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Aeronautical charts and compass

Rev. 45 page content was last changed 22 January


Flight Planning and Navigation

Pilots operating under the Visual Flight Rules in Australia are required to carry and have
readily accessible in the aircraft the latest issues of the aeronautical charts and other
aeronautical information relative to the flight.
The charts used for air navigation are overlaid with a coordinate reference graticule system
showing the local meridians of longitude and the parallels of latitude. In aviation, surface
locations are generally defined in terms of latitude and longitude, while chart directions in
azimuth are referenced in relation to true north. Topographical charts also indicate terrain
elevation by the use of contour lines and thus safe operating altitude above terrain can be
The prime navigational direction instrument the magnetic compass aligns itself with
the north magnetic pole and, in Australia, the variation between the direction to true north
and that to magnetic north can be as much as 13.


2.1 Defining position latitude, longitude, altitude and time

Lateral dimensions
Effect of continental drift on precise location
The third positional dimension altitude
Universal Coordinated Time

2.2 Defining the shape of the Earth ellipsoids and geoids

The World Geodetic System 1984
Chart elevation reference the height datum
The Australian geoid
The WGS84 ellipsoid, geoid-ellipsoid separation and GPS altitude

2.3 Aeronautical charts

Chart system basics

Recommended VFR charts
Carriage of flight documentation
Digitised aeronautical charts

2.4 Map topography

2.5 Defining direction the aircraft direct reading magnetic compass

Magnetic variation
Compass deviation

Things that are handy to know

2.1 Defining position latitude, longitude, altitude and time

Lateral dimensions
In aerial navigation any point on the Earth's surface may be precisely defined in terms of a
latitude and longitude graticule reference.
Meridians of longitude are half 'great circles', perpendicular to the equator, that extend
from pole to pole. The meridians are identified by the angle that they subtend, at the centre
of the Earth, with the prime meridian. That angle is measured in degrees, minutes and
seconds east or west from the prime meridian:
the WGS84 International Reference Meridian or 0 longitude or prime meridian
passes about 102 metres east of the originally defined Greenwich meridian at
the Greenwich Observatory, England
subsequent meridians are identified as degrees east or west around to 180
there are 60 minutes of arc in a degree and 60 seconds of arc in a minute.
Parallels of latitude are 'small circles' drawn around the Earth starting from the
equatorial plane, north and south of the equator and parallel with it and reducing in
circumference toward the poles. For our purposes we can say that parallels are
identified by the angle that they subtend with the equatorial plane, i.e. they are
geodetic*, measured in degrees, minutes and seconds and whether they lie north or
south of the equator:
the north pole has a latitude of 90N
the south pole has a latitude of 90S
the equator has a latitude of 0 and is a great circle, in that it is formed by
a plane that passes through the Earth's centre, bisecting the Earth's

*Note: in satellite navigation latitude is defined in relation to the Earth's centre

of mass and to the ellipsoid, the term used is 'geocentric latitude'. See 'Latitude
and Longitudes in Geodesy'.
One nautical mile is the length, at the Earth's mean sea level surface, of one
minute of arc of a great circle. The International Nautical Mile is 1852 metres or
6076.1 feet. Consequently, one degree of latitude (measured along a meridian)
has an equivalent surface distance of 60 nautical miles, and one second of
latitude is about 31 metres, while 1/100th of a second is about 0.3m. Seconds
of arc are generally not used in aeronautical publications; latitude and longitude
is expressed in degrees plus minutes to (generally) one decimal place about
185 m. For example the reference point for Mount Beauty airstrip in Victoria is
located at S36 44.1' E147 10.2'; aerodrome reference points (usually
regarded as the centre of the airfield) are defined in degrees, minutes and
tenths of minutes. However, when necessary, the location of a point position
may be specified much more precisely; some point locations for instrument
landings are required to be specified to 1/100th of a second.
Some systems may use degrees only, in which case the degrees may be
expressed to five decimal places, e.g. S36.73499
Incidentally, a 'knot' is a speed of one nautical mile per hour.
It is logical to express 'Lat/long' coordinates with the direction from the
equator/prime meridian first (e.g. S and E), then a numeral group representing
the degrees followed by a group for the minutes. The symbols for degrees and
minutes are omitted, e.g. S36 44.1 E147 10.2. That is the standard format for
geographic locations in ERSA. However in the global navigation satellite
system (GNSS), and other systems, the northern hemisphere latitude
coordinates may be represented as a positive value and the southern
hemisphere as a negative value, while the longitude coordinates for the
western hemisphere have a negative value and those for the eastern
hemisphere have a positive value, so S36 44.1 E147 10.2 is represented as
36 44.1 +147 10.2. The positive sign is usually omitted for the northerly
and easterly coordinates.

