One challenge I enjoyed most learning to fly was flying from one place to another. In the aviation business, they call this flying cross-country. It truly is a great challenge and immensely fun. It is also a fascinating science.
The ancient Polynesians are some of the most fascinating navigators to have lived on earth. More than a thousand years before the birth of Christ, they navigated from New Guinea and the Solomon islands far out into the Pacific Ocean. They sailed to and from the Hawaiian Islands weeks at a time, carrying all of their food and water and navigating without instruments, charts, or printed timetables.
They used the stars instead of navigational instruments. They were a very observant people and knew how the stars rotated around the world in the Pacific sky. Using their hands as rudimentary sextants, and songs passed down from one generation of navigators to next, they sailed across open oceans with uncanny precision.
To me, traveling from one point precisely to another is fascinating. Navigation is easy to understand when traveling on the surface of the earth. It was a simple matter of following directions. In other words, you can travel down Highway 92 for 3.8 miles, see the library on the right hand side of the road, turn left at that intersection, and find your way in this way anywhere on the ground.
Navigation at sea, however, was completely different. They are no checkpoints on the open ocean with which to check your course. A similar situation exists in the sky. At least in my mind it did, until I learned about the process of going from point A to point B.
In the beginning, learning how to navigate in the air seemed very confusing and difficult. I quickly found, however, that it was not. Like many things in life, you just have to be careful in your planning and then follow through with your plan.
I soon learned about the compass rose, how to determine direction, and how to measure distance. After drawing a line on the chart, it is no more complicated than putting the airplane on a heading and following that line along the ground.
Sure, it can be a little more complicated than that, but not too terribly so. These are the basics: to determine the course, estimate the airspeed and figure out the effect of the wind, measure the distance, and hold heading for the required time.
Today, many new student pilots are dependent on GPS and are unable to find their way around when the technology fails. Back in the early 1970s, GPS was not available and the airplanes I learned to fly in lacked electrical systems anyway. In other words, if you were unable to draw a line on a chart, set a heading, hold airspeed, and determine your checkpoints, more than likely you became lost.
The funny thing about student pilots is that they rarely become lost; pilots only get lost after becoming certified private pilots and grow a little too cocky.
©2011 J. Clark
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