Private Pilot Licence – Navigation

By | 2017/01/01

Okay, navigation is one of the most difficult parts during the training – theoretically and practically. On the theoretical part you might struggle with abbreviations like QDM, QTE and QUJ. On the other side, in one of the first practical lessons I have learned that from top, everything looks similar (at least in the beginning). You might think it is anyway VFR (Visual Flight Rules) and not IFR (Instrument Flight Rules), where it is obvious that you need navigation. No! Once you plan to go to an aerodrome which is not your home base you want to know how to go there – and usually also how to go back to your home base.

So to overcome the feeling of being lost, you usually have several devices in the plane, helping you to navigate:

  • Magnetic Compass
  • Gyroscopic Compass
  • NDB
  • VOR
  • GPS

So you might wonder why you have so many devices. Thinking about a car your GPS might be sufficient enough. So first of all – if you might have an older airplane, you might not have GPS (Global Position System) at all. And once you have it, it can fault, like many high-tech equipment. Furthermore, in case of a solar storm, you might receive incorrect or wrong values. Beside this I have noticed already that in most airplanes the GPS tracking is lagging behind. Focusing on the approach of a GPS mark, once you reach the point – you are usually already 1-2 min over your target. This is important to realize especially in the beginning of your flight lessons. As an aerodrome is not that easy to spot, you should consider by approaching via GPS, the airfield is closer that it might look like.

A VOR (Very High Frequency Omnidirectional Radio Range) is a navigation system based upon radio frequencies. You basically tune in a frequency of a VOR and then select a radial (from/to) the station. In comparison, a NDB is much simpler, as it acts a bit like a compass. It always shows you the direction to the NDB. A more detailed describtion would be far too much for this blog entry. At [1] you will find a good explanation of VOR navigation.  At [2] you can simulate the VOR navigation

What you definitely need is a physical (paper) map. It is a good and cheap backup and helps you especially in the route planning. In combination with a navigation circle, it helps you a lot to get along with the planning. A tip for the route planning is to highlight certain landmarks. E.g. if you have a known castle, sea or highway on the way – it can help you to find your position and routing.

All this stuff you learn already in the theoretical part plus a lot about planning. What was kind of difficult to me was the learning of the different abbreviations, meaning different directions/courses related to VOR/NDB.

  • QDM – ‘Direction Magnetic’ (I prefer ‘Quick, Direct Me!’)
  • QDR – ‘Direction Radial’ (Radial from the station.)
  • QTE – ‘True Emanation’ (true bearing that emanates from the station.)
  • QUJ – God only knows, but it’s the opposite of QTE!

At [3] the relations are quite good explained in German (but should be also clear for English speakers).

At a later stage I recommend the usage of a flight planning software. My preferred solution is SkyDemon [4]. It offers a planning software which can installed on a Windows PC for flight route preparation, storing it and then using it in-flight with a mobile device. Having the proper hardware it even shows you your actual position, speed and course. Also useful is the possibility to show weather information as well as NOTAMs. As the software is actively managed, constantly new features are introduced. Furthermore you have the possibility to store the flight. Another feature I really like is that it can be used also with an flight simulator like X-Plane [5]!


[1], VOR Navigation

[2], Aviation Training Tools

[3], Kursdiagramm

[4] SkyDemon, Flight Planing Software

[5] X-Plane Flight Simulator

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