by Chris Findley, CFI
As you approach your solo you will likely feel that your training has become repetitious. You will spend a good bit of time on stalls, slow flight, steep turns, slips, and landings. As you now move into the post-solo phase of your training, a new series of lessons will be a welcome change. Now your training will focus on performance and navigation as you prepare for your cross countries.
“Performance” basically refers to knowing the limitations and the capabilities of your aircraft. In the air you will learn how to perform maximum performance takeoffs and landings in order to fly off of or land on short or soft (grass or other unimproved surface) fields. Your ground lessons and study will pick up again with learning how to load your aircraft safely. How much weight can it carry and where should I put it? This is called a “Weight & Balance”. You will learn how to graphically calculate your short or soft field takeoff and landing distances. Other performance computations you will become familiar with are endurance charts, which help you understand how far or how long you can fly. All of this is intended to help you really know your aircraft’s abilities (and yours) so that you will be a safer and more proficient pilot.
Your navigation training will focus on helping you learn how to fly from one airport to another safely. No matter what kind of electronics you have in the cockpit, such as moving map displays and GPSs, everyone learns to navigate the “old fashioned way” first. Sometimes students ask “Why do I have to learn this when I have such awesome navigation equipment in the plane?” To that I usually give two reasons: 1.) You need to learn the principles behind what your equipment is doing. How will you know if your equipment is malfunctioning if you simply blindly follow GPS? And 2.) Electronics do fail. Your GPS may fail to acquire the needed satellites or your alternator may fail or a circuit breaker may trip. What then? Will you be able to safely navigate your way to an airport? Because your instructor wants you to be ready to handle all sorts of situations, you will learn the basics of navigation first and then learn to use the tools that, admittedly, make life very nice for us on our cross country flights.
There are two methods of navigation you will be introduced to, “Dead Reckoning” and “Pilotage”. Pilotage is navigating by reference to points on the ground. You learn to follow your progress as you spot checkpoints on the ground –that town, this airport, this power plant, or that highway. This is the oldest form of air navigation and has been used by pilots for years. It helps you tremendously in your map reading and teaches you how to mentally keep your position.
The second means of “manual” navigation is called “Dead Reckoning”. It’s name doesn’t instill a lot of confidence, does it? Sounds kind of risky? Don’t worry, it isn’t. It’s name should actually be spelled, “Ded Reckoning” because it is a shortened form of “Deduced Reckoning”. It means that we study the map, our compass, and the winds to calculate or “deduce” our headings, time enroute, wind drift correction, etc. You will learn to use that intimidating circular slide rule called the E6-B (or the calculator version of it). Dead Reckoning really helps you gain confidence in your navigational abilities. You will see that you can figure, with a good degree of accuracy, how you will need to make your flight.
Lastly, you will learn “Electronic Navigation”. Here’s where you get to learn about the gadgets and gizmos in the cockpit. You will learn to navigate with VORs and your GPS. You will see how the pilotage and Dead Reckoning fit within the entire picture of your navigation training and you will discover just how much work on the cross country your electronics can do for you.
The performance and navigation phases of your training are great fun and a wonderful reward for all those hours in the practice area and in the pattern. Be ready to do some bookwork and to see your flying move to a whole new level.