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Plotting and Planning

May 27, 2010

I recently updated my Facebook status with the following: “Plotting and Planning…”  Within minutes my friend Ken commented on my status that I was being very mysterious.  That wasn’t my intent.  For those of you who fly (especially VFR…and especially if you like to kick it old school….) you know that Plotting and Planning are what you do when you take out your sectional (similar to what those of you who are earth bound would call a “map”,)  and start drawing lines.  Whether it’s straight from one airport to the next, or zig-zags from VOR to VOR, plotting your course affords an easy to read and readily available reference point for your flight.

Of course, in this ever-so-modern world of technology we could just turn on the GPS and hit Direct, Enter, Enter.  We would have our pink line to fly (don’t try this in your car,) and we could happily be on our way.  But what happens if your batteries die on the hand-held GPS?  Oh, well, we’re okay, ’cause we have the yoke mounted GPS too, and that one is plugged in and being powered by the aircraft itself.  But what happens if that connection is compromised or the GPS link reads “searching for satellite” and never seems to track?  Well….there’s no need to worry because you’ve already plotted and planned your route on your trusty paper sectionals!  Looking down at the ground, you should be able to identify the terrain below from the line you’ve drawn on your sectional.  While this takes some effort, and a lot of vigilance, there’s a comfort and familiarity that pilots come to know and love. [NOTE:  if you're just beginning your flight training fear not!  I still remember the first time my flight instructor Justin opened up a sectional to show my ground school class.  Yikes!  "How will I ever understand this?" is all that ran through my mind.  Somehow.... it eventually all comes together.  Don't let it scare you off - it's a valuable tool.]

In addition to the “safety” factor while en route, the sectional is also helpful as a planning tool.  By drawing a line you immediately identify obstacles in your flight path.  The sectional indicates special use airspace that may be P (Prohibited,) R (Restricted,) W (Warning,) A (Alert,) or MOA’s (Military Operation Areas) and times, altitudes and frequencies that will help you navigate through or around as necessary.  There’s congested airspace and controlled airspace and altitude markings that relate how far the terrain is above sea level (which is important so you know how high you have to be.)  Then you have obstructions such as towers and power lines; visual reference points such as major roads, train tracks, lakes and rivers; navigational tools; and vital airport and communications information. 

Whew!!!!  Those things are LOADED with data! (….and not all that mysterious.)

We’ll be sure to take a full set of sectionals and keep on top of “where we are” the old-fashioned way.  (But of course… we’ll be flying the pink line as well ;o)

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