IFR Direct using GPS

by HPA · January 24, 2011

“Proceed Direct Destination”

By Chris Reed, CFI, CFII, MEI

IFR Direct using GPS

Before the advent of GPS, IFR flight plan routes were fairly limited. Pilots generally had to stay on airways or remain within the standard navaid service volumes if venturing off airway. Now a huge number of pilots are able to file /G on their IFR flight plans, meaning that the airplane has GPS and/or WAAS (Wide Area Augmentation System) with en route and terminal capability. The pilots of these airplanes rightfully want to take advantage of their equipment. An IFR-certified GPS is capable of navigating accurately between any two points making route planning much more flexible. So, how does a pilot file IFR direct using GPS? The easiest way is to just put DIRECT in the route portion of your flight plan form, but is it the correct way? Let’s investigate.

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What does the FAA have to say?

Guidance for filing IFR direct using GPS can be found in chapter 3 of the Instrument Procedures Handbook (FAA-H-8261-1A) beginning on page 26 and in the Aeronautical Information Manual in section 5-1-8. The following three paragraphs are a summary of that information:

To begin with, a direct route will only be approved in a radar environment. In many areas of the country this is not an issue. The pilot, however, must be aware that filing an altitude at or near the OROCA (Off-Route Obstruction Clearance Altitude) may not guarantee radar coverage. In that case, the pilot should expect to be assigned a different altitude or route.

Additionally, the pilot should plan to use departure or arrival procedures where appropriate. In other cases, the pilot is to plan the route to begin and end at a fix or navaid. Practically, you simply choose a fix or navaid along your route to file at each end of your flight plan. If the flight is to cross one or more center boundaries, there should be at least one fix within each center. These fixes must be within 200 nm of the center boundary. This simply ensures that each center controller knows exactly where you are headed (assuming your destination is outside of that controller’s airspace) and can maintain positive control of your flight.

Finally, the flight should be planned to avoid all restricted and prohibited areas by at least 3 miles. If the planned route has a bend in it for any reason, that point should be filed as part of the route.

Acceptable flight plan fixes include intersections, navaids, and VOR radial/distances. A fix that appears on an approach chart but not on the enroute chart is not acceptable because it may not be in the air traffic control computer.

Sample Flight

Let’s look at a simple example. The flight plan is from KMCB to KLUL. To provide a comparison, I first planned the flight via airway. This flight would be 79 nautical miles long. The filed route would be MCB V222 LBY V455 TEGBE. See the chart excerpt below.

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The straight line distance between the two airports is 73 nm. Notice that our route crosses a center boundary. We should have at least one fix on each side of that boundary. Adding two fixes would also comply with the requirement to begin and end our route over a fix. We will not come within 3 nm of the restricted area on the chart, so it does not affect our plan. The route I would choose to file is MCB TEGBE. This route is still only 73 nm long, and it complies with all the requirements discussed above.

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No One-Size-Fits-All Answer

We originally asked how a pilot should file IFR direct using GPS. It turns out the FAA has quite a few things to say about it. Fortunately, compliance with the AIM and the Instrument Procedures Handbook is very simple. In our example, we added less than one mile to our flight and ensured that air traffic control will know exactly what we intend to do. On the other side of the coin, ATC will usually work with you when you file DIRECT; and there are times when it makes more sense. In the end, it is important to realize that there is often more than one way to accomplish a particular flight. The pilot must be able to apply his or her knowledge of regulations and procedures to make each flight a success from the planning phase to the parking phase.

HPA training articles are available for download at: https://www.flyhpa.com/category/training/

How it Started

One of my best friends in high school, (Doug Gray) was a private pilot. He offered to take me up for a flight in a 1967 Cessna 150, N6228S. We took off from Calhoun, Georgia, and he took me on a scenic tour of the area, I was hooked. I later found out that my English teacher, (Jan Haluska) was also a flight instructor and the school was offering a ground school course the next year, which he taught, along with flight training with the goal of becoming a private pilot. I managed to talk my dad into funding the training, at the time the total cost was right around $500. Cessna 150 rental rates where $12 an hour, and the 172 we used for cross country was $15 an hour including fuel.

