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5 Answers

Magnetic Course vs. Magnetic Heading vs. Groundtrack

Asked by: 11535 views FAA Regulations, General Aviation, Student Pilot

Can the terms "Magnetic Course", "Magnetic Heading" and "Groundtrack" be used interchangibly?

5 Answers



  1. Gilles C. on Oct 29, 2010

    No, they can’t

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  2. Gilles C. on Oct 29, 2010

    The Magnetic Course is related to the aircraft trajectory regarding the magnetic north.
    The Magnetic Heading is related to the aircraft orientation regarding the magnetic north (“where the nose is pointing”).
    The Groundtrack is the projection of the aircraft orientation on the ground, relative to whatever referencial your ground map refers to.

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  3. Best Answer


    Kent Shook on Oct 29, 2010

    Simple answer: No.

    Magnetic Course is the airplane’s course across the ground, relative to magnetic north.

    Magnetic Heading is where the airplane is pointed. Your Magnetic Heading, corrected via use of the compass card, can be read from the airplane’s compass. This may be different from your Magnetic Course due to winds aloft.

    Ground Track is something you read off of a GPS unit – It’s usually abbreviated “TRK.” This is *usually* equivalent to Magnetic Course, but it is generally possible to set a GPS to use either Magnetic or True, so the Ground Track that is displayed may be either your Magnetic Course or your True Course, so I would not consider it to be completely interchangeable with Magnetic Course. If you were to say “Magnetic Ground Track,” I would consider that to be the same as “Magnetic Course.”

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  4. Andrew on Oct 29, 2010

    Magnetic Course is your True Course +/- variation.  It might be the same as your Magnetic Heading in perfect conditions, with no winds.  
    Magnetic Heading is your your True Course modified by winds and variation.
    Ground track is the course that the aircraft is flying across the ground.  This is the desired course that you intend to fly, which is hopefully the same as your planned True Course if correct calculations have been made for wind.
    Here is some more in-depth clarification on some of the definitions: http://www.askacfi.com/86/true-course-magnetic-course-magnetic-heading-compass-headinghelp.htm

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  5. BR on Aug 20, 2012

    ASA 6B Flight Computer on windside below instructions for ground speed and True Heading
    TC (-E or +W) VAR = MC
    MC (-L or +R) WCA = MH
    MH (+ or -) DEV = CH

    TC true heading relative to TN (true north)
    VAR magnetic variation from sectional map relative to magnetic north
    MC magnetic course relative to magnetic north
    WCA wind correction angle between TC and TH (true heading relative to TN) relative to TC left or right per wind diagram
    MH magnetic heading relative to magnetic north
    CH compass heading

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