Navigating By Sight

images_figures_14fig06You probably want to fly for one or both of two reasons:

  • You want to see things from above.
  • You want to go somewhere.

Pilotage offers you both. It means simply navigating by looking out the window and figuring out where you are by reading your aeronautical chart. It’s much like driving in a new town; you look for landmarks and road signs, comparing them with your map. “Okay, turn left at the courthouse, follow the road west for four blocks and turn right at the city park.”

Flying Words

Pilotage is navigation from point to point by comparing accurate aeronautical charts to large landmarks on the ground.

Pilotage is similar. “Follow the main highway north until it jogs west near the big lake, then look for a smaller highway heading east.” Your sectional aeronautical map has these and many other landmarks clearly indicated on it.

So the trick to pilotage is learning how to compare what you’ve read on the sectional chart with what you see out the window. Other Flight Guides on this website explain sectional and world aeronautical charts (SACs and WACs). As you use charts you’ll learn how to find numerous ground references that can guide you in pilotage. They include …

  • Roads (freeways, highways, and local).
  • Railroad tracks.
  • Power transmission lines.
  • Lakes.
  • Rivers.
  • Bridges.
  • Large buildings and complexes.
  • Race tracks.
  • Water towers.
  • Transmission towers and other large obstructions.
  • Mountain peaks (with altitude MSL).
  • Mountain passes.

That’s the great thing about flying under visual flight rules (VFRs): You can actually see where you’re going. IFR pilots can, if necessary, go from point A to point B hardly looking out the window. But all you really need is a chart.

For many of your post-license flights you won’t be going from point A to B. You’ll just meander around the skies on a pretty day. Or you’ll fly toward point B, but won’t mind if you or a passenger wants to reroute to point C or even return to point A. It’s more about the flying than the destination. If you get a little disoriented you simply look for landmarks to find your way. You might even wind up following a major highway home.

No matter how far you take your aviation, learning pilotage navigation will serve you well. Even if someday you’re an ATP (airline transport pilot) flying cross-country commercial jets you’ll have days when you will look out the cockpit window for landmarks and think back on the days you started as a student pilot.