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To Navigate Aboard a GA Plane

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A PPL pilot, once his license successfully obtained, is allowed to fly VFR only, by day, with passengers. VFR means that the pilot will always have to keep the sight of ground. To be able to fly by bad weather, or by night, pilots must endure some further training, which will bring them to ratings allowing for those special flights. To get to the night, then the IFR ('Instruments Flight Rules') ratings, a pilot will need some 50 hours more of theoretical training, 30 hours of flight in an official flight simulator, and 55 hours of real flight (for example, they will already have spent 40 hours of flight -and the joined theoretical training- to get their PPL). Another way the pilots have to improve their PPL is to just get in more their night VFR rating, which allows a VFR pilot to fly during the night (that rating, in any case, is usually a mandatory step to the IFR rating). Thus, to fly VFR is mostly to fly by day, and by keeping the ground in sight all along your flight. Specifically, some usual, sky values to be respected for a day, VFR fligh -usually under 10,000 ft only- are the following (with some variations possible according to each country): the pilot shall have an overall, 3 miles (5 km) of visibility. If the flight occurs at the level of the clouds ceiling, the plane will have to always let 2,000 ft (600 m) of distance between the next cloud and sheself. If the flight occurs above the coulds ceiling, the flight altitude always must be superior to the ceiling's altitude by 1,000 ft (300 m), as, if the flight occurs below the ceiling, the altitude difference must be, in that case, of 500 ft (150 m). In such conditions, the visibility, as far as the large airports' aerial space areas are concerned, is to be, there, of a visibility of 3 miles (5 km), as, relative to the clouds, and clouds ceiling, the only obligation then is to stay out of the clouds, only. As far as the VFR above 10,000 ft (above that limit specified for the previous requirements) is concerned -and such altitudes are rarer for the GA pilots- the requirements are tougher, with: 5 miles (8 km) of visibility, a 1-mile (1.6-km) separation from any cloud when flying at the altitude of the clouds ceiling, and a separation of 1,000 ft (300 m) when flying either above, or below, the ceiling. As far as any flight under the beginning of the controlled airspace in a country (that limit is usually beginning at 1,200 ft above ground level (AGL)) -which is usually the case for all flight beginning or arriving at a small aero-club, GA airport- the VFR requirements are eased, with: 1 mile (1,6 km) of visibility, and to stay out of the clouds

All that leads to that the GA, PPL pilots mostly are pilots who fly by daylight. How do they do that? Just by preparing their route, and following landmarks on the ground. In terms of specific wording, 'pilotage'is navigation by reference to prominent landmarks or checkpoints only and following a given course by reference to a chart. Such a flight may mostly performed in a area where landmarks and general configuration of the terrain are well known to the pilot and that no wind comes into play. Pilotage only needs some quick preparation like drawing the course on a chart, selecting prominent landmarks or checkpoints, correcting the course value from the magnetic variation to obtain your heading, with some swift estimation of time and fuel required. More generally GA pilots will use the 'dead reckoning' method, which is a improvement of the pilotage one. Dead reckoning indeed is adding more accurate computations for your flight adjusted by wind speed. That calcultation brings predicted heading along the intended path as the aircraft's speed provides accurate time to arrive at each checkpoint and the destination. Dead reckoning will also allow to fly above areas you are not acquainted with. That technique recently evolved in that sense that the GPS, and onboard computers began to be used aboard the GA planes; such techniques however have not become for now generally agreed standards in the aviation world. You will note that the dead reckoning technique we will describe is the one which is used in France. You'll have, to fly real-world flight matching to the nearest the practice in your country, to get further readings, on the Internet, for example

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. Basics and Fundamentals of a Navigation in a GA Plane
. A Usual Navigation Aboard a GA Plane
. An Overview of How to Navigate with the New, Onboard Computers

arrow back Basics and Fundamentals of a Navigation in a GA Plane

'Navigation', 'navigation flight', or 'long distance flight', or 'flight' may all be terms used to qualifiy a navigation in a GA plane, a flight, that is, that will bring you, your plane, and your possible passengers, from one terrain to another (thus, a former U.S. Space Shuttle flight, technically, was not a navigation, as the astronauts weren't able to ascribe the flight under that category on their logbook, due to such a flight leaving from the Kennedy Space Center and -usually- landing back there; both the takeoff and landing locations being the same, such a flight was not a 'navigation', in the reglementary sense). To perform a navigation flight, aboard a GA plane, needs that you know some basics and terms, which are going to be explained now. That section applies both to a pilotage or dead reckoning flight

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- Basics
- Some Supplementary Remarks

arrow back Basics

arrow back Some Supplementary Remarks

arrow back A Usual Navigation Aboard a GA Plane

->The Use of Smartphones With The FS Franchise
As the smartphones now get widespread, some brands are featuring applications to be used into the FS franchise (check more with a search engine on the Internet). Microsoft operating systems for smartphones however do not feature much such applications. A idea, to remedy that, is just to appropriately formalize checklists or flight plans unto a .gif or .jpg picture, for example, as you will be able to use those instead of the FS default kneeboard. Fine!

