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Question about x-country navigation


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Hey Everyone,

I'm just starting on my commercial and I need to plan a trip from Los Angeles to San Diego. It's not a horribly difficult flight, but it does pose some questions that I'm not sure how to answer.

 

So, first things first, I hit up skyvector and plotted out my course:

 

http://skyvector.com/?ll=32.9027977532462,-117.21999508764651&chart=24&zoom=5&plan=G.33.824458702876534,-118.14465070754731:G.33.7615236894853,-118.14398399169805:G.33.656716580095555,-118.00447342605251:G.33.590077945736915,-117.87966724999748:G.33.46298542421562,-117.71639545528768:G.33.20586969239919,-117.38785756509226:G.32.88149526383761,-117.25138071941232:G.32.81820837351703,-117.28101789478634:G.32.8160168632896,-117.13797019765649

 

Pretty straight-forward, avoiding class B's when possible, pretty easy to follow the coast.

 

Here's my problem, I'm not totally sure how to know where I'm at. On this particular trip, it's not totally unfamiliar territory as I've driven down to SD a few times so I'm somewhat familiar with the area. However, things are always different from the air and this flight is going to be at night, so that will make things a bit more difficult.

 

My question to everyone is how do you deal with unknowns in a flight. In my PPL x-country flight planning, I did a flight log, followed major highways, studied the charts and Google maps, and wrote up a pilotage card with frequencies and checkpoints. This is a really tedious process and it takes a loooooong time to do all the planning. Plus, following highways isn't always the best route, especially because in the air I can go direct (assuming there are no obstructions).

 

What I wanted to know is what resources are available to do this flight more effectively. We do have GPS in the helicopter so I was planning on setting waypoints and also writing up a pilotage card for the flight down there. I have never used flight following so on the way back, I figured I'd give that a try just I get more comfortable with the various ATC services that are available to me.

 

Are there other resources out there for dealing with situations where you might not know exactly where you are? What if you were planning a trip to a totally unfamiliar airport in a unfamiliar location - how do you get there without getting lost? What if I didn't have a GPS (either in a heli that doesn't have one or if I have a GPS failure), am I staring at the chart trying to figure out where I am, or do you contact a nearby ATC to see if they can see them on radar and provide them with a location and is that frowned upon as poor flight planning?

 

Sorry for the long post - hopefully that makes sense.

 

Thanks!

Mike

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I flew from Phoenix to Long Beach the night before my Private check ride without a GPS. Sad to say, all I could really do to "back-up" my standard flight plan, was to look for freeway intersections.

 

I would suggest using a VOR (crossing radials to determine position), however, of the 46 helicopters I have flown, less than 10 even had one.

 

One thing you could try, is to go down and read a freeway sign. I did that once, but at night it gets a little more dangerous.

 

Since that flight I have made it a point to not fly cross country at night, to somewhere I haven't already been to in the day.

:)

 

One more thing. Don't fly down the coast at night. It gets way too dark, making dissorientation way too easy. Stick with class 'B' transitions, they're much safer.

Edited by r22butters
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Hey Everyone,

I'm just starting on my commercial and I need to plan a trip from Los Angeles to San Diego. It's not a horribly difficult flight, but it does pose some questions that I'm not sure how to answer.

 

So, first things first, I hit up skyvector and plotted out my course:

 

http://skyvector.com/?ll=32.9027977532462,-117.21999508764651&chart=24&zoom=5&plan=G.33.824458702876534,-118.14465070754731:G.33.7615236894853,-118.14398399169805:G.33.656716580095555,-118.00447342605251:G.33.590077945736915,-117.87966724999748:G.33.46298542421562,-117.71639545528768:G.33.20586969239919,-117.38785756509226:G.32.88149526383761,-117.25138071941232:G.32.81820837351703,-117.28101789478634:G.32.8160168632896,-117.13797019765649

 

Pretty straight-forward, avoiding class B's when possible, pretty easy to follow the coast.

 

Here's my problem, I'm not totally sure how to know where I'm at. On this particular trip, it's not totally unfamiliar territory as I've driven down to SD a few times so I'm somewhat familiar with the area. However, things are always different from the air and this flight is going to be at night, so that will make things a bit more difficult.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wonderful post! I think you asked everything most of us wonder when we do a cross country..especially when we are less confident then others. I vote for flight following. But I also think for comfort..take the extra time to be familiar with the layout of the land..know your way points and have your backup plans. We are definitely spoiled by gps don't let it get you into trouble.

