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(updated September 08, 2014)

  Flight Planning
and Navigation
General Information About Navigation

I am NOT a real pilot, so I'm no expert when it comes to aeronautical navigation . . . not by any stretch. For those of us who are not actual pilots, most of our real life navigational experience comes from driving a car (using maps, GPS/smartphones, and/or directions). But when are up there in the sky, there are no roads to travel on or signs to point your way (although you might look down at roads and use them to try to figure out where you are). If you do much hiking, you have likely used a compass and a top map to find your way (but most people hike on marked trails, that have signs at trail intersections). And if you spend much time on the water, you may have navigated with a compass and a nautical chart. I have quite a bit of experience with all those types of real world navigation (I even took a coastal navigation workshop a few years ago) . . . but my only experience with aeronautical navigation, is solely as a virtual pilot in a flightsim.
I'm still learning myself, so I'm going to likely make some mistakes in some of what I write in this section. If you notice that I made an error, or just didn't explain something very well, PLEASE contact me and let me know, so that I can make corrections.

This section is mainly for beginners, who are just getting started with navigating in Prepar3D. There seems to be a good amount of information about more advanced navigation (some of which I'll also cover here), but it can be difficult to find the basic information that a beginner needs. When I first started to learn this stuff, I often didn't even know what I should be looking for or what was available. I stumbled around, and learned slowly, often using tools that were too advance for me. Now I hope to pass on what I learned (minus most of the frustration that I went through).

Are you a Casual or Serious Flightsimmer? This is a gross generalization, but this is how I define the two:
- Casual users tend to view Prepar3D (and/or FSX, and XP10) as just another type of PC game.
- Serious users view Prepar3D (and/or FSX, and XP10) as a serious hobby/learning tool, and they can often be somewhat obsessive in trying to make their virtual flights as realistic as possible (within their budget).
- One of the main differences between a casual and a serious flightsimmer is that most casual users are not really interested in spending time learning the procedures of flying correctly . . . they just want to play around at flying. If you're more of a casual flghtsimmer, you will probably not have much interest in this section . . . unless you have decided that you want to get more serious about virtual flight.

If you are just starting out with flightsims, or  you have recently moved to Prepar3D from MS Flight, and are a bit lost when it comes to navigation, you're in the right place. MS Flight is a great introduction to virtual flying, but Flight doesn't include much in the way of realistic navigational features. Using a more advanced flightsim like P3D (where you can fly anywhere in the entire planet) can be a bit daunting at first and finding your way can be really frustrating until you learn some basic navigational tools/aids.

My goal for this section is to provide some basic instructions on using some of the the type of aviation aids that are available in and for Prepar3D. It is much more immersive when you plan out your flight in P3D and arrive at your destination, using only the tools that might be available to a real pilot, flying in the real world.

For now, I plan to cover just the basic navigational aids that are available for some of the small, general aviation (GA) aircraft.

Before Takeoff

Ok, so you have selected your aircraft and you are now at the airport that you wish to depart from. At this point, most beginners will just taxi to the closest runway (if they didn't start with their aircraft placed on a runway). But there are actually a few things you really need to do before takeoff. [Most of what I've listed here is in addition to following the aircraft check lists.]

Align the Heading Indicator (Directional Gyro or HSI) to the Magnetic Compass. This is important because, when you start your aircraft, the Heading Indicator may not always be aligned with the compass. Just zoom in on the Compass (while your aircraft is not moving) and record your heading and then manually adjust the Heading Indicator to the same heading (or press "D" [Heading Indicator (reset)]).

Set your Altimeter: Tune your COM Radio to the airport (or nearest) ATIS station (Automatic Terminal Information Service), to get the Barometric Pressure (also make note of the wind speed and direction), and then adjust your Altimeter to this setting. (Shortcut: Press "B" [Altimeter (reset)]).

Wind Direction (and speed): Take off (and Land) INTO the wind, so the wind direction determines what Runway you will use.  Wind direction is the heading that the wind is coming FROM.

From the FAA Aeronautical Information Manual (Chapter 2, Section 3; 2-3-3, part b): "Runway numbers and letters are determined from the approach direction. The runway number is the whole number nearest one‐tenth the magnetic azimuth of the centerline of the runway, measured clockwise from the magnetic north."
So, if you take off from Runway 9, you will be heading at ~90 degrees.

