Aviation flight plotters are a crucial part of cross country navigation, and learning to use them well is a core step in any private and commercial pilot license training. You’ll need an aviation flight plot once local training sorties are completed, all the way through to the general flying progress test or restricted license category.
What is an aviation plotter?
At its most basic, a flight plotter can consist of a straight edge to draw a lime and a protractor to measure angles – the leg track, which is always measured halfway along the track to average out magnetic errors. This track is measured in map north, which, depending on the map could be coincident with true north – to calculate the magnetic track a pilot must then apply magnetic deviation.
Pilots must also ensure to account for the magnetic variance of their compass. The straight edge can then be used to measure the distance and compare it to the scale of the map.
How do you use an aviation plotter?
Plotters and slide rules allow pilots to plot ground tracks on airspace charts such as sectionals, and topographical maps. This allows the pilots to measure the basics such as magnetic tracks, distances, to produce a ‘nil wind flight Plan’.
On the day of the flight, using forecast winds, the pilot can then use slide rules or mental arithmetic (mental dead reckoning) to calculate drift kill headings to fly and flight times, allowing more accurate fuel planning and the start of the pilots in flight navigation log. This also allows submission of an accurate flight notification to air traffic control, which is not mandatory but is strongly recommended when flying in controlled airspace to expedite obtaining airways clearances.
Spinning winds, as it’s called, also aids navigation as pilots visually navigating can associate topographical features as navigation checkpoints, such as towns or rivers, and pilots operating under the instrument flight rules can obtain accurate estimates for leg times and frequency change boundaries.
Aviation Plotter vs Flight Computer
Aviation plotters and flight computers go hand in hand with navigating.
Once you’ve plotted a course, a slide rule or ‘whizz wheel’ such as a Jeppesen CR-3 or E6B can be used to calculate true airspeeds, determine leg timings and make in-flight corrections due to navigational errors or changes to forecast winds to correct timings. Whilst they look daunting, with minimal training using the supplied manufacturers instruction manuals they are very easy to use and you can spin up your answers very quickly and accurately – just remember to gross error check your calculates answer against rough mental math to ‘keep them honest’ and you can’t go wrong. Most whizz wheels have all the same features, and the variation in size is mostly down to pilot preference –
Best Plotter – ASA Aviation Plotter
The ASA Aviation Plotter is one of the best pilot plotters and does a perfect job for a low price. The ASA Aviation Plotter can be used to plot a track, measure the track, and then assists the pilot In applying magnetic deviation, wind correction angle and magnetic variation to provide a magnetic heading for the pilot to fly.
Having a clear backing helps and crisp, parallel lines on the plotter makes it easy to align to the maps latitude graticules for north, and the rotating plotter means you can hold the center stable whilst you move the straight edge to either measure your course, or conversely to plot a course of a known track,
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Best Student Pilot Flight Computer – ASA E6B
I find that my students tend to prefer the larger E6B flight computer, as it is a bit easier to work with and read the numbers. The ASA E6B comes with a comprehensive instruction manual, as well as handy reminders printed on the unit itself.
You can also get the E6B in a low-cost cardboard version, although I would strongly recommend you pay a little more for the metal version which is much more durable. A metal version of the E6B will last a lifetime, making it a valuable investment in your aviation career
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Best Pro Flight Computer – Jeppesen CR-2 and CR-3
The CR family of whizz wheels is suited for professional use. This is the true ‘Whizz wheel’ that all professional pilots have in arms reach for operational flight computer calculations; High-speed mach conversions, low speed indicated airspeed and knot conversions, wind triangles, polar grid navigation and even pressure pattern flying.
The larger CR-3 is best suited for times when you need to be highly accurate – like during your Airline Transport Pilot Licence theory exams. The larger 6-inch diameter wheel makes it easy to manipulate and reading it is a breeze.
The smaller CR-2 is best suited for operational use, as it fits easily in a custom pilot shirt top pocket for easy access in flight. Although it is a little smaller than the CR-3 coming in at 4 and a quarter inch diameter, it is still very easy to use and read, but you won’t get as accurate an answer as you will for the larger CR-3. This is acceptable if you are using the CR-2 for gross error checking of your aircraft Flight Management System or inertial/GPS navigation suite.
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Once you’ve progressed to flying cross country and short navigation flights, you’ll need to get yourself a good aviation plotter and flight computer. Flying software and flight computers make our lives easier, but being able to navigate manually is essential in case you lose avionics during flight, or your iPad dies. With a bit of practice and experience, you’ll be a master at using them both in the air.
Which plotter/whizz wheel do you use? let us know in the comments below