Topic

GPS Basics

Topic Progress:

airplane gps course

Siri, navigate my plane to Key West Airport…….

If only it were that easy…..but that would take a lot of the fun out of flying!  Half the fun is just getting there, so let’s take a look at how you can still have fun and get there without too much difficulty using GPS.

We’ll cover flight planning and using GPS on your cross-country flights in much more detail later on in the course.  Here we’ll cover the quick facts you should know about GPS.

So many options

There are lots of different GPS units out there, from portable units, to panel mounted ones installed in the airplane, to just using your cell phone or tablet.  Here’s what will work on 99% percent of the GPS units and apps out there:

  • Find the “Direct To” (usually looks like this little D with an arrow through it) 
  • Once you find that button, you will input the 4 letter identifier of the airport i.e. KMIA (Miami).  Then Press “ENTER” or “ACTIVATE”
  • That will get you going in the general direction of where you want to head
  • GPS should never be relied upon as the sole means of navigation (pilotage, dead reckoning, or other navigation aids like VORs should be used also).
  • If RAIM is lost (Radio Autonomous Integrity Monitoring, basically monitors to make sure your signal is good and accurate) then you have no assurance the GPS location displayed is accurate.
  • 3 satellites will give you a 2-dimensional position fix
  • 4 satellites will give you a 3-dimensional position fix
  • 5 satellites are required to have RAIM function

App Store

There are a lot of great free and paid apps for downloading to your phone or tablet and using in your airplane.  Whichever one you choose to download, hop in the car and have someone drive you around down the interstate while you practice using the app so you can see how it will respond while moving when in the airplane (calculating ground speed, ETA, distance, etc.)

What’s legal?

Well, really any GPS unit is legal to use when flying VFR.  This is because your primary means of navigation will always be VISUAL (VISUAL FLIGHT RULES, right?).  Now later in your flying career, the FAA will require approved GPS units to be used when flying under IFR (when you can’t see because you are flying through clouds).  For now, any app or device you want to use is fair game.