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5 Answers

Need help locating landmarks pilotage x-country

Asked by: 2004 views Private Pilot, Student Pilot


The biggest difficulty that I have right now is locating the land marks on the ground as I fly over them to use for pilotage with navigation. Are there any tips for this? I've thought of using google maps on my ipad and iphone to help me scan an area in advance. I also ordered a copy of the Pilot's Guide to California Airports from Optima Press which contains photos of airports plus lot of good details. Today in my lesson my instructor noted that I had trouble finding Lake Elisabeth and the Calaveras Reservoir.

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5 Answers

  1. Chris Carlson on Apr 19, 2013

    A good backup to have is cross radials of some sort. The sectional is not going to have an extremely accurate detection of a lake, river, etc. a good thing to do would be to measure it out in respect to a VOR. “Lake whatever is off of the VOR ABC on radial 123” That way when you are flying on your flight path, you see your needle swinging in and can then verify that there is a lake below you, and that will be the lake you are looking for.
    Just because things are on the sectional, don’t expect them to be obvious from the air.
    Otherwise, I am not sure if the Internet can help you improve landmark recognition.

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  2. Ben on Apr 19, 2013

    Great idea! I have Google Earth on my iPhone and iPad mini with GPS as well as Foreflight 5.0. I will use VOR with this and GPS to triangulate positions better.

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  3. Sam Dawson on Apr 20, 2013

    A few tricks I picked up,over the years.
    1. Better a poor checkpoint with good barriers than a good checkpoint with no barriers. What do I mean by “barriers”? Good linear landmarks that will guide you to a checkpoint. For example, two interstates funneling you to an intersection; two major rivers funneling you to a bridge.
    2. Chris has a good recommendation about VORs and GPS. Remember though, VFR they are a backup.
    3. Be careful about using hazards such as towers as checkpoints. They can be used as reference points, but not checkpoints. What is the difference? A checkpoint you plan on flying over. A reference point will be something off of your course, such as a high tower 6 miles north of your course or abeam a checkpoint.
    4. Understand the terrain which you are flying over. Mountains may look alike in the rockies while high ground in a relatively flat area may stick out. Rail roads may be hard to pick out at night or in green areas. In the desert they normally stick out.
    5. If you are flying over an area for a long way with no references pick a good barrier, then purposely offset your course. For example, when flying off a ship a good distance from the shore we would offset our course on purpose one way or another. That way when we hit “feet dry” we knew to turn left/right and fly until we saw our checkpoint. You can use this technique when flying over other area with little contrast or at night; or use this when lost when you find a linear reference that you know, such as an interstate.

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  4. Mark Kolber on Apr 20, 2013

    If you’re looking for pilotage waypoints, you want to pick ones that are very, Very VERY obvious. I just looked up Lake Elisabeth on Google Maps. Why would you choose a small lake in a park when you have the entire south end of the San Francisco Bay less than 5 miles away? I am completey confused, though, on how you could miss Caleveras.

    Without being about to see what you are doing, I can only speculate. The two most common pilotage errors I see, in reverse order of importance, are (2) not picking obvious landmarks and (1) relying on landmark/waypoints to figure out where you are.

    Pilotage isn’t about looking for a landmark. Pilotage is about knowing where you are every moment; the landmarks are really nothing more than a cross-check on what you already know and a timing device so you know if your fuel calculations were relatively accurate.

    And Sam is absolutely right – when flying pilotage, we don’t myopically draw out course and try to find waypoints along that line; rather we adjust the course (and the distance between the waypoints) to that the best waypoints will be viewable from it.

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  5. Wedge on Apr 27, 2013

    I agree with these responses. Another helpful tip is thorough XC planning. Generally, I advise using pilotage and dead reckoning cooperatively. Using your timing calculations based on forecast winds (and if appropriate once in flight, actual groundspeed calculated after passing your previous checkpoints) should help you determine whether the lake (or whatever) you’re passing is the correct point based on the time it took you to reach it. Keep track of your progress along the way and if heading or groundspeed changes were noticed.

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