Example: if the Surface Wind is given as 80 @ 10, it means that the wind is blowing from 80 degrees (if you face 80 degrees, the wind would be in your face), and the wind's speed is 10 Knots (about 12 mph). [1 Knot = 1.15078 mph]. So, if your choice of runways is RW 9 & RW 27 (a single E/W strip), take of from RW 9 (since it has a heading of ~90 degrees, which is closer the the 80 degree wind direction).

The Traffic Pattern

Understanding the Traffic Pattern, and the proper technique in flying it is one of the first things you need to understand (and master), in order to be able to take off and land correctly. Patterns are flown while announcing your intentions on your radio, including which leg you are flying.

The above diagram shows the Traffic Pattern. The top half is the Right-Hand Pattern (RP), and the bottom half is the Left-Hand Pattern. (You may want to print a copy of this image, place t just below your monitor, rotating it so that it lines up with your P3D runway on approach.)

At Controlled Airports (with operating control towers), the arriving aircraft would be instructed on how and where to enter the pattern (or might be instructed to fly straight in). But the vast majority of airports do not have operating control towers . . . so they are designated as Non-Towered airports (also referred to as 'Pilot Controlled' or 'Non-Controlled' airports). I like the term Pilot Controlled Airports, because your landings are still controlled by the airport's approach and departures rules . . . and it is the pilot's responsibility to follow these rules. On VFR charts, towered airports are blue, and non-towered airports are magenta.

The standard recommended Pattern Altitude is 800 to 1000 feet AGL (above ground level), for piston, single-engine aircraft; and 1500 feet AGL for twins, turboprops and jets.

Your flying speed determines the size of the traffic pattern. When flying fixed-gear, single-engine aircraft, your downwind legs should be about 1/2 mile from the runway. This is based on flying at 70 to 80 knot airspeeds . . . so a faster aircraft should fly a larger pattern (be further from runway). Bank angles should not exceed 30 degrees (the size pattern recommended above requires banks of 20-30 degrees).

The Standard VFR Traffic Pattern Landing Procedure:
- The Standard Traffic Pattern is a left-hand traffic pattern, where all your in-pattern turns are to the left.
- Note: suggested speeds and distance listed below are for normal fixed-gear, single-engine aircraft in light or calm wind (adjust for higher performance aircraft, and for stronger winds).

1.) When you are approaching the airport, tune your COM radio to the airport's (or nearest) ATIS station and enter the barometric pressure into your altimeter (or press the "B" key). Select the runway that is the closest to the surface wind direction (remember, wind direction is the direction wind is coming from).

2.) Within 10 to 15 miles of your destination non-towered airport, tune your radio to the airport's Common Traffic Advisory Frequency (CTAF), and announce your position and intention to enter the traffic pattern and land.

3.) Before entering the pattern: decrease your altitude to 1000 feet AGL (use the airport's TP Altitude, if it is given) and your speed to 70 to 80 knots. [When a non-standard Traffic Pattern Altitude is required, it is added under the airport's Location Information section. directly under the airport's Elevation.]

4.) Enter the pattern at 45 to the downwind leg, about 0.5 to 1.0 mile from the runway, entering the pattern at the runway midpoint (midfield).
- Downwind Leg is flown parallel to the runway, in the opposite direction of landing (landings are made into the wind, so the downwind leg is flown with a tail wind.) In stronger winds, extra care must be taken to maintain approach speed while beginning your final descent.

5.) The Base Leg is a 90-degree turn toward the runway. You begin your base leg turn when the end of the runway is 135 degrees behind you (upon completing your turn, your intended touchdown point should be at about 45 degrees. After turning onto the base leg, start the descent by reducing power until your airspeed is approximately 1.4* your aircraft's VSO (VSO is your stalling speed). So, if your stalling speed is 60 knots, you should reduce your speed to 84 knots (1.4 * 60). Landing flaps may be partially lowered, once your speed has been reduce enough.

6.) Make the turn for Final when a 20 to 30 degree turn will bring you in line with the centerline of the runway.

Non-Standard Traffic Pattern Runways:
At some airports, a right-hand pattern is required for some runways. When an airport requires a right-hand pattern for one or more of its runways, it is on the aviation charts, under the airport, indicated by "RP" followed by the runway(s) affected. For airports in the United States, traffic pattern information, including the TP Altitude, is also listed in the Airport/Facility Directory, which you can view in SkyVector.

When you are landing at an airport with a non-standard Traffic Pattern Altitude, you have to adjust your airspeed, descent rate, and/or the size of the traffic pattern.