Effect of continental drift on precise location

The Earth's latitude/longitude reference graticule is regarded as fixed relative
to the Earth as a whole, but the continents are in motion. The Australian
tectonic plate, for example, is moving north north-east towards the North
Pacific at the rate of seven centimetres per annum*. So, during the last 14
years every fence post in Australia has moved one metre north north-east and
their precise latitude and longitude reference position has changed, and will
continue to change. Of course these tectonic plate movements have no
discernible effect on aerial navigation but they do complicate land survey
activities. In Australia, to overcome this the 1994 Geocentric Datum of
Australia [GDA94] uses a reference meridian that is fixed relative to the

Australian tectonic plate rather than the International Reference Meridian. The
map projection for GDA94 is the Map Grid of Australia [MGA94].
*For comparison, it is estimated that the average fingernail growth is 3.5 cm
per annum.

The third positional dimension altitude

Contour lines and spot points on topographical maps provide an indication of
terrain elevation i.e. height above the Australian Height Datum. The
aircraft's altimeter reading provides the aircraft's vertical position and thus the
current height above the terrain indicated on the chart height above ground
level [AGL] or the terrain clearance may be determined.

Universal Coordinated Time

Time is a most important dimension in aerial navigation; the reference time is
Universal Coordinated Time (symbol UTC a compromise between the
initialisms of the preferred French and English names) rather than local times.
UTC is the time at the International Reference Meridian and is an average of a
large number of atomic clocks. The suffix 'Z' is used to identify dates and times
as UTC, so it may be referred to as 'Zulu' time the phonetic for 'Z'.
UTC and the 24-hour clock system rather than local time are used
throughout the aviation information, communication and meteorological
services. UTC is 10 hours behind Australian Eastern Standard Time, 9.5 hours
behind Australian Central Standard Time and 8 hours behind Australian
Western Standard Time. Add an additional hour in a daylight saving time

2.2 Defining the shape of the Earth ellipsoids and

The World Geodetic System 1984
For aerial navigation and cartography purposes the shape of the Earth is
defined by a particular international model or datum* known as the World
Geodetic System 1984 [WGS84] that provides the standard coordinate frame
for navigation/cartography systems. Some Australian charts may also show the
GDA94 as the datum, which is fixed relative to the Australian tectonic plate as
mentioned above, however for navigation purposes this is compatible with
WGS84. WGS84 also establishes a standard gravitational equipotential
surface or geoid, plus a mathematically (rather than physically) derived
representation of the Earth's underlying shape the WGS84 ellipsoid,
centred at the Earth's centre of mass.

* A datum is the fixed starting point of a scale or measurement system e.g. an

aircraft weight and balance pre-flight check. In this context the plural is datums
not data.

Chart elevation reference the height datum

Mean sea level [msl] has been assessed by measuring high tide and low tide
levels in a number of tide gauges over a period of many years. In Australia the
local result is known as the Australian Height Datum [AHD] and is the zero
elevation reference for Australian aeronautical charts; i.e. the elevations shown
on the charts are height above the AHD.

