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
  • 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)

Types of Navigation:

  • Navigation can be accomplished in several ways
  • Two examples include pilotage and dead reckoning which, although different, are not mutually exclusive
  • 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

Determining Route/Choosing Checkpoints:

  • Determining a Route:

    • Generally the most direct route is preferred but several considerations may require some deviation
    • Route Considerations:
      • Airspace to be crossed
      • Terrain to be crossed
      • Availability of checkpoints
  • Choosing Checkpoints:

    • Checkpoints allow you to follow the progress of your flight against your planning calculations
    • Considerations for selecting checkpoints are:
      • Are they unique enough to be identified?
      • Are they large enough to be found?
      • Are they small enough to be considered a "point?"
    • Checkpoints should be appropriately 10 NM apart
    • They may be linear such as rivers or powerlines that should be crossed
    • They may be points off the route which you can identify when abeam
    • Use of tools such as satellite maps (Google, Bing, etc.) allow for you to preview checkpoints

Determining Headings/Courses:

  • Once a route has been chosen, you need to calculate headings to be flown
  • Heading can be expressed as either true or magnetic
    • True North:

      • True north is the direction along the earth's surface towards the geographic North Pole
      • It is the northerly point furthest from the equator (90°N)
      • True headings can be extracted on most aeronautical maps including sectionals
    • Measuring True Course:

      1. Draw a straight line between two points (airports, checkpoints, etc.)
      2. Next find the lines of longitude on a map
      3. Grab your plotter and place the reference hole over the intersection of the line of longitude
      4. Rotate the plotter so that it is parallel to the line you drew
      5. Where the line of longitude intersects the compass rose on the plotter, determine your true course
        • If there is more than one number, chose the number most appropriate for your direction of flight
    • Calculating True Heading:

      1. First, determine your wind correction angle:
        • Find your winds aloft through an official weather source
        • Plot the winds on your E6B Flight Computer:
          • Place the wind direction under the "True Index" arrow
          • Using a reference line on the E6B scale, measure up and plot the velocity
        • Rotate the compass rose until your True Course is under the True Index pointer
        • Move the entire compass until the plot is over your True Airspeed
        • Note which side of the True Index the plot falls, and by how much based on the scale provided
          • This is your wind correction angle
          • If it is located on the left of the line, it must be subtracted from the True Course
          • If it is located on the right of the line, it must be added to the True Course
      2. Finally, apply the formula:
        • True Heading = True Course (-left/+right) WCA
    • Magnetic North:

      • Magnetic north is the direction along the earth's surface which points toward the magnetic north pole
      • Magnetic compasses point to this location and therefore it is magnetic headings that are flown
      • The magnetic north pole is a shifting point which is not coincident with the "top" of the earth as defined by latitude and longitude
      • Calculating Magnetic Course:

        • Magnetic heading will usually require a correction based on the variation
        • "East is least (minus), west is best (plus)"
        • Magnetic Course (MC) = True Course (TC) - East Variation
        • Magnetic Course (MC) = True Course (TC) + West Variation

Determining Winds:

  • Determining winds at altitude help guide your true heading
  • Since winds aloft are expressed in "true," you will calculate the wind correction angle off true course

Determining Altitude:

  • Altitude will depend on several factors including:
    • Winds aloft
    • Aircraft performance
  • Information to aircraft performance at various altitudes can be found in Chapter 5 of the Pilot Information Manual

Determining Deviation:

  • Deviation is found on a placard with your magnetic compass

Determining Variation:

  • Variation is necessary for converting true headings to magnetic
  • Magnetic variation depends on your location on the earth, as labeled by isogonic lines

Determining Compass Heading:

  • Compass heading is determined by applying the deviation correction to the magnetic heading
Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (ERAU) Flight Log Side 1
Figure 1: Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (ERAU) Flight Log Side 1 (click to enlarge)
U.S. Declination Map
Figure 2: U.S. Declination Map
VFR Cruising Altitudes and Flight Levels
Figure 3: VFR Cruising Altitudes and Flight Levels

Time, Distance, and Speed Calculations:

  • Distance = Rate multiplied by Time
  • Multiply the answer by 60 and you'll get the final answer
  • If you have any two, you can calculate the other
  • Example: if you need to travel 10 NM, and you have a ground speed of 100 knots, how long will it take?
    • 10 NM = 100 x T
    • 10/100=T
    • T=0.1
    • Multiply 0.1 by 60 and you'll get 6, for 6 minutes to travel that distance at that ground speed
 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

Planning Tools:

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.