Understanding navigation

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There are two ways of navigation, visual navigation and instrument navigation. These are usually referred to as VFR and IFR navigation as a pilot has to adhere to visual flight rules or instrument flight rules.

Both are useful in their right circumstances, but instrument navigation works well in situations were visual navigation would not be useful, in essence in bad weather.

Cquote1.png Understanding and using basic navigation concepts is important to fully enjoy flight simulators, too.
— Charles Wood.

Visual navigation

See also pilotage and dead reckoning.

Visual navigation in its easiest way, often called pilotage, just means looking out of the window and comparing the outside with a map or with what you know about the area.

If the timing is important you also bring in dead reckoning. This includes more planning and using the compass and a clock to keep track of what terrain or man-made features you can expect to come next, were to turn to the next heading etc.

A very good VFR-tutorial can be found in the FlightGear Manual and (written for the Seneca II) here.

Instrument navigation

For instrument navigation you can rely completely on your instruments and radio beacons. The view outside is not necessary at all. Instrument navigation is needed, when you do not have any external references, that you can use for orientation. Just imagine flying through a cloud or at night.

Instrument navigation might be using

External links

On-line navigational tools


  • Another useful document is the Propliner Tutorial which discusses navigational methods from the early pioneering years of aviation until the end of propliner era.