The Australian geoid

The Earth's density is not uniform throughout, thus gravity and its
perpendicularity and consequently msl distance from the geometric centre of
the Earth varies irregularly around the surface of the globe. A geoid is a
notional surface of equal potential gravity within the Earth's gravity field, that
describes the Earth's shape and basically follows mean sea level over the
oceans and extends through the continents. Geoids are mainly determined by
specialised satellite measurements, the resulting surface is smooth with some
undularities. The current Australian geoid is AUSGeoid09 but for aerial
navigation it can be regarded as equivalent to the Australian Height Datum.
AUSGeoid09 provides the AHD-to-ellipsoid separations. Check Geoscience
Australia for more information about geodetic datums.

The WGS84 ellipsoid, geoid-ellipsoid separation and GPS altitude

The geoid is not the same as the ellipsoid (a smooth, slightly flattened
sphere), which is a mathematically (rather than physically) derived
representation of the Earth's underlying shape. There are many ellipsoids in
use but that of most interest to aviators is the WGS84 ellipsoid that is used by
the global navigation satellite system as its basis for altitude measurement.
The difference in elevation of a particular point on the Earth's surface when
measured against both the ellipsoid and the geoid can be quite
considerable, as much as 100m ; this is known as the geoid-ellipsoid
In Australia the degree of geoid-ellipsoid separation is quite unusual. The
image below shows the substantial geoid undulation that slopes across
Australia. In the south-west corner the geoid is 33m below the WGS84 ellipsoid
while at the tip of Cape York it is 72m above it. As shown in the image the
geoid and ellipsoid coincide (i.e. zero separation) on a rough line between Port
Hedland and Melbourne.

(Image courtesy of Geoscience Australia).

The International Civil Aviation Organization [ICAO] specifies that the local
value (known as the 'N-value') of the geoid-ellipsoid separation should be
shown on aeronautical navigation charts but the values are not shown on
Australian charts. The local N-value is of little significance to recreational
aviators (although it should be noted that a GPS instrument may give an
apparently incorrect height if the software doesn't adjust for the local N-value*)
but may be of great significance to IFR pilots and designers of GPS
approaches when the GNSS achieves sole-means navigation status for all
flight phases. A table of the geoid-ellipsoid separation value for each cell of a
roughly one nautical mile square grid covering Australia is produced by
Geoscience Australia's National Geographic Information Group previously
known as AUSLIG. AUSGeoid09 provides the AHD-to-ellipsoid separations,
see the AustGeoid09 on the Geoscience Australia site.
Some GPS receivers may store just a single N-value for each 10
latitude/longitude graticule cell. As can be seen from the image above some 10
x 10 degree cells have a 40-50m variation diagonally across the cell. If the Nvalue is not used or just approximated, the calculated GPS altitude may be

2.3 Aeronautical charts

Chart system basics

A chart system is built on three basics that must be defined for use:
the projection employed generally the 'Lambert conformal conic
projection' for air navigation.
the coordinate system latitude and longitude for air navigation.
the geodetic datum WGS84 [or GDA94] is the standard horizontal
(area) datum for most Australian aeronautical charts and the
Australian Height Datum is the vertical datum.
Note: when using a GPS receiver ensure that these three formats have
been selected correctly, particularly the WGS84 datum.
A map intended for aerial or marine navigation is usually referred to as a
'chart'. The chart graticule is latitude and longitude, with the meridians
more or less vertical on the sheet but converging slightly. As the Earth is
a sphere, there has to be a technique to map the image of the surface of
the three-dimensional sphere onto a flat two-dimensional chart without
overly distorting the represented areas. The most suitable projection
technique for world aeronautical charts is the 'Lambert conformal conic
projection'. Although this projection distorts areas a little, distances
anywhere on the chart have the same scale. The great circle arc* the
shortest distance between two points on the surface of a sphere can
be represented reasonably accurately by the flight planner drawing a
straight line between two points on the chart. However you will note that
the angle at which that straight line crosses each meridian changes
because of the convergence of the meridians.
*Note: the shortest distance between, say, Sydney and Perth, is a
straight line (a tunnel) joining those cities and passing through the Earth.
The great circle route follows that 'tunnel' on the surface.
The Lambert chart legend will indicate the latitudes of two 'standard
parallels'. There is no scale distortion at these parallels, however scale
distortion increases with distance from a standard parallel. For an
explanation of standard parallels see and look for the
heading 'Multiple standard parallels or central meridians'.
Those meridians of longitude shown on Lambert conformal aeronautical
charts are straight lines, that converge towards the poles*. On a
southern hemisphere chart the meridian spacing between the meridian
lines at the bottom of the sheet is a little less than that at the top
about 5 mm on an Australian 1:1 000 000 World Aeronautical Chart. A
central meridian drawn on each chart is vertical and the others converge
towards it. The parallels of latitude as shown on the chart are arcs of
circles and cross all the meridians at right angles because of the slant of