 

My question to everyone is how do you deal with unknowns in a flight. In my PPL x-country flight planning, I did a flight log, followed major highways, studied the charts and Google maps, and wrote up a pilotage card with frequencies and checkpoints. This is a really tedious process and it takes a loooooong time to do all the planning. Plus, following highways isn't always the best route, especially because in the air I can go direct (assuming there are no obstructions).

 

What I wanted to know is what resources are available to do this flight more effectively. We do have GPS in the helicopter so I was planning on setting waypoints and also writing up a pilotage card for the flight down there. I have never used flight following so on the way back, I figured I'd give that a try just I get more comfortable with the various ATC services that are available to me.

 

Are there other resources out there for dealing with situations where you might not know exactly where you are? What if you were planning a trip to a totally unfamiliar airport in a unfamiliar location - how do you get there without getting lost? What if I didn't have a GPS (either in a heli that doesn't have one or if I have a GPS failure), am I staring at the chart trying to figure out where I am, or do you contact a nearby ATC to see if they can see them on radar and provide them with a location and is that frowned upon as poor flight planning?

 

Sorry for the long post - hopefully that makes sense.

 

Thanks!

Mike

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Hey Mike,

 

VOR's, GPS and all the other toys are great but there is nothing better than getting good at dead reckoning and track crawling using only your map, a clock and planning. Get good at recognizing features from your map and be able to determine your position from that alone. Try and do a few cross countries without GPS because when the toys break, you will still have your chart.

Yes, it may take a long time to plan a route, especially when you factor in winds, etc but the more you do it, the more it will stand to you. If an examiner can see that you can use a chart successfully and then confirm your position with the other available navigational aids, it will prove to him that you are much more capable.

We had to do routes where only a map, timing and headings were allowed. You carefully plotted your route,the wind and waypoints. It is very accurate when you do it right.

Go for a flight and get your instructor to point out places or features on the map and try to find them. I find that it is always easier when you orientate the map to 'track up'.

Practice makes perfect!

Edited by Trans Lift
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Dont forget that flight following will keep you out of trouble telling you when approaching Class B areas. Without a GPS or local LA knowledge I would be lost at night trying to figure out where I can and can't fly in the big city. Counting freeway intersections and looking at a chart is not as easy as it sounds while flying along at 100 knots.

 

However, you may have to fly higher in areas to keep flight following and not fall off the radar.

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Sorry, I missed the

However, things are always different from the air and this flight is going to be at night, so that will make things a bit more difficult.
part.
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I'd be careful about relying on flight following. Depending on your area and altitude, you may drop off radar coverage or the controller may discontinue flight following due to workload. I've had both of these things happen several times. In either case, you could find yourself in a big mess in a hurry if you don't know where you are. There is no substitute for good pilotage and dead reckoning skills - not GPS, and certainly not flight following. You know your starting point, so simply continue to keep track of where you are throughout the flight. At any point during any flight, you should be able to closely approximate (if not pin point) your location on a chart.

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Flight following is work load permitting. Still, recommend you get it. Do not use it as a means to tell you about approaching airspace, traffic and such.

 

R22Butters, there is a lot more out there to use as check points for a flight than a freeway intersection. In fact, when flight plannning and using reference points, it is recommended to uses several landmarks together to identify a check point.

 

I don't recommend looking at street signs or freeway signs. Next thing you know the pilot will be low and slow and hit something. You all may remember a wire strike in the L.A. basis several years ago at night?

 

I have a good story about street signs but that's another day.

 

To the OP, would get with a CFI and go over everything you have planned. I trained with out a GPS, there were none really back then. My instrument training was with out it and back when NDBs were used often.

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...R22Butters, there is a lot more out there to use as check points for a flight than a freeway intersection. In fact, when flight plannning and using reference points, it is recommended to uses several landmarks together to identify a check point...

 

True, but a lot of those other things, don't stand out so well at night!

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Might want to try viewing/flying the route via Google Satellite Images/Maps prior to the actual cross country...

Just pull up the starting location and then simply move the map down the coast to your destination.

 

Regardless of if your flying the coastline or not, there are so many landmarks that if you become

familiar with them via Google Satellite Images it should make your trip much easier.

 

One warning though, some of the satellite images are very old, so make sure your landmarks are well established older ones.

 

Hope this helps...

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Hey Everyone,

I'm just starting on my commercial and I need to plan a trip from Los Angeles to San Diego. It's not a horribly difficult flight, but it does pose some questions that I'm not sure how to answer.

