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3 Answers

VFR cruising altitudes based on wind?

Asked by: 11028 views FAA Regulations, General Aviation, Student Pilot

I am a student pilot with close to 80 hours.  I have a question about VFR curising altitudes I hope you can answer.  As you know, when flying from 0 - 179 degrees...VFR pilots fly at odd+500 foot altitudes.  180 - 359, we fly at even+500 foot altitudes.
If I plotted a course on a map and found that my true course (i.e. - the line I drew on the map) was 010 degrees.  Then I added or subtracted the magnetic variation (isogonic line) and found that my "magnetic course" (or is this called magnetic heading?) to be at 005 degrees.
THEN, I determined my wind correction angle was -7...so my "true heading" (the direction I point nose of the plane) was at 358 degrees.
HOWEVER, since my groundtrack (i.e. - magnetic value) was 005 degrees, wouldn't I STILL fly at odd+500 foot altitude since my groundtrack is East...even though my nose is pointed West?  
My question therefore is do VFR cruising altitudes take into account WCA (wind correction angle)?
If the wind changes...my nose could be pointed Westerly while my track over the ground is Easterly...this could be a major headache in flight planning if you have to keep changing altitudes based soley on the direction your nose is pointing.

If it's based on COURSE and not on WIND...I'm wonding why the directions on my flight planning sheet tell me to calculate true course...THEN wind correction angle...THEN magnetic variation.
Shouldn't you want to calculate magnetic variation PRIOR to WCA in order to determine your cruising altitude?  i.e.-see instructions below:
After determining the distance, the true course should be measured. If using a plotter, follow the directions on the plotter. The true course is 031°. Once the true heading is established, the pilot can determine the compass heading. This is done by following the formula given below:
TC ± WCA = TH ± VAR = MH ± DEV = CH

2.) Also, is "magetic course" the same thing as "magnetic heading?"

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3 Answers

  1. Chris Boylan on Nov 07, 2010

    1. To answer your first question, VFR cruising altitudes are determined by magnetic course above 3,000 ft AGL (91.159). That being said, VFR cruising altitudes do not take into account wind correction angles. So you should determine your cruising altitude based on your True Course corrected for Magnetic Variation.
    2. To answer your second question, Magnetic Course is True Course corrected for variation which is found by looking on the sectional chart at the lines of variation. Magnetic Heading is Magnetic Course corrected for Magnetic Deviation which is errors in the compass in your aircraft produced by electrical fields and metals in the aircraft. You find the Deviation by referencing the compass card in your aircraft.

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  2. Steve M. on Nov 29, 2011

    I realize this is 1 year old now, but since the error is still out here in “black & white”….(by a flight instructor?)….it should be corrected to prevent any further misconceptions and incorrect advice. In ANSWER #2 above, the 1st statement is correct. However, the 2nd sentence beginning with “Magnetic Heading” is incorrect. Rather than twist all of this around and out of sequence, why not just rely on the tried and “true” method taught for years in ground schools: True Virgins Make Dull Company !! The “T” stands for TRUE, “V” for VARIATION, “M” for MAGNETIC, “D” for DEVIATION and “C” for COURSE. Thus, True Course (TC) + or – Variation = Magnetic Course (MC) + or – Deviation = Compass Course (CC). Any one of these corrected for WIND will simply add an “H” for HEADING to the respective TRUE, MAGNETIC or COMPASS as calculated. Thus, with a WIND CORRECTION ANGLE (WCA) applied, we end up with TH (TRUE HEADING) and/or MH (MAGNETIC HEADING) and/or CH (COMPASS HEADING)……with the latter (CH) ultimately being the heading that we fly.

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  3. Steve M. on Nov 29, 2011

    Please accept MY apologies. I need to make a CORRECTION to my statements above right after “True Virgins Make Dull Company”. IT SHOULD READ AS FOLLOWS: “C” for COMPASS.
    Thank you !!

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