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Aeroplane GPS Navigation

18th November 2002

 Article by Peter Bailey for Pocket GPS


For me, one of the most fascinating parts of private flying is the process of planning a route, allowing for wind etc and then actually arriving on time.


VFR (Visual Flying Rules) flying, when you can see around you, involves the use of compass and map and allows the use of navigation aids, beacons etc to verify position and distance.


GPS is not part of a PPL (Private Pilots License) programme, and in plane GPS  equipment is rare in the older club/ hire aircraft and specialist aviation GPS equipment expensive.



Piper Warrior


The normal procedure would be use a 1/500,000 scale CAA map to plot a course, measuring distance and direction, and to adjust the various legs according to wind strength and direction, normally using a so called flight computer.  A destination airport detailed plan is necessary to establish runway directions, radio frequencies etc and appropriate radio beacons are shown on the CAA maps, with frequencies.


Flying with a Pocket PC and GPS

As far as I am concerned all this has changed considerably since I tried out my Navman /iPAQ 3850 combination with Memory-Map software and OS and UK road maps.  On a day when VFR flying became practically impossible, due to low cloud cover increasing, the system gave us added confidence in our conventional instruments and we managed to return home safely.


Since then I have been determined to develop a more practical and specialised Airnav system for our fly aways.


Website research revealed specialist names such as Navtech, Navsoft, Maptech and Jeppersen, with programmes and maps specifically for aviators.  However, Memory-Map have just released a set of UK CAA maps in both 1/250,000 and 1/500,000 scale and include most airport diagrams.  I decided to stay with the devil I knew.


Leadtek GPS Mouse sitting on the dashboard of the plane


Very Basic PDA Mount, but it works!



The Navman sleeve does not really allow for a good combination of satellite reception and screen position so I have opted for an external GPS mouse which can be positioned on the aircraft windscreen.


Many light aircraft do not have a cigarette or accessory socket so I have rigged one up with a simple battery pack.  This then allows for an in-car type setup using a Y lead to connect and power up both the receiver and Pocket PC.  It seems to work well.


Many pilots use a knee pad strapped to their upper leg to hold check lists, stopwatch, notes and pencil. I have simply attached 2 strong rubber bands to this which conveniently keeps the Pocket PC safe and in a good in-flight viewing position.




The 1/500,000 CAA maps from Memory-Map are likely to be most useful and I have found it of benefit to load smaller scale road maps and airport plans on the same CF card.  With Memory-Map you can simply zoom or change scales, depending on what you want to do.


For the pre-flight plan, simply use the stylus on a zoomed out map to mark in the various proposed flight legs. You can then read off direction and distance in NM.


Get whatever coms and nav data you need from the map and destination airport plan and make notes.   The track / plot will stay on the map until deleted.


Set up the kit on board, connect the battery, and in a few seconds the present position will appear as a red circle on the map.  Adjust the zoom level for personal preference, set for moving map, and you are ready to go.


Once airborne the actual plot and direction is shown as well as the planned line.  This can actually allow you to steer without looking at the giro compass.


In addition, by getting GPS details a confirmation of time, direction, speed and height is presented.  All of which are very comforting!



Memory-Map Pocket Navigator


Memory-Map Pocket Navigator


Memory-Map Pocket Navigator


Memory-Map Pocket Navigator



Battery Source

Due to most of the older airplanes not having anyway that you can easily power a Pocket PC or GPS Receiver due to no accessory style socket, this posed a problem and one that needed to be overcome, so I firstly created a small battery setup which consisted of a cigarette/accessory socket, and small stretch of cable connecting to a battery similar to one out of an alarm box.  Connecting the positive terminal on the battery to the centre of the accessory socket.  The battery itself is a lead acid leak proof battery which shouldn't give any problems when tossed side to side and outputs 12v DC which is what a typical car battery will output.  This gives an idea solution if you are either in-car, out on a boat, or in a plane or helicopter giving you a small and light power source. 

The second power source I created was using the same accessory style socket, with a small flex of cable and a 4-way battery socket which can be purchased from Maplin.  This enables 4 NiMh rechargeable AA Cells which actually makes the setup lighter and better for flying.


First Power Source Setup Created


Second Power Source Setup Created




Whilst not attempting to emulate the so called professional equipment it is now very possible, at a relatively low cost, to use your versatile PDA for air navigation.  Whatís more, itís lots of fun!


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