Training Begins

It started August of 1977. The fall semester rolls around, and I am enrolled in ground school, and if memory serves me, we met twice a week. First came the paperwork for my student pilot certificate, which at the time was included with the 3rd class medical. I loved ground school, especially learning navigation, plotting courses on the sectional, again this was before iPads and GPS, so we did a lot of dead reckoning and VOR navigation for cross countries. At the end of the course, I made an 83% on the Private Pilot written exam, remember this was before we had the question-and-answer books that on future test I would consume before taking a written.

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The fun really began on August 22, 1977, it was my first flight. To my surprise we used the same Cessna 150, N6228S that my friend Doug Gray had taken me for a ride in. The Cessna 150 had a standard VFR instrument panel, with one NAV/COM, and one VOR CDI. No intercom, so no headset, at the time I didn’t know what I was missing. I didn’t get my first headset until I started my instrument training in 2003. I was a big guy, I was 6’ 4” and weighed 245 lbs. but I do not remember being uncomfortable in the 150 even with the instructor in the right seat.

First flight lasted .8 hours, and we accomplished orentation, shallow turns, stability, and effects of flight controls. Over the next few months we added steep 720’s, slow flight, stalls, turns around a point, S-turns, emergencies, landings, (short field, soft field and normal).


At this point I want to talk about a training experience that still stands out. We were close to solo and were practicing takeoffs and landings. Turning base to final Jan got very upset at the way I was cross controlling the aircraft. Cross control is when you are in, say a left turn, and use opposite rudder to line the nose up with the runway. So, he had me depart the pattern and head east to the practice area, and climbing up to 5500 feet MSL, he had me slow down to just above stalling speed, start a left shallow turn and add right rudder. As the airplane stalled I had the strangest sensation, no roller coaster has ever come close, instead of blue sky in the windscreen I was looking at brown ground, and as far as I could tell we were upside down, through the terror of the moment Jan talked me out of the spin, controls neutral, oposite rudder, pull slowly out of the dive. As we leveled off he asked me what altitude we were at, as I remember it was around 2,800 feet MSL. Then he asked me what would happen if I experenced this on base to final in the traffic pattern. The answer was obvious, I would be a pile of wreckage off the end of the runway with a very short-lived aviation career. Needless to say this cured my cross-control tendencies.

Another training event the sticks out in my mind was the first time we did takeoffs and landings at the High School runway. The runway was 1,500 feet long, not sure of the width, but it seems like we had about 5 feet on each side of the wheels when on the center line of the runway. Landing from the south you also had to go between a cutout in the trees to be able to stop in time on the runway. After getting confortable landing here every runway since seemed huge. I remember landing at Chattanooga (KCHA) on a night cross country and commenting to Jan, that I felt like I could of landed sideways on the runway, it felt that large.

Very soon after this I started wearing old shirts to all my flight lessons, the reason for this occurred on February 8, 1978. The lesson that day was stalls, takeoffs and Landing. As we were taxing back in Jan told me it was time for my first solo. I was very excited, and after some last minute advice from Jan, including watch for floating on landing the plane will be light with him not in the right seat, complete 3 takeoffs and landings to a full stop. It was a blast, and at the end of my shirt was shorter in the back because Jan cut the tail out of it signed and dated my solo [an aviation tradition]. Total flight time accumulated on the day of my solo was 18.1 hours. I was now officially a pilot with solo priveleges.

In my next article I start cross country training, when Jan decided that it would be best accomplished this in the 172. Checking out in N5970R was like moving into a 747, this started a love affair with one of my faviriote planes to date. Since this time I have flown over 900 hours in many different models of the 172 and feel like I am stepping into an old friend every time.

More about Randy here: https://www.flyhpa.com/team/randy-delong/


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