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Airline navigation

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Well-known member
Feb 11, 2006
What type of navigation do airliners use? I once say a IFR navigation chart and it looked completely different than a VFR sectional and am used to dealing with. I am thinking about starting my IFR training soon. What can I look forward to when I go through this training?
The phrases you are looking for is cleared GPS direct and cleared for the visual :cool:

I gave away the secret of IFR :erm: Don't let others know, it needs to seem mystical voodoo or everyone will do it and clog up the airspace when it's marginal weather.
Well if you fly anything other than a DC9 mostly it will be by GPS, IRS, or something similar. Just know how to program the box. If you happen to fly a DC9 then you will get 2 VORs 2 DMEs(No Groundspeed) and 1 ADF.

Best advice though is to run away from this so called career and invest your money in some other career. I am over the hump, but for folks just getting in to the commuters or sitting in the right seat of an RJ there is a strong case to quit and start over. You will come out ahead.

It is a great job but that doesn't help when you need a steady job, one that can get you home more than a few days a month or want to give your family a meal that doesn't involve food stamps. No I am not kidding. Airline managements have a way of sucking all of the fun out this job.
Well if you fly anything other than a DC9 mostly it will be by GPS, IRS, or something similar. Just know how to program the box. If you happen to fly a DC9 then you will get 2 VORs 2 DMEs(No Groundspeed) and 1 ADF.
That's how Piedmont's Dash's are...with the exception of a few EFIS ones.

Airlines operate primarily under Instrument Flight Rules ("IFR"). IFR may seem a little daunting at first, but you'll find that once you understand the system and the basics of flying instruments, operating under IFR can make your job a lot easier.

Take a simple thing like passing from one airspace to another. Under VFR, you must concern yourself with a clearance to enter Class B, establishing communications in Class C, tower clearances, etc. Under IFR, you simply go fly. A great deal of what occupies your time under VFR simply isn't a consideration or a worry when operating under instrument rules.

Flying by instruments is about learning to be more precise in your flying. You may be a very precise flyer now, and that's a fine thing. Working toward your instrument rating, however, you'll be required to be very demanding of yourself on heading, airspeed, and altitude. You'll pay more attention to details of a flight than you did before, and you'll find weaknesses and strengths that you didn't realize were in your flying. VFR flying is largely a physical activity; driving. Instrument flying is largely a mental activity.

Perhaps the most demanding activity you can do in the airplane will be single pilot IFR.

Airlines navigate by a variety of means, but nearly always under IFR. Navigation is by electronic guidance, sometimes directly from VOR's and other navigation beacons, other times (much of the time, these days) by GPS guidance. Aircraft frequently employ computes which take input from multiple sensors, to provide guidance. These are known as FMC's or FMS units, and from a pilot perspective one doesn't necessarily know or care which particular signal the computer is using to provide guidance. The pilot only inputs the necessary information regarding routing, altitude, etc, and the computer will determine whether it's best information comes from Distance Measuring Equipment (DME), VOR's, GPS, Internal Navigation Systems or Inertial Reference Sytems (INS or IRS), or other sources. The FMS may use multiple systems at once.

Airliners operate on airways much of the time, just as you saw on the instrument chart. It does appear complicated, but it's really not. A typical flight will take off and fly a published instrument departure. The charts for this look like schematics which show headings, altitudes, and courses to be flown. They will include radio frequencies, terrain hazards and minimum altitudes, and other necessary information. The flight will then proceed enroute using enroute charts. These are much like roadmaps which provide "airways," or highways in the sky. Arrivals will often be conducted using published arrival procedurs, or "STARS." These work the same as the departure procedures, giving routing to the airport, or to a fix (point in space) from which the instrument approach begins.

The instrument approach is really the quintessential focus of flying IFR; it's how we find the airport and get on the ground. It involves flying by referenceto ground-based navigation aids such as an instrument landing system (ILS) or a VOR or NDB. These charts prescribe the details of the approach, the minimum allowable altitudes to which one may descend, and the procedures to follow in the even that one isn't able to land (missed approach procecures).

Airlines use the same procedures and the same techniques that you'll learn when you do your instrument rating. It's just done a little faster, and the enroute legs are a little higher. The same standards apply, as do the same requirements.