the meridians. If a straight line is drawn diagonally across the chart, the
angle that this great circle route subtends with each meridian varies
slightly across the chart. Aircraft flying very long legs would alter their
heading slightly every 500 nm or so to maintain the great circle route
and thus the shortest distance.
*Note: that convergence of the meridians is why the 'grid' on such charts
is called a 'graticule'; the meridians and parallels do not form true
rectangles, i.e. a 'grid'. If you joined a number of WACs together by
matching parallels and the edge meridians the maps would form an arc.
On Mercator (a 16th century Flemish geographer) cylindrical projection
charts, straight line plots are 'rhumb lines' and great circle plots are
curved. A rhumb line is a line drawn so that it crosses the meridians of
the Mercator projection at a constant angle, but it is not the shortest
distance between two points; an aircraft flying a constant track heading
would be following a rhumb line plot. The concept of choice between a
great circle route or rhumb line route is interesting but inconsequential to
a light aircraft navigator because a constant track heading (i.e. a rhumb
line track) is usually flown for each leg; except, perhaps, if planning a
direct route from Australia to New Zealand.
The scales used for aeronautical charts are the representative fractions
1:1 000 000, 1:500 000 and 1:250 000. The latter scale means that an
actual distance of 2.5 km (250 000 centimetres) is represented by one
centimetre on the chart. The 1:1 000 000 scale is a small-scale chart;
i.e. it covers a large area but with minimum detail, one centimetre
represents 10 km. The 1:500 000 and 1:250 000 are larger-scale charts
that cover progressively smaller areas but with increasing detail.
The Australian Intergovernmental Committee on Surveying and
Mapping's Fundamentals of Mapping is well worth visiting.

Recommended VFR charts

The paper charts recommended for sport and recreational aviation
VFR flight planning, in-flight navigation and sourcing VHF
radiocommunications data are:

Planning Chart Australia: the PCA is a single sheet showing

the coverage of the WACs (below), the meteorological area
forecast [ARFOR] boundaries, the estimated FIS VHF
coverage from both 5000 feet amsl and 10 000 feet (but not
the frequencies), and the areas without FIS VHF coverage.
The FIS HF communication frequencies are shown. The spot
location of about 700 named airfields is indicated. PCA is
designed to assist in initial VFR flight planning and it is
amended semi-annually. It is of rather limited use in initial

planning of flights below 5000 feet (i.e. most ultralight flights)

in eastern Australia because straight-line tracks between
departure point and destination may be precluded because of
the topography, and there are no indications of such on the
PCA. But it is generally okay for use west of the Dividing
Range. Also it is the only chart that indicates FIS VHF
coverage; essential knowledge if a flight is being planned into
the less accessible areas of Australia.

