Helicopter Flight Information
There are three (3) forms of navigation available to pilots. These three forms of navigation are: Pilotage, Dead Reckoning, and Radio Navigation.
In the last several years, instructors' have moved away from teaching good basic navigation skills to their students. In my opinion this is negligent, and contributes overall to poor piloting skills. I have flown with students who, without a GPS, couldn't navigate their way to the closest airport and back. Many of them have very poor flight planning skills as well. They have been taught to turn on the GPS and go where it tells you to go, yet somehow many of them actually get their pilot certificate. What does that say about the DPE's?
A VFR pilot must use all means of navigation available to him or her, while an IFR pilot will use only radio navigation methods. In the 'real world', although there are SPIFR (Single Pilot IFR) helicopter operators, there is very little helicopter time in actual instrument conditions, and with good reason I might add.
Pilotage is flight by ground reference. The pilot recognizes obstacles, cities, roads, and many other things known as "landmarks", and then most commonly these points of reference are used in conjunction with dead reckoning to ensure that the proper course has been established, and is properly being flown.
When a pilot is in a familiar area, this may be the only means of navigation used. However when a pilot is flying to an area with which he or she is not familiar, pilotage should be the secondary means of navigation; that is second to dead reckoning.
Dead reckoning consists of plotting a course, and then correcting that course for wind conditions, magnetic variation, and magnetic deviation. Through this means of flight planning, the pilot will determine the final course to be flown known as the compass course or compass heading, and then he or she will maintain that heading backing up that information through the use of pilotage.
When departing on a flight, the pilot must turn without delay to the computed heading, and then attempt to identify the first landmark. Upon identifying that landmark, the pilot must verify the course, the planned wind conditions, and adjust the course to fly accordingly.
Radio navigation consists of using various electronic equipment that the pilot has available, to fly a specified course.
Radio navigation equipment, aids, and/or options may consist of some of the following, any combination thereof, and more:
NDB, VOR, ILS, MLS, DME, GPS, and Radar Vectoring.
When any of this equipment is available, the VFR pilot may/should use it in conjunction with the other means of navigation.
Common Navigation Errors
Turning to a landmark that the pilot thinks he or she recognizes without verifying the possibility or impossibility by the course to that object.
Failing to turn to the determined heading soon enough to capture the proper course.
Improper tuning and identification of navigational aids and equipment.
Pilot handicapping due to the over use of GPS. I never permit the use of GPS during training, as it serves no useful purpose other than to cause the student to become to reliant upon it. GPS is easy, and fun. What happens in the real world though when you no longer have an instructor on board to bail you out, if something goes wrong.
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