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Dead Reckoning (Part One)

by Flight Learnings

in Navigation

Dead reckoning is navigation solely by means of computations based on time, airspeed, distance, and direction. The products derived from these variables, when adjusted by wind speed and velocity, are heading and GS. The predicted heading takes the aircraft along the intended path and the GS establishes the time to arrive at each checkpoint and the destination. Except for flights over water, dead reckoning is usually used with pilotage for cross-country flying. The heading and GS as calculated is constantly monitored and corrected by pilotage as observed from checkpoints.

The Wind Triangle or Vector Analysis

If there is no wind, the aircraft’s ground track is the same as the heading and the GS is the same as the true airspeed. This condition rarely exists. A wind triangle, the pilot’s version of vector analysis, is the basis of dead reckoning.

The wind triangle is a graphic explanation of the effect of wind upon flight. GS, heading, and time for any flight can be determined by using the wind triangle. It can be applied to the simplest kind of cross-country flight as well as the most complicated instrument flight. The experienced pilot becomes so familiar with the fundamental principles that estimates can be made which are adequate for visual flight without actually drawing the diagrams. The beginning student, however, needs to develop skill in constructing these diagrams as an aid to the complete understanding of wind effect. Either consciously or unconsciously, every good pilot thinks of the flight in terms of wind triangle.

If flight is to be made on a course to the east, with a wind blowing from the northeast, the aircraft must be headed somewhat to the north of east to counteract drift. This can be represented by a diagram as shown in Figure 15-19. Each line represents direction and speed. The long blue and white hashed line shows the direction the aircraft is heading, and its length represents the distance the airspeed for 1 hour. The short blue arrow at the right shows the wind direction, and its length represents the wind velocity for 1 hour. The solid yellow line shows the direction of the track or the path of the aircraft as measured over the earth, and its length represents the distance traveled in 1 hour, or the GS.

Figure 15-19. Principle of the wind triangle.

Figure 15-19. Principle of the wind triangle.

In actual practice, the triangle illustrated in Figure 15-19 is not drawn; instead, construct a similar triangle as shown by the blue, yellow, and black lines in Figure 15-20, which is explained in the following example.

Figure 15-20. The wind triangle as is drawn in navigation practice.

Figure 15-20. The wind triangle as is drawn in navigation practice.

Suppose a flight is to be flown from E to P. Draw a line on the aeronautical chart connecting these two points; measure its direction with a protractor, or plotter, in reference to a meridian. This is the true course, which in this example is assumed to be 090° (east). From the NWS, it is learned that the wind at the altitude of the intended flight is 40 knots from the northeast (045°). Since the NWS reports the wind speed in knots, if the true airspeed of the aircraft is 120 knots, there is no need to convert speeds from knots to mph or vice versa.

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