My "home" airport (the closest paved runway) is Mount Washington Regional Airport [KHIE]. Due to the terrain, it has a non-standard Traffic Pattern Altitude of 3072 (2000 AGL) and its single runway 10/28 has a left-hand pattern when landing in one
direction (for runway 10) and a right-hand pattern when landing in the opposite direction (for runway 28).


Making a VFR Approach (When to begin your descent):

A general rule of thumb is to start your descent three miles distant for every thousand feet of altitude (the 3-to-1 rule).

For example: if you are cruising at an altitude of 4,000 feet and your destination airport is at 1,000 feet elevation: (4,000-1000)/1000*3=9. This means you should begin your descent about 9 miles from your destination, maintaining your cruise speed, with a descent rate of 500 feet per minute.

To adjust above for wind: add an extra mile distance for every 5 knots of tailwind; and subtract an extra mile distance for every 5 knots of headwind.

Arwen Note: IFR approaches are controlled approaches, where you follow the instructions of the Air Traffic Controllers (ATC), but a non-towered airport can also have an Instrument Landing System (ILS). IRF approaches will be covered in the Air Traffic Control Section and in the ILS section.

I tied my best to explain Traffic Patterns, but if you are having trouble putting all this together, you may want to view this excellent Traffic Patterns Tutorial Video.

Flight Plans

This section will cover the creating of basic flight plans using Prepar3D's flight planner, but I'll also cover some other ways that you can plan for your flight.

SkyVector Website - An excellent Online Aeronautical Charts and Flight Planner

SkyVector Videos: SkyVector Flight Planner Review and (Aviation Tool) SkyVector

Plan-G - VFR Flight Planning Software for FSX, P3D, and X-Plane (Pay what you like - Click on the Donate button)

Make sure that you scroll down to download the latest version ( was released 7/15/14): "The 3.1.1 update brings a host of improvements aimed specifically at P3D users, as well as general improvements and fixes. There is a new manual completely revised and updated, and a separate version refitted with DotNet 4.0 for XP users."

Refer to the manual (the pdf manual is included with the download, and opens with "?" in upper right of Plan-G) to set up the program properly. If you set it up correctly, and leave it open while running Prepar3D, it will sync with P3D and you will be able to track your flights. There's also a tutorial starting at page 85, that you may want to try.

[More Coming Soon]

Air Traffic Control (ATC) & COM Radio

This section will mainly cover Prepar3D's default ATC, along with AI Traffic

A good place to start is the ATC section of the Prepar3D Learning Center: Online Link

- Arwen Note: When you install P3D, its Learning Center is also installed in the Prepar3D v2 directory (double click on Prepar3DLearningCenter.chm). The ATC part is under Contents/ Prepar3D Product/ Air Traffic Controller/ ATC Defined,

[More Coming Soon]

Navigation Instruments

This section explains some details of the most common instruments used for navigation in small general aviation aircraft.

The following non-military default aircraft are covered here:
Maule Orion, Beechcraft Baron, Beechcraft King Air, Beechcraft Bonanza, and Mooney Bravo.
[The Piper J3 Cub and the Extra 300s do not have Navigation Radios, so they are not included in this section.
[I am not currently covering the Mooney Acclaim nor the Beechcraft T-6 Texan because because they have less common (glass) NAV instruments.]

I'm also covering the following payware add-on aircraft:
A2A Cessna 172 and A2A Piper Cherokee, since they include both VOR 1 and VOR 2 indicators (but no HSI), which is common for many small aircraft.

Magnetic Compass & Heading Indicator:

Some small aircraft, like the Piper J3 Cub, only have a Magnetic Compass, but most also have a Heading Indicator. Because the Heading Indicator uses a gyroscope to keep it stable during banks and acceleration (which affect the magnetic compass), it is also called the Directional Gyro.

The A2A Cessna 172 and A2A Piper Cherokee (payware aircraft) have a conventional Heading Indicator (directional gyro. gauge).

In the Maule Orion, Beechcraft Baron, Beechcraft King Air, Beechcraft Bonanza, and Mooney Bravo: the directional gyro. is part of the Horizontal Situation Indicator (HSI).

Directional Gyro. (Cessna 172) Horizontal Situation Indicator (Bonanza)

Remember to Adjust the Heading Indicator to the Magnetic Compass reading, either manually (turn the PUSH knob) or press "D" [Heading Indicator (reset)]. [The HDG setting is linked with the Autopilot.]

