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This chapter provides an introduction to cross-country flying under visual flight rules (VFR). It contains practical information for planning and executing cross-country flights for the beginning pilot.

Air navigation is the process of piloting an aircraft from one geographic position to another while monitoring one’s position as the flight progresses. It introduces the need for planning, which includes plotting the course on an aeronautical chart, selecting checkpoints, measuring distances, obtaining pertinent weather information, and computing flight time, headings, and fuel requirements. The methods used in this chapter include pilotage—navigating by reference to visible landmarks, dead reckoning—computations of direction and distance from a known position, and radio navigation—by use of radio aids.

Aeronautical Charts

An aeronautical chart is the road map for a pilot flying under VFR. The chart provides information which allows pilots to track their position and provides available information which enhances safety. The three aeronautical charts used by VFR pilots are:

A free catalog listing aeronautical charts and related publications including prices and instructions for ordering is available at the National Aeronautical Charting Group (NACG) web site:

Figure 15-1. Sectional chart and legend.

Sectional Charts

Sectional charts are the most common charts used by pilots today. The charts have a scale of 1:500,000 (1 inch = 6.86 nautical miles (NM) or approximately 8 statute miles (SM)) which allows for more detailed information to be included on the chart.

The charts provide an abundance of information, including airport data, navigational aids, airspace, and topography. Figure 15-1 is an excerpt from the legend of a sectional chart. By referring to the chart legend, a pilot can interpret most of the information on the chart. A pilot should also check the chart for other legend information, which includes air traffic control (ATC) frequencies and information on airspace. These charts are revised semiannually except for some areas outside the conterminous United States where they are revised annually.

Figure 15-2. VFR terminal area chart and legend.

VFR Terminal Area Charts

VFR terminal area charts are helpful when flying in or near Class B airspace. They have a scale of 1:250,000 (1 inch = 3.43 NM or approximately 4 SM). These charts provide a more detailed display of topographical information and are revised semiannually, except for several Alaskan and Caribbean charts. [Figure 15-2]

World Aeronautical Charts

World aeronautical charts are designed to provide a standard series of aeronautical charts, covering land areas of the world, at a size and scale convenient for navigation by moderate speed aircraft. They are produced at a scale of 1:1,000,000 (1 inch = 13.7 NM or approximately 16 SM). These charts are similar to sectional charts and the symbols are the same except there is less detail due to the smaller scale. [Figure 15-3]

These charts are revised annually except several Alaskan charts and the Mexican/Caribbean charts which are revised every 2 years.

Figure 15-3. World aeronautical chart.

Lattitude and Longitude (Meridians and Parallels)

The equator is an imaginary circle equidistant from the poles of the Earth. Circles parallel to the equator (lines running east and west) are parallels of latitude. They are used to measure degrees of latitude north (N) or south (S) of the equator. The angular distance from the equator to the pole is one-fourth of a circle or 90°. The 48 conterminous states of the United States are located between 25° and 49° N latitude. The arrows in Figure 15-4 labeled “Latitude” point to lines of latitude.

Meridians of longitude are drawn from the North Pole to the South Pole and are at right angles to the Equator. The “Prime Meridian” which passes through Greenwich, England, is used as the zero line from which measurements are made in degrees east (E) and west (W) to 180°. The 48 conterminous states of the United States are between 67° and 125° W longitude. The arrows in Figure 15-4 labeled “Longitude” point to lines of longitude.

Any specific geographical point can be located by reference to its longitude and latitude. Washington, D.C., for example, is approximately 39° N latitude, 77° W longitude. Chicago is approximately 42° N latitude, 88° W longitude.

Figure 15-4. Meridians and parallels—the basis of measuring time, distance, and direction.

Time Zones

The meridians are also useful for designating time zones. A day is defined as the time required for the Earth to make one complete rotation of 360°. Since the day is divided into 24 hours, the Earth revolves at the rate of 15° an hour. Noon is the time when the sun is directly above a meridian; to the west of that meridian is morning, to the east is afternoon.

The standard practice is to establish a time zone for each 15° of longitude. This makes a difference of exactly 1 hour between each zone. In the United States, there are four time zones. The time zones are Eastern (75°), Central (90°), Mountain (105°), and Pacific (120°). The dividing lines are somewhat irregular because communities near the boundaries often find it more convenient to use time designations of neighboring communities or trade centers.

Figure 15-5 shows the time zones in the United States. When the sun is directly above the 90th meridian, it is noon Central Standard Time. At the same time, it is 1 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, 11 a.m. Mountain Standard Time, and 10 a.m. Pacific Standard Time. When Daylight Saving Time is in effect, generally between the second Sunday in March and the first Sunday in November, the sun is directly above the 75th meridian at noon, Central Daylight Time.

Figure 15-5. Time zones.

These time zone differences must be taken into account during long flights eastward—especially if the flight must be completed before dark. Remember, an hour is lost when flying eastward from one time zone to another, or perhaps even when flying from the western edge to the eastern edge of the same time zone. Determine the time of sunset at the destination by consulting the flight service stations (AFSS/ FSS) or National Weather Service (NWS) and take this into account when planning an eastbound flight.

In most aviation operations, time is expressed in terms of the 24-hour clock. ATC instructions, weather reports and broadcasts, and estimated times of arrival are all based on this system. For example: 9 a.m. is expressed as 0900, 1 p.m. is 1300, and 10 p.m. is 2200.

Because a pilot may cross several time zones during a flight, a standard time system has been adopted. It is called Universal Coordinated Time (UTC) and is often referred to as Zulu time. UTC is the time at the 0° line of longitude which passes through Greenwich, England. All of the time zones around the world are based on this reference. To convert to this time, a pilot should do the following:

Eastern Standard Time..........Add 5 hours
Central Standard Time..........Add 6 hours
Mountain Standard Time...... Add 7 hours
Pacific Standard Time.......... Add 8 hours

For Daylight Saving Time, 1 hour should be subtracted from the calculated times.

Figure 15-6. Compass rose.

Measurement of Direction

By using the meridians, direction from one point to another can be measured in degrees, in a clockwise direction from true north. To indicate a course to be followed in flight, draw a line on the chart from the point of departure to the destination and measure the angle which this line forms with a meridian. Direction is expressed in degrees, as shown by the compass rose in Figure 15-6.

Because meridians converge toward the poles, course measurement should be taken at a meridian near the midpoint of the course rather than at the point of departure. The course measured on the chart is known as the true course (TC). This is the direction measured by reference to a meridian or true north. It is the direction of intended flight as measured in degrees clockwise from true north.

Figure 15-7. Courses are determined by reference to meridians on aeronautical charts.

As shown in Figure 15-7, the direction from A to B would be a true course of 065°, whereas the return trip (called the reciprocal) would be a true course of 245°.

The true heading (TH) is the direction in which the nose of the aircraft points during a flight when measured in degrees clockwise from true north. Usually, it is necessary to head the aircraft in a direction slightly different from the true course to offset the effect of wind. Consequently, numerical value of the true heading may not correspond with that of the true course. This is discussed more fully in subsequent sections in this chapter. For the purpose of this discussion, assume a no-wind condition exists under which heading and course would coincide. Thus, for a true course of 065°, the true heading would be 065°. To use the compass accurately, however, corrections must be made for magnetic variation and compass deviation.

Figure 15-8. Magnetic meridians are in red while the lines of longitude and latitude are in blue. From these lines of variation (magnetic meridians), one can determine the effect of local magnetic variations on a magnetic compass.


Variation is the angle between true north and magnetic north. It is expressed as east variation or west variation depending upon whether magnetic north (MN) is to the east or west of true north (TN).

The north magnetic pole is located close to 71° N latitude, 96° W longitude and is about 1,300 miles from the geographic or true north pole, as indicated in Figure 15-8. If the Earth were uniformly magnetized, the compass needle would point toward the magnetic pole, in which case the variation between true north (as shown by the geographical meridians) and magnetic north (as shown by the magnetic meridians) could be measured at any intersection of the meridians.

Figure 15-9. Note the agonic line where magnetic variation is zero.

Actually, the Earth is not uniformly magnetized. In the United States, the needle usually points in the general direction of the magnetic pole, but it may vary in certain geographical localities by many degrees. Consequently, the exact amount of variation at thousands of selected locations in the United States has been carefully determined. The amount and the direction of variation, which change slightly from time to time, are shown on most aeronautical charts as broken magenta lines, called isogonic lines, which connect points of equal magnetic variation. (The line connecting points at which there is no variation between true north and magnetic north is the agonic line.) An isogonic chart is shown in Figure 15-9. Minor bends and turns in the isogonic and agonic lines are caused by unusual geological conditions affecting magnetic forces in these areas.

On the west coast of the United States, the compass needle points to the east of true north; on the east coast, the compass needle points to the west of true north.

Zero degree variation exists on the agonic line, where magnetic north and true north coincide. This line runs roughly west of the Great Lakes, south through Wisconsin, Illinois, western Tennessee, and along the border of Mississippi and Alabama. [Compare Figures 15-9 and 15-10.] Because courses are measured in reference to geographical meridians which point toward true north, and these courses are maintained by reference to the compass which points along a magnetic meridian in the general direction of magnetic north, the true direction must be converted into magnetic direction for the purpose of flight. This conversion is made by adding or subtracting the variation which is indicated by the nearest isogonic line on the chart.

For example, a line drawn between two points on a chart is called a true course as it is measured from true north. However, flying this course off the magnetic compass would not provide an accurate course between the two points due to three elements that must be considered. The first is magnetic variation, the second is compass deviation, and the third is wind correction. All three must be considered for accurate navigation.

Figure 15-10. Effect of variation on the compass.

Magnetic Variation

As mentioned in the paragraph discussing variation, the appropriate variation for the geographical location of the flight must be considered and added or subtracted as appropriate. If flying across an area where the variation changes, then the values must be applied along the route of flight appropriately. Once applied, this new course is called the magnetic course.

Magnetic Deviation

Because each aircraft has its own internal effect upon the onboard compass systems from its own localized magnetic influencers, the pilot must add or subtract these influencers based upon the direction he or she is flying. The application of deviation (taken from a compass deviation card) compensates the magnetic course unique to that aircraft’s compass system (as affected by localized magnetic influencers) and it now becomes the compass course. Therefore, the compass course when followed (in a no wind condition) takes the aircraft from point A to point B even though the aircraft heading may not match the original course line drawn on the chart.

If the variation is shown as “9° E,” this means that magnetic north is 9° east of true north. If a true course of 360° is to be flown, 9° must be subtracted from 360°, which results in a magnetic heading of 351°. To fly east, a magnetic course of 081° (090° – 9°) would be flown. To fly south, the magnetic course would be 171° (180° – 9°). To fly west, it would be 261° (270° – 9°). To fly a true heading of 060°, a magnetic course of 051° (060° – 9°) would be flown.