A navigation flight aboard a GA plane is a fine experience. The first such training, during a PPL pilot training occurs during the second part of its 40-hour courses, bringing him to see how to fly your plane on large distances. The description we'll give below of how to prepare -and perform- such a navigation is mostly the dead reckoning method. It does not match however strictly descriptions or data you might find with other reference as it builds mainly upon the French technique of navigation. That one in some sense is more of a intuitive brand as opposed to more accurate computation or flying method you will find with the Anglo-saxon methods. Any worry of more realism will need that you search any appropriate documentation to your country on the Internet
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- How to Chart the Course?
- Performing the Flight
- How to Chart and to Perform a Flight in FS?

arrow back How to Chart the Course?
arrow back Performing the Flight
thumbnail to a view of a kneeboardclick on the picture to a view of a kneeboard
arrow back How to Chart and To Perform a Flight in FS?
illustration for the tutorial: useful sites like, are providing for real world VFR charts! (the excerpt here is a VFR chart for France from Carte Aero,
Useful sites like, are providing for real world VFR charts! (the excerpt here is a VFR chart for France from Carte Aero) (non-clickable illustration)

Useful sites like for the US, or Carte Aero, for France, for example, are providing for fine real world charts. Such charts combined with a Direct GPS route drawn in FSX with the Flight Organizer, for example, almost directly provide for a chart useable to find landmarks and to fly with. We however kept ancient pages related to other techniques. Check, for FS2002, our tutorial "A Alternate Technique to the Computation of A Navigation in FS", which may serve like a basis to innovate with your own technique. The technique described hereunder allows to remain at the closest of the technique used in the real world, with a printed chart

thumbnail to a view of a flight route sheet for a VFR navigationclick on the picture to a view of a flight route sheet for a VFR navigation

All such a navigation is perfectly performable aboard FS! Just take a map of a computer-useable atlas; you've got your plane's cruise speed, its fuel consumption. Download some real weather from the FS Internet. Just have the map for your route; simulate on it some restricted areas (a military area for low altitude flying, some 1.4-mile wide, from 1,500 to 3,000 ft AGL; a natural reserve area with an interdiction of flight from the ground to 7,500 ft AGL, and, say, an important airport airspace: an inverted marriage cake up to 10,000 ft AGL -at one place, you'll certainly be able to fly under the restricted airspace). From the departing to the arrival terrain, you draw a route (or a route with legs if necessitated). Just get into FS to check the magnetic variation from the departing terrain to the arrival, by intervals of about 60-65 miles. With a plotter (you may tune one, from some heading indicator in a drawing software, and using the transparency settings of the software you use to visualize the chart), you measure the heading of the route (legs). Let's say: 240, 257, 240. Just correct those headings read with the values of the magnetic variation. Let's say a 2° E variation all along the way, bringing to 'true headings' like 238, 255 and 238. Just note that! Consider the map now and look for the highest relief (or possible restricted areas) along the route (or, on an aeronautical chart, the highest value on the quadrants along the route) AND determine, with the circular VFR rule our flight altitude. If the highest altitude to clear along the way is, say, 1,700 ft, with a restricted area upper limit at 3,000 ft further, thus we'll have to fly, in any case, higher than 3,000 ft (in a VFR nav flight, it's always preferable to fly above 3,000 ft in any case; that gives you a margin). As we'll fly mostly West, between 180 and 369 degrees, our altitude will have to have an even number of the thousands + 500 ft: thus 4,500, 6,500 or 8,500 ft. Let's take 4,500 ft -that at your discretion; with 4,500ft, we'll have enough for that VFR flight (you'll note that, as the GA planes are not pressurized in the cabin, such altitudes beginning about 9,000/10,000 ft are bringing the pilots -and possible passengers- to a rarefied air, and lacking oxygen, a phenomenon called 'hypoxia'. Thus, flying over some strong mountain ranges will need that the pilot takes oxygen supplies and masks and breathe that, by interval or continually, at those altitudes). You report to the preparatory sheet all those data. Back to the charts! You'll look now for ground landmarks/waypoints, with one each about 10 mn of flight. Just compute the distance, in NM, between each waypoint, and calculate the time of flight (distance(s) in NM divided by the plane's cruise speed in kts). Note that. Now studying the departing and arriving terrains: write down on the preparatory sheet the date you'll use (frequencies, runways, altitude, traffic pattern, point of entry or departure in a large airport environment, where is the GA parking, etc.). The NOTAMs now. And the weather (just go in the weather panel in FS and check the wind, pressure at the departing airport, the arrival one. And the ceiling at both there too, with the ceiling en route, and the possible winds en altitude, etc.). A weather briefing must contain only the data you'll really need, and not the entire weather. An example may be: the wind will be of 2 kts from the 280 at the departing airport; the QNH of 30.12, with a weather clear, and a 6-mile visibility. The weather forecasted at the terrain of destination will be a wind of 6 kts from the 275 heading, with a QNH of 29.99; we'll have 2/8th of cumulus at 3,000 ft and a 9-mile visibility. The weather en route will be: some scattered cumulus, a wind of 10 kts from the 260 heading until an altitude of 5,000 ft. From those data, we'll deduce the heading of the active runway on the departing terrain; the weather at the aiport of destination seems OKay, as is the weather en route (it's VFR). We'll have some headwind, which will brake us somewhat. NOW, the preparation is over. You just write all that down on the definitive route sheet, which you'll use during the flight (see another example of route sheet on the illustration). You decide to file a VFR flight plan, or not. AND you're ready to fly!

