Mastering Navigation

May 23, 2023

Mastering Navigation: How to Read Maps, Use GPS and Navigate Like A Pro

There are two main reasons you might be reading this. Reason #1 is you have a navigation endorsement on your RPL, PPL or CPL. You might be looking to master the aviation navigation skillset. If so, good stuff! Reason #2 is if you’re thinking of getting your navigation endorsement. Perhaps your training is underway, and you want to be the best pilot you can possibly be. GREAT stuff! For some pilots, navigation feels like the trickiest part of aviation – but it’s not! Navigation is the most adventurous, fun, and rewarding part of being a pilot! If you’re looking to improve your navigation skills, this post will help. Read about Mastering Navigation: How to Read Maps, Use GPS and Navigate Like A Pro.

Start By Covering Aviation Navigation Basics

While examining a VTC (Visual Terminal Chart) or VNC (Visual Navigation Chart), you’ll constantly uncover novel methods for leveraging maps. Whether your maps are in paper or digital format, comprehending the intricate elements of a VTC and VNC is crucial for making optimal navigation choices. Every colour, line, word, and number is on the maps to assist your navigation decisions. Mastering your maps means that you have researched the icons, features and indications across the map. It will mean that you know what they mean and how to use them to your advantage. When training for navigation, it’s not common that every little detail on maps is thoroughly covered, as there’s a lot of additional detail beyond the essentials.

If there is anything on the map that you don’t use or don’t understand, it’s time to sit with an instructor and learn. Every road and railway indicated is a visual reference for your position and tracking. Towns are yellow and have a shape – use the shape to identify features and confirm your position and tracking, for example. You should understand the landforms and topographical features to ensure you log correct LSAs (Lowest Safe Altitudes) and track over terrain appropriately. Are you ready to master more navigation like a pro, across reading maps and GPS? Let’s go!

Amateur Versus Pro Pilots

During map-based navigation planning, novice pilots often rely on terrain, reported cloud levels, and wind conditions. While acceptable for the time being, this approach is common among many pilots. However, aspiring to become an experienced and professional pilot entails delving into deeper layers of the planning process. Remember that weather forecasts can be inaccurate! To illustrate, incorporating weather planning into your intended route would involve considering anabatic and katabatic winds across the terrain. You should also consider thermals, cloud formation, condensation, icing, and visibility concerns. Although these may not be explicitly stated in your weather report, seasoned pilots combine weather, maps, and their expertise.

Monitor Your Flight Path with Maps or GPS and Know Your Track Error Methods

If there’s one thing to take away from ‘ Mastering Navigation: How to Read Maps, Use GPS and Navigate Like A Pro’, it’s this. A good pilot will remember that they need to check their flight path regularly, but a great pilot is constantly referencing and confirming their position along the way, avoiding tracking errors where possible. Using GPS isn’t considered ‘cheating’ in aviation – it’s smart. A good pilot will make use of the tools available to them to be the best pilot they can be, and an experienced pilot also knows and practices how to fly without them!

You can input your entire route into GPS to assist you with your bearings, compass work, altitudes and tracking management. By doing this, the GPS can assist with your pilot workload and essentially make you a safer pilot. 

If you’ve found yourself flying and not making full use of your GPS, you should research tutorials on the instrument/model or ask an instructor to show you its functional capability. If you want to fly and navigate like a professional pilot, you need to know your instruments.

Don’t Be Afraid To Use Autopilot

If your aircraft has autopilot, learn its proper usage. Some pilots think they must handle navigation and control simultaneously, but it’s fine to rely on autopilot when workload affects safety and navigation. Ensure you understand its functionality if it’s installed.

Practice Implementing Diversions in Navigation Exercises

Changing your flight mid-air during navigation can be challenging. Instead of waiting for the perfect opportunity, practice and rehearse these exercises while building your flight hours. When off-track, apply methods like the 1-in-60 rule or dead reckoning for navigating a new route. Soon, you’ll effortlessly glance out the window and estimate the magnetic direction of a township you spot beside your wing.

Pick 3 Features To Confirm Your Location

Professional pilots employ various checks to verify their position, and you should have secondary checks too. For instance, you might observe a lake on the map, matching its anticipated size and shape, alongside a township with a golf course in the expected location. As secondary checks, ensure the town is approximately the anticipated size, your compass shows you’re heading towards the destination from the expected direction, and your estimated arrival time aligns with the anticipated travel distance from your last waypoint.

Aim To Get Better With Every Flight

Have you checked off everything here in ‘ Mastering Navigation: How to Read Maps, Use GPS and Navigate Like A Pro’? With every flight, you’ll learn a new lesson. As an hour-building pilot, you should be aiming to notice and absorb as many of those lessons and findings as possible. At Learn To Fly Melbourne, we have a range of online training courses and resources that are designed to help you self-study and improve as a pilot. Similarly, you can reach out to our team anytime to set up a navigation flight training session in the classroom, cockpit – or both!

What Else Should I Know?

We hope this helps you answer some FAQs about aviation medical examinations in Australia!

We’ve also compiled a few useful posts that might help you out. Where ever you are on your aviation journey, the team at Learn To Fly Melbourne are here to help. We want you to pass your exams and have an excellent career, so please reach out if we can help support you through your course and studies!

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Chat with one of our flight training specialists to get your pilot training off the ground. Email [email protected] or go to to book a meeting and school tour.