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Air Navigation Fundamentals

Air Navigation - Lesson 1

· Education


Air Navigation is the art or the science that allows conducting an aircraft between one point to another of the earth surface through a preplanned route checking, instant by instant, the position of the aircraft, calculating the corrections needed to get it back to the established course.

The method or system that a pilot uses for navigating through today's airspace system will depend on the type of flight that will occur (VFR or IFR), which navigation systems are installed on the aircraft, and which navigation systems are available in a certain area.

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Nowadays, however, the application of technological innovations and implementation, air navigation can be classified into these following categories:

1) Pilotage or Contact Flight : 

It is the most elementary form of a/c navigation that is accomplished when the pilot looks down from his cockpit onto a familiar terrain and guides his a/c from one landmark to another. This method is called "inductive method" he observes features on the surface and gets an instant fix on his position without any previous calculation.

2) Dead Reckoning Navigation :

This kind of navigation is based on the contrary on a record of the movement of the aircraft from a known point; from this record present position and future movement may be deduced: this method is also called "deductive method" due to the presence of calculations ( need a compass, a clock, a map and an airspeed indicator)

These methods were the principal during the pioneer days of aviation but when a sudden change in weather combined with inadequate charts or maps could result in a forced landing or crash: pilotage and DR have a common characteristic the necessity of visual references.

This two kind of navigation belongs to the type of flight classified as VFR (Visual Flight Rules) that can be performed only if given visibility and ceiling values are present.

The persistent conditions of these values are called VMC (Visual Meteorological Conditions)

3) Radio Navigation : 

When the position of the a/c can be determined by the use of radio navaids; With aircraft equipped with radio navigation aids (NAVAIDS), pilots can navigate more accurately than with dead reckoning alone. Radio NAVAIDS come in handy in low visibility conditions and act as a suitable backup method for general aviation pilots that prefer dead reckoning. They are also more precise.

These systems can be classified into 3 subcategories according to his coverage:

- Global coverage systems (GPS)

- Integrated Sytems (INS)

- Short and Middle range coverage systems (approach and landing) (VOR, DME, NDB)

4) Inertial Navigation : is a navigation aid that uses a computer, motion sensors (accelerometers), rotation sensors (gyroscopes) and occasionally magnetic sensors (magnetometers), to continuously calculate by dead reckoning the position, the orientation and the velocity (direction and speed of movement) of a moving object without the need for external references.

Isobaric and astronomical navigations are considered obsolete due to the fact that the first one is not the most reliable in terms of consumes and the second one has been replaced by GPS.

In instrument meteorological conditions (IMC) or while flying IFR, a pilot will need to rely on cockpit instruments, such as a VOR or GPS system. Because flying in the clouds and navigating with these instruments can be tricky, a pilot must earn an Instrument Rating to fly in IMC conditions legally.

Bruno Stefano Rodriguez

Private Pilot - Flight Planning & Air Navigation Expert

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