Flying a large airliner is actually less complicated, and more straight forward than an instrument cross country in a light airplane. All the preparation work is done by dispatchers, at an airline, as is the gathering of weather information, the calculation of weight and balance problems, and all the other aspects that go into planning a flight, from fuel calculations to routing and filing the flight plan.

What can you look forward to in your training? Some frustration, but also some challenge. You may find that if you're starting to get comfortable with the airplane, instrument flying will put some challenge back into flying, for you. You'll find that with instrument flying, fixating on a particular instrument is a common bad habit, and simple things like holding heading or altitude take on some difficulty. You'll find that many of the basic skills you learned before will still be required, but you'll find out why those skills and habits are so important. You may even change the way you approach your flying.

You're in for some time learning to fly straight and level again, as well as do turns, make climbs, or descents. You'll do steep turns, stalls, and other things that you already do visually, but with "view limiting device" that prevents you from seeing out of the airplane. You'll progress to flying various procedures, from "holds" at particular points in space to flying various kinds of approach procedures. You'll learn about missed approaches (go-arounds) and how flying them under IFR adds new dimensions to the act of going around. Think of instrument flying as the next level of classes to what your basic pilot training provided.

Specific navigation information depends on the specific navigation system in use. If you're learning in a newer airplane, you may use "glass" or electronic displays. If you're learning in an older airplane, you may have conventional displays with six basic instruments, and some navigation radios and instrumentation. The same procedures are used, but the way in which you see and process the information in the cockpit can change, a little. (Personally, I recommend that every one learn in a conventional cockpit before transitioning to electronic displays). So far as learning navigation in a given airliner, the radios, equipment, and specifics vary with the individual airliner. Worry about the aircraft you're flying now, and worry about airliners later. You've got enough on your plate for now.
WWWWOOOOOWWWW!!!! The world of IFR is interesting to say the least. Being almost 46, I think I will skip the airline route and get my instrument rating for those nasty weather days and improved flying skills. The instructir that I had while I was pursuing my private license will most likely be my instrument instructor. He introduced me to GPS and it wasn't that hard. We did alot of work on VOR's and wanted me to become proficient on that.

Thanks for all the advice!
Avbug pretty much nailed it as far as the whole rating is concerened. It is highly recommended to do even if you are just a private pilot and flying around for fun. I will add that it is by far the most challenging rating you will ever do. I say that not to scare you, but to prepare you. It is challenging not because it is hard, but because it is different just like when you did your private. You have no background to draw on so it is a totally new learning experience. It is a collection of really easy concepts and maneuvers when put together can seem complicated, but it really isn't. It just takes time and effort. Keep that in mind. Once you are done though you will realize how great it really is to fly IFR.

A few things I would add to avbugs post though. Like him I prefer the conventional method of learning IFR. No GPS involved. It is a great tool and I highly encourage its use for everyday flying. However, for an instrument rating I really discourage it for two reasons. One it makes the pilot complacent which makes the GPS a crutch. This will hinder the true learning process and does not develop your sense of situational awareness without a GPS. The second reason is due to the checkride. Any equipment that is installed in the aircraft during a checkride may be subject to an oral question or demonstration of ability. In other words the examiner can ask you to explain all of the regs involving GPS and ask you to fly a GPS approach. Why open yourself up to extra questions and approaches when you don't have to?

The best way to do it is to get the rating out of the way then go up with someone who knows how to properly conduct a GPS approach and learn from them. There is no sign-off involved and the person doesn't even have to be an instructor.

Lastly, as your instructor will tell you eventually, when you get your rating you should NOT try to go out and fly IFR by yourself. Try to get experience in actual IFR conditions during your training, but realize that after you get your rating that you will need lots of practice after your rating to gain the experience to confidently operate in the system solo. It's ok to fly solo IFR in VFR conditions, however if you MUST fly an IFR trip in the soup I highly recommend taking another pilot, even if it is a private pilot, with you for help. Don't feel like you have to do it on your own because you are rated. All airliners fly with two pilots for a reason.

Good luck and have fun!!!
I was told that I should get a lot of cross country flying experience before beginning my training for my instrument rating? Is that true?

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