ADF (Automatic Direction Finder) Indicator:

An ADF Indicator is included in the Beechcraft Bonanza, Mooney Bravo; and in the A2A Cessna 172 Trainer and Piper Cherokee.

NDB (Non Directional Beacon) Navigation:
NDB stations are the simplest navaids. Non-directional means that the signal transmitted does not include directional information, All they give you is the direction of the specific NBA your aircraft's location in relation to the NDB without any information about distance. Navigation is based on flying from one NDB station to another and the information abort reaching the NDB is acquired by change in the ADF (Advanced Direction Finder) gauge indication - the arrow flips downwards.

    The ADF Indicator is used to find the direction of a specific NDB Station (by tuning to that station's frequency on the ADF Receiver).

Note: you have to manually adjust the ADF heading, to your magnetic compass heading, by turning the HDG knob.

The advantage over a VOR in that reception is not limited to line of sight distances. The LF signals follow the curvature of the earth, and thus the maximum distance that an ADF is usable depends only on the power of the beacon.

The ADF Indicator on the left shows that the aircraft is on a 365 (North) compass heading and the bearing to the tuned NDB is 090 (East). 

Horizontal Situation Indicator (HSI):

The Bendix/KingHorizontal Situation Indicator (HSI): included in the Maule Orion, Beechcraft Baron, Beechcraft King Air (different model), Beechcraft Bonanza, and Mooney Bravo.

The HSI is only linked to the NAV 1 radio and the Auto Pilot (if the aircraft includes an AP).

The following is from the Pilot's Guide KCS 55A - Bendix/King Compass System (follow link for more info):

Bendix/King Horizontal Situation Indicator

Horizontal Situation Indicator (HSI): Combines the display functions of the standard Directional Gyro, the VOR and LOC deviation indicator, with the Glideslope display.

Lubber Line - A fixed white marker at the top of the display that indicates aircraft magnetic heading on the Compass Card.

Symbolic Aircraft - A fixed representation of the actual aircraft (always points toward the top of the display).

Selected Course Pointer - On this two-part arrow, the "head" indicates the desired VOR or Localizer course and the "tail" indicates the reciprocal. The pointer is set by rotating the Course Select Knob.

Course Select Knob - Used to rotate the Selected Course Pointer to the desired course on the Compass Card. This knob corresponds the the Omni Bearing Selector (OBS) on standard NAV indicators.

VOR/RNAV and LOC Deviation Bar - This bar corresponds to the "leftlri ht" needle on standard course deviation in8cators. When the aircraft is precisely on the VOR radial or Localizer course, it forms the center section of the selected course pointer and will be positioned under the symbolic aircraft. When off course or approaching a new course, it will move to one side or the other. Since the entire VOR and Localizer display rotates with the compass card, the angular relationship between the deviation bar and the symbolic aircraft provides a pictorial symbolic display of the aircraft's position with respect to the selected course.

Deviation Scale - When tuned to a VOR frequency, each white dot represents 2" of deviation left or right of course. When tuned to a Localizer, the deviation is 1/2 degree per dot. In RNAV "APPR" mode the scale is 1/4 nm per dot. In RNAV 'ENROUTE" mode the scale is 1 nm per dot. [This is true of all King and most other RNAV systems.]

Heading Select Bug - A movable orange marker on the outer perimeter of the display, used primarily to select the desired heading you wish to fly. This desired heading is coupled to the KAP 200 Autopilot or KFC 200 Flight Director to provide the "Heading Select" function.

Heading Select Knob - Used to rotate the . heading select bug to a desired point on the compass card.

To-From Indicator - A white triangle near the center of the display that indicates, with reference to the OBS setting, whether the course selected is "to" or "from" the selected VOR station and/or RNAV waypoint.

Dual Glideslope Pointers - Chartreuse triangular pointers on either side of the display drop into view when a usable Glideslope signal is received and retract out of view when the Glideslope signal becomes marginal. During an ILS approach, these pointers represent the vertical orientation of the aircraft with respect to the center of the Glideslope beam. When on Glideslope, the pointers will align with the center markers on the Glideslope scale.

Glideslope Deviation Scale - White dots on each side of the display which, in conjunction with the Glideslope pointers, indicate either "above", below", or "on Glideslope" during an ILS approach.

