Flight Planning


  • There are various types of navigation techniques and flight plans
    • For a list of flight plans check the references at the bottom of the page
  • Pilotage: navigation with visual landmarks
  • Dead Reckoning: navigation by planning
    • Position: A geographic point defined by coordinates
    • Direction: An angular distance from a reference
      • Course: the aircrafts intended path
      • Heading: the direction the aircraft is pointed
        • Drift Angle: difference between the course and heading
      • Track: the aircrafts actual flight path over the ground (ground track marker)
        • When track = course you are flying exactly where you intend
    • Time: Can be expressed in two ways, as the time of day or elapsed time
    • Speed: The magnitude of the velocity of an aircraft
  • If no wind information is available, plan using statistical winds, make them headwinds to be conservative in your fuel planning
  • Course: is pre-flight
  • Track: is flown
  • Charts are all "true" as in true north and must be compensated to find magnetic north
  • Include the following:
    • Diverts (direction and channels/frequencies)
  • Checkpoints:
    • Check points should be set approximately 10 NM apart
    • Your first checkpoint should be Top of Climb (TOC) and the last should be Top of Descent (TOD)
Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (ERAU) Flight Log Side 1
Figure 1: Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (ERAU) Flight Log Side 1 (click to enlarge)


  • Heading can be expressed as either true or magnetic
  • True heading can be extracted on most aeronautical maps including sectionals
  • Magnetic heading will usually require a correction based on the deviation
  • Formula:
    • Magnetic Course (MC) = True Course (TC) - East Variation
    • Magnetic Course (MC) = True Course (TC) + West Variation
    • U.S. Declination Map
      Figure 2: U.S. Declination Map
    • Remember: "East is least, west is best"
  • Example 1:
    • True course is 270°
    • Variation is 14° east
    • MC = 270° - 14°
    • MC = 256°
  • Example 2:
    • Magnetic course is 220°
    • Variation is 12° west
    • 220° = TC + 12°
    • TC = 208°

VFR Cruising Altitudes and Flight Levels
Figure 3: VFR Cruising Altitudes and Flight Levels
 ORANGE Section 
  • Fill out the departure and arrival airport information including frequencies, traffic altitudes, and heights above ground
  • Fill in information concerning flight service or any item you will want to reference in regards to that airport
  • If you want, draw an airport diagram in the box but still carry a larger printed diagram for easier use and more detail

 YELLOW Section 
  • Determine a MSL cruise altitude based on weather and direction of flight
  • Reference above diagram
  • Calculate pressure altitude for your airport (important for performance calculations)
  • Determine the temperature (important for performance calculations)
  • Calculate density altitude (important for performance calculations)
  • Determine a horsepower setting and the accompanying RPM settings, KTAS and Gallons per Hour

 GREEN Section 
  • Write in the aircraft type
  • Used to plot any changes to a heading for the entire route to estimate times, distances and fuel used
  • True Course (TC): found on sectional using plotter
  • True Wind: found on winds aloft forecasts
  • True Heading (TH): calculated with flight computer (back of flight calculator)
  • Variation (Var): simply the difference between true north and magnetic north, found on sectional for your route

  • Magnetic Versus True North
    Figure 4: Variation, Magnetic Versus True North

  • Deviation (Dev): found on the compass card in your aircraft
  • Magnetic Heading (MH): TH corrected for variation
  • Course Heading (CH): MH corrected for deviation
  • Ground Speed (EST GS): found under the grommet when calculating wind correction angle
  • Distance (DST): calculated with POH and Plotter on the sectional
  • Estimated Time En-route (ETE): calculated with flight computer (arrow on GS, time read under distance)
  • Fuel Burn: calculated with flight computer (arrow on GPH, read under time)
  • SETTO: Startup, Taxi and Takeoff lost fuel, usually 1.4 Gal
  • Total: Add everything up, this is a rough estimate for the flight, you will only use this section for planning on the ground

 BLUE Section 
  • Write aircraft tail number
  • List all checkpoints and associated distances
  • Write in any frequencies or IDs for route navigation
  • CH can be copied from the preflight log
  • Distance is measured off the sectional
  • GS (first or second line only): copy from preflight log
  • ETE: calculate same as preflight log
  • Fuel: calculate same as preflight log
  • In flight you will be filling in the other boxes as the flight progresses

Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (ERAU) Flight Log Side 2
Figure 5: Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (ERAU) Flight Log Side 2 (click to enlarge)
 ORANGE Section 
  • Weight and balance as calculated normally

 YELLOW Section 
  • Fill out any weather information or notes you may have
  • Check NOTAMs for the route of flight

 GREEN Section 
  • Fill out the flight plan for flight service
  • All information is from the front of the navigation log
  • Filed before flight with the FSS so they can keep a track of you. If you do not close the flight plan 30 minutes after the proposed arrival time, SAR (search and rescue) procedures begin

 BLUE Section 
  • Fill out airspeeds, runway lengths, and altitudes

 RED Section 
  • VFR Cross-Country Checklist
  • Make sure all items are complete


Inflight Guide:

  • After you've completed your flight log, consider the creation of an inflight guide to keep on your kneeboard during flight
  • This inflight guide is not indented to create an extra step in flight planning but instead to make your life easier when you're flying
  • Contents might include:
    • Print outs of the local airport information from the Chart Supplement U.S.
    • NOTAMS
    • etc.