How to Create Navplans for VFR flights

Updated on January 25, 2018


Some of you may or may not know that around two years ago, I decided to pursue my passion for aviation by learning how to fly. Fast forward two years, I now hold a Australian CASA rated Recreational Pilot's license on the Piper Warrior/Archer and have begun training for my Private Pilot's license. The jump from an RPL to PPL is significant! The theory exam is a lot harder (probably one of the hardest in the world) and flights are more complex and longer - thanks to studying and applying your ability to prepare a Navigation Plan or Navplan.

I have prepared this hub to help all rookie pilots such as myself out there who are aware of the challenges of manually preparing Navigation Plans using old school tools such as charts, rulers and Dalton's flight computers.

Safe flying everyone!

How to Set up an Australian Day VFR Navpan

1.) Plot out your outbound and return course on the VTC and VNC (Eg: for Cessnock you will need the VTC to plot from Bankstown to Parramatta to Pennant Hills to Patonga and then the VNC from Patonga to Lake Macquarie to Cessnock; The return flight will need plotting on the VNC from Cessnock to Warnervale to Brooklyn Bridge and then the VTC from Brooklyn Bridge to Round Corner to Prospect to Bankstown).

2.) Under the Track (TRM) column, write down the magnetic track heading between each waypoint. If a chart already contains the magnetic heading, there's no need to adjust for magnetic variation however if you have calculated the heading using a ruler, adjust it for magnetic variation to obtain the magnetic heading (Magnetic variations are available on the WAC - the variation around Sydney is roughly 12 degreee East i.e. subtract 12 from true heading obtained from your plot on the chart).

3.) Under the TAS (True Airspeed) Column, List your desired TAS for all waypoints (For the Piper Warrior use 100-105 Knots).

4.) Calculate the distance between waypoints using the ruler and the appropriate scales in Nautical Miles. The ruler will contain 3 scales to calculate distance based on the VTC, VNC and WAC (Nav Plans around Sydney will typically use the VTC and VNC - The WAC is used to illustrate the full outbound and return plan for reference).

5.) Taking the Controlled Airspace lower limits and any approach/departure procedures into consideration from the VTC and VNC, list down the maximum altitudes you intend to fly at between each waypoint. As practicable as possible, use the hemispheric rule for altitudes i.e. Odd plus 500 feet when flying between 0 to 179 degrees and even plus 500 feet when flying between 180 to 359 degrees (i.e 2,500/4,500/6,500 feet etc for westeley headings or 3,500/5,500/7,500 feet etc for easterley headings).

6.) Check NAIPS to obtain the TAF for Bankstown and the destination airport along with the area. The PCA will contain a list of areas for reference (e.g. Sydney is on the border of areas 20 and 21 - for a flight to and back from Cessnock, use the TAF for Area 20).

7.) Take your whizzwheel and set it up to show your True Air Speed as indicated in below photograph (In this case, it has been set to 105 Knots)

The Flight Computer set up to represent TAS as per your Navplan
The Flight Computer set up to represent TAS as per your Navplan | Source

8.) Factor in the wind component using the whizz wheel for each sector/waypoint's magnetic heading and adjust given true heading of winds from the TAF to magnetic heading by subtracting the magnetic variation (since the variation is East). List the wind component applicable between each waypoint and en-route altitudes under the wind column and then use the whizzwheel's wind section to calculate crosswind/headwinds/tailwinds for each heading between the relevant waypoints/sector. For example, for a magnetic heading of 136 and TAS of 105 Knots, the example crosswind and head/tail wind component should be represented as follows

Calculating crosswinds and head/tail winds based on given TAS and magnetic heading
Calculating crosswinds and head/tail winds based on given TAS and magnetic heading | Source

9.) Add or subtract tail or head winds respectively from the True Air Speed and list the relevant Ground Speeds for each waypoint under the G/S column.

