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Flight Planning Software
by Jonathan Money

11/08 - Flying an aircraft is a complicated task in and of itself. Navigating from one point to another over unknown terrain can be even more complex, but trying to do both at once quickly becomes overwhelming. This is why proper flight planning is such a necessity to any good pilot or airman. Luckily in today's world, flight planning software exists to help speed the process along while maintaining accuracy. By entering such variables as wind speed and direction, aircraft weight, course and temperature, flight planning software programs can calculate a host of important information such as wind correction angle, true airspeed, runway crosswinds, and magnetic variation. Great aviation websites like Student Flying Club even offer pilots a free online E6B flight computer!

For many new pilots, mastering the E6B flight calculator is one of the most complicated tasks to learn. And although becoming a pilot requires learning how to use such a great tool, online flight planning software including an E6B can help speed up the learning process. Any calculation that can be made on a manual E6B can usually be made on an online version of such flight planning software. Temperature conversions from Fahrenheit to Celsius and wind chill calculations are possible, as well as density altitude, pressure conversion, heat index, dew point, and relative humidity percentages that help determine whether or not a flight is viable that day. Magnetic variation calculations for flight planning also help determine course corrections by entering the latitude and longitude needed for different parts of the Continental US, Europe, and even Alaska. In the past these figures needed to be calculated either manually or through a hand-held E6B calculator, but with new flight planning software this information is available with just a few short keystrokes.

Aside from the online E6B computer, pilots can take advantage of other pieces of flight planning software available to them as well. Airport Distance calculators are a great tool for determining the distance and heading between two distinct airports. Some of these distance calculators go through great lengths to maintain a large database of airports - not only those larger ones in class C and D airspace but also the smaller, non-tower controlled airports. This helps student pilots in flight planning by allowing them to plot several different courses from their own home airport, regardless of how small it may be. Learning to fly while based at a larger airport can be daunting, and most pilots get their private license flying out of smaller home airfields.

Online flight planning also includes takeoff and landing distance calculators, as well as complicated weight and balance charts. These online flight planning tools take most of the manual mathematics out of the picture, allowing for less margin of error. Aviation flight planning of course may also include the filing of an actual flight plan with local airport towers or FSS (flight service stations), and such a flight plan is required for IFR routes. While there's currently no direct online way to file a flight plan, some flight planning software offers helpful printable forms that can be filled out from your keyboard and then printed on paper. Required fields and form checking help maintain that such forms are properly filled out before being submitted to the proper authorities and filed as flight plans.

Finally, one of the most important aspects of planning a flight is the observance of up-to-date current weather conditions. Flight planning software comes in extremely handy here, where most every website or application can now be easily linked to the NOAA's National Weather Service. Forecasting is still never an exact science, flight planning tools and applications can usually come pretty close to determining near-future weather conditions. Immediate airport condition reports from across the US and even the world can be instantly collated into a central location and displayed for pilots right before a flight so they can make a go or no-go decision right before scheduled takeoff. And as satellite-driven GPS technology becomes sharper and smaller, such GPS units become more readily available to today's pilot. He or she can fly their aircraft and get up-to-the-second weather information simply by looking at their externally mounted GPS units or even their glass cockpit displays.

Flight planning software has come a long way in a very short period of time, and there seems to be no limit to the amount of good it can do. Technology has made today's pilot a safer, more educated airman. Planning a flight has been made easier and more error-free, and keeping track of flight plans has become a lot more manageable. In the end, as long as technology continues to advance, piloting an aircraft will continue to be made safer.