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Flight Planning

The very first part of a flight is the planning of it. In the real world they have huge dispatch departments doing it for you, but we are not that fortunate. Further, in any case, as PIC you are still ultimately responsible to ensure all is correct.

In this class we will teach you about:

  • The “Where, What and When”

  • How to plan and review the route

  • Jet & Victor Airways

  • The Weather!

  • How to calculate the fuel

  • What to log after the flight

The “Where, What and When”

You can review and select a flight from the online UVA website Pilot Center directly, you have to log in.

You can also download a spreadsheet listing the entire monthly flight schedule from the VHQCC - Downloads section. Then you could look for a very particular kind of flight, perhaps in a specific aircraft that you might be interested in.

Once you have selected a flight, make note of the particulars, and then you proceed from there.

How to Plan the Route

This is where it gets complicated. You can get from A to B, dozens of ways, using different VORs, NDBs and fixes, along different high and low altitude airways.

Most of the time you will look for help in planning your route, and luckily, there are now many resources to consult to find preferred routes to and from major airports, and easy ways to load these as routes into Flight Simulator and fly them with default aircraft. You do not need a complex payware aircraft to accomplish all this. Unless otherwise noted, all of the below are available without charge.

But, one thing that you should not do, is use the built-in "auto-intelligence" in the Fllight Simulator flight planner to create a route. It will virtually never generate a proper one.

Also, once and for all, you need to leave "GPS Direct" from airport to airport behind, that is really an absence of flight planning.

VATSIM's Simroutes ( - This is targeted specifically at the virtual pilot, and is a treasure trove of preferred routes, all over the world. Not only does it give you the route, it provides current weather reports, a detailed Nav Log that you can print, and even a graphic showing the route. You could just copy the route down with pen and paper, but it is much slicker than that. Simroutes will let you download the route electronically in a format that Flight Simulator can import directly! Simroutes will also let you download the flight plans in formats that are recognized by major aircraft add-ons.

vRoute ( - This is not just a website, but an application that you download. It has been under active development for several years, and has now matured. It includes most of the tools you need to plan a route. It contains a huge database of worldwide preferred routes, weather and more. It also interfaces with the VATSIM database and will dynamically show you the currently active ATC, as well as ATC coverage bookings in the immediate future, even ATC booked along your route. Hard to believe it is freeware.

From the real world, there is FlightAware ( - This is an amazing database containing virtually every flight originating and/or terminating in North America. Even VFR flights by a GA aircraft are included, as long as a flightplan is filed. It will show you the flightplan and many other particulars. You can search the database in a multitude of ways, by airline, aircraft or location. It also provides real time tracking of flights, so you can fly along with the actual United flight you are simulating! Obviously you can get a flight plan from this site, but you need import it yourself into Flight Simulator or the aircraft FMC you are using.

RouteFinder ( - gives you full international support, it can generate a route from virtually any origin, to any destination. It uses a built-in artificial intelligence, rather than a straight database approach. It is generally very good, but sometimes can come up with an unusual route. ( – You have to register to use this one, but registration is free. It is more targeted for real world GA planning, and focuses only on routes in North America.

NAT tracks ( - Up-to-date NAT (North Atlantic) tracks as well as Pacific tracks and local notams. These get you across the oceans. You won't need them until you are Cat IV or above.


Airways are a set of fixed “highways” in the sky for aircraft. There are two general kinds that you will be using, civilian high altitude airways and low altitude airways. Let’s go over their use, the following holds for the US & Canada. Elsewhere in the world the naming conventions are different, in addition the Flight Levels typically start much lower, as the Transition altitudes are lower.

Jet-airways (ex. J164)

Jet-airways are the high altitude airways, as they are used from FL180 (18,000ft when the baromter is 29.92) and up. You will find them everywhere in a complex network. Some can be followed coast to coast, some just a few hundred miles. The airways are defined by VORs, sometimes ADFs, and intersections. Intersections are waypoints that do not have a station associated with them, and are located by the intersection of two VOR radials, hence the name. In a flight route you could find something like this:


This means you fly from COATE waypoint, and follow Jet-airway J36 to FNT (Flint) VOR. You do not fly "direct to" FNT (as the crow flies) from COATE, but rather fly the airway that may zigzag back and forth a bit as it follows intermediate waypoints. Here is the Jet airway expanded in a listing of that route, the VORs are in bold:


Obviously, it is quicker to just write J36, then all those individual waypoints, they mean the same. Complex aircraft will also accept airways when inputting a flight plan, makes it much faster. In North America NDBs may be one, two or three alpha characters, VORs are always three alpha characters, and intersections are five alphanumeric characters long.