Remember, if variation is west, add; if east, subtract. One method for remembering whether to add or subtract variation is the phrase “east is least (subtract) and west is best (add).”

Figure 15-11. Magnetized portions of the airplane cause the compass to deviate from its normal indications.


Determining the magnetic heading is an intermediate step necessary to obtain the correct compass heading for the flight. To determine compass heading, a correction for deviation must be made. Because of magnetic influences within an aircraft such as electrical circuits, radio, lights, tools, engine, and magnetized metal parts, the compass needle is frequently deflected from its normal reading. This deflection is deviation. The deviation is different for each aircraft, and it also may vary for different headings in the same aircraft. For instance, if magnetism in the engine attracts the north end of the compass, there would be no effect when the plane is on a heading of magnetic north. On easterly or westerly headings, however, the compass indications would be in error, as shown in Figure 15-11. Magnetic attraction can come from many other parts of the aircraft; the assumption of attraction in the engine is merely used for the purpose of illustration. Some adjustment of the compass, referred to as compensation, can be made to reduce this error, but the remaining correction must be applied by the pilot.

Proper compensation of the compass is best performed by a competent technician. Since the magnetic forces within the aircraft change, because of landing shocks, vibration, mechanical work, or changes in equipment, the pilot should occasionally have the deviation of the compass checked. The procedure used to check the deviation (called “swinging the compass”) is briefly outlined.

The aircraft is placed on a magnetic compass rose, the engine started, and electrical devices normally used (such as radio) are turned on. Tailwheel-type aircaft should be jacked up into flying position. The aircraft is aligned with magnetic north indicated on the compass rose and the reading shown on the compass is recorded on a deviation card. The aircraft is then aligned at 30° intervals and each reading is recorded. If the aircraft is to be flown at night, the lights are turned on and any significant changes in the readings are noted. If so, additional entries are made for use at night.

The accuracy of the compass can also be checked by comparing the compass reading with the known runway headings.

Figure 15-12. Compass deviation card.

A deviation card, similar to Figure 15-12, is mounted near the compass, showing the addition or subtraction required to correct for deviation on various headings, usually at intervals of 30°. For intermediate readings, the pilot should be able to interpolate mentally with sufficient accuracy. For example, if the pilot needed the correction for 195° and noted the correction for 180° to be 0° and for 210° to be +2°, it could be assumed that the correction for 195° would be +1°. The magnetic heading, when corrected for deviation, is known as compass heading.

Effect of Wind

The preceding discussion explained how to measure a true course on the aeronautical chart and how to make corrections for variation and deviation, but one important factor has not been considered—wind. As discussed in the study of the atmosphere, wind is a mass of air moving over the surface of the Earth in a definite direction. When the wind is blowing from the north at 25 knots, it simply means that air is moving southward over the Earth’s surface at the rate of 25 NM in 1 hour.

Under these conditions, any inert object free from contact with the Earth is carried 25 NM southward in 1 hour. This effect becomes apparent when such things as clouds, dust, and toy balloons are observed being blown along by the wind. Obviously, an aircraft flying within the moving mass of air is similarly affected. Even though the aircraft does not float freely with the wind, it moves through the air at the same time the air is moving over the ground, thus is affected by wind. Consequently, at the end of 1 hour of flight, the aircraft is in a position which results from a combination of the following two motions:

  • Movement of the air mass in reference to the ground
  • Forward movement of the aircraft through the air mass

Actually, these two motions are independent. It makes no difference whether the mass of air through which the aircraft is flying is moving or is stationary. A pilot flying in a 70- knot gale would be totally unaware of any wind (except for possible turbulence) unless the ground were observed. In reference to the ground, however, the aircraft would appear to fly faster with a tailwind or slower with a headwind, or to drift right or left with a crosswind.

Figure 15-13. Motion of the air affects the speed with which aircraft move over the Earth’s surface. Airspeed, the rate at which an aircraft moves through the air, is not affected by air motion.

As shown in Figure 15-13, an aircraft flying eastward at an airspeed of 120 knots in still air has a groundspeed (GS) exactly the same—120 knots. If the mass of air is moving eastward at 20 knots, the airspeed of the aircraft is not affected, but the progress of the aircraft over the ground is 120 plus 20, or a GS of 140 knots. On the other hand, if the mass of air is moving westward at 20 knots, the airspeed of the aircraft remains the same, but GS becomes 120 minus 20, or 100 knots.

Assuming no correction is made for wind effect, if an aircraft is heading eastward at 120 knots, and the air mass moving southward at 20 knots, the aircraft at the end of 1 hour is almost 120 miles east of its point of departure because of its progress through the air. It is 20 miles south because of the motion of the air. Under these circumstances, the airspeed remains 120 knots, but the GS is determined by combining the movement of the aircraft with that of the air mass. GS can be measured as the distance from the point of departure to the position of the aircraft at the end of 1 hour. The GS can be computed by the time required to fly between two points a known distance apart. It also can be determined before flight by constructing a wind triangle, which is explained later in this chapter. [Figure 15-14]

The direction in which the aircraft is pointing as it flies is heading. Its actual path over the ground, which is a combination of the motion of the aircraft and the motion of the air, is its track. The angle between the heading and the track is drift angle. If the aircraft heading coincides with the true course and the wind is blowing from the left, the track does not coincide with the true course. The wind causes the aircraft to drift to the right, so the track falls to the right of the desired course or true course. [Figure 15-15]

Figure 15-14. Aircraft flightpath resulting from its airspeed and direction, and the wind speed and direction.
Figure 15-15. Effects of wind drift on maintaining desired course.
Figure 15-16. Relationship between true, magnetic, and compass headings for a particular instance.

The following method is used by many pilots to determine compass heading: after the TC is measured, and wind correction applied resulting in a TH, the sequence TH ± variation (V) = magnetic heading (MH) ± deviation (D) = compass heading (CH) is followed to arrive at compass heading. [Figure 15-16]

By determining the amount of drift, the pilot can counteract the effect of the wind and make the track of the aircraft coincide with the desired course. If the mass of air is moving across the course from the left, the aircraft drifts to the right, and a correction must be made by heading the aircraft sufficiently to the left to offset this drift. To state in another way, if the wind is from the left, the correction is made by pointing the aircraft to the left a certain number of degrees, therefore correcting for wind drift. This is the wind correction angle (WCA) and is expressed in terms of degrees right or left of the true course. [Figure 15-17]

Figure 15-17. Establishing a wind correction angle that will counteract wind drift and maintain the desired course.

To summarize:

  • Course—intended path of an aircraft over the ground or the direction of a line drawn on a chart representing the intended aircraft path, expressed as the angle measured from a specific reference datum clockwise from 0° through 360° to the line.
  • Heading—direction in which the nose of the aircraft points during flight.
  • Track—actual path made over the ground in flight. (If proper correction has been made for the wind, track and course are identical.)
  • Drift angle—angle between heading and track.
  • WCA—correction applied to the course to establish a heading so that track coincides with course.
  • Airspeed—rate of the aircraft’s progress through the air.
  • GS—rate of the aircraft’s inflight progress over the ground.

Basic Calculations

Before a cross-country flight, a pilot should make common calculations for time, speed, and distance, and the amount of fuel required.

Converting Minutes to Equivalent Hours

Frequently, it is necessary to convert minutes into equivalent hours when solving speed, time, and distance problems. To convert minutes to hours, divide by 60 (60 minutes = 1 hour). Thus, 30 minutes is 30/60 = 0.5 hour. To convert hours to minutes, multiply by 60. Thus, 0.75 hour equals 0.75 x 60 = 45 minutes.

Time T = D/GS

To find the time (T) in flight, divide the distance (D) by the GS. The time to fly 210 NM at a GS of 140 knots is 210 ÷ 140, or 1.5 hours. (The 0.5 hour multiplied by 60 minutes equals 30 minutes.) Answer: 1:30.

Distance D = GS X T

To find the distance flown in a given time, multiply GS by time. The distance flown in 1 hour 45 minutes at a GS of 120 knots is 120 x 1.75, or 210 NM.


To find the GS, divide the distance flown by the time required. If an aircraft flies 270 NM in 3 hours, the GS is 270 ÷ 3 = 90 knots.

Converting Knots to Miles Per Hour

Another conversion is that of changing knots to miles per hour (mph). The aviation industry is using knots more frequently than mph, but it might be well to discuss the conversion for those that use mph when working with speed problems. The NWS reports both surface winds and winds aloft in knots. However, airspeed indicators in some aircraft are calibrated in mph (although many are now calibrated in both miles per hour and knots). Pilots, therefore, should learn to convert wind speeds that are reported in knots to mph.

A knot is 1 nautical mile per hour (NMPH). Because there are 6,076.1 feet in 1 NM and 5,280 feet in 1 SM, the conversion factor is 1.15. To convert knots to miles per hour, multiply speed in knots by 1.15. For example: a wind speed of 20 knots is equivalent to 23 mph. Most flight computers or electronic calculators have a means of making this conversion. Another quick method of conversion is to use the scales of NM and SM at the bottom of aeronautical charts.

Fuel Consumption

Aircraft fuel consumption is computed in gallons per hour. Consequently, to determine the fuel required for a given flight, the time required for the flight must be known. Time in flight multiplied by rate of consumption gives the quantity of fuel required. For example, a flight of 400 NM at a GS of 100 knots requires 4 hours. If an aircraft consumes 5 gallons an hour, the total consumption is 4 x 5, or 20 gallons.

The rate of fuel consumption depends on many factors: condition of the engine, propeller/rotor pitch, propeller/rotor revolutions per minute (rpm), richness of the mixture, and particularly the percentage of horsepower used for flight at cruising speed. The pilot should know the approximate consumption rate from cruise performance charts, or from experience. In addition to the amount of fuel required for the flight, there should be sufficient fuel for reserve.

Flight Computers

Up to this point, only mathematical formulas have been used to determine such items as time, distance, speed, and fuel consumption. In reality, most pilots use a mechanical or electronic flight computer. These devices can compute numerous problems associated with flight planning and navigation. The mechanical or electronic computer has an instruction book that probably includes sample problems so the pilot can become familiar with its functions and operation. [Figure 15-18]


Another aid in flight planning is a plotter, which is a protractor and ruler. The pilot can use this when determining true course and measuring distance. Most plotters have a ruler which measures in both NM and SM and has a scale for a sectional chart on one side and a world aeronautical chart on the other. [Figure 15-18]


Pilotage is navigation by reference to landmarks or checkpoints. It is a method of navigation that can be used on any course that has adequate checkpoints, but it is more commonly used in conjunction with dead reckoning and VFR radio navigation.