World Aeronautical Charts: the 43 Australian WACs are

small scale (1:1 000 000 or 1mm=1km), derived from aerial
photography, and designed for pre-flight planning and
pilotage. They are part of an ICAO international series. They
do not indicate CTR or PRD, nor is there any FIA,
radiocommunications or radionavigation information. As the
reissue frequency is 24 years (i.e. 50% of the 43 maps are
supposed to be re-issued every two years) the base can be
slightly out of date, particularly in regard to the infrastructure.
Amendment lists for each edition are published in AIP SUP
but these amendments generally relate to location of airstrips
and special activities rather than topography or infrastructure.
Each WAC generally covers 6 of longitude and 4 of latitude.
Sheet dimensions are about 70 60 cm and the scale is such
that a real distance of one nautical mile is represented by less
than 2 mm on the chart; thus WACs are really not suited to
low-altitude navigation in slow aircraft, but it is wise to always
have the latest edition of the WAC/WACs relevant to the
journey in the cockpit.
Visual Navigation Charts: the VNCs are a larger scale at
1:500 000 and show airspace information and FIS detail laid
over the topographic base. All VNCs are reissued at sixmonthly intervals but the base topographic detail may not be
up to date. They are far superior to the WACs for both flight
planning and pilotage. VNC sheet dimensions are about 100
60 cm and contain the following airspace detail:
CTR, CTA dimensions and lower levels
Flight Information Area and Surveillance Information
Service boundaries where available
Flight Information Service and Surveillance
Information Service frequencies and providers
communication and navigation aid frequencies for
licensed airfields
PRD and designated & remote areas.
There are only 15 VNCs, those available covering the
more populous areas of Australia Tasmania to North
Queensland, plus areas around Perth, Adelaide,

Darwin and Tindal.

Visual Terminal Charts: the 25 or so VTCs provide both

aeronautical and topographic information around major
airports at a scale of 1:250 000. They are essential for VFR
operations in the vicinity of such airports to avoid violating
controlled airspace. In some cases, these charts show the
details of tracks to be flown and significant landmarks to be
used by pilots of VFR aircraft to avoid inadvertent entry into
controlled airspace. All VTCs are amended and reissued
every 6 months. The charts are based on the NATMAP 250K
series maps and use the Universal Transverse Mercator
[UTM] projection but with a latitude/longitude graticule rather
than the normal UTM grid; their dimensions are around 90
50 cm and show the following details:

PRD areas
CTR and associated CTA dimensions including the
lower levels of the CTA steps surrounding the
airport, lanes of entry, ATC check points
Surveillance Information Service frequencies where
communication and navigation aid frequencies for
licensed airfields
VFR approach points.

En Route Chart (low level): the ERC-L series is drawn to

various scales to accommodate significant air traffic route
areas and shows controlled airspace, PRD areas, air routes
and segment distances, ATS and radio-navigation services,
ATS frequencies and location, plus communication and
navigation aid frequencies for licensed airfields but no
topography. It also indicates those airfields where VHF radio
contact with FIS is possible from the ground.
The FIS area boundaries are shown together with an
information box showing the provider of the flight information
service (e.g. Brisbane Centre), the frequency and the location
of the area transceiver.
The series of eight sheets cover Australia and are intended
primarily for IFR flights conducted below 20 000 feet. The
multitude of air routes that radiate from major cities make the
charts difficult to read but they are the only chart series that
show all the FIS frequencies, PRD areas and give indications
of sports aviation activities thus they are an essential
document for VFR navigation. Each route segment is a great

circle route with the magnetic track angles measured at the

end points rather than the middle of the segment, which is
why there is an apparent discrepancy in the reciprocal track
angles. Reissue frequency is twice per year.
PCA, WAC, VNC, VTC and ERC-L can be purchased from
the Airservices Australia online store. You can see the coverage
for each sheet in each series by clicking 'Coverage Map' on their
'Aviation charts' page. These charts can also be ordered from
pilot supply shops. Possibly the TPCs may be purchased from
the National Mapping Division of Geoscience Australia.
Satellite and aerial images of the Earth's surface are also
available via the Google Earth and Google Map geobrowsers
and provide help in flight planning; for example, the ability to
locate an unlisted airstrip and establish the exact lat/long
coordinates for entry into a GPS.