 

So, first things first, I hit up skyvector and plotted out my course:

 

http://skyvector.com...2.9027977532462,-117.21999508764651&chart=24&zoom=5&plan=G.33.824458702876534,-118.14465070754731:G.33.7615236894853,-118.14398399169805:G.33.656716580095555,-118.00447342605251:G.33.590077945736915,-117.87966724999748:G.33.46298542421562,-117.71639545528768:G.33.20586969239919,-117.38785756509226:G.32.88149526383761,-117.25138071941232:G.32.81820837351703,-117.28101789478634:G.32.8160168632896,-117.13797019765649

 

Pretty straight-forward, avoiding class B's when possible, pretty easy to follow the coast.

 

Here's my problem, I'm not totally sure how to know where I'm at. On this particular trip, it's not totally unfamiliar territory as I've driven down to SD a few times so I'm somewhat familiar with the area. However, things are always different from the air and this flight is going to be at night, so that will make things a bit more difficult.

 

My question to everyone is how do you deal with unknowns in a flight. In my PPL x-country flight planning, I did a flight log, followed major highways, studied the charts and Google maps, and wrote up a pilotage card with frequencies and checkpoints. This is a really tedious process and it takes a loooooong time to do all the planning. Plus, following highways isn't always the best route, especially because in the air I can go direct (assuming there are no obstructions).

 

What I wanted to know is what resources are available to do this flight more effectively. We do have GPS in the helicopter so I was planning on setting waypoints and also writing up a pilotage card for the flight down there. I have never used flight following so on the way back, I figured I'd give that a try just I get more comfortable with the various ATC services that are available to me.

 

Are there other resources out there for dealing with situations where you might not know exactly where you are? What if you were planning a trip to a totally unfamiliar airport in a unfamiliar location - how do you get there without getting lost? What if I didn't have a GPS (either in a heli that doesn't have one or if I have a GPS failure), am I staring at the chart trying to figure out where I am, or do you contact a nearby ATC to see if they can see them on radar and provide them with a location and is that frowned upon as poor flight planning?

 

Sorry for the long post - hopefully that makes sense.

 

Thanks!

Mike

 

Try Google Earth! Set it up at for about 2000 msl, and just fly along your flight plan route. Stop anywhere, look around, identify landmarks, press on. This is a great way to brief and become

familiar with your flight. I use Google Earth extensively for planning and getting the mental picture as to where I am going. Recently did a cross country thru the desert (on a horse with no name),

and flew right to the very remote spot (50m across), with no drama's! Google Earth is a great tool as well for teaching pilotage and dead reckoning.

 

Try it out.

 

Rotorrodent

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Skyvector.com is an awesome tool, but you still need to be able to look a a sectional and find yourself at any time. I think pilotage and dead reckoning is a skill every pilot needs to be proficient in. It's not uncommon for my IP's to turn off the GPS and announce "GPS FAILURE" Then say "I just had a heart attack, now what are you gonna do?" Something else to consider is VFR reporting points, they are usually a terrain feature or building large enough to see under poor conditions and they become handy when setting up for a Class B transition.

Edited by Stickthief
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I learned a lot about navigation while in Basic Warfighting Skills. We didn't use any navaids, just dead reconing and pilotage.

 

Find some barriers for yourself. As in, find features that you don't want to cross (highways, rivers, ridgelines, etc). If you find yourself approaching your barrier you know you are getting off in one direction or the other.

 

If you're flying to an airport you aren't familiar with try to find barriers that will funnel you in to the airport and make sure to have a back drop. See if it's in between a ridgeline and a highway, or a couple of rivers. Try to identify and obvious features around the area of the airport, etc.

 

Try to find landmarks that you can identify from a good distance away (mountain peaks if you have them, cities, etc). Streams and rivers may be covered in foliage but you can still identify them because they are a different color than the surrounding woodlands.

 

Plan out your headings and altitudes and times and keep track to make a sort of time barrier. Verify that you are on course and time by comparing the land marks you cross to where you should be at your time.

 

If you get lost, circle and climb until you can identify where you are. If you can't, go backwards to your last known point. If you have absolutely no clue where you are and you can talk to ATC give them a call and ask for vectors.

 

Use all the tools available to you. If you have VORs use them, if you have GPS use it, but don't rely on it. Try to find your way using old school methods and then just verify with your instruments that way if they fail you still know exactly where you are.

 

Give yourself a contingency plan. Identify a big landmark near your destination airport that you will be able to identify from far away in case you miss your airport. Fly to your contingency and then you have a known point to work from to get yourself to where you are going.

 

Yes flight planning will take you a while but as you do it more and more you will get quicker at it. My first flight plans took me 3-4 hours, now I can do them in about an hour and a half. It should be a part of every flight.

Edited by SBuzzkill
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