The checkpoints selected should be prominent features common to the area of the flight. Choose checkpoints that can be readily identified by other features such as roads, rivers, railroad tracks, lakes, and power lines. If possible, select features that make useful boundaries or brackets on each side of the course, such as highways, rivers, railroads, and mountains. A pilot can keep from drifting too far off course by referring to and not crossing the selected brackets. Never place complete reliance on any single checkpoint. Choose ample checkpoints. If one is missed, look for the next one while maintaining the heading. When determining position from checkpoints, remember that the scale of a sectional chart is 1 inch = 8 SM or 6.86 NM. For example, if a checkpoint selected was approximately one-half inch from the course line on the chart, it is 4 SM or 3.43 NM from the course on the ground. In the more congested areas, some of the smaller features are not included on the chart. If confused, hold the heading. If a turn is made away from the heading, it is easy to become lost.

Roads shown on the chart are primarily the well-traveled roads or those most apparent when viewed from the air. New roads and structures are constantly being built, and may not be shown on the chart until the next chart is issued. Some structures, such as antennas may be difficult to see. Sometimes TV antennas are grouped together in an area near a town. They are supported by almost invisible guy wires. Never approach an area of antennas less than 500 feet above the tallest one. Most of the taller structures are marked with strobe lights to make them more visible to a pilot. However, some weather conditions or background lighting may make them difficult to see. Aeronautical charts display the best information available at the time of printing, but a pilot should be cautious for new structures or changes that have occurred since the chart was printed.

Dead Reckoning

Dead reckoning is navigation solely by means of computations based on time, airspeed, distance, and direction. The products derived from these variables, when adjusted by wind speed and velocity, are heading and GS. The predicted heading takes the aircraft along the intended path and the GS establishes the time to arrive at each checkpoint and the destination. Except for flights over water, dead reckoning is usually used with pilotage for cross-country flying. The heading and GS as calculated is constantly monitored and corrected by pilotage as observed from checkpoints.

The Wind Triangle or Vector Analysis

If there is no wind, the aircraft’s ground track is the same as the heading and the GS is the same as the true airspeed. This condition rarely exists. A wind triangle, the pilot’s version of vector analysis, is the basis of dead reckoning.

The wind triangle is a graphic explanation of the effect of wind upon flight. GS, heading, and time for any flight can be determined by using the wind triangle. It can be applied to the simplest kind of cross-country flight as well as the most complicated instrument flight. The experienced pilot becomes so familiar with the fundamental principles that estimates can be made which are adequate for visual flight without actually drawing the diagrams. The beginning student, however, needs to develop skill in constructing these diagrams as an aid to the complete understanding of wind effect. Either consciously or unconsciously, every good pilot thinks of the flight in terms of wind triangle.

Figure 15-18. A plotter (A), the computational and wind side of a mechanical flight computer (B), and an electronic flight computer (C).

If flight is to be made on a course to the east, with a wind blowing from the northeast, the aircraft must be headed somewhat to the north of east to counteract drift. This can be represented by a diagram as shown in Figure 15-19. Each line represents direction and speed. The long blue and white hashed line shows the direction the aircraft is heading, and its length represents the distance the airspeed for 1 hour. The short blue arrow at the right shows the wind direction, and its length represents the wind velocity for 1 hour. The solid yellow line shows the direction of the track or the path of the aircraft as measured over the earth, and its length represents the distance traveled in 1 hour, or the GS.

In actual practice, the triangle illustrated in Figure 15-19 is not drawn; instead, construct a similar triangle as shown by the blue, yellow, and black lines in Figure 15-20, which is explained in the following example.

Suppose a flight is to be flown from E to P. Draw a line on the aeronautical chart connecting these two points; measure its direction with a protractor, or plotter, in reference to a meridian. This is the true course, which in this example is assumed to be 090° (east). From the NWS, it is learned that the wind at the altitude of the intended flight is 40 knots from the northeast (045°). Since the NWS reports the wind speed in knots, if the true airspeed of the aircraft is 120 knots, there is no need to convert speeds from knots to mph or vice versa. Now, on a plain sheet of paper draw a vertical line representing north to south. (The various steps are shown in Figure 15-21.)

Figure 15-19. Principle of the wind triangle.
Figure 15-20. The wind triangle as is drawn in navigation practice.

Step 1

Place the protractor with the base resting on the vertical line and the curved edge facing east. At the center point of the base, make a dot labeled “E” (point of departure), and at the curved edge, make a dot at 90° (indicating the direction of the true course) and another at 45° (indicating wind direction).

Step 2

With the ruler, draw the true course line from E, extending it somewhat beyond the dot by 90°, and labeling it “TC 090°.”

Step 3

Next, align the ruler with E and the dot at 45°, and draw the wind arrow from E, not toward 045°, but downwind in the direction the wind is blowing, making it 40 units long, to correspond with the wind velocity of 40 knots. Identify this line as the wind line by placing the letter “W” at the end to show the wind direction.

Step 4

Finally, measure 120 units on the ruler to represent the airspeed, making a dot on the ruler at this point. The units used may be of any convenient scale or value (such as 1⁄4 inch = 10 knots), but once selected, the same scale must be used for each of the linear movements involved. Then place the ruler so that the end is on the arrowhead (W) and the 120- knot dot intercepts the true course line. Draw the line and label it “AS 120.” The point “P” placed at the intersection represents the position of the aircraft at the end of 1 hour. The diagram is now complete.

Figure 15-21. Steps in drawing the wind triangle.

The distance flown in 1 hour (GS) is measured as the numbers of units on the true course line (88 NMPH, or 88 knots). The true heading necessary to offset drift is indicated by the direction of the airspeed line, which can be determined in one of two ways:

  • By placing the straight side of the protractor along the north-south line, with its center point at the intersection of the airspeed line and north-south line, read the true heading directly in degrees (076°). [Figure 15-22]
  • By placing the straight side of the protractor along the true course line, with its center at P, read the angle between the true course and the airspeed line. This is the WCA, which must be applied to the true course to obtain the true heading. If the wind blows from the right of true course, the angle is added; if from the left, it is subtracted. In the example given, the WCA is 14° and the wind is from the left; therefore, subtract 14° from true course of 090°, making the true heading 076°. [Figure 15-23]
Figure 15-22. Finding true heading by the wind correction angle.
Figure 15-23. Finding true heading by direct measurement.

After obtaining the true heading, apply the correction for magnetic variation to obtain magnetic heading, and the correction for compass deviation to obtain a compass heading. The compass heading can be used to fly to the destination by dead reckoning.

To determine the time and fuel required for the flight, first find the distance to destination by measuring the length of the course line drawn on the aeronautical chart (using the appropriate scale at the bottom of the chart). If the distance measures 220 NM, divide by the GS of 88 knots, which gives 2.5 hours, or 2:30, as the time required. If fuel consumption is 8 gallons an hour, 8 x 2.5 or about 20 gallons is used. Briefly summarized, the steps in obtaining flight information are as follows:

  • TC—direction of the line connecting two desired points, drawn on the chart and measured clockwise in degrees from true north on the mid-meridian.
  • WCA—determined from the wind triangle. (Added to TC if the wind is from the right; subtracted if wind is from the left).
  • TH—direction measured in degrees clockwise from true north, in which the nose of the plane should point to make good the desired course.
  • Variation—obtained from the isogonic line on the chart (added to TH if west; subtracted if east).
  • MH—an intermediate step in the conversion (obtained by applying variation to true heading).
  • Deviation—obtained from the deviation card on the aircraft (added to MH or subtracted from, as indicated).
  • Compass heading—reading on the compass (found by applying deviation to MH) which is followed to make good the desired course.
  • Total distance—obtained by measuring the length of the TC line on the chart (using the scale at the bottom of the chart).
  • GS—obtained by measuring the length of the TC line on the wind triangle (using the scale employed for drawing the diagram).
  • Estimated time en route (ETE)—total distance divided by GS.
  • Fuel rate—predetermined gallons per hour used at cruising speed.

NOTE: Additional fuel for adequate reserve should be added as a safety measure.

Flight Planning

Title 14 of the Code of Federal Regulations (14 CFR) part 91 states, in part, that before beginning a flight, the pilot in command (PIC) of an aircraft shall become familiar with all available information concerning that flight. For flights not in the vicinity of an airport, this must include information on available current 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.

Assembling Necessary Material

The pilot should collect the necessary material well before the flight. An appropriate current sectional chart and charts for areas adjoining the flight route should be among this material if the route of flight is near the border of a chart. Additional equipment should include a flight computer or electronic calculator, plotter, and any other item appropriate to the particular flight. For example, if a night flight is to be undertaken, carry a flashlight; if a flight is over desert country, carry a supply of water and other necessities.

Weather Check

It is wise to check the weather before continuing with other aspects of flight planning to see, first of all, if the flight is feasible and, if it is, which route is best. Chapter 12, Aviation Weather Services, discusses obtaining a weather briefing.

Use of Airport/Facility Directory (A/FD)

Study available information about each airport at which a landing is intended. This should include a study of the Notices to Airmen (NOTAMs) and the A/FD. [Figure 15-24] This includes location, elevation, runway and lighting facilities, available services, availability of aeronautical advisory station frequency (UNICOM), types of fuel available (use to decide on refueling stops), AFSS/FSS located on the airport, control tower and ground control frequencies, traffic information, remarks, and other pertinent information. The NOTAMs, issued every 28 days, should be checked for additional information on hazardous conditions or changes that have been made since issuance of the A/FD.

Figure 15-24. Airport/Facility Directory.

The sectional chart bulletin subsection should be checked for major changes that have occurred since the last publication date of each sectional chart being used. Remember, the chart may be up to 6 months old. The effective date of the chart appears at the top of the front of the chart. The A/FD generally has the latest information pertaining to such matters and should be used in preference to the information on the back of the chart, if there are differences.

Airplane Flight Manual or Pilot’s Operating Handbook (AFM/POH)

The Aircraft Flight Manual or Pilot’s Operating Handbook (AFM/POH) should be checked to determine the proper loading of the aircraft (weight and balance data). The weight of the usable fuel and drainable oil aboard must be known. Also, check the weight of the passengers, the weight of all baggage to be carried, and the empty weight of the aircraft to be sure that the total weight does not exceed the maximum allowable. The distribution of the load must be known to tell if the resulting center of gravity (CG) is within limits. Be sure to use the latest weight and balance information in the FAA-approved AFM or other permanent aircraft records, as appropriate, to obtain empty weight and empty weight CG information.

