no oxygen, and no mountain flying experience, I looked at the routes from Duluth to San Diego and cringed. Eventually, I learned enough to fly more or less direct. But back in 2001, my initial route was Duluth to New Orleans to Midland via El Paso to points west. Because I was training, each leg was not much more than 500 nm, or about 3 hours.

Yes, it adds miles. From KHEF to KHND, adding ELP stretches the route by about 200 miles over direct. But many folks should never attempt direct without sufficient familiarity with the challenges. You don’t need to use oxygen, you can fly VFR at 9,500’, you can tempt southwestern weather without getting stuck, and you can make it in 500 nm legs with cheap gas and some great food stops.

Thanks Andy for starting this. I really hope folks look forward to the across-the-country version of cross-country flying. I’ve now logged about 30 continental trips one way or the other in my Cirrus. I’m planning a California, Oshkosh, Ottawa, Duluth trip for the summer, and this thread heightens my sense of fun and adventure. Flying my Cirrus changed my lifestyle. Instead of point-to-point flying, I now look for interesting places to visit, eat, meet – and plan.


For Andy, if he were to fly from Minnesota to Henderson, I’d suggest flying to Casper, Wyoming and Page, Arizona. They are both airports and Page also has a VOR. That route goes around the northern end of the Colorado mountains and down the eastern Utah valley:



You may consider Santa Fe (KSAF) for an overnite stay, rather than AEG. Avgas is about 50 cents less, and there are many who believe there are more eateries, etc, to choose from there.

For myself, AEG usually seems to be a more direct route and i can get a quik turn there, but for an overnite stay, you may wish to consider SAF.

Due to your extensive flight history, you may have seen this many times, but you may also want to consider one of the Grand Canyon SFRA corridors, either to or from M12. [H]

During the Conestoga Wagon days of the latter 1800’s, there were two main routes. One went South (Santa Fe Trail) and the other North (Oregon Trail) with some variations, of course. There was no Pioneer Trail that went direct thru Colorado for a reason.

Unless one is adept & familiar with mountain flying, i truly recommend following the pioneer’s wisdom, even more so if your flight is in the afternoon, or during high wind days (seems to be lots of those this year) [:S]


THIS is one of the things that I like most about COPA: Pilots who have “been there” offering advice while leaving the real decision-making to the PIC who will be in the cockpit! [Y]

Your question prompted me to grab my iPad and take a look. Here’s a snapshot out of ForeFlight:

Not knowing your preferences for “seat-time” in the plane, I didn’t try to enter fuel stops or overnight locations - just a rough route of flight. Some folks like to land every couple of hours; my preference is for longer legs, landing with an hour of fuel in the tanks … provided I didn’t drink much coffee during breakfast. [;)] Plus, I stop at little mom-and-pop FBOs that seem to be in the middle of nowhere and borrow the airport car to have lunch at their favorite local eatery. Other folks prefer large airports with steel-concrete-glass FBOs that offer the possibility of “deep” service. Different strokes…

To have some idea of the times involved, I used the simple ForeFlight model that I have for Kevin Sandler’s SR-20. But, since I didn’t really look at fuel stops, the only value that substitution offered was total flight time. I did take a quick look at a northern route. But, to avoid flying through the mountains, it was actually slightly longer - I was surprised!

A few additional thoughts in no particular order:

  • Through the week, MOAs are often active. I’d probably plan to fly around (or possibly under) them. e.g., Flying VFR with calm winds, I might fly underneath the Sunny MOA in AZ. Its floor is 10K’. And, in Oct. with moderate winds (and relatively few thermals as compared to now!), I’d be tempted to fly at 8.5K’ for awhile. Of course, filing IFR would be another matter…
  • When you fly around the south end of the Rockies, there’s some cheap fuel at Las Vegas, NM (KLVS). Since it sits in the eastern foothills, you don’t have to descend very far to land.
  • I think that everyone’s comments about Double Eagle (KAEG), Santa Fe (KSAF), and Albuquerque (KABQ) are on the mark.
    Jeff, I have a request. How about reaching out to folks in your Region to see who else might be interested in flying a similar route? Perhaps you could contact your Regional Governor and ask him to facilitate a group fly-out. Flying in a group (i.e., a loose “gaggle”, not formation!) is fun, relaxing, and the miles seem to pass quicker. (Plus, if I’m flying VFR in a group, it’s more effective than filing a VFR flight plan. People that know me are only 50-100 nm. away and willing to respond if I have an issue! Also, since I have active traffic detection in my SR-22, I don’t usually bother with Flight Following if in a group headed for the same destination. If I need weather info, I just call Flight Watch. Of course, YMMV…) We usually choose some frequency like “fingers” (123.45 MHz) for casual conversation.

I look forward to seeing you again at M12! [H]


Rick is right. If you fly to ELP, you get to see the historical location of where I grew up and did my solo and got my PPL at 17. Not sure I agree with Rick on Military areas. ELP has one of the largest Military Ranges in the country. Just north is White Sands Missile Range. Not used much any more, but I could tell lots of history about it in the 1960s and on.

Another reason i prefer Flight Following, when flying VFR ‘out west’. A controller is watching over your flight, and will give advice on whether an upcoming MOA is hot, cold, or many times when Hot, still reasonable to fly thru, rather than around.
Occasionally, i’ve been handed off to the military controller in a particular MOA, only to be handed back to civilian ATC after passing thru their area.


Will do, specifically - this is exactly why I wanted to respond to this thread.


Phil, I’ve had the same experience and tend to do the same. My comments were meant to apply to “group flights” where folks may wish to chat while enroute. Trying to talk among ourselves and monitor/talk to ATC can sometimes be a little confusing. Most pilots I know (including me) wind up keying the mike at least once while on the wrong frequency. [:$]