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How to Use a VFR Plotter

by Darren Smith, CFII/MEI
Navigation:  Featured Products | Pay for Services | NewsAnswerman | OnlineBFR/IPC | Guestbook | Success Stories | Reader Poll | Visi-Hold (Never wonder about hold entries) | IFR Checkride Reviewer | General Aviation Human FactorsGetting the Most From Your Flight Training | Visi-Plotter

Cross Country Links:  Cross Country Flight Planning | Visi-Plotter | How to Use a VFR Plotter

In this example, we are using Visi-Plotter to plan our cross country from Watertown Regional Airport (ATY) to Wheaton Airport (ETH).  The scenario is the pilot was requested to plan a VFR cross country of at least 50NM for his Private Pilot Checkride.

Step 1—Ensure the distance to your destination meets the requirements.  In this case, it appears to be 57.5NM.  Perfect.

 Step 2—Draw the course line.

Step 3—Add some meaningful visual checkpoints.  Things that you’ll be able to see from the air are perfect.  I’ve numbered them in this diagram but it’s not necessary for you to do this step.  Your flight instructor may well instruct you to make your visual checkpoints no more than 10NM apart.

As you can see, Checkpoint #1 is when the mountain is abeam the aircraft on the left side at the 12NM point.  Checkpoint #2 is when the course crosses some power lines at the 23NM point.  Checkpoint #3 is when the course crosses some railroad tracks at the 31NM point.  Checkpoint #4 is when the course crosses a river at the 39NM point.  Checkpoint #5 is when the course crosses a very small river at the 51NM point.  The destination, Wheaton, is at 57.5NM from the start of the cross country.

Step 4—Determine the True Course.  This requires aligning the plotter with a line of longitude or meridian.  I’ve highlighted this line on the chart so you can easily see it.  You are not required to do this.  See picture to the right. 

 A.  Align the plotter base line with the meridian. See blue arrow starting from the top left corner.

B.  Next, align your course line directly under the hole in the plotter. 

C. Finally, read the true course along the protractor.  In this case, you can see that the true course is 25°. I’ve circled it in blue so you can easily identify it. 

NOTE:  Since you are going in an Easterly direction, you’ll always read from the top scale.  When you return back to Watertown Regional (the home base of the aircraft), you’ll be heading in a Westerly direction.  In that case, you’d use the bottom set of numbers. 

Step 5—Prepare your flight planning paperwork
& fly your cross country.

Step 6—Examiner throws a curve ball at you!  Over Checkpoint #2, your examiner says divert to Milbank airport.  The smart pilot you are, you notice the power lines go right to Milbank!  Unfortunately, if you follow the power lines, you’ve failed the checkride.  Thank goodness you read this!

Step 7—Draw the course line to the emergency divert airport.  Make a note of the mileage as well.  Ok 15NM to get to Milbank Airport.  You'll need to find the Compass heading to get there so extend the green line back to the meridian.  Line up your plotter and make note of the true course.  In this case, the true course is 095° to get to Milbank Airport.  The problem is that True Course is not a Compass Heading. 

Step 8—Use the scratchpad to figure out the Compass Heading.   Your already figured out the Wind Correction Angle (WCA), Variation, and Deviation in your preflight cross country planning.  You already wrote those figures on your plotter just in case this happened!  Use your pencil to quickly figure out your Compass Heading by putting in 095° and doing the math.  Your Compass Heading is 098°.

Step 9—Fly the Correct Compass Heading.

Step 10—Figure out time & fuel to your divert Airport.  Your examiner will want to know that you can quickly determine how much fuel & time it’s going to take to travel 15NM to your divert airport.

Step 11—Pass your checkride!  Thanks, Visi-Plotter!

 "Always keep an 'out' in your hip pocket." — Bevo Howard

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