Determine the takeoff and landing distances from the appropriate charts, based on the calculated load, elevation of the airport, and temperature; then compare these distances with the amount of runway available. Remember, the heavier the load and the higher the elevation, temperature, or humidity, the longer the takeoff roll and landing roll and the lower the rate of climb. Check the fuel consumption charts to determine the rate of fuel consumption at the estimated flight altitude and power settings. Calculate the rate of fuel consumption, and then compare it with the estimated time for the flight so that refueling points along the route can be included in the plan.

Charting the Course

Once the weather has been checked and some preliminary planning done, it is time to chart the course and determine the data needed to accomplish the flight. The following sections provide a logical sequence to follow in charting the course, filling out a flight log, and filing a flight plan. In the following example, a trip is planned based on the following data and the sectional chart excerpt in Figure 15-25.

Figure 15-25. Sectional chart excerpt.

Route of flight: Chickasha Airport direct to Guthrie Airport

True airspeed (TAS)........................................115 knots
Winds aloft...........................................360° at 10 knots
Usable fuel.....................................................38 gallons
Fuel rate...............................................................8 GPH

Steps in Charting the Course

The following is a suggested sequence for arriving at the pertinent information for the trip. As information is determined, it may be noted as illustrated in the example of a flight log in Figure 15-26. Where calculations are required, the pilot may use a mathematical formula or a manual or electronic flight computer. If unfamiliar with the use of a manual or electronic computer, it would be advantageous to read the operation manual and work several practice problems at this point.

First draw a line from Chickasha Airport (point A) directly to Guthrie Airport (point F). The course line should begin at the center of the airport of departure and end at the center of the destination airport. If the route is direct, the course line consists of a single straight line. If the route is not direct, it consists of two or more straight line segments. For example, a VOR station which is off the direct route, but which makes navigating easier, may be chosen (radio navigation is discussed later in this chapter).

Appropriate checkpoints should be selected along the route and noted in some way. These should be easy-to-locate points such as large towns, large lakes and rivers, or combinations of recognizable points such as towns with an airport, towns with a network of highways, and railroads entering and departing. Normally, choose only towns indicated by splashes of yellow on the chart. Do not choose towns represented by a small circle—these may turn out to be only a half-dozen houses. (In isolated areas, however, towns represented by a small circle can be prominent checkpoints.) For this trip, four checkpoints have been selected. Checkpoint 1 consists of a tower located east of the course and can be further identified by the highway and railroad track, which almost parallels the course at this point. Checkpoint 2 is the obstruction just to the west of the course and can be further identified by Will Rogers World Airport which is directly to the east. Checkpoint 3 is Wiley Post Airport, which the aircraft should fly directly over. Checkpoint 4 is a private, non-surfaced airport to the west of the course and can be further identified by the railroad track and highway to the east of the course.

Figure 15-26. Pilot’s planning sheet and visual flight log.

The course and areas on either side of the planned route should be checked to determine if there is any type of airspace with which the pilot should be concerned or which has special operational requirements. For this trip, it should be noted that the course passes through a segment of the Class C airspace surrounding Will Rogers World Airport where the floor of the airspace is 2,500 feet mean sea level (MSL) and the ceiling is 5,300 feet MSL (point B). Also, there is Class D airspace from the surface to 3,800 feet MSL surrounding Wiley Post Airport (point C) during the time the control tower is in operation.

Study the terrain and obstructions along the route. This is necessary to determine the highest and lowest elevations as well as the highest obstruction to be encountered so that an appropriate altitude which conforms to 14 CFR part 91 regulations can be selected. If the flight is to be flown at an altitude more than 3,000 feet above the terrain, conformance to the cruising altitude appropriate to the direction of flight is required. Check the route for particularly rugged terrain so it can be avoided. Areas where a takeoff or landing is made should be carefully checked for tall obstructions. Television transmitting towers may extend to altitudes over 1,500 feet above the surrounding terrain. It is essential that pilots be aware of their presence and location. For this trip, it should be noted that the tallest obstruction is part of a series of antennas with a height of 2,749 feet MSL (point D). The highest elevation should be located in the northeast quadrant and is 2,900 feet MSL (point E).

Since the wind is no factor and it is desirable and within the aircraft’s capability to fly above the Class C and D airspace to be encountered, an altitude of 5,500 feet MSL is chosen. This altitude also gives adequate clearance of all obstructions as well as conforms to the 14 CFR part 91 requirement to fly at an altitude of odd thousand plus 500 feet when on a magnetic course between 0 and 179°.

Next, the pilot should measure the total distance of the course as well as the distance between checkpoints. The total distance is 53 NM and the distance between checkpoints is as noted on the flight log in Figure 15-26.

After determining the distance, the true course should be measured. If using a plotter, follow the directions on the plotter. The true course is 031°. Once the true heading is established, the pilot can determine the compass heading.

This is done by following the formula given earlier in this chapter. The formula is:

TC ± WCA = TH ± V = MH ± D = CH

The WCA can be determined by using a manual or electronic flight computer. Using a wind of 360° at 10 knots, it is determined the WCA is 3° left. This is subtracted from the TC making the TH 28°. Next, the pilot should locate the isogonic line closest to the route of the flight to determine variation. Figure 15-25 shows the variation to be 6.30° E (rounded to 7° E), which means it should be subtracted from the TH, giving an MH of 21°. Next, add 2° to the MH for the deviation correction. This gives the pilot the compass heading which is 23°.

Now, the GS can be determined. This is done using a manual or electronic calculator. The GS is determined to be 106 knots. Based on this information, the total trip time, as well as time between checkpoints, and the fuel burned can be determined. These calculations can be done mathematically or by using a manual or electronic calculator.

For this trip, the GS is 106 knots and the total time is 35 minutes (30 minutes plus 5 minutes for climb) with a fuel burn of 4.7 gallons. Refer to the flight log in Figure 15-26 for the time between checkpoints.

As the trip progresses, the pilot can note headings and time and make adjustments in heading, GS, and time.

Filing a VFR Flight Plan

Filing a flight plan is not required by regulations; however, it is a good operating practice, since the information contained in the flight plan can be used in search and rescue in the event of an emergency.

Flight plans can be filed in the air by radio, but it is best to file a flight plan by phone just before departing. After takeoff, contact the AFSS by radio and give them the takeoff time so the flight plan can be activated.

When a VFR flight plan is filed, it is held by the AFSS until 1 hour after the proposed departure time and then canceled unless: the actual departure time is received; a revised proposed departure time is received; or at the time of filing, the AFSS is informed that the proposed departure time is met, but actual time cannot be given because of inadequate communication. The FSS specialist who accepts the flight plan does not inform the pilot of this procedure, however.

Figure 15-27 shows the flight plan form a pilot files with the AFSS. When filing a flight plan by telephone or radio, give the information in the order of the numbered spaces. This enables the AFSS specialist to copy the information more efficiently. Most of the fields are either self-explanatory or non-applicable to the VFR flight plan (such as item 13). However, some fields may need explanation.

  • Item 3 is the aircraft type and special equipment. An example would be C-150/X, which means the aircraft has no transponder. A listing of special equipment codes is found in the Aeronautical Information Manual (AIM).
  • Item 6 is the proposed departure time in UTC (indicated by the “Z”).
  • Item 7 is the cruising altitude. Normally, “VFR” can be entered in this block, since the pilot chooses a cruising altitude to conform to FAA regulations.
  • Item 8 is the route of flight. If the flight is to be direct, enter the word “direct;” if not, enter the actual route to be followed such as via certain towns or navigation aids.
  • Item 10 is the estimated time en route. In the sample flight plan, 5 minutes was added to the total time to allow for the climb.
  • Item 12 is the fuel on board in hours and minutes. This is determined by dividing the total usable fuel aboard in gallons by the estimated rate of fuel consumption in gallons.

Remember, there is every advantage in filing a flight plan; but do not forget to close the flight plan on arrival. Do this by telephone to avoid radio congestion.

Radio Navigation

Advances in navigational radio receivers installed in aircraft, the development of aeronautical charts which show the exact location of ground transmitting stations and their frequencies, along with refined flight deck instrumentation make it possible for pilots to navigate with precision to almost any point desired. Although precision in navigation is obtainable through the proper use of this equipment, beginning pilots should use this equipment to supplement navigation by visual reference to the ground (pilotage). This method provides the pilot with an effective safeguard against disorientation in the event of radio malfunction.

Figure 15-27. Flight plan form.

There are four radio navigation systems available for use for VFR navigation. These are:

  • VHF Omnidirectional Range (VOR)
  • Nondirectional Radio Beacon (NDB)
  • Long Range Navigation (LORAN-C)
  • Global Positioning System (GPS)

Very High Frequency (VHF) Omnidirectional Range (VOR)

The VOR system is present in three slightly different navigation aids (NAVAIDs): VOR, VOR/DME, and VORTAC. By itself it is known as a VOR, and it provides magnetic bearing information to and from the station. When DME is also installed with a VOR, the NAVAID is referred to as a VOR/DME. When military tactical air navigation (TACAN)equipmentisinstalledwithaVOR,theNAVAID is known as a VORTAC. DME is always an integral part of a VORT AC. Regardless of the type of NA V AID utilized (VOR, VOR/DME or VORTAC), the VOR indicator behaves the same. Unless otherwise noted, in this section, VOR, VOR/ DME and VORTAC NAVAIDs are all referred to hereafter as VORs.

The prefix “omni-” means all, and an omnidirectional range is a VHF radio transmitting ground station that projects straight line courses (radials) from the station in all directions. From a top view, it can be visualized as being similar to the spokes from the hub of a wheel. The distance VOR radials are projected depends upon the power output of the transmitter.

The course or radials projected from the station are referenced to magnetic north. Therefore, a radial is defined as a line of magnetic bearing extending outward from the VOR station. Radials are identified by numbers beginning with 001, which is 1° east of magnetic north, and progress in sequence through all the degrees of a circle until reaching 360. To aid in orientation, a compass rose reference to magnetic north is superimposed on aeronautical charts at the station location.

Figure 15-28. VHF transmissions follow a line-of-sight course.

VOR ground stations transmit within a VHF frequency band of 108.0–117.95 MHz. Because the equipment is VHF, the signals transmitted are subject to line-of-sight restrictions. Therefore, its range varies in direct proportion to the altitude of receiving equipment. Generally, the reception range of the signals at an altitude of 1,000 feet above ground level (AGL) is about 40 to 45 miles. This distance increases with altitude. [Figure 15-28]

VORs and VORTACs are classed according to operational use. There are three classes:

  • T (Terminal)
  • L (Low altitude)
  • H (High altitude)

The normal useful range for the various classes is shown in the following table:


Normal Usable Altitudes and Radius Distances

Class Altitudes Distance


T 12,000' and below 25
L Below 18,000' 40
H Below 14,500' 40
H Within the conterminous 48 states only, between 14,500 and 17,999' 100
H 18,000'—FL 450 130
H 60,000'—FL 450 100

The useful range of certain facilities may be less than 50 miles. For further information concerning these restrictions, refer to the Communication/NAVAID Remarks in the A/FD.

