Aircraft rely on a complex navigation system that allows pilots to better orient themselves in the sky during flight. Common navigation instruments include aircraft systems and radio navigation aids (navaids) that are situated on board, and they all help to determine the position of the vehicle in the sky. Prior to takeoff, pilots must input a predetermined route into the flight management system of their aircraft, enabling them to monitor their route on cockpit screens throughout the flight. Aircraft navigation systems pinpoint the location of their respective aircraft and other vehicles present in the sky, in addition to mountains, airports, and poor weather conditions.
Aircraft navigation systems can be split up into three parts: the Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS), the Inertial Navigation system (INS), and the Flight Management System (FMS). To start, the Global Navigation Satellite System is used to track the coordinates, altitude, and speed of aircraft, among other parameters. This type of system is often seen in the form of the American GPS (Global Positioning System), the Russian GLONASS (Global Naja Navigation naja Sputnikovaya Sistema), and the European Galileo. All these systems use a network of orbiting artificial satellites to determine an aircraft’s location in the sky.
The Inertial Reference System, or IRS, is an autonomous system which tracks the position of aircraft using accelerometers and gyroscopes. Prior to takeoff, the pilot must input the exact coordinates of the vehicle in terms of latitude and longitude. After inputting this data, the IRS is able to calculate an aircraft’s exact positioning when it detects movement across any axis. The final onboard navigation system is the Flight Management System (FMS), that of which many refer to as the brain of aircraft navigation systems. When a flight path is determined, pilots input this information into the FMS, and its main task is to help pilots calculate flight parameters and control navigation. FMSs are crucial to the safety of flights, and they ensure the autopilot is set to follow the correct route. In addition, they configure takeoff and landing routes, calculate flight parameters, recommend power settings to control the consumption of fuel, and estimate the time of arrival.
Radio navigation aids play an important role in the initial climb, approach, and landing of aircraft. During operations, the pilot will receive radio signals transmissions by turning the onboard equipment to the correct frequencies. The decided route is sent to the Air Traffic Flow Management (ATFM), and it analyzes the route and approves it for the pilot if that route is clear. Overall, onboard navigation systems have made navigation much simpler for pilots, and it is nearly impossible to get lost in the sky with all these provisions.
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