How do Pilots Navigate Through Airspace?

If you’ve ever flown on a plane, you may have wondered exactly how it all works. Unless you’re an aerospace engineer, then the dynamics of flight are tough to understand. But what about navigation? There are so many unanswered questions.

Is it all done on auto-pilot or do pilots have to plan their routes? How is it that a pilot knows where they’re going? How are they able to follow a flight path? What about when it’s dark or you’re hovering above the ocean?

For those who are curious, here are the techniques and tools a pilot uses to navigate during flight.

Logbooks and Charts

In the majority of countries, pilots must keep a logbook. Purchased from suppliers like Flightstore, a logbook contains training and simulator time, dates, times and lengths of flights, the number of landings completed. Logbooks can also be used for approaches, mapping and navigation purposes. Pilots must regularly update their logs, both to comply with regulation and to meet criteria for ratings and certificates.

Radio and Beacons

In addition to mapping and planning, pilots also use radio to navigate. In addition to using radio for communication, this system operates via beacons, which are fixed at locations across the world and emit radio signals. This signal is transmitted to the cockpit of an aircraft to provide information on location and navigation. Beacons are also used at airports to assist pilots with landing.

GPS Systems

From time to time, you may rely on GPS to help you reach your location. GPS is now commonly used in aircraft, too, helping pilots to navigate. However, if you’ve ever become frustrated with a GPS that sends you off in the wrong direction, or else takes an age to acquire satellite signal, then you will know that they’re not always reliable. As such, radio and manual logs are often used as backup.

Celestial Guidance

This is a practice that has been replaced by technology and as such, is rarely used by pilots in real-world situations today. In days gone by, to navigate in the dark, pilots learnt how to fly using the stars, creating paths and charts using a sextant. During flight, pilots would then use so-called ‘eyebrow’ windows – tiny windows that sit above the larger cockpit window – to get a clear view of the stars in the sky.

If you’ve ever been curious about how a pilot navigates, hopefully this has helped to answer some of your questions. To sum up, pilots largely use radio and GPS navigate through the sky.

Photo credit: Fuzz

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