The accuracy of course alignment of VOR radials is considered to be excellent. It is generally within plus or minus 1°. However, certain parts of the VOR receiver equipment deteriorate, and this affects its accuracy. This is particularly true at great distances from the VOR station. The best assurance of maintaining an accurate VOR receiver is periodic checks and calibrations. VOR accuracy checks are not a regulatory requirement for VFR flight. However, to assure accuracy of the equipment, these checks should be accomplished quite frequently and a complete calibration each year. The following means are provided for pilots to check VOR accuracy:

  • FAA VOR test facility (VOT)
  • Certified airborne checkpoints
  • Certified ground checkpoints located on airport surfaces

If an aircraft has two VOR receivers installed, a dual VOR receiver check can be made. To accomplish the dual receiver check, a pilot tunes both VOR receivers to the same VOR ground facility. The maximum permissible variation between the two indicated bearings is 4 degrees. A list of the airborne and ground checkpoints is published in the A/FD.

Basically, these checks consist of verifying that the VOR radials the aircraft equipment receives are aligned with the radials the station transmits. There are not specific tolerances in VOR checks required for VFR flight. But as a guide to assure acceptable accuracy, the required IFR tolerances can be used—±4° for ground checks and ±6° for airborne checks. These checks can be performed by the pilot.

The VOR transmitting station can be positively identified by its Morse code identification or by a recorded voice identification which states the name of the station followed by “VOR.” Many FSS transmit voice messages on the same frequency that the VOR operates. Voice transmissions should not be relied upon to identify stations, because many FSS remotely transmit over several omniranges, which have names different from that of the transmitting FSS. If the VOR is out of service for maintenance, the coded identification is removed and not transmitted. This serves to alert pilots that this station should not be used for navigation. VOR receivers are designed with an alarm flag to indicate when signal strength is inadequate to operate the navigational equipment. This happens if the aircraft is too far from the VOR or the aircraft is too low and, therefore, is out of the line of sight of the transmitting signals.

Using the VOR

In review, for VOR radio navigation, there are two components required: ground transmitter and aircraft receiving equipment. The ground transmitter is located at a specific position on the ground and transmits on an assigned frequency. The aircraft equipment includes a receiver with a tuning device and a VOR or omninavigation instrument. The navigation instrument could be a course deviation indicator (CDI), horizontal situation indicator (HSI), or a radio magnetic indicator (RMI). Each of these instruments indicates the course to the tuned VOR.

Figure 15-29. VOR indicator.

Course Deviation Indicator (CDI)

The CDI is found in most training aircraft. It consists of (1) omnibearing selector (OBS) sometimes referred to as the course selector, (2) a CDI needle (Left-Right Needle), and (3) a TO/FROM indicator.

The course selector is an azimuth dial that can be rotated to select a desired radial or to determine the radial over which the aircraft is flying. In addition, the magnetic course “TO” or “FROM” the station can be determined. When the course selector is rotated, it moves the CDI or needle to indicate the position of the radial relative to the aircraft. If the course selector is rotated until the deviation needle is centered, the radial (magnetic course “FROM” the station) or its reciprocal (magnetic course “TO” the station) can be determined. The course deviation needle also moves to the right or left if the aircraft is flown or drifting away from the radial which is set in the course selector.

By centering the needle, the course selector indicates either the course “FROM” the station or the course “TO” the station. If the flag displays a “TO,” the course shown on the course selector must be flown to the station. [Figure 15-29] If “FROM” is displayed and the course shown is followed, the aircraft is flown away from the station.

Figure 15-30. Horizontal situation indicator.

Horizontal Situation Indicator

The HSI is a direction indicator that uses the output from a flux valve to drive the compass card. The HSI [Figure 15-30] combines the magnetic compass with navigation signals and a glideslope. The HSI gives the pilot an indication of the location of the aircraft with relationship to the chosen course or radial.

In Figure 15-30, the aircraft magnetic heading displayed on the compass card under the lubber line is 184°. The course select pointer shown is set to 295°; the tail of the pointer indicates the reciprocal, 115°. The course deviation bar operates with a VOR/Localizer (VOR/LOC) or GPS navigation receiver to indicate left or right deviations from the course selected with the course select pointer; operating in the same manner, the angular movement of a conventional VOR/LOC needle indicates deviation from course.

The desired course is selected by rotating the course select pointer, in relation to the compass card, by means of the course select knob. The HSI has a fixed aircraft symbol and the course deviation bar displays the aircraft’s position relative to the selected course. The TO/FROM indicator is a triangular pointer. When the indicator points to the head of the course select pointer, the arrow shows the course selected. If properly intercepted and flown, the course will take the aircraft to the chosen facility. When the indicator points to the tail of the course, the arrow shows that the course selected, if properly intercepted and flown, will take the aircraft directly away from the chosen facility.

When the NAV warning flag appears it indicates no reliable signal is being received. The appearance of the HDG flag indicates the compass card is not functioning properly.

The glideslope pointer indicates the relation of the aircraft to the glideslope. When the pointer is below the center position, the aircraft is above the glideslope and an increased rate of descent is required. In some installations, the azimuth card is a remote indicating compass; however, in others the heading must be checked occasionally against the magnetic compass and reset.

Figure 15-31. Radio magnetic indicator.

Radio Magnetic Indicator (RMI)

The RMI [Figure 15-31] is a navigational aid providing aircraft magnetic or directional gyro heading and very high frequency omnidirectional range (VOR), GPS, and automatic direction finder (ADF) bearing information. Remote indicating compasses were developed to compensate for errors in and limitations of older types of heading indicators.

The remote compass transmitter is a separate unit usually mounted in a wingtip to eliminate the possibility of magnetic interference. The RMI consists of a compass card, a heading index, two bearing pointers, and pointer function switches. The two pointers are driven by any two combinations of a GPS, an ADF, and/or a VOR. The pilot has the ability to select the navigation aid to be indicated. The pointer indicates course to selected NAVAID or waypoint. In Figure 15-31 the green pointer is indicating the station tuned on the ADF. The yellow pointer is indicating the course to a VOR of GPS waypoint. Note that there is no requirement for a pilot to select course with the RMI, but only the NAVAID is to be indicated.

Figure 15-32. Tracking a radial in a crosswind.

Tracking With VOR

The following describes a step-by-step procedure to use when tracking to and from a VOR station using a CDI. Figure 15-32 illustrates the procedure.

First, tune the VOR receiver to the frequency of the selected VOR station. For example, 115.0 to receive Bravo VOR. Next, check the identifiers to verify that the desired VOR is being received. As soon as the VOR is properly tuned, the course deviation needle deflects either left or right. Then, rotate the azimuth dial to the course selector until the course deviation needle centers and the TO-FROM indicator indicates “TO.” If the needle centers with a “FROM” indication, the azimuth should be rotated 180° because, in this case, it is desired to fly “TO” the station. Now, turn the aircraft to the heading indicated on the VOR azimuth dial or course selector, 350° in this example.

If a heading of 350° is maintained with a wind from the right as shown, the aircraft drifts to the left of the intended track. As the aircraft drifts off course, the VOR course deviation needle gradually moves to the right of center or indicates the direction of the desired radial or track.

To return to the desired radial, the aircraft heading must be altered to the right. As the aircraft returns to the desired track, the deviation needle slowly returns to center. When centered, the aircraft is on the desired radial and a left turn must be made toward, but not to the original heading of 350° because a wind drift correction must be established. The amount of correction depends upon the strength of the wind. If the wind velocity is unknown, a trial-and-error method can be used to find the correct heading. Assume, for this example, a 10° correction for a heading of 360° is maintained.

While maintaining a heading of 360°, assume that the course deviation begins to move to the left. This means that the wind correction of 10° is too great and the aircraft is flying to the right of course. A slight turn to the left should be made to permit the aircraft to return to the desired radial.

When the deviation needle centers, a small wind drift correction of 5° or a heading correction of 355° should be flown. If this correction is adequate, the aircraft remains on the radial. If not, small variations in heading should be made to keep the needle centered, and consequently keep the aircraft on the radial.

As the VOR station is passed, the course deviation needle fluctuates, then settles down, and the “TO” indication changes to “FROM.” If the aircraft passes to one side of the station, the needle deflects in the direction of the station as the indicator changes to “FROM.”

Generally, the same techniques apply when tracking outbound as those used for tracking inbound. If the intent is to fly over the station and track outbound on the reciprocal of the inbound radial, the course selector should not be changed. Corrections are made in the same manner to keep the needle centered. The only difference is that the omnidirectional range indicator indicates “FROM.”

If tracking outbound on a course other than the reciprocal of the inbound radial, this new course or radial must be set in the course selector and a turn made to intercept this course. After this course is reached, tracking procedures are the same as previously discussed.

Tips on Using the VOR

  • Positively identify the station by its code or voice identification.
  • Keep in mind that VOR signals are “line-of-sight.” A weak signal or no signal at all is received if the aircraft is too low or too far from the station.
  • When navigating to a station, determine the inbound radial and use this radial. Fly a heading that will maintain the course. If the aircraft drifts, fly a heading to re-intercept the course then apply a correction to compensate for wind drift.
  • If minor needle fluctuations occur, avoid changing headings immediately. Wait momentarily to see if the needle recenters; if it does not, then correct.
  • When flying “TO” a station, always fly the selected course with a “TO” indication. When flying “FROM” a station, always fly the selected course with a “FROM” indication. If this is not done, the action of the course deviation needle is reversed. To further explain this reverse action, if the aircraft is flown toward a station with a “FROM” indication or away from a station with a “TO” indication, the course deviation needle indicates in an direction opposite to that which it should indicate. For example, if the aircraft drifts to the right of a radial being flown, the needle moves to the right or points away from the radial. If the aircraft drifts to the left of the radial being flown, the needle moves left or in the direction opposite to the radial.
  • When navigating using the VOR it is important to fly headings that maintain or re-intercept the course. Just turning toward the needle will cause overshooting the radial and flying an S turn to the left and right of course.
Figure 15-33. Time-distance check example.