Compass Warning Flag - A red flag labeled "HDG" becomes visible in the upper right quadrant of the display whenever the electrical power is inadequate or the directional gyro is not up to speed. Compass failures can occur which will not be annunciated by the 'HDG' flag. Therefore, periodic compari- son with the standby compass is advised.

NAV Warning Flag - A red flag labeled "NAV" becomes visible in the upper left quadrant of the display whenever a usable VOR or Localizer signal is not being received. [If RNAV is installed and the system is in RNAV mode, both VOR and, DME must be usable before the NAV flag will disappear.]

VOR-1 and VOR-2 Omni-Bearing Indicators (OBI):

OBI (VOR 2 indicator): included in the Maule Orion, Beechcraft Bonanza, and Mooney Bravo.
The A2A Cessna 172 and A2A Piper Cherokee (payware aircraft) include both VOR 1 and VOR 2 indicators (but no HSI).

The VOR 1 Indicator (when no HSI is present)  is linked to the NAV 1 radio. The VOR-2 Omni-Bearing Indicator (OBI) is linked to the NAV 2 radio.

Bendix/King VOR Navigation Indicators
(VOR1/VOR2 from A2A Cessna 172 Trainer)


Below is the Radio Stack for the default Mooney Bravo:

  Audio Select Buttons
COMM1/NAV1 (dual radio): Left half for voice communications with ATC, other aircraft, and weather/airport information broadcasts. Right half used to tune in VOR and ILS beacons. [see below for more]
COMM2/NAV2 (additional/backup radios):
The VOR-2 Omni-Bearing Indicator (OBI) is linked to the NAV 2 radio.
ADF (Automatic Direction Finder): when set to specific NDB Station's frequency (currently set to 332 MHz), the ADF gauge points in the direction of the station, when it is in range
DME (Distance Measuring Equipment): displays the distance to a specified VOR/DME beacon. Switchable between NAV1 and NAV2 radio.
Transponder: used to identify the aircraft on the ATC's radar screen. Current set to the default VFR Squawk Code of 1200. [see below for more]
Auto Pilot: Varies between aircraft. Some of the features o the one here include, maintaining your Directional Gyro's heading setting, holding your altitude, or climb/descend at a set rate. It can also couple to the GPS receiver to make approaches.

COMM1/NAV1 (dual radio): Left half for voice COMMunications with ATC, other aircraft, and listening to weather/airport information broadcasts. Right half used to tune in VOR and ILS beacons for NAVigation (used with VOR instruments). Frequency is changed on right side and remains in standby mode until you press the standby button, which switches it the active frequency side.  The HSI or the VOR 1 Indicator (when no HSI  is present) is linked to the NAV 1 radio.

Transponder: radio transmitter used to identify the aircraft on the ATC's radar screen. The aircraft is assigned a Squawk Code by the ATC, which is entered into the transponder by the pilot. The default transponder code for all VFR aircraft is 1200, which you should use when you are not in contact with ATC. If you request "Flight Following" during an VFR flight, the ATC will assign you a unique Squawk Code. In in IFR flight, before you get clearance, your transponder should be set to 1200; as soon as you receive clearance, you will be assigned a unique Squawk Code to enter into your transponder.

ILS Approaches

To fly an ILS Approach, you need the ILS frequency and the exact heading for the runway.

There are a number of way to get the ILS frequencies and headings:

1.) If you are in an aircraft that has a GPS, use it to find the airport, scroll through the list of frequencies, and then auto-tune your NAV1 Standby radio to the localizer (ILS) frequency.

2.) Open the Map View and either click on the airport (which give information on the airport), or hover the cursor over the localizer/ILS feather and the frequency will be included with the popup text.

3.) Find the airport in an aviation charts, but understand that the frequency for an airport in real aviation charts are not always the same as the frequency used by the flightsim.

[Coming Soon]

VOR Navigation

[Coming Soon]

Using the GPS

[Coming Soon]


[Coming Soon]


Flight Simulator Navigation - Charles Wood's site hasn't been updated since 2008, but it has a lot of really good information about flightsim navigation. His tutorials are designed to be used with the free FSX Cessna Nav Trainer, which unfortunately is NOT compatible with Prepar3D; but you should still be able to apply the tutorials to other small aircraft.

VFR Aeronautical Charts: Explanation of VFR Terms and Symbols (pdf) - read this one first and you may want to print it, as it is only 7 pages long.

FAA's Aeronautical Chart User's Guide (pdf) - This one goes into a LOT more detail and is a LOT longer.

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