I learned to fly, most of the navigation I was taught for the private
pilot qualifications was with map and compass. The biggest differences
between air navigation and road navigation is that:
have road signs to explicitly tell you where you are - it's all
open to interpretation. That is, you are still somewhere at all
times, but you can be a lot less certain for a lot longer about
just where that is if your map-reading isn't very good. (Years
ago, they used to paint the airport names on the building roofs
or runways. They don't do that very much anymore.
it's a lot
harder to pull over and ask for directions
if you don't
figure out where you are fast, then by the time you figure out
where you were, you're somewhere else
I think this
may be a major difference between Canadian and U.S. requirements.
My American colleagues have said they do more "navigation"
than "pilotage", and are amazed by the amount of map and
compass that their Canadian colleagues do. While I did some work
with radio navigation beacons (the VOR, mostly) during basic training
and had to know about NAV aids, I did my dual and solo cross-country
flights with map only. VOR was not an integral part of the exercise.
It was a frustrating
exercise for a while, learning to read a map, and to get several
cross-references before deciding I knew where I was.
my idea was to look on the map and then find something on the ground
that resembled where I thought I was. The right idea was to look
at the ground, and find things on the map that can tell you where
that is.Part of flight training involves a flight between cities
with an instructor on board -- the "dual cross-country"
flight. The required minimum for the cross-country solo was a triangular
course of 120 nautical miles. To prepare, you draw the line on the
map of where you want to fly, and you fly there, correcting your
path if you drift off-course.
On my trip
plan, I remember that the planned flight -- a big dark pencil line
on the map -- took me right over Brantford airport, easy to identify
by the triangular pattern of runways. Well, I looked out my window,
and Brantford airport was way over to my left. The line on my map
went right through the middle of Brantford airport. Somehow, I never
added up this information to conclude that perhaps I was NOT in
my planned location, over Brantford airport.
if I could find anything on the map at all, this was pretty good;
what more did somebody want? I was crossing the Grand River over
one of the squiggles in the river (of which there was no shortage),
just like I planned. Honest.
the weather was fine, and my instructor wisely let me drone for
some time long over 90 degrees off-course for a good while. "Where
are we?" he asked - something I later learn must be one of
the questions instructors ask students the most. (Heck, there are
times when my flying partner still asks me that. Fortunately, it's
one I've learned is important to always be able to answer.) My course
had taken me over a sharp and distinctive turn in the 401 that was
a LOT further north than I could possibly have imagined being. "Find
that on the map for me," he said. Finally, shocking and undeniable
evidence that I couldn't possibly be where I thought I was. Worse,
I couldn't believe that I had gone that far off course.
So, we had
an impromptu exercise in plotting airborne "diversions".
The net effect
was that I developed a growlingly triumphant sense of navigation:
"...and THERE is the railway, and THERE is the water tower,
and THERE is the high level bridge crossing the river on the RIGHT
side of the city, so this MUST be Charlestown!"
And I can't
say I always get it right on the first try. One of the hardest games
to pay without using GPS or navigation radio, particularly when
flying below about 3000 feet, or in haze, or into the sun, or at
night in an urban area, is "find the airport."
admit that one of the appeals of an instrument rating was to avoid
visual pilotage, and to have air traffic control to talk to most
of the time, and be on someone else's radar.
What I ended
up learning was that the responsibility for knowing where you are
when you're in the clouds is even greater: you need to know where
you are in order to avoid hitting things you can't see.