Basic Navigation, Pilotage and Dead Reckoning

Although still a little cold, but warmer than yesterday by just a few degrees, it was otherwise a glorious, bright sunny day today. It was a little breezy which made it feel much colder as I arrived for my 8.00 am class today Sunday, 11 December, 2011. Tim was already waiting for me and after we greeted one another, and as I began my check-in process, Tim immediately began to tell me what we would be doing today. “I thought we would go to Buffalo today and I’ll show you how to navigate using maps, reference points on the ground, basically VFR navigation. You should know how to get to Buffalo as you’ll probably going there with an examiner”, he paused for a second and continued, “So first go and do the pre-flight check and then I’ll show you on the board where we’ll be doing and how we’ll be getting there”. I was wondering if Tim covered what he was about to teach or if I would be learning that in my ground school. In my ground school at Twin Cities Aviation, I have already studied Sectional charts, Airspace and the E6B Flight computer. So I was pleasantly surprised now that I could put what I learned in Ground School with the knowledge Tim was about to impart.

So after the pre-flight check, Tim and I went in to the class room and Tim showed me on the board first that there was only one runway at this uncontrolled Buffalo airport. He drew the runway and one end of the runway was Runway 36 and the other was Runway 18. Remember the numbers of Runways actually tell you how they’re aligned on the ground. So Runway 36 is actually Runway 360 degrees meaning its pointing North and Runway 18 (the other end) is actually Runway 180 degrees pointing south. We would land on the runway in which the direction of the wind was blowing. For instance if the wind was blowing in the North – South direction you would land on Runway 18, as you would then be landing into the wind.

Then Tim proceeded to show me some Charts of which there were three kinds. The WAC (World Aeronautical Chart), the TAC (Terminal Area Chart) and the Sectional Chart. The WAC chart is similar to the Sectional Charts but it’s less detailed due to its smaller scale and is rarely used for VFR flying. Sectional charts provide detailed information on topographical features from the altitude such as terrain elevations, various land marks such as rivers, lakes, buildings, dams, bridges etc. and ground features such as airports, beacons and other landmarks. The TAC charts on the other hand, complement the Sectional charts and are very similar providing the same information but in much greater detail. Also, TACs contain information on approach, departure, and transition rules and procedures for the congested Class B areas around major airports. So the Sectional and the TAC charts are used by VFR pilots.

So Tim showed me where Buffalo airport on the map was in relation to Crystal airport, and I could see that it was located NW of Crystal airport. Then he showed me the landmarks or reference points we should be looking for to ensure we were on the correct flight path. “First of all about 5 miles out of Crystal Airport, indicated by the blue dashed circle, there’s a split in the road on the ground, so let’s look out for that as our first landmark”, said Tim and then he said, “As we continue in the NW direction, there are some lakes about 10 miles outside of Crystal also, there are two of them and we should see them on our right”. So we continue this way, looking at the map and looking outside to see we’re on our path. Then when we’re about 5 to 6 miles out of Buffalo airport, we listen to the ATIS service to see what the weather is like, and to find out the wind speed and direction so we could determine on which runway we would be landing on. With that said, we proceeded out to the plane at Crystal airport.

I called into Ground control requested the following:

“Crystal Ground, Five two six papa uniform, Thunderbird request to Taxi to the Active NW, Juliette.”

The following reply was received from Crystal Ground:

“Crystal Ground, Five two six papa uniform, Taxi to runway one four left via Echo and Alpha.”

After all the Run-up Check and the Before Takeoff Check, I called Crystal Tower:

“Crystal Tower, Five two six papa uniform, at One Four Left request clearance to take off.”

The reply:

“Five two six papa uniform cleared for takeoff, right or left turn your choice”

The right or left turn was optional this time as to which direction we wanted to go once we took off. Sometimes ATC will tell you to turn either left or right from a given runway depending upon other air traffic. We were going NW so we turned left. As we traveled I eventually reached a height of 3000 ft, and after a few minute after takeoff, we could see the split in the road on our right. We continued looking out for the landmarks I mentioned above and then when we were 5-6 miles outside of we listened to the ATIS service. Once we found out that the wind was 180 at 11, meaning the direction of the wind is from 180 degrees at 11 knots that meant that we were going to land on Runway 18. We announced on the AWOS frequency displayed on the map that we were going to land on Runway 18 on Buffalo airport. Clearly there was a specific way to say this, but since I’ve never said it, Tim told me what to say but I do not remember the exact words I used. Then gradually I began to position myself to enter the traffic pattern to land. Once we came to a complete halt, we taxied to back on to the other side of the runway and took off back to Crystal using similar landmarks to get ourselves back home.

Pilotage: Is the fixed use of visual references on the ground or sea by the use of sight or radar to guide oneself to a destination, sometimes with the help of a map or a nautical chart.

Dead Reckoning: Is the process of calculating one’s current position by using a previously determined position and advancing that position based upon known or estimated speeds over elapsed time and course.


TAC Chart showing landmarks - double click to enlarge


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