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Weekly tips, technique and training from IFR.

GPS Makes Us Lazy
Stuff happens. Things break. When they do, it wont be nearly as dire an emergency if you use RNAV and your moving map as a tool, not a crutch.

GPS Makes Us Lazy

If youre always flying the magenta line and arriving via pre-loaded RNAV approaches, maybe youre not working hard enough. In the process, youre losing critical skills.

Face it: We love our GPS. Many of us fly with two of ’em installed, plus a portable for good measure. It’s arguably the most revolutionary advance in navigation, automation and IFR capabilities. Satellites now allow the most basic aircraft to navigate with amazing precision. However, there are caveats for modern RNAV pilots. We’ve become overly dependent on GPS when it comes to the cornerstone of IFR navigation—situational awareness (SA). That means many of us are losing touch with the basic skill of knowing where we are in our heads, not just on the moving map. Also, like any piece of equipment, we need to use GPS as a tool, not a crutch, especially when a trip changes drastically due to weather, systems malfunctions, and the like.

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ICAO Flight Plan Update

Like a comet on a collision course for earth, ICAO flight plans are coming. This, our second glimpse through the telescope, shows its just as complicated, but gives us some easy outs.

It only takes a cursory look at an ICAO flight plan form to get cranial blood-vessel spasms and the resultant migraine. Who starts a form at item seven? Yes, you really have to look up aircraft type codes in ICAO DOC 8643. Can equipment codes really use the whole alphabet, indecipherable by humans? Do they really have only one remarks box that serves as an explanation for nearly every other box on the whole form? Despite the form’s flaws and seemingly unfathomable complexities, the FAA is committed to drag U.S. pilots to the ICAO flight plan. Since the ICAO form is already required for flights utilizing performance based navigation (PBN), flying in RVSM airspace, utilizing ADS-B services, and flights outside the U.S., everybody else might as well share the pain.

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Is Route Planning Dead?

Regardless of what you file, your clearance is going to be what works best for the National Airspace System. Is there any reason to bother actually picking a route anymore?

A pilot working on his instrument rating asked if it would be better to carefully plan a route or simply file direct. Some of his buddies recommended researching the route and filing via airways, while others suggested just filing direct and being done with it. Of course, for instrument students, the best resource is your instructor, but let us put this question into perspective. We now live in a world where it’s simple to navigate directly to any point on Earth. As recently as about 25 years ago, there was no question because there was no simple way to navigate distances direct. (VOR/DME-based RNAV filing was certainly a fun exercise though.)

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Revere the Runway

Revere the Runway

For ATC, protecting the most precious real estate in all of aviation requires close attention and a big pile of rules, with increasing assistance from technology.

Everyone’s sensitive about something—weight gain or receding hairlines, for instance, or the things you shouldn’t talk about at family dinners, like religion and politics. Air traffic control’s soft spot? Runways. You don’t mess with the runways. They may have all kinds of shapes and surfaces—concrete, dirt, grass, even water—but they’re all sacred ground when aircraft are using them. The sky’s plenty big, but airport runways are quite finite. Bad things can happen quickly in those confined spaces, and runway incursion numbers have been steadily increasing. To stave off the unthinkable, air traffic controllers wield a constantly evolving arsenal of procedures, technology, and phraseology in their efforts to keep pilots safe and informed.

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Weather Modeling

Weather Modeling

With all the standard charts at your fingertips, you still wonder what exactly will be happening at your destination. Consider using the models the forecasters use.

In Wx Smarts we focus on outsmarting the weather through heightened weather-situational awareness. Yet, in my three years here, I haven’t discussed forecast models. It’s time. Models don’t yet belong in the cockpit, but they can be valuable for planning and understanding what’s going through the minds of the forecasters. Plus, models are useful for long-range outlooks.

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Flight Planning Services

Many services for flight planning provide ICAO options. I played around with a couple to see which ones are the most user friendly and caught errors. All of these services are free.

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