Navigation: Introduction

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. There are many methods of navigation used by pilots to reach their destination including pilotage, dead reckoning, radio navigation, and even celestial navigation. This brief introduction comes from the Pilot’s Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge.

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 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 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. If one is missed, look for the next one while maintaining the heading.

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 groundspeed. The predicted heading takes the aircraft along the intended path and the groundspeed 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 groundspeed as calculated is constantly monitored and corrected by pilotage as observed from checkpoints.

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 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.

A detailed introduction to navigation can be found in the Pilot’s Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge, a foundational FAA Handbook for anyone learning to fly.

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