Direct-To or Flight Plan?
Do you know the difference between navigating using Direct-To versus navigating with a Flight Plan while using your Garmin GPS?
Let’s summarize the function of each:
Direct-To = Present position direct to the active waypoint.
Flight Plan = Point A to Point B
When you are setting up your Garmin GPS, you likely use one of these methods to navigate to your destination.
(Present Position)———(Point B)
If you are a Direct-To-kind-of-pilot, you probably like the simplicity of pressing one key, entering your destination airport, pressing ENTER ENTER and being on your way. This works great for VFR flying with a straight-line route to your destination.
(Point A)———(Point B)
If you are a Flight-Plan-kind-of-pilot (like myself), you probably like the ability to add multiple waypoints and varying routes by pressing the FPL key, entering in the details and having your full route available. Setting up the Flight Plan is a MUST for IFR flying if you want to take advantage of Garmin’s features.
Which one is best?
While both methods can work okay for some scenarios, I recommend using the Flight Plan method for most flights, even if you plan on flying “Direct”. The benefit of Flight Plan is that you not only have a defined destination, but also a defined departure airport. In addition, the defined route is a distinct route from an exact waypoint to another exact waypoint rather than from the less specific “present position” where you activated the “direct-to” function.
Even for VFR flying, I still recommend using the Flight Plan. Why? Because it takes no extra effort, yet provides added benefits. Surprisingly it takes the same number of button presses to use Flight Plan as it does Direct-To. When you turn on the avionics, your Garmin GPS will find it’s position and automatically put the departure airport in the first line of the Flight Plan. This means all you have to do is press FPL, enter your destination (and route, if applicable), and then press ENTER. Takes the same amount effort but builds good habits.
There are certainly times when you will use the Direct-To key… I want you to think of the Direct-To key as the “Diversion Key” to be used when deviating from the original plan. For instance, when ATC clears you direct to a waypoint along your route, this is an appropriate time to use the Direct-To key. If you need to divert to a nearby airport, that is an appropriate time to use the direct-to key.
The Small Magenta Arrow in the Flight Plan
Have you ever noticed the subtle magenta (pink) arrow in the Flight Plan to the left of the screen? This small arrow is very important in understanding what’s going on in the brain of your Garmin GPS.
If it is an arrow from one waypoint to the next. it indicates a flight plan leg between those two specific waypoints. This is the normal indication as the flight plan progresses past the waypoints.
If it is a single arrow to a waypoint, it means you are navigating “Direct-To” that waypoint. That means your CDI (course deviation indicator) is drawing a course from the position where Direct-To was activated to the waypoint in the flight plan.
After it reaches the waypoint, it begins progressing between flight plan waypoints again as described above. This is somewhat of a hybrid between the “Direct-To” and “Flight Plan” methods that occurs when you select direct-to a waypoint in your flight plan.
In conclusion, I would recommend using Flight Plan as your primary method of GPS navigation, and use Direct-To as needed for deviations to the plan. VFR pilots might not think this is important, but it will form good habits that translate to the IFR world later.
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.
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.
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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