Time and Distance Check From a Station

To compute time and distance from a station, first turn the aircraft to place the bearing pointer on the nearest 90° index. Note time and maintain heading. When the bearing pointer has moved 10°, note the elapsed time in seconds and apply the formulas in the following example to determine time and distance. [Figure 15-33]

The time from station may also be calculated by using a short method based on the above formula, if a 10° bearing change is flown. If the elapsed time for the bearing change is noted in seconds and a 10° bearing change is made, the time from the station in minutes is determined by counting off one decimal point. Thus, if 75 seconds are required to fly a 10° bearing change, the aircraft is 7.5 minutes from the station. When the bearing pointer is moving rapidly or when several corrections are required to place the pointer on the wingtip position, the aircraft is at station passage. The distance from the station is computed by multiplying TAS or GS (in miles per minute) by the previously determined time in minutes. For example, if the aircraft is 7.5 minutes from station, flying at a TAS of 120 knots or 2 NM per minute, the distance from station is 15 NM (7.5 x 2 = 15).

The preceding are methods of computing approximate time and distance. The accuracy of time and distance checks is governed by existing wind, degree of bearing change, and accuracy of timing. The number of variables involved causes the result to be only an approximation. However, by flying an accurate heading and checking the time and bearing closely, the pilot can make a reasonable estimate of time and distance from the station.

Course Intercept

Course interceptions are performed in most phases of instrument navigation. The equipment used varies, but an intercept heading must be flown that results in an angle or rate of intercept sufficient to solve a particular problem.

Rate of Intercept

Rate of intercept, seen by the aviator as bearing pointer or HSI movement, is a result of the following factors:

  • The angle at which the aircraft is flown toward a desired course (angle of intercept)
  • True airspeed and wind (GS)
  • Distance from the station

Angle of Intercept

The angle of intercept is the angle between the heading of the aircraft (intercept heading) and desired course. Controlling this angle by selection/adjustment of the intercept heading is the easiest and most effective way to control course interceptions. Angle of intercept must be greater than the degrees from course, but should not exceed 90°. Within this limit, adjust to achieve the most desirable rate of intercept.

When selecting an intercept heading, the key factor is the relationship between distance from the station and degrees from the course. Each degree, or radial, is 1 NM wide at a distance of 60 NM from the station. Width increases or decreases in proportion to the 60 NM distance. For example, 1 degree is 2 NM wide at 120 NM—and 1⁄2 NM wide at 30 NM. For a given GS and angle of intercept, the resultant rate of intercept varies according to the distance from the station. When selecting an intercept heading to form an angle of intercept, consider the following factors:

  • Degrees from course
  • Distance from the station
  • True airspeed and wind (GS)

Distance Measuring Equipment (DME)

Distance measuring equipment (DME) consists of an ultra high frequency (UHF) navigational aid with VOR/DMEs and VORTACs. It measures, in NM, the slant range distance of an aircraft from a VOR/DME or VORTAC (both hereafter referred to as a VORTAC). Although DME equipment is very popular, not all aircraft are DME equipped.

To utilize DME, the pilot should select, tune, and identify a VORTAC, as previously described. The DME receiver, utilizing what is called a “paired frequency” concept, automatically selects and tunes the UHF DME frequency associated with the VHF VORTAC frequency selected by the pilot. This process is entirely transparent to the pilot. After a brief pause, the DME display shows the slant range distance to or from the VORTAC. Slant range distance is the direct distance between the aircraft and the VORTAC, and is therefore affected by aircraft altitude. (Station passage directly over a VORTAC from an altitude of 6,076 feet above ground level (AGL) would show approximately 1.0 NM on the DME.) DME is a very useful adjunct to VOR navigation. A VOR radial alone merely gives line of position information. With DME, a pilot may precisely locate the aircraft on that line (radial).

Most DME receivers also provide GS and time-to-station modes of operation. The GS is displayed in knots (NMPH). The time-to-station mode displays the minutes remaining to VORTAC station passage, predicated upon the present GS. GS and time-to-station information is only accurate when tracking directly to or from a VORTAC. DME receivers typically need a minute or two of stabilized flight directly to or from a VORTAC before displaying accurate GS or time- to-station information.

Some DME installations have a hold feature that permits a DME signal to be retained from one VORTAC while the course indicator displays course deviation information from an ILS or another VORTAC.

Figure 15-34. Flying an RNAV course.


Area navigation (RNA V) permits electronic course guidance on any direct route between points established by the pilot. While RNAV is a generic term that applies to a variety of navigational aids, such as LORAN-C, GPS, and others, this section deals with VOR/DME-based RNAV. VOR/DME RNAV is not a separate ground-based NAVAID, but a method of navigation using VOR/DME and VORTAC signals specially processed by the aircraft’s RNAV computer. [Figure 15-34]

NOTE: In this section, the term “VORTAC” also includes VOR/DME NAVAIDs.

In its simplest form, VOR/DME RNAV allows the pilot to electronically move VORTACs around to more convenient locations. Once electronically relocated, they are referred to as waypoints. These waypoints are described as a combination of a selected radial and distance within the service volume of the VORTAC to be used. These waypoints allow a straight course to be flown between almost any origin and destination, without regard to the orientation of VORTACs or the existence of airways.

While the capabilities and methods of operation of VOR/ DME RNAV units differ, there are basic principles of operation that are common to all. Pilots are urged to study the manufacturer’s operating guide and receive instruction prior to the use of VOR/DME RNAV or any unfamiliar navigational system. Operational information and limitations should also be sought from placards and the supplement section of the AFM/POH.

VOR/DME-based RNAV units operate in at least three modes: VOR, en route, and approach. A fourth mode, VOR Parallel, may also be found on some models. The units need both VOR and DME signals to operate in any RNAV mode. If the NAVAID selected is a VOR without DME, RNAV mode will not function.

Figure 15-35. RNAV controls.

In the VOR (or non-RNAV) mode, the units imply functions as a VOR receiver with DME capability. [Figure 15-35] The unit’s display on the VOR indicator is conventional in all respects. For operation on established airways or any other ordinary VOR navigation, the VOR mode is used.

To utilize the unit’s RNAV capability, the pilot selects and establishes a waypoint or a series of waypoints to define a course. To operate in any RNAV mode, the unit needs both radial and distance signals; therefore, a VORTAC (or VOR/DME) needs to be selected as a NAVAID. To establish a waypoint, a point somewhere within the service range of a VORTAC is defined on the basis of radial and distance. Once the waypoint is entered into the unit and the RNAV en route mode is selected, the CDI displays course guidance to the waypoint, not the original VORTAC. DME also displays distance to the waypoint. Many units have the capability to store several waypoints, allowing them to be programmed prior to flight, if desired, and called up in flight.

RNAV waypoints are entered into the unit in magnetic bearings (radials) of degrees and tenths (i.e., 275.5°) and distances in NM and tenths (i.e., 25.2 NM). When plotting RNAV waypoints on an aeronautical chart, pilots find it difficult to measure to that level of accuracy, and in practical application, it is rarely necessary. A number of flight planning publications publish airport coordinates and waypoints with this precision and the unit accepts those figures. There is a subtle, but important difference in CDI operation and display in the RNAV modes.

In the RNAV modes, course deviation is displayed in terms of linear deviation. In the RNAV en route mode, maximum deflection of the CDI typically represents 5 NM on either side of the selected course, without regard to distance from the waypoint. In the RNA V approach mode, maximum deflection of the CDI typically represents 11⁄4 NM on either side of the selected course. There is no increase in CDI sensitivity as the aircraft approaches a waypoint in RNAV mode.

The RNA V approach mode is used for instrument approaches. Itsnarrowscalewidth(1⁄4oftheenroutemode)permitsvery precise tracking to or from the selected waypoint. In visual flight rules (VFR) cross-country navigation, tracking a course in the approach mode is not desirable because it requires a great deal of attention and soon becomes tedious.

A fourth, lesser-used mode on some units is the VOR Parallel mode. This permits the CDI to display linear (not angular) deviation as the aircraft tracks to and from VORTACs. It derives its name from permitting the pilot to offset (or parallel) a selected course or airway at a fixed distance of the pilot’s choosing, if desired. The VOR parallel mode has the same effect as placing a waypoint directly over an existing VORTAC. Some pilots select the VOR parallel mode when utilizing the navigation (NA V) tracking function of their autopilot for smoother course following near the VORTAC. Confusion is possible when navigating an aircraft with VOR/ DME-based RNAV, and it is essential that the pilot become familiar with the equipment installed. It is not unknown for pilots to operate in advertently in one of the RNAV modes when the operation was not intended by overlooking switch positions or annunciators. The reverse has also occurred with apilotneglectingtoplacetheunitintooneoftheRNAV modes by overlooking switch positions or annunciators. As always, the prudent pilot is not only familiar with the equipment used, but never places complete reliance in just one method of navigation when others are available for cross-check.

Automatic Direction Finder (ADF)

Many general aviation-type aircraft are equipped with ADF radio receiving equipment. To navigate using the ADF, the pilot tunes the receiving equipment to a ground station known as a nondirectional radio beacon (NDB). The NDB stations normally operate in a low or medium frequency band of 200 to 415 kHz. The frequencies are readily available on aeronautical charts or in the A/FD.

All radio beacons except compass locators transmit a continuous three-letter identification in code except during voice transmissions. A compass locator, which is associated with an instrument landing system, transmits a two-letter identification. Standard broadcast stations can also be used in conjunction with ADF. Positive identification of all radio stations is extremely important and this is particularly true when using standard broadcast stations for navigation.

NDBs have one advantage over the VOR. This advantage is that low or medium frequencies are not affected by line-of- sight. The signals follow the curvature of the Earth; therefore, if the aircraft is within the range of the station, the signals can be received regardless of altitude. The following table gives the class of NDB stations, their power, and usable range:


(Usable Radius Distances for All Altitudes)

Class Power




Compass Locator Under 25 15
MH Under 50 25
H 50–1999 *50
HH 2000 or more 75
*Service range of individual facilities may be less than 50 miles.

One of the disadvantages that should be considered when usinglowfrequency(LF)fornavigationisthatlowfrequency signals are very susceptible to electrical disturbances, such as lightning. These disturbances create excessive static, needle deviations,andsignalfades.Theremaybeinterferencefrom distant stations. Pilots should know the conditions under which these disturbances can occur so they can be more alert to possible interference when using the ADF.

Basically, the ADF aircraft equipment consists of a tuner, which is used to set the desired station frequency, and the navigational display. The navigational display consists of a dial upon which the azimuth is printed, and a needle which rotates around the dial and points to the station to which the receiver is tuned.

Figure 15-36. ADF with fixed azimuth and magnetic compass.

Some of the ADF dials can be rotated to align the azimuth with the aircraft heading; others are fixed with 0° representing the nose of the aircraft, and 180° representing the tail. Only the fixed azimuth dial is discussed in this handbook. [Figure 15-36]

Figure 15-37. ADF terms.