10.) In case of crosswinds, identify whether its left or right crosswind. Then, use the outermost scale to calculate the drift against the magnetic track to calculate the actual heading factored for drift and winds. For example, in the above photograph, the crosswind is 5 knots left on a magnetic heading of 136 - this means the angle of drift is roughly 3 degrees less than 136 i.e. 133 degrees (See below pic - the outermost scale represents the crosswind)

Calculating angle of drift on a flight computer
Calculating angle of drift on a flight computer | Source

11.) List all adjusted headings for each sector/waypoint based on above principle under the HDG column.

12.) Now calculate your ETI (estimated time interval) for each waypoint/sector by dividing distance by speed and then multiplying it by 60 (Round off to the nearest whole digit). For any waypoints involving a climb (e.g depature from Bankstown). add an extra minute for every 2,000 feet of climb).

12.) The final step is to plot your fuel log for the onward and return journeys. The fuel logs are in minutes and liters and should appear similar to the below photo.

Caculate Estimated Time of Interval for each section in a Navplan and calculating fuel burn.
Caculate Estimated Time of Interval for each section in a Navplan and calculating fuel burn. | Source

How to Plot Your Fuel Log

1.) First, add up the total time taken (ETI) for each onward and the return journey and write the minutes in the 'cruise' row under each set of fuel log columns (you will notice the above form contains 4 sets of columns for fuel logs i.e. 4 total legs of flight from take off to landing each). In the rows for 'Fixed Reserve', write down 45 mins and the corresponding fuel burn for all legs since the assumption is to never use the fixed reserve. (For the Piper Warrior, fuel burn at 45 minutes is 27 Liters or 36 Liters per hour).

2.) Now, if applicable, incorporate any estimated fuel burn and time for your alternate airport next to the 'Alternate' field. The time and distance can be calculate off your charts using your original destination as your starting point. (This step is not required if using Bankstown as an alternate i.e. you will return to your original point of departure in case of unsuitable weather at the destination).

3.) Now add the total number of minutes and enter this value in the 'Minutes' cell of 'Fuel Require'. To convert this to liters using the whizzwheel, plot the hourly fuel burn and then read off the corresponding values on the INNER SCALE to view the corresponding fuel burn in liters. DO NOT FORGET TO ADD 5 liters AS TAXI FUEL TO THIS FIGURE. E.g. From the above example, to calculate 90 minutes worth of fuel burn in liters, 54 liters plus 5 liters taxi can be represented by the below photo of the whizzwheel (assuming the hourly fuel burn in a Piper Warrior to be 36 Liters)

Using the flight computer to calculate fuel margins
Using the flight computer to calculate fuel margins | Source

4.) Lastly, to calculate your fuel margin, simply minus the estimated fuel burn in liters from the total usable fuel in liters of your aircraft (e.g. the total usable fuel in a Piper Warrior is 181 liters) and use the whizzwheel as above to calculate the corresponding burn in minutes. Add this time to the estimated time interval of your flight's particular leg from take off to landing and you will calculate your endurance in minutes.

5.) Calculate your fuel logs similarly on your remaining flight legs - The steps are virtually identical WITH ONE MAJOR DIFFERENCE - calculating your fuel margin as with the exception of your first leg, your new fuel endurance in liters is your fuel margin on your previous leg + your fixed reserve in liters from the previous leg (excluding taxi allowance from the previous leg). Subtract the total number of minutes required for the current leg of the journey from the revised calculate endurance in minutes to obtain the new fuel margin in minutes for the current leg. Use the whizzwheel as above to calculate corresponding fuel burn in liters along with the margins and endurance.

6.) Before completing the Nav Plan, ensure you list out all frequencies which need to be monitored/communicated throughout the journey - DO NOT IGNORE THIS STEP even if you are very familiar with the route or airspace.

7.) This concludes the exercise of completing a PPL-VFR Navplan.

Taking off from Bankstown Airport, Sydney in a Piper Warrior

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