Visual navigation


  1. To land at a controlled aerodrome
  2. To navigate at low level
  3. To land at an unattended aerodrome


[For full details of the techniques used refer to: Practical Flying Guide 1 - Visual Navigation.]

Like the previous lesson, the instructor will have given the student a route to plan in advance, with a controlled aerodrome at the end of the first leg and an unattended aerodrome at the end of the second leg.

The student should carry out all the normal planning with some assistance from the instructor. Ensure that the landing and take-off performance at the land away airfields are considered using the AFM.

During the briefing, check the student’s planning, including their assessment of the weather and NOTAMs. Brief the R/T procedures required when transiting or entering controlled airspace, as well as those for arriving at a controlled airfield. Referring to the AIP discuss the published procedures and relevant information for the airfield. Review the layout, signage, taxiways, holding points, refuelling points and the likely routing to a suitable parking area after landing.

In the same way review R/T and procedures published in the AIP for joining at an unattended aerodrome.

Discuss the use of the “Minimum VFR Altitude to Continue” as a decision-making tool before there is a need to fly at low-level. However, if a rapid and unexpected change of the weather takes place, flight at low level may be required. Discuss the effect of operating at low-level on the ability to see features on the map, particularly the inability to see lateral features (towns, lakes, wooded areas, etc), whereas vertical features such as masts, aerials and some elements of terrain become more obvious. Aspects of wind effect and illusions learnt in the Low Flying exercises, will be applied where relevant.

Discuss the checks recommended before descent and the configuration to be used, and revise Rule 91.311 Minimum heights for VFR flights.


The student should adopt a structured and time-based approach to navigating, distributing tasks and managing workload.

Self-discipline needs to be applied in holding a heading, and only changing the heading when properly re-calculated.

Care must be taken to avoid becoming too absorbed in the navigating alone, but to ensure other important tasks are being attended to, such as lookout, radio calls, planning an arrival or standard overhead join, and cruise checks.

Aircraft management

As taught in the last lesson, aircraft management is integrated into the workflow and should include regular cruise checks, leaning of the mixture, as well as fuel monitoring and recording.

Human factors

Workload management, using time frames, resulting in a thorough lookout and situational awareness being maintained. Use of TIME-MAP-GROUND to counter any disorientation, and descent checks for low level.

Air exercise

The first part of the lesson should be a revision of the previous lesson, starting prior to take-off where the student briefs the aerodrome departure and heading to the SP. After take-off they should climb to the SP and set course on the first leg. Throughout the flight the student’s task is to fly the aircraft and navigate using the previously taught techniques. During the periods where the map is stowed, the student should be including collection of the ATIS (if applicable) and, with assistance, briefing the arrival. Approaching the controlled airspace, which can be identified using TIME-MAP-GROUND, the instructor should take responsibility for the R/T in order to demonstrate the correct calls and read-back of the clearance. Some guidance may be required to enable the student to orientate themselves as the destination airfield is approached. It is sometimes better to take control and demonstrate a join at the airfield if it appears to be becoming difficult for the student, rather than make a hurried join with the instructor delivering instructions for the student to follow. Once established in the circuit, control can be passed back to the student to complete the circuit and landing. On the ground vacate the runway and, if possible, stop to review the airfield layout on the AIP plate. The instructor should take control whilst taxiing and negotiating any runway crossing, pointing out relevant signage and R/T procedures. The student can follow along by looking at the plate. Navigating on the ground at an un-familiar airfield can be quite challenging and presents many threats. It is important to teach this well as part of this phase of training.

The student can carry out all the necessary actions and procedures to get airborne again, and set off on track at normal operating altitude, on the second leg of the planned route. Once established, simulate an un-forecast and rapid lowering cloud base ahead by nominating a maximum operating altitude and allow the student to practise descending to and operating at low level. Additionally, poor visibility could be simulated, and the student could then revise the adoption of the poor visibility configuration. If this configuration is used, a correction to the estimated time for the leg should be calculated, as well as amending the fuel plan.

Once established at the lower cruise altitude, take control and teach the changes in features that are now visible, as well as the need to anticipate ground features coming into view. Highlight the value of being able to follow a suitable line feature to achieve the next turning point, if one is available. When following a line feature, revise the need to keep the feature on the left. If it is not be possible to fly in a straight-line track, teach how maintain an awareness of the overall heading being flown and time being taken, to prevent disorientation.

Approaching the unattended airfield, the low-level part of the exercise is complete, and the aircraft can be climbed back up to the normal operating altitude, from which point the joining procedure can be practised. If the student’s workload is getting too high at this point, take control to allow them to catch up and be fully prepared. Once the student has caught up again, hand over control.

Once the student has landed the aircraft, the student should follow the procedures for vacating the runway, giving way to other aircraft, crossing runways, observing signage and making the radio calls as applicable.

On the third leg, the student can practice their low-level navigation returning to the home airfield.

2 Landing away whiteboard layout [PDF 314 KB]

3 Weather and diversion