Tips for Using GPS for VFR Operations
Always check to see if the unit has RAIM capability. If no RAIM capability exists, be suspicious of a GPS displayed position when any disagreement exists with the position derived from other radio navigation systems, pilotage, or dead reckoning.
Check the currency of the database, if any. If expired, update the database using the current revision. If an update of an expired database is not possible, disregard any moving map display of airspace for critical navigation decisions. Be aware that named waypoints may no longer exist or may have been relocated since the database expired. At a minimum, the waypoints to be used should be verified against a current official source, such as the Chart Supplement U.S. or a Sectional Aeronautical Chart.
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While a hand-held GPS receiver can provide excellent navigation capability to VFR pilots, be prepared for intermittent loss of navigation signal, possibly with no RAIM warning to the pilot. If mounting the receiver in the aircraft, be sure to comply with 14 CFR part 43.
Plan flights carefully before taking off. If navigating to user-defined waypoints, enter them prior to flight, not on the fly. Verify the planned flight against a current source, such as a current sectional chart. There have been cases in which one pilot used waypoints created by another pilot that were not where the pilot flying was expecting. This generally resulted in a navigation error. Minimize head-down time in the aircraft and maintain a sharp lookout for traffic, terrain, and obstacles. Just a few minutes of preparation and planning on the ground makes a great difference in the air.
Another way to minimize head-down time is to become very familiar with the receiver’s operation. Most receivers are not intuitive. The pilot must take the time to learn the various keystrokes, knob functions, and displays that are used in the operation of the receiver. Some manufacturers provide computer-based tutorials or simulations of their receivers. Take the time to learn about the particular unit before using it in flight.
In summary, be careful not to rely on GPS to solve all VFR navigational problems. Unless an IFR receiver is installed in accordance with IFR requirements, no standard of accuracy or integrity can be assured. While the practicality of GPS is compelling, the fact remains that only the pilot can navigate the aircraft, and GPS is just one of the pilot’s tools to do the job.
VFR waypoints provide VFR pilots with a supplementary tool to assist with position awareness while navigating visually in aircraft equipped with area navigation receivers. VFR waypoints should be used as a tool to supplement current navigation procedures. The use of VFR waypoints include providing navigational aids for pilots unfamiliar with an area, waypoint definition of existing reporting points, enhanced navigation in and around Class B and Class C airspace, and enhanced navigation around Special Use Airspace. VFR pilots should rely on appropriate and current aeronautical charts published specifically for visual navigation. If operating in a terminal area, pilots should take advantage of the Terminal Area Chart available for the area, if published. The use of VFR waypoints does not relieve the pilot of any responsibility to comply with the operational requirements of 14 CFR part 91.
VFR waypoint names (for computer entry and flight plans) consist of five letters beginning with the letters “VP” and are retrievable from navigation databases. The VFR waypoint names are not intended to be pronounceable, and they are not for use in ATC communications. On VFR charts, a stand-alone VFR waypoint is portrayed using the same four-point star symbol used for IFR waypoints. VFR waypoint collocated with a visual checkpoint on the chart is identified by a small magenta flag symbol. A VFR waypoint collocated with a visual checkpoint is pronounceable based on the name of the visual checkpoint and may be used for ATC communications. Each VFR waypoint name appears in parentheses adjacent to the geographic location on the chart. Latitude/longitude data for all established VFR waypoints may be found in the appropriate regional Chart Supplement U.S.
When filing VFR flight plans, use the five-letter identifier as a waypoint in the route of flight section if there is an intended course change at that point or if used to describe the planned route of flight. This VFR filing would be similar to VOR use in a route of flight. Pilots must use the VFR waypoints only when operating under VFR conditions.
Any VFR waypoints intended for use during a flight should be loaded into the receiver while on the ground and prior to departure. Once airborne, pilots should avoid programming routes or VFR waypoint chains into their receivers.
Pilots should be especially vigilant for other traffic while operating near VFR waypoints. The same effort to see and avoid other aircraft near VFR waypoints is necessary, as is the case when operating near VORs and NDBs. In fact, the increased accuracy of navigation through the use of GPS demands even greater vigilance as there are fewer off-course deviations among different pilots and receivers. When operating near a VFR waypoint, use all available ATC services, even if outside a class of airspace where communications are required. Regardless of the class of airspace, monitor the available ATC frequency closely for information on other aircraft operating in the vicinity. It is also a good idea to turn on landing light(s) when operating near a VFR waypoint to make the aircraft more conspicuous to other pilots, especially when visibility is reduced.