Figure 15-37 illustrates terms that are used with the ADF and should be understood by the pilot.

To determine the magnetic bearing “FROM” the station, 180° is added to or subtracted from the magnetic bearing to the station. This is the reciprocal bearing and is used when plotting position fixes.

Keep in mind that the needle of fixed azimuth points to the station in relation to the nose of the aircraft. If the needle is deflected 30° to the left for a relative bearing of 330°, this means that the station is located 30° left. If the aircraft is turned left 30°, the needle moves to the right 30° and indicates a relative bearing of 0°, or the aircraft is pointing toward the station. If the pilot continues flight toward the station keeping the needle on 0°, the procedure is called homing to the station. If a crosswind exists, the ADF needle continues to drift away from zero. To keep the needle on zero, the aircraft must be turned slightly resulting in a curved flightpath to the station. Homing to the station is a common procedure, but results in drifting downwind, thus lengthening the distance to the station.

Figure 15-38. ADF tracking.

Tracking to the station requires correcting for wind drift and results in maintaining flight along a straight track or bearing to the station. When the wind drift correction is established, the ADF needle indicates the amount of correction to the right or left. For instance, if the magnetic bearing to the station is 340°, a correction for a left crosswind would result in a magnetic heading of 330°, and the ADF needle would indicate 10° to the right or a relative bearing of 010°. [Figure 15-38]

When tracking away from the station, wind corrections are made similar to tracking to the station, but the ADF needle points toward the tail of the aircraft or the 180° position on the azimuth dial. Attempting to keep the ADF needle on the 180° position during winds results in the aircraft flying a curved flight leading further and further from the desired track. To correct for wind when tracking outbound, correction should be made in the direction opposite of that in which the needle is pointing.

Although the ADF is not as popular as the VOR for radio navigation, with proper precautions and intelligent use, the ADF can be a valuable aid to navigation.

Loran-C Navigation

Long range navigation, version C (LORAN-C) is another form of RNAV, but one that operates from chains of transmitters broadcasting signals in the LF spectrum. World Aeronautical Chart (WAC), sectional charts, and VFR terminal area charts do not show the presence of LORAN- C transmitters. Selection of a transmitter chain is either made automatically by the unit, or manually by the pilot using guidance information provided by the manufacturer. LORAN-C is a highly accurate, supplemental form of navigation typically installed as an adjunct to VOR and ADF equipment. Databases of airports, NAVAIDs, and ATC facilities are frequently features of LORAN-C receivers.

LORAN-C is an outgrowth of the original LORAN-A developed for navigation during World War II. The LORAN-C system is used extensively in maritime applications. It experienced a dramatic growth in popularity with pilots with the advent of the small, panel-mounted LORAN-C receivers available at relatively low cost. These units are frequently very sophisticated and capable, with a wide variety of navigational functions.

With high levels of LORAN-C sophistication and capability, a certain complexity in operation is an unfortunate necessity. Pilots are urged to read the operating handbooks and to consult the supplements section of the AFM/POH prior to utilizing LORAN-C for navigation. Many units offer so many features that the manufacturers often publish two different sets of instructions: (1) a brief operating guide and (2) in- depth operating manual.

While coverage is not global, LORAN-C signals are suitable for navigation in all of the conterminous United States, and parts of Canada and Alaska. Several foreign countries also operate their own LORAN-C systems. In the United States, the U.S. Coast Guard operates the LORAN-C system. LORAN-C system status is available from: USCG Navigation Center, Alexandria, Virginia at (703) 313-5900.

LORAN-C absolute accuracy is excellent—position errors are typically less than .25 NM. Repeatable accuracy, or the ability to return to a waypoint previously visited, is even better. While LORAN-C is a form of RNAV, it differs significantlyfromVOR/DME-basedRNAV.Itoperatesina 90–110 kHz frequency range and is based upon measurement of the difference in arrival times of pulses of radio frequency (RF) energy emitted by a chain of transmitters hundreds of miles apart.

Within any given chain of transmitters, there is a master station, and from three to five secondary stations. LORAN- C units must be able to receive at least a master and two secondary stations to provide navigational information. Unlike VOR/DME-based RNAV , where the pilot must select the appropriate VOR/DME or VORTAC frequency, there is not a frequency selection in LORAN-C. The most advanced units automatically select the optimum chain for navigation. Other units rely upon the pilot to select the appropriate chain with a manual entry.

After the LORAN-C receiver has been turned on, the unit must be initialized before it can be used for navigation. While this can be accomplished in flight, it is preferable to perform this task, which can take several minutes, on the ground. The methods for initialization are as varied as the number of different models of receivers. Some require pilot input during the process, such as verification or acknowledgment of the information displayed.

Most units contain databases of navigational information. Frequently, such databases contain not only airport and NAVAID locations, but also extensive airport, airspace, and ATC information. While the unit can operate with an expired database, the information should be current or verified to be correct prior to use. The pilot can update some databases, while others require removal from the aircraft and the services of an avionics technician.

VFR navigation with LORAN-C can be as simple as telling the unit where the pilot wishes to go. The course guidance provided is a great circle (shortest distance) route to the destination. Older units may need a destination entered in terms of latitude and longitude, but recent designs need only the identifier of the airport or NAVAID. The unit also permits database storage and retrieval of pilot defined waypoints. LORAN-C signals follow the curvature of the Earth and are generally usable hundreds of miles from their transmitters.

The LORAN-C signal is subject to degradation from a variety of atmospheric disturbances. It is also susceptible to interference from static electricity buildup on the airframe and electrically “noisy” airframe equipment. Flight in precipitation or even dust clouds can cause occasional interference with navigational guidance from LORAN-C signals. To minimize these effects, static wicks and bonding straps should be installed and properly maintained.

LORAN-C navigation information is presented to the pilot in a variety of ways. All units have self-contained displays, and some elaborate units feature built-in moving map displays. Some installations can also drive an external moving map display, a conventional VOR indicator, or a horizontal situation indicator (HSI). Course deviation information is presented as a linear deviation from course—there is no increase in tracking sensitivity as the aircraft approaches the waypoint or destination. Pilots must carefully observe placards, selector switch positions, and annunciator indications when utilizing LORAN-C because aircraft installations can vary widely. The pilot’s familiarity with unit operation through AFM/POH supplements and operating guides cannot be overemphasized.

LORAN-C Notices to Airmen (NOTAMs) should be reviewed prior to relying on LORAN-C for navigation. LORAN-C NOTAMs are issued to announce outages for specific chains and transmitters. Pilots may obtain LORAN-C NOTAMs from FSS briefers only upon request.

The prudent pilot never relies solely on one means of navigation when others are available for backup and cross- check. Pilots should never become so dependent upon the extensive capabilities of LORAN-C that other methods of navigation are neglected.

Global Positioning System

The GPS is a satellite-based radio navigation system. Its RNA V guidance is worldwide in scope. There are no symbols for GPS on aeronautical charts as it is a space-based system with global coverage. Development of the system is underway so that GPS is capable of providing the primary means of electronic navigation. Portable and yoke mounted units are proving to be very popular in addition to those permanently installed in the aircraft. Extensive navigation databases are common features in aircraft GPS receivers.

The GPS is a satellite radio navigation and time dissemination system developed and operated by the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD). Civilian interface and GPS system status is available from the U.S. Coast Guard. It is not necessary to understand the technical aspects of GPS operation to use it in VFR/instrument flight rules (IFR) navigation. It does differ significantly from conventional, ground-based electronic navigation, and awareness of those differences is important. Awareness of equipment approvals and limitations is critical to the safety of flight.

The GPS navigation system broadcasts a signal that is used by receivers to determine precise position anywhere in the world. The receiver tracks multiple satellites and determines a pseudorange measurement to determine the user location. A minimum of four satellites is necessary to establish an accurate three-dimensional position. The Department of Defense (DOD) is responsible for operating the GPS satellite constellation and monitors the GPS satellites to ensure proper operation.

The status of a GPS satellite is broadcast as part of the data message transmitted by the satellite. GPS status information is also available by means of the U.S. Coast Guard navigation information service at (703) 313-5907 or online at http:// Additionally, satellite status is available through the Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) system.

The GPS receiver verifies the integrity (usability) of the signals received from the GPS constellation through receiver autonomous integrity monitoring (RAIM) to determine if a satellite is providing corrupted information. At least one satellite, in addition to those required for navigation, must be in view for the receiver to perform the RAIM function; thus, RAIM needs a minimum of five satellites in view, or four satellites and a barometric altimeter (baro-aiding) to detect an integrity anomaly. For receivers capable of doing so, RAIM needs six satellites in view (or five satellites with baro-aiding) to isolate the corrupt satellite signal and remove it from the navigation solution. Baro-aiding is a method of augmenting the GPS integrity solution by using a nonsatellite input source. GPS derived altitude should not be relied upon to determine aircraft altitude since the vertical error can be quite large and no integrity is provided. To ensure that baro-aiding is available, the current altimeter setting must be entered into the receiver as described in the operating manual.

RAIM messages vary somewhat between receivers; however, generally there are two types. One type indicates that there are not enough satellites available to provide RAIM integrity monitoring and another type indicates that the RAIM integrity monitor has detected a potential error that exceeds the limit for the current phase of flight. Without RAIM capability, the pilot has no assurance of the accuracy of the GPS position.

Selective Availability

Selective Availability (SA) is a method by which the accuracy of GPS is intentionally degraded. This feature is designed to deny hostile use of precise GPS positioning data. SA was discontinued on May 1, 2000, but many GPS receivers are designed to assume that SA is still active. The GPS constellation of 24 satellites is designed so that a minimum of five satellites are always observable by a user anywhere on earth. The receiver uses data from a minimum of four satellites above the mask angle (the lowest angle above the horizon at which a receiver can use a satellite).

VFR Use of GPS

GPS navigation has become a great asset to VFR pilots, providing increased navigation capability and enhanced situational awareness, while reducing operating costs due to greater ease in flying direct routes. While GPS has many benefits to the VFR pilot, care must be exercised to ensure that system capabilities are not exceeded.

Types of receivers used for GPS navigation under VFR are varied, from a full IFR installation being used to support a VFR flight, to a VFR only installation (in either a VFR or IFR capable aircraft) to a hand-held receiver. The limitations of each type of receiver installation or use must be understood by the pilot to avoid misusing navigation information. In all cases, VFR pilots should never rely solely on one system of navigation. GPS navigation must be integrated with other forms of electronic navigation as well as pilotage and dead reckoning. Only through the integration of these techniques can the VFR pilot ensure accuracy in navigation.

Some critical concerns in VFR use of GPS include RAIM capability, database currency and antenna location.