Carriage of flight documentation

AIP ENR 1.10 para 5.1 states:
'Pilots are required to carry, and have readily accessible in the
aircraft, the latest editions of the aeronautical maps, charts and
other aeronautical information and instructions, published:
a. in AIP, or
b. by an organisation approved by CASA,
that are applicable to the route to be flown, and any alternative
route that may be flown, on that flight.'
(The AIP entry is an extract from CAR 233 'Responsibility of pilot
in command before flight')

Digitised aeronautical charts

The WAC, VNC, VTC and ERC-L charts, and others for flight
under the instrument flight rules [IFR] , are also available in
digitised format raster or vector images for use in tablet
computers with flight planning software and for inflight use with
portable electronic devices with moving map software. They have
the same reissue frequency as the paper charts. This is
discussed in the 'Electronic planning and electronic flight bag'

2.4 Map topography

Aircraft operating under the VFR must navigate by visual
reference to the ground. The lower the level at which a flight is
planned, the more important it is that the pilot is able to visualise
a three-dimensional image of the terrain from the graphical
details presented by the two-dimensional topographic chart by
the usage of colour, symbols and lettering. To assist this
visualisation, WACs and VNCs display tinted topographic
contours signifying surface areas between the 660 feet (200 m)
and 1639 feet elevations, 1640+ feet (500 m), 3280+ feet (1000
m), 4920+ feet (1500 m) and 6560+ feet (2000 m) levels. The
shape of the contours and the width between them indicates the
form of the land and the gradient. The closer the contour lines
(i.e. the narrower the colour bands) are to each other, the steeper
the gradient.
Also the WAC utilises relief shading of elevated ranges and
ridges so that they are more evident. In addition, spot elevations
are shown and the highest spot elevation within each chart
graticule is recorded in a bolder lettering than other spot
elevations. The graticule on the WACs and VNCs is spaced at 30
minutes of latitude and 30 minutes of longitude: 30 nm in latitude
and, for much of Australia, around 24 nm in longitude.
The contours on VTCs are at 500+, 1000+, 2000+, 3000+, 4000+
and 5000+ feet amsl, but in addition all areas are shaded purple
where there is less than 500 feet of clearance between the terrain
and the lower limit of the overlying controlled airspace. Like WAC
and VNC, the highest spot elevation within each chart graticule is
shown in a bolder type than other spot elevations. The graticule is
spaced at 10 minutes of latitude and 10 minutes of longitude: 10
nm in latitude and around 8 nm in longitude. The VTCs generally
cover an area within a 4050 nm radius from the major airport
and are the essential chart for visual navigation within that area.
Vegetation is usually not shown on WACs, nor are many
structures except for towers and similar obstructions to low-flying
aircraft; although grain silos which are an excellent navigation
aid usually associated with a railroad are shown. Railroads,
power transmission lines and some roads are depicted.

2.5 Defining direction the aircraft direct

reading magnetic compass

Sport and recreational navigation under the VFR is basically

azimuth and distance and is also short-range i.e. each leg is
usually less than 500 nm or so. Directions in azimuth are usually
expressed as the angular distance from the north pole true
north in whole degrees from 0 at north clockwise to 360; i.e.
north is both 0 and 360 (though is usually expressed as 360).
For example, the direction due east from any particular location is
090. These directions may be described as bearings,
headings, courses or tracks depending on the application.
Direction is usually paired with distance expressed in nautical
miles, thus the bearing and distance of a location 55 nm due east
would be expressed as bearing 090/55.
However, the prime navigational direction instrument the
magnetic compass aligns itself with the north magnetic pole
and, in Australia, the variation between the direction to true north
and that to magnetic north can be as much as 13, so there is a
need to define directions in terms of 'degrees true" or 'degrees
Civil Aviation Order 20-18 specifies just four mandatory flight and
navigational instruments for flights under the day Visual Flight
Rules. These basic instruments are:
an airspeed indicating system
an altimeter, with a readily adjustable pressure datum
setting scale graduated in millibars
an accurate timepiece indicating the time in hours,
minutes and seconds, which may be carried on the
person of the pilot and
a direct reading magnetic compass.
If the aircraft is a Light Sport Aircraft for which a current
special certificate of airworthiness or an experimental
certificate has been issued it need not carry the individual
instruments as defined above, if equipment is carried that
provides a pilot with the same information, i.e. an
electronic flight display.

