Understanding the Different Navigation Methods

Before you fly an aircraft—whatever size or type, it is important that you know certain ways to navigate the route. There are two basic methods for this apart from the radio navigation you have— these are the pilotage and dead reckoning. In addition, you also have several high tech systems that will help you track your location and to your destination.

In this post, we will discuss even the most basic ones and will also show you how these things still remain the most often used forms of navigations. In fact, they are still being used by the general aviation pilots in the VFR. While it is true that you can always rely on your GPS handheld device, it is always better that you know how to navigate using compass, map and clock. Rather than the “thrill”, it is always safe that you know the basic navigation, especially for emergency cases.

In the past, when radio navigation systems were not that really popular, pilots used to fly and navigate by just following roads, rivers, railroads, and other prevalent landmarks. This type of navigation is called pilotage. Others even call it “IFR”, which stands for “I Follow Roads”. And up until today in the age of modern technology, some pilots still prefer this method—not just for fun, but also to enhance their navigation skills.


If you plan to navigate using this method, having an updated aeronautical map of the area of destination is essential. Make sure to select an accurate altitude that will allow you to locate symbols depicted on the map. Always remember when you’re too high—or above 3000 feet AGL, depending on the weather condition, will make ground features too small and could be a little challenging to recognize. On the othr hand, flying in lower altitudes could result in colliding with tall structures or even hills.

One of the advantages of the Pilotage is that it doesn’t really require any special tools in the aircraft. However, navigating over areas with few landmarks are present could be really difficult, especially for new pilots. And sometimes, flying in direct courses is not really practical. Of course, the weather conditions can also affect your visibility making even tougher to pilotage.

Checkpoints and route

There are no specific policies when it comes to choosing checkpoints. You just need to make sure they can be easily identified and verified before you choose them. For instance when making a certain town as a checkpoint, you cannot just depend on the water tower. You should at least have two other waypoints or specific landmarks for that town or city.

Also, when choosing a path, it is advisable to fly in a straight line as much as possible. Select the best landmarks on both sides of your desired route. This will help you reduce your flight time and provides you accurate timing and fuel calculations.

Dead Reckoning

This technique requires accurate mathematical equations. In this process, you need to compute the time, speed, distance, and direction. And to determine the movement of your aircraft, you need set of tools such as TAS, course, wind-speed and direction. From these, you can tell the wind correction angle to deduce groundspeed heading required to navigate.


This is one of the most essential tools that will help you determine true course and distance of your flight. In here, you need pay attention to all the details in your chart. It is advisable to check everything manually so you would know if you’re taking the right direction. In addition, you need to be updated with the weather conditions for certain routes. Always bring items for air pressure, temperature, dew-point, winds aloft and cloud bases.

These are the things you should be able to understand to improve your navigation skills.

For more information and tips about aviation, you can read this article.