You could also encounter this:


This is a bit more complicated, but fairly easy. It just means that you will pick up J36 from COATE, and where J36 and J70 meet, you will follow J70 to FNT.

Here is something that looks complicated, but really isn't:

    PLL PLL275065 FOD

This means to fly to PLL (Polo) VOR, then take the 275 radial outbound from PLL for 065 nm, and then turn direct FOD (Fort Dodge) VOR. This is a common west outbound route from KORD on the ORD1 (O'Hare One) departure procedure (SID). Much more on departure and arrival procedures below.

Victor-airways (ex. V42)

Victor-airways are the same as Jet-airways, but for low altitudes ranging from the ground to 17500ft. Sometimes you will find them in a route with Jet-airways like this one:


Jet-airways would be used for longer flights at higher altitudes, Victor-airways would be used for short hops at lower altitudes or in a long flight where you will be flying at a low altitude for a period.

Reviewing the Route

OK, lets go to Simroutes, enter in KJFK for departing and KORD for arriving, and presto, out comes our route. Notice that the KENNEDY1 component is not listed. This is because it is the only departure from JFK, and it is understood to always be used. ORD1 at O'Hare is another example of something that will not pop up for the same reasons. OK, here is the route with the departure procedure (SID) prepended:


Now what does this really mean?

Looking closely, we can split it into three parts, departure, route and arrival:

Departure – KENNEDY1 COATE

Departure procedure (DP or SID) and the exit point/transition. The Departure class will go over this in detail.

Route – COATE J36 FNT

The waypoint where you will start to follow the airway, the airway itself and the waypoint where you will leave it. You will only fly one airway on this flight. So, the above is a convenient abbreviation. As shown in the Simroutes NavLog, and as already noted above, this is what the route looks like when expanded to include all the individual waypoints:


The VORs are bolded.

Together with their frequencies, the VORs are: Lake Henry (LHY 110.80), Dunkirk (DKK 116.2) and Flint (FNT 116.90). These are bolded to remind you that it is important that you keep track of the VORs on the route. You should set your NAV radios to track them, and ensure that you are correctly on course. Most airways are constructed along VOR radials or NDB bearings.

We will go over in detail how to actually follow all those "radials" and "courses", and fly tracking VORs in the Navigation class, but let us review the route.

On this flight, from COATE we travel on a course of 300º to reach LHY (use LHY VOR, TO course 300). Once we reach LHY, we turn to a course of 290º (use LHY VOR, FM course 290), which will get us to DKK. For that leg, we are also travelling on the DKK VOR, TO course 290, both radials map the same segment.

Leaving DKK we turn to a course of 273º (DKK VOR, FM course 273), but this does not take us to the next VOR. Here, some 96nm along that radial, we turn right 10º, to track a new radial into FNT (FNT VOR, TO course 284).

Navigating with these radials, you will cross not only the VORs but also all the intersections noted in the flight plan.

Never just blindly follow that magenta line, it can lead you into serious trouble. The more crosschecks you have, the safer you are.

Arrival – FNT SAYRS1

FNT (Flint) VOR is the waypoint/transition where you will join the arrival procedure, and the arrival procedure (STAR) itself, namely SAYRS1. More on flying a STAR in the Arrival class.

Sectional Maps

Once you have a proposed route, you may wish to have a better look at it, by reviewing it on a sectional and terminal area maps. Electronically, there are now at least two great sites that let you do this, but unfortunately only for the US and contiguous Canada.

Flyagogo ( - Not only does this let you view sectional and terminal area maps, it will let you input a flight plan and it will draw the route right on the virtual map. It will also show you a profile view, and give you a better idea of what elevations you will encounter enroute. It even has weather and satellite view overlays. The one small downside is that you can only input waypoints for the flightplan, it does not understand airways, unlike you do now.

SkyVector ( - Another similar site, it does not take a flightplan, but it does have charts for Alaska and shows airport weather (METARs). More on METARs below.

You can also obtain hardcopy maps. These publications are low cost and are available from a variety of sources, you may wish to buy copies for your local area. If you have room, they will be easier to view, and will let you mark routes the old fashioned way, with pencil and plotter.