Magnetic variation
The simple direct reading compass is essentially a bar
magnet freely suspended in a lubricating fluid designed to
damp out oscillations, vibrations and swings caused by
aircraft accelerations. The bar magnet, which may be a
needle or part of a circular compass card, aligns itself with
the Earth's local magnetic lines of force with the northseeking end pointing roughly north. The Earth's magnetic
field is systematically surveyed so that the difference

between the direction at which a compass points

magnetic north and the direction of true north is
measured. That difference is called variation, or
declination if you are of a scientific bent, and is expressed
in degrees of arc east or west of true north. The magnetic
lines of force at any location may also be substantially
varied by local magnetic anomalies substantial iron ore
deposits for example. Lines on a chart joining locations
with equal magnetic variation are isogonals, or isogonic
lines, and are shown on WACs and VNCs as dashed
purple lines at half-degree intervals. The local variation
may also be shown numerically on some charts. The
isogonals on Australian charts vary from 3 west in the
south-west corner of the continent to 13 east on the
eastern coast.
This means that if you want to fly from A to B, the direction
ascertained from the chart will be relative to true north
the true course and let's say it is due west, 270. If you
then set 270 on the aircraft compass and fly that heading
then your track over the ground will not be due west but
will vary according to the variation. Let's say the variation
is 10 east then the true course you are flying will be 280.
This small complication requires that when you have finally
calculated the true course you have to fly to get from A to
B, after allowing for the effects of wind, then you need to
convert it to a magnetic heading. The conversion rule
used for at least the past 70 years is: "Variation east,
magnetic heading least; variation west, magnetic
heading best". So if the local variation is 12 east the
magnetic heading will be the true course minus 12; e.g.
true course 010, magnetic heading 358. If the variation is
2 west the magnetic heading will be the true course plus
2; e.g. true course 010, magnetic heading 12.
For all wind velocities, given in meteorological forecasts
and actuals, the directions are relative to true north, except
if you happen to hear a broadcast from a CTR tower
controller (or an Automatic Terminal Information System
[ATIS] broadcast) who provides the wind direction as
magnetic, because the airfield runway numbers are
relative to magnetic north. The air route directions shown
on ERC-L are also relative to magnetic north.

Compass deviation
Aircraft compasses are also deflected by magnetic fields
within the aircraft, some related to ferrous engine/structural

metals, others related to electrical currents. These aircraft

magnetic fields produce heading errors compass
deviation which vary according to the aircraft course,
either reducing or increasing the Earth's magnetic field.
These errors can be quite significant, 30 or more, and any
magnetic field within about one metre of the compass may
have a discernible effect. Mobile telephones in the cockpit
may also affect the compass. Compass error is the
combination of variation and deviation adjustment
necessary to determine the compass heading that will
provide the true course.
A bar magnet aircraft compass will have screw-adjustable
compensating magnets to negate or at least reduce the
effect of these magnetic fields. The compass and aircraft
must be 'swung' to make these adjustments, and the
residual deviation errors noted on a compass correction
card displayed in the cockpit. Residual deviation errors
should not exceed 10 at any compass point. The
procedure for 'swinging the compass' is time-consuming
and difficult but necessary. We will go further into compass
deviation in the 'En route adjustments' module.
Airfield runway numbers are stated as their magnetic
heading rounded off to the (supposedly) nearest 10; thus
an east-west runway will be numbered 09/27. The ERSA
entry in the "Physical characteristics" section for the
airfield usually shows the actual magnetic heading
following the runway numbers, but only for one direction.
For example at Dubbo aerodrome '05/23 043' indicates the
actual magnetic heading for runway 05 is 043 magnetic,
and consequently 223 for runway 23. Thus, when
stationary and accurately lined up for take-off on such a
runway, you can measure deviation on that heading; but
make sure the compass has stopped moving. Flying to a
few airfields and checking deviation at various runway
headings is one way of producing a compass correction
card. Always make sure the compass fluid level is okay. A
vacuum chamber for de-aerating the compass fluid must
be used in the re-filling process using the proper fluid,
not alcohol.
Bar magnet compasses are also affected by vibrations,
aircraft accelerations and inertia when turning; thus they
tend to be shifting constantly. Compass acceleration errors
are most apparent when the aircraft is on an east/west
heading and least apparent when on a north/south
heading. The turning errors require the pilot to make an
undershoot/overshoot adjustment when changing heading.

