The Importance of GPS for Pilots

When Amelia Earhart made her attempt to fly 29,000 miles around the world, available technology only allowed her to complete about 22,000 of the miles. Had GPS (Global Positioning System) been available to her, it is likely she would have been able to find and land on Howland Island in the mid-Pacific Ocean in July of 1937.

GPS technology is available for widespread use by hikers, drivers, boaters, or flyers, and smart pilots know to take advantage of it. GPS is even being included in the latest versions of wireless phones.

GPS was developed by the US Department of Defense in the 1970’s; at that time it was known as NAVSTAR GPS. The primary purpose was for military use. In 1983, a Soviet plane shot down a Korean Air Lines flight that had entered Soviet airspace. As a result, 269 passengers on board the flight were killed. President Ronald Reagan reacted by issuing a directive making the Global Positioning System available, upon completion, for worldwide civilian use at no charge to the user.

Three components make up the Global Positioning System: a series of 24 or more satellites that orbit the earth sending precise microwave signals, control and monitoring stations on the surface, and receivers. Longitude, latitude, and altitude are the three-dimensional location factors given to the receiver, plus time, when the signal is received. This signal makes available a reliable positioning navigation path and timing services for use by civilian operators.

GPS is utilized by both the military and civilian sectors. Because GPS guidance components can be used for military purposes, civilian exports of GPS receivers are controlled by the U.S. government.

GPS relies on three basic components to work: absolute location, relative movement, and time transfer. Navigation is done through the absolute location component. Traditional GPS has three dimensions, but a fourth dimension, time, is becoming an increasingly critical element to many industries. Each and every satellite carries more than one atomic clock which adds accurate time data to GPS signals. It is possible to accurately measure time within 100 billionths of a second. This precise calibration of time is used for communications systems, power grids, and financial networks. To enable complex multi-camera sequencing and to manage audio and video data, Hollywood movie studios make use of the time component of GPS.

GPS has greatly improved the operation of aircrafts. GPS can provide continuous and accurate positioning information in real time throughout a flight. It allows all aircraft to plot routes that are safe, flexible, and make best use of fuel. GPS allows for a reduction in the separation minimum between aircraft and has thereby reduced aircraft delays and increased the efficiency of air traffic management.

The cost of the GPS receiver is far outweighed by the advantages of having it onboard, so no pilot should ever fly without access to GPS. While you can get a good GPS deal from eBay, it isn’t worth the risk of receiving a defective product, especially if the problems are not discovered until you are in flight. If you are shopping for a receiver, please ensure that you purchase this from a reputable company that has extensive knowledge of aircraft and the aviation industry.