Now, it is time to study the airport, departure, arrival and the likely runway arrival plates for the flight. You can find plates, free for the download at or for the U.S., and US/Canada/UK at

So, pick one, and look up KJFK, for the airport details and KENNEDY1. Then lookup KORD for the airport layout, the SAYRS1 STAR, and then the likely runways you might be assigned for landing -- have a look at the approach procedures for these. We will be looking at these in detail in the following sections.

What about the Weather?

Well that is pretty important. When flght planning, you need to review the weather not only at the start and terminus of your flight, but also the enroute weather. Weather for North America, Western Europe and the northern Atlantic & Pacific is readily available at the following sites.

METARS are a shorthand used to summarize Aviation Weather. Where to get, and how to read a METAR is discussed in the Navigation class.

NOAA's National Weather Service - Aviation Weather ( - This slices and dices the weather any which way, but mainly for just the continental US only.

NAV CANADA's - Aviation Weather ( - Maybe you are flying to Canada. The advantage of this site is that it also provides weather for the North Atlantic and Pacific.

Jeppesen Weather ( - This is a subscription product, but its web page has an array of current weather products that you can view in demonstration. To download or print the images, you must subscribe.

How to calculate the fuel

Well this is all a little too easy for you now -- and that is a good thing, as flying with too much, as well as too little fuel are critical errors for a variety of reasons.

Unlike taking out your personal C172 for a one hour joyride and that $100 hamburger, fuel planning for the big birds is pretty complex. With some exceptions, in a small aircraft you generally fill up the tanks to full any chance you get. You do not do that with large commercial aircraft.

UVA's Flight Planner and Dispatch Creator (v2.5) does all that work for you, and really much more. It will calculate the fuel required, warn you of any weight issues, calculate your takeoff and landing VSpeeds, and even print off a nice Dispatch Release. This tool is available as a spreadsheet that you can download. In addition its full functionality is now also incorporated into the Pilot Center, and available when you book a flight.

First you put together your flight plan, and then you turn to this excellent tool to do the rest ...

  • The FPD creates a full Dispatch page, in both the Spreadsheet & the Pilot Center

  • Has complete weight & fuel data for every plane in the mainline and express fleet!

  • At a glance, has all the important weight and fuel burn numbers

  • Calculates reasonable and safe fuel on board numbers

  • Warns if you do not have sufficient fuel capacity for the trip, given your payload

  • Warns if you will be overweight for your expected landing weight

  • You can quickly fiddle with the plan payload, to fit the flight

  • The takeoff V1, Vr & V2 (as well as Vref30 for Boeings) speeds now available, all corrected for weight!

  • Calculates the landing Vref corrected for weight, together with an automatic wind correction

  • UVA SOP flap settings for takeoff and landing, for the entire fleet

Aren't you glad you joined up!?

Even better the FPD documentation goes into a good explanation of fuel planning issues, and takes the mystery out of all those VSpeeds, that really are critical for flying your aircraft.

The FPD is available for download from the VHQTD page, under tools.

The documentation is also available separately as a quick PDF download.

What to log after a flight

After a successful flight, you need to file a PIREP in order to get credit for your hours. The UVA database requires the following bits of information. In order to file a pirep, you log into the Pilot Center from the main UVA website page, where you made the reservation for the flight.

When you start up your simulator, you should set the simulator clock to before your flight is to depart. For example if you are planning to depart at 2000z, you could set your simulator time to 1930z. You may prefer to fly actual real world time, or some other time of interest, all are acceptable. It is entirely up to you. But once you start your flight, you shouldn't play with the clock further.

Departure gate

Should be noted before you push back.

Departure time

This is the time you release the parking brakes and start to push back.

All times are input in GMT, or Zulu time. Do not use colons when entering the times, and always prepend zeros so that you have four numeric characters for both times.

Arrival time

The time you set the parking brakes at your destination. You should note this time before you leave the simulator.

Arrival gate

Note this before you leave the simulator.

Fuel Consumption

Before you start your engines, you will have fueled the aircraft according to your plans. You will need this fuel weight (in pounds) for the pirep report. When you shut down the engines at the gate at your destination, note down the fuel you have left. The difference is the block fuel used, and the amount that is requested in the pirep report. For example:

28, 008 – (final fuel count) = Block Fuel

28,008 – 6 542 = 21,466 lbs

Your Email

We need a current email address to communicate with you, please ensure that the email address of record is correct went submitting your pirep.


Copyright © United Virtual Airlines : : Original Design by Rob Sakowitz : : Edited by Thomas Nyheim : : Re-designed & Edited by  Orest Skrypuch : :  June 2007 : : version 2.00