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Navigation by air, in VFR conditions it is being able to fly an airplane from one location to another and being able to now and monitor your position during the flight. There are many different methods used to navigate by air.

Aeronautical Charts

These charts are a type of road map, used by pilots to safely navigate and track their position under VFR conditions. There are three main types of VFR charts used by pilots:

  • VFR Sectional Charts

    • VFR Sectional’s are the most used by pilots

    • The scale located at the bottom is 1 inch equals 6.86NM

    • Updated every 56 days

  • VFR Terminal Area Charts (TAC)

    • Is basically, a zoomed in portion of a Sectional Chart.

    • Usually around Class Bravo airspace

    • Updated every 56 days

  • World Aeronautical Charts

    • Covers the continual U.S.

    • The chart is 59x36 inches.

    • Revised biennially

Latitude and Longitude

The Equator is the imaginary line that is used as the zero line, which splits the earth in half by the northern and southern hemisphere.

  • The lines of Meridians or Longitudes run between the poles, which measure east and west.

  • Latitude lines parallel the Equator and measure north and south.

  • The lower 48 states of the United States are located between the 25⁰ and 49⁰N (North) Latitude.

The Prime Meridian is used as the zero line, which passes through Greenwich, England. This line is where measurements in degrees running east and west begin from.

On the opposite side of the Prime Meridian is known as the International Date Line, which passes through the mid-point of the Pacific Ocean and distinguishes the date and day.

Time zones:

The Meridians of longitude help distinguish time zones around the global. When the sun is directly over a meridian, it is 12:00 noon. In the United States, we have four time zones, listed from east to west:

  • Eastern, Central, Mountain, and Pacific

  • When it is 12:00 noon above the Central Standard Time (CST) it is:

    • 1:00pm Eastern Standard Time (EST)

    • 11:00am Mountain Standard Time (MST)

    • 10:00am Pacific Standard Time (PST)

When flying on long cross-country flights east bound, keep in mind the time zones and differences.

Measurement of direction:

To indicate a course to be flown, simple draw a line on the sectional chart from the departure point to the destination on intended arrival. Measure the angle that this line was drawn with a meridian line. The direction is expressed in degrees, as shown by the compass rose. This course is now known as a true course (TC) in reference to true north (TN).

Magnetic variation:

Variation is the difference between magnetic north and true north. Magnetic north is what a magnetic points to, unlike true north which is a geographic location. Magnetic north has the ability to shift over time. The distance between magnetic and true

north are about 1,300 miles apart.

VFR Sectional charts are oriented in relation to true north, even though we as pilots fly magnetic headings. On VFR charts there are lines drawn on the charts called isogonic lines that connect magnetic variations, whereas IFR en-Route charts are oriented with magnetic north.

Since we are flying in the Southern California area, the variation is approx. -11° east. To be able to fly a true course of 180°, the pilot would have to subtract the variation and fly a magnetic course of 166°.

Another example is if you are flying over Washington, D.C., the variation is 10° west. To be able to fly a true course of 180° (south), the pilot must add the variation to be able to fly a magnetic course of 190°.


Deviation errors are caused by electro-magnetic fields within the aircraft, from either flowing electrical currents, magnetized parts, as well as Earth magnetic fields. The compass is placed in a location of the aircraft away from any electrical currents that may affect it.

This errors in the aircraft magnetic compass is corrected by the use of Compass Deviation Cards.

Pilotage and Dead Reckoning


It is navigating by way of easily recognizable landmarks. Some examples of good landmarks to use while flying in VFR conditions are:

  • Highways

  • Rivers, lakes

  • Railroads

  • Golf courses

  • Recognizable structures

Never approach TV antennas less than 500 feet above the tallest antenna.

Dead reckoning:

Is navigating by plotting a course and computing time, distance, course, and airspeed with a plotter and E6B flight computer.

With all four items put together, along with any corrections for wind direction and velocity, the result is Ground speed (GS). Ground speed (GS) – gives the pilot the time at which they will arrive at a given checkpoint or destination.

Flight Planning

Per FAR Part 91.103 Preflight Actions, pilots that are acting as PIC of an aircraft are required to become familiar with all of the available information concerning that flight, if outside of the vicinity of an airport. The information pilots need to know is the current weather reports and forecasts, fuel requirements and availability, any alternate airports and associated information, along with an ATC delays.

Charting the Course

VFR Altitudes:

This lesson will probably be the most easiest one you will ever learn and remember as a student pilot.

While flying VFR there are certain altitude requirements we must comply-with. We must maintain an appropriate and safe altitude depending on what compass direction we tend to fly.

  • All VFR flight altitudes are conducted between 3,000 feet AGL and below 18,000 feet MSL.

  • When flying on a magnetic course of 0 (zero) degrees through 179 degrees, always use odd numbered altitudes plus 500 feet. (3,500 feet, 5,500 and so on.)

  • When flying on a magnetic course of 180 degrees through 359 degrees, always use odd numbered altitudes plus 500 feet. (4,500 feet, 6,500 and so on.)


As a memory aid, think of "West is best and east is odd".

File a Flight Plan:

Did you close your Flight Plan?

Is filing a VFR flight plan required, by any FAR regulation?

Filing a flight plan is not required; however, it is good practice to file a flight plan. So it may be used in case of an emergency by search and rescue.

  • It is not necessary to file a flight plan if you are flying to a local airport to practice landings and takeoffs or the local practice area.

When filing a flight plan the recommended way is to file by phone prior to departure. The facility to call is Lockheed Martin Flight Services

  • 1-800-WX-BRIEF (1-800-992-7433)

You can also file in the air by radio with Flight Service.

  • Once you are airborne contact the local Flight Service Station (FSS) to activate your flight plan. The frequency may be found on the VFR sectional chart.


Do not, forget to always close your flight plan prior to arrival or once you have landed.

4 C’s of Lost Procedures:

Getting lost while flying can be nerve racking, stressful and become dangerous. If your situation turns in to an emergency, transmit your emergency on frequency 121.5 and squawk 7700 on the transponder.

Otherwise, do not panic, stay calm and remember the 4 C’s if not have them written down.

An easy way to remember the Lost Procedures is remembering the 4 C’s

  • Climb - The best thing to do is to climb, so you can get a better view and possibly spot a town, city or some sort of landmark. In addition, radio reception will be easier to pick up at higher altitudes.

  • Communicate - Get into contact with any ATC, FSS facility shown on the sectional chart.

  • Confess – If radio contact is made with ATC, let ATC know you are lost so they know how to help you.

  • Comply - Stay calm and follow all the procedures the controller is asking you to do. ATC is possibly trying to figure out where you are located by giving you vectors or vector you away from other traffic.


During your journeys in aviation, there may come time where you may have to divert to another airport to land due to unforeseen weather, inflight emergency, system malfunction, etc. As per part of the preflight process, always make it a good habit to check your charts for airports on any safe suitable areas to land along the route, to include any navigational aids to may become helpful during the diversion.

As the pilot, you must remained focused and divide your attention between multi things during a diversion, such as; maintain flight control, scanning for aircraft traffic, and computing calculations. Since there so much to do, it is a good idea to take advantage of the shortcuts and rules-of-thumb to do calculations.

Keep in mind that using a navigational aid on the airport makes life a lot easier to navigate to. Also, when choosing an altitude, consider cloud heights, winds, terrain, and any radio reception.


Navigation - Study Guide
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