To overcome these errors, normally the magnetic compass

is accompanied by a gyroscopic instrument that indicates
the direction in which the aircraft is heading, without being
subject to external forces. This electrically or suctionoperated directional gyro [DG] or direction indicator [DI] is
initially aligned with the compass before take-off and
needs to be realigned occasionally during flight; however,
few ultralights are equipped with DGs.
Electronic flight information systems [EFIS or 'glass
cockpits'] are now becoming much cheaper and thus a
reasonable proposition for amateur-built light aircraft.
These systems use solid-state electronic componentry
plus software to present a cockpit display incorporating the
functions of most single flight instruments. In such systems
magnetic field strength sensors (magnetometers) are used
to provide a three-dimensional magnetic compass that
displays magnetic heading without acceleration, attitude or
turning errors; thus it also incorporates the DG facility. The
simple direct reading magnetic compass must still be part
of the aircraft equipment.

Things that are handy to know

There are other maps such as the Australian NATMAP 250K series. This is intended mainly
for surface use, with the GDA 94 datum and using the Map Grid of Australia projection (MGA 94)
which conforms with the Universal Transverse Mercator (UTM) projection with usually the metric
UTM Eastings and Northings grid rather than a latitude/longitude graticule. This coordinate
system is more complex than latitude/longitude the Earth's surface is divided longitudinally into
60 six-degree numbered zones and Eastings are measured in metres (to 3 decimal places) from
the central meridian of each zone. Northings start from zero at the equator in the northern
hemisphere but, for the southern hemisphere, start from a 10 000 000m base Northing at the
equator. See
Fortunately the digitised NATMAP 250K series are also available with a latitude/longitude graticule,
so these larger-scale (1:250 000) maps could be used for the limited leg distance of recreational
aircraft navigation, particularly with GPS. Each map covers an area of 1.5 longitude and 1
latitude. VTCs, being based on the NATMAP 250K, use the Transverse Mercator projection with a
lat/long graticule. Some UTM maps may show the lat/long graticule* in one colour with the UTM
grid* in another.
*Note: 'grids' are rectangular in shape; the 'graticule' is not the meridian lines converge

The digitised NATMAP 250K series may be purchased from Geoscience Australia. The 513 maps of
the NATMAP 250K series are available on DVD for about $100 which is less than 3% of the cost of
the paper series and well worth having as home reference material even if you don't use them
for aeronautical navigation. They are in ECW format and software is supplied for viewing and for
export to geoTIFF, TIFF, JPEG, PNG, bitmap or OziExplorer format. Image resolution is 200 dpi and
the pixel size is around 30 metres with a positional accuracy of 127 metres. The 'Map Viewer'
software supplied is currently (2012) confined to Windows operating systems. View 'About
NATMAP Digital Maps 2008'.

Stuff you don't need to know

Maps that lack contours, like street maps, are planimetric; i.e. flat.
'Large scale' maps are those with a scale of 1:70 000 or less.

Groundschool Flight Planning & Navigation Guide

| Guide content | 1. Australian airspace regulations | [2. Charts & compass] | 3. Route planning |
| 4. Effect of wind | 5. Flight plan completion | 6. Pre-flight safety and legality check | 7. Airmanship & flight
discipline |
| 8. En route adjustments | 9. Supplementary techniques | 10. En route navigation using the GNSS |
| 11. Using the ADF | 12. Electronic flight planning & the EFB | 13. ADS-B surveillance technology |

Supplementary documents
| Operations at non-controlled airfields | Safety during take-off & landing |

Section 3 of the Flight Planning & Navigation Guide

discusses route planning
Copyright 20012013 John Brandon

[contact information]