Pilotage is navigation by reference to landmarks or checkpoints. It is a method of navigation that can be used on any course that has adequate checkpoints, but it is more commonly used in conjunction with dead reckoning and VFR radio navigation.
The checkpoints selected should be prominent features common to the area of the flight. Choose checkpoints that can be readily identified by other features such as roads, rivers, railroad tracks, lakes, and power lines. If possible, select features that make useful boundaries or brackets on each side of the course, such as highways, rivers, railroads, and mountains. A pilot can keep from drifting too far off course by referring to and not crossing the selected brackets. Never place complete reliance on any single checkpoint. Choose ample checkpoints. If one is missed, look for the next one while maintaining the heading. When determining position from checkpoints, remember that the scale of a sectional chart is 1 inch = 8 SM or 6.86 NM. For example, if a checkpoint selected was approximately one-half inch from the course line on the chart, it is 4 SM or 3.43 NM from the course on the ground. In the more congested areas, some of the smaller features are not included on the chart. If confused, hold the heading. If a turn is made away from the heading, it is easy to become lost.
Roads shown on the chart are primarily the well-traveled roads or those most apparent when viewed from the air. New roads and structures are constantly being built, and may not be shown on the chart until the next chart is issued. Some structures, such as antennas may be difficult to see. Sometimes TV antennas are grouped together in an area near a town. They are supported by almost invisible guy wires. Never approach an area of antennas less than 500 feet above the tallest one. Most of the taller structures are marked with strobe lights to make them more visible to a pilot. However, some weather conditions or background lighting may make them difficult to see. Aeronautical charts display the best information available at the time of printing, but a pilot should be cautious for new structures or changes that have occurred since the chart was printed.
Learn more about flight navigation with the Aviator’s Guide to Navigation. One of the best books on the market to refine your navigation skills. The Fourth Edition of this comprehensive guide explains the full range of air navigation innovations, covering all the new technologies and tools that have emerged in the past ten years.