Just heading to the plane now. Getting she out of the hanger. Some fuel. Preflight checklist. Pilot -and possible passengers- embarking. Engine start, taxiing, runup... and takoff! Thus, in the cabin, you're featured, like said above, with your kneeboard, chart, various devices and docs, the watch). At take off you set the crown's 12 in front of the large needle, the time we estimated we were going to need to take off and get out of the traffic pattern. 7 mn later (our estimation may have been right, or false pecularily on the larger airports, when more planes may have been departing and taking off ahead of us), we're getting out of the pattern, and taking our first heading and climbing to our cruise altitude. A swift look (it's better to keep most of one's time to piloting!) to the route sheet, as we see that our next waypoint is on a 238 heading, is a river and a road, and is 10 minute from now. The crown's 12 on the current position of the large needle of our watch, we take a 238 heading, climbing (thus no landscape clue). Say we eventually reach our cruising altitude of 4,500 ft. Plane at level, configured, etc. The watch is telling us that we're 2 minute from our first landmark, as when the needle nears 10, then, we'll look for that river and road! Well, here they are! We keep flying as the landmark eventually glides under the plane. Route sheet: next waypoint is a highway, at a 255 heading, 11 minute ahead! Crown's 12 on the large needle, steering to a 255 heading and you take a mark ahead to maintain the heading visually only! When the needle of our watch nears 11 at the crown, we look for the highway. Oh! A well defined highway, easily recognizable (usually, it's rare to get lost on a VFR flight!). Well! We just fly all the waypoints we determined as, by intervals, we'll re-set the heading indicator to the magnetic compass, correct some possible sidewind, for example (in our flight, that's not the case, as we forecasted a headwind only), and, according to the country where you fly, we check regularly the atmospheric pressure to maintain a correct altitude. we eventually now come to the neighbourhoods of the terrain of destination. You'll note that one may get one minute in less, or one minute in more at some waypoints, and that's not important as it eventually may get balanced along the whole flight. The terrain is a medium-sized one, with some concentric airpace zones around, mandatory transponder and authorization required. You just radio to them, ask for entering the zone (or even, as soon than that, for landing). AND the controllers give us headings, altitudes and speeds, down to the beginning of the final. One follows that; final, flare... and landing. Exiting the runway; the runway's clear. Taxiing. Parking. Engine cutoff. A look at the watch. Note what time it is (it's your actual time of arrival). Configuring the plane for the parking. Pilots (and possible passengers) disembarking. If you filed a VFR flight plan, you'll go to the pilot's lounge to phone call or use the Internet to close it. Flight's over. Great first nav

You may also check a tutorial about how to chart a course with FSX

arrow back An Overview of How to Navigate with the New, Onboard Computers

The pilots now have at their disposal new, onboard computers. The flight community has not come to some general agreement about the use of such tools as some more years will be needed to know how the techniques those tools are bringing will match and mix with the current techniques of the VFR navigation. The main point is that the navigation like we described it above, is complemented, through those computers, with the intersections, VOR and various navaids, which usually are used by the IFR pilots only. The most advanced of those computers are reserved to the use of the IFR pilots (those pilots who fly through the instruments only, under the control of the air controllers, without any ground -or even air- reference anymore). Those computers allows the pilots to compute and fly their routes. As far as FS2002 is concerned, the flight organizer and the GPS featured since the FS2000 version, allow, somehow, to approach that new type of VFR navigation as the newest versions contain real such computers

Website Manager: G. Guichard, site Lessons In Microsoft Flight Simulator / Leçons de vol pour les Flight Simulator de Microsoft, Page Editor: G. Guichard. last edited: 5/7/2016. contact us at
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