RAIM Capability

Many VFR GPS receivers and all hand-held units have no RAIM alerting capability. Loss of the required number of satellites in view, or the detection of a position error, cannot be displayed to the pilot by such receivers. In receivers with no RAIM capability, no alert would be provided to the pilot that the navigation solution had deteriorated, and an undetected navigation error could occur. A systematic cross- check with other navigation techniques would identify this failure, and prevent a serious deviation.

In many receivers, an up-datable database is used for navigation fixes, airports, and instrument procedures. These databases must be maintained to the current update for IFR operation, but no such requirement exists for VFR use. However, in many cases, the database drives a moving map display which indicates Special Use Airspace and the various classes of airspace, in addition to other operational information. Without a current database the moving map display may be outdated and offer erroneous information to VFR pilots wishing to fly around critical airspace areas, such as a Restricted Area or a Class B airspace segment. Numerous pilots have ventured into airspace they were trying to avoid by using an outdated database. If there is not a current data base in the receiver, disregard the moving map display when making critical navigation decisions.

In addition, waypoints are added, removed, relocated, or re- named as required to meet operational needs. When using GPS to navigate relative to a named fix, a current database must be used to properly locate a named waypoint. Without the update, it is the pilot’s responsibility to verify the waypoint location referencing to an official current source, such as the A/FD, sectional chart, or en route chart.

In many VFR installations of GPS receivers, antenna location is more a matter of convenience than performance. In IFR installations, care is exercised to ensure that an adequate clear view is provided for the antenna to see satellites. If an alternate location is used, some portion of the aircraft may block the view of the antenna, causing a greater opportunity to lose navigation signal.

This is especially true in the case of hand-helds. The use of hand-held receivers for VFR operations is a growing trend, especially among rental pilots. Typically, suction cups are used to place the GPS antennas on the inside of aircraft windows. While this method has great utility, the antenna location is limited by aircraft structure for optimal reception of available satellites. Consequently, signal losses may occur in certain situations of aircraft-satellite geometry, causing a loss of navigation signal. These losses, coupled with a lack of RAIM capability, could present erroneous position and navigation information with no warning to the pilot.

While the use of a hand-held GPS for VFR operations is not limited by regulation, modification of the aircraft, such as installing a panel- or yoke-mounted holder, is governed by 14 CFR part 43. Pilots should consult with a mechanic to ensure compliance with the regulation and a safe installation.

Tips for Using GPS for VFR Operations

Always check to see if the unit has RAIM capability. If no RAIM capability exists, be suspicious of a GPS displayed position when any disagreement exists with the position derived from other radio navigation systems, pilotage, or dead reckoning. Check the currency of the database, if any. If expired, update the database using the current revision. If an update of an expired database is not possible, disregard any moving map display of airspace for critical navigation decisions. Be aware that named waypoints may no longer exist or may have been relocated since the database expired. At a minimum, the waypoints planned to be used should be checked against a current official source, such as the A/FD, or a Sectional Aeronautical Chart.

While a hand-held GPS receiver can provide excellent navigation capability to VFR pilots, be prepared for intermittent loss of navigation signal, possibly with no RAIM warning to the pilot. If mounting the receiver in the aircraft, be sure to comply with 14 CFR part 43.

Plan flights carefully before taking off. If navigating to user- defined waypoints, enter them before flight, not on the fly. Verify the planned flight against a current source, such as a current sectional chart. There have been cases in which one pilot used waypoints created by another pilot that were not where the pilot flying was expecting. This generally resulted in a navigation error. Minimize head-down time in the aircraft and keep a sharp lookout for traffic, terrain, and obstacles. Just a few minutes of preparation and planning on the ground makes a great difference in the air.

Another way to minimize head-down time is to become very familiar with the receiver’s operation. Most receivers are not intuitive. The pilot must take the time to learn the various keystrokes, knob functions, and displays that are used in the operation of the receiver. Some manufacturers provide computer-based tutorials or simulations of their receivers. Take the time to learn about the particular unit before using it in flight.

In summary, be careful not to rely on GPS to solve all VFR navigational problems. Unless an IFR receiver is installed in accordance with IFR requirements, no standard of accuracy or integrity has been assured. While the practicality of GPS is compelling, the fact remains that only the pilot can navigate the aircraft, and GPS is just one of the pilot’s tools to do the job.

VFR Waypoints

VFR waypoints provide VFR pilots with a supplementary tool to assist with position awareness while navigating visually in aircraft equipped with area navigation receivers. VFR waypoints should be used as a tool to supplement current navigation procedures. The uses of VFR waypoints include providing navigational aids for pilots unfamiliar with an area, waypoint definition of existing reporting points, enhanced navigation in and around Class B and Class C airspace, and enhanced navigation around Special Use Airspace. VFR pilots should rely on appropriate and current aeronautical charts published specifically for visual navigation. If operating in a terminal area, pilots should take advantage of the Terminal Area Chart available for that area, if published. The use of VFR waypoints does not relieve the pilot of any responsibility to comply with the operational requirements of 14 CFR part 91.

VFR waypoint names (for computer entry and flight plans) consist of five letters beginning with the letters “VP” and are retrievable from navigation databases. The VFR waypoint names are not intended to be pronounceable, and they are not for use in ATC communications. On VFR charts, a stand-alone VFR waypoint is portrayed using the same four-point star symbol used for IFR waypoints. VFR waypoint collocated with a visual checkpoint on the chart is identified by a small magenta flag symbol. A VFR waypoint collocated with a visual checkpoint is pronounceable based on the name of the visual checkpoint and may be used for A TC communications. Each VFR waypoint name appears in parentheses adjacent to the geographic location on the chart. Latitude/longitude data for all established VFR waypoints may be found in the appropriate regional A/FD.

When filing VFR flight plans, use the five-letter identifier as a waypoint in the route of flight section if there is an intended course change at that point or if used to describe the planned route of flight. This VFR filing would be similar to VOR use in a route of flight. Pilots must use the VFR waypoints only when operating under VFR conditions.

Any VFR waypoints intended for use during a flight should be loaded into the receiver while on the ground and prior to departure. Once airborne, pilots should avoid programming routes or VFR waypoint chains into their receivers.

Pilots should be especially vigilant for other traffic while operating near VFR waypoints. The same effort to see and avoid other aircraft near VFR waypoints is necessary, as is the case when operating near VORs and NDBs. In fact, the increased accuracy of navigation through the use of GPS demands even greater vigilance, as off-course deviations among different pilots and receivers is less. When operating near a VFR waypoint, use whatever ATC services are available, even if outside a class of airspace where communications are required. Regardless of the class of airspace, monitor the available A TC frequency closely for information on other aircraft operating in the vicinity. It is also a good idea to turn on landing light(s) when operating near a VFR waypoint to make the aircraft more conspicuous to other pilots, especially when visibility is reduced.

Lost Procedures

Getting lost in an aircraft is a potentially dangerous situation especially when low on fuel. If a pilot becomes lost, there are some good common sense procedures to follow. If a town or city cannot be seen, the first thing to do is climb, being mindful of traffic and weather conditions. An increase in altitude increases radio and navigation reception range, and also increases radar coverage. If flying near a town or city, it might be possible to read the name of the town on a water tower.

If the aircraft has a navigational radio, such as a VOR or ADF receiver, it can be possible to determine position by plotting an azimuth from two or more navigational facilities. If GPS is installed, or a pilot has a portable aviation GPS on board, it can be used to determine the position and the location of the nearest airport.

Communicate with any available facility using frequencies shown on the sectional chart. If contact is made with a controller, radar vectors may be offered. Other facilities may offer direction finding (DF) assistance. To use this procedure, the controller requests the pilot to hold down the transmit button for a few seconds and then release it. The controller may ask the pilot to change directions a few times and repeat the transmit procedure. This gives the controller enough information to plot the aircraft position and then give vectors to a suitable landing site. If the situation becomes threatening, transmit the situation on the emergency frequency 121.5 MHz and set the transponder to 7700. Most facilities, and even airliners, monitor the emergency frequency.

Flight Diversion

There probably comes a time when a pilot is not able to make it to the planned destination. This can be the result of unpredicted weather conditions, a system malfunction, or poor preflight planning. In any case, the pilot needs to be able to safely and efficiently divert to an alternate destination. Before any cross-country flight, check the charts for airports or suitable landing areas along or near the route of flight. Also, check for navigational aids that can be used during a diversion.

Computing course, time, speed, and distance information in flight requires the same computations used during preflight planning. However, because of the limited flight deck space, and because attention must be divided between flying the aircraft, making calculations, and scanning for other aircraft, take advantage of all possible shortcuts and rule-of-thumb computations.

When in flight, it is rarely practical to actually plot a course on a sectional chart and mark checkpoints and distances. Furthermore, because an alternate airport is usually not very far from your original course, actual plotting is seldom necessary.

A course to an alternate can be measured accurately with a protractor or plotter, but can also be measured with reasonable accuracy using a straightedge and the compass rose depicted around VOR stations. This approximation can be made on the basis of a radial from a nearby VOR or an airway that closely parallels the course to your alternate. However, remember that the magnetic heading associated with a VOR radial or printed airway is outbound from the station. To find the course TO the station, it may be necessary to determine the reciprocal of that heading. It is typically easier to navigate to an alternate airport that has a VOR or NDB facility on the field.

After selecting the most appropriate alternate, approximate the magnetic course to the alternate using a compass rose or airway on the sectional chart. If time permits, try to start the diversion over a prominent ground feature. However, in an emergency, divert promptly toward your alternate. Attempting to complete all plotting, measuring, and computations involved before diverting to the alternate may only aggravate an actual emergency.

Once established on course, note the time, and then use the winds aloft nearest to your diversion point to calculate a heading and GS. Once a GS has been calculated, determine a new arrival time and fuel consumption. Give priority to flying the aircraft while dividing attention between navigation and planning. When determining an altitude to use while diverting, consider cloud heights, winds, terrain, and radio reception.

Chapter Summary

This chapter has discussed the fundamentals of VFR navigation. Beginning with an introduction to the charts that can be used for navigation to the more technically advanced concept of GPS, there is one aspect of navigation that remains the same. The pilot is responsible for proper planning and the execution of that planning to ensure a safe flight.

Pilot's Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge (PHAK)
1. Introduction To Flying2. Aircraft Structure3. Principles of Flight4. Aerodynamics of Flight5. Flight Control6. Aircraft Systems7. Flight Instruments8. Flight Manuals and Other Documents9. Weight and Balance10. Aircraft Performance11. Weather Theory12. Aviation Weather Services13. Airport Operations14. Airspace15. Navigation16. Aeromedical Factors17. Aeronautical Decision-Making