One of the greatest conundrums facing a student pilot in the age of GPS technology is how to demonstrate competency in the ancient art of pilotage and dead reckoning. Even if you fly a vintage aircraft like a Piper Cub, you’re likely carrying at least one GPS-enabled device at all times — your cell phone. But what if your iPhone or iPad fails? What if GPS signal is lost or jammed? How will you navigate to your destination without a magenta line to guide you? This is what the FAA designated pilot examiner is evaluating on your private pilot check ride: your ability to look out the window, find your next waypoint, and estimate how long it will take you to get to the destination using a compass, grade school algebra and a stopwatch.

If you fly with an iPhone or iPad with ForeFlight, you can use these tools to demonstrate pilotage and dead reckoning. But you have to accept that ForeFlight and the devices it runs on are not designed for this purpose. ForeFlight has an extensive video library covering every feature of the app, but I could not find a video on how to create a navigation log with visual checkpoints for purposes of demonstrating pilotage and dead reckoning on a private pilot practical test. What I’m proposing in this article is a hack that will allow you to learn this important basic skill and satisfactorily demonstrate competency to your instructor and an FAA examiner.

Step #1: Determine the straight line magnetic course (not heading).

ForeFlight’s default behavior is to download and apply winds aloft forecast data to your flight plan in order to generate a proposed magnetic heading for you to fly. This is ultimately what you’re interested in, but first we must determine the magnetic course, with no wind correction applied. After creating our route (KCRG KBQK) tap the Departure box and change the date to 10 days from now. You will see a small yellow Warning after you do this.

Change the departure time to a date 10 days in the future, to prevent winds aloft data from being applied.

Click on the NavLog tab (next to Edit) and see CRS (in this example 9 degrees). This is the same number you would get if you measured the true course on a paper sectional chart, then applied the magnetic variation to find the magnetic course.

Step #2: Identify and mark your visual checkpoints.

Ideally, your first visual checkpoint for calculating ground speed and estimated time en route should be located after the point at which you expect to level off at your cruise altitude. Use your POH’s Performance tables to estimate the time, distance and fuel burned in the climb.

In this example, we are going to use Fernandina Beach Municipal Airport (KFHB) as our first visual checkpoint. To find the distance from KCRG to KFHB, use the two-finger-slide to view magnetic course and distance. This is equivalent to laying a plastic plotter down on a paper sectional.

There are several ways to “drop a pin on the map” and mark a checkpoint in your flight plan. One is to tap and hold your finger over the magenta line at the desired location, but in doing so you will likely also inadvertently drag the line slightly left or right of the original course, creating several legs that are a few degrees off from one another.

I recently discovered a slightly less intuitive but much more accurate way to accomplish the same thing. Tap KCRG and then select Insert After KCRG. In the box, type “KCRG009017” which means, create a waypoint that’s on the 009 magnetic bearing from KCRG (your magnetic course) at 17 nautical miles (017). You should then see something that looks like this (see below). Then, to create an additional waypoint after that one, click on that waypoint (KCRG/009/17) and Insert After. If you want your next waypoint to be 10 miles after that one, type in “KCRG009027”.

Two visual waypoints have been created, one abeam KFHB (KCRG009017) and one 10 miles from KFHB, abeam P50 (KCRG009027).

Step #3: Update your departure time to obtain a suggested on-course heading with wind correction applied.

Tap the Departure box and select Now. If you’re connected to the internet you should immediately see updated flight information (ETE, ETA, Fuel, Wind). Click on the NavLog tab and you’ll notice that CRS now reads HDG, with updated estimates for fuel burn and time between checkpoints. Now you have actual data you can take with you in flight to play the game, ForeFlight vs. Reality: see how close ForeFlight’s (and your own old-school) calculations are to actual in-flight performance.

Keep in mind that estimated time, fuel and distance to climb, as well as estimated time and fuel en route, are all based on the data you entered in the aircraft’s Performance Profile. While ForeFlight will provide some basic data, you’ll need to check this information against what’s in your aircraft’s POH.

Step #4: Generate a printable navigation log and give your checkpoints more user friendly names.

To generate the printable navigation log, tap the Send To icon in the lower right corner of the flight plan box and choose Flights. Then, tap the purple Navlog icon. You should see something like this:

To print the navlog, click the Send To icon in the upper right corner and select Print. You’ll then need to make a few modifications to the form. First, notice that for some odd reason it’s labeled my flight plan as IFR when I specified VFR. No matter. You can just cross it out or write over it. Second, you’ll see that ForeFlight generates two waypoints for you, labeled -TOC- (top of climb) and -TOD- (top of descent). The two user-defined waypoints, at 17 nm and 27 nm from KCRG, are in between. You should make a note next to each one with a description of the object or location that’s been identified. For example, next to KCRG009017 you could write, “Abeam FHB” and next to KCRG009027, you could write “Abeam P50.”

Step 5: Go fly and put your pilotage and dead reckoning skills to the test!

Armed with a navlog, a compass and a stopwatch, go fly the route and see just how accurate your plan really is. Let’s be honest, you’re going to have a GPS or two running in the airplane. But to prove yourself worthy to the examiner (and to prove to yourself that you won’t get lost or run out of fuel if the GPS ever fails), play the game and use the digital ForeFlight sectional as if it were a piece of paper.

Pretend you’re an airmail pilot in the 1930s and ignore the GPS for a few minutes. Set cruise power and complete your checklist, trim for level flight, fly your planned heading and start looking for your next checkpoint. When you arrive at the checkpoint, stop your timer and write down your actual leg time in the ACT column on your navlog. Compare this to the LEG time for that segment. How’d you do?

Now, time for a reality check. On a 55 nm flight in a Cessna 150, with an average ground speed of 80 knots, if you depart Craig with full tanks you should have enough fuel onboard to make the round trip and land back at Craig with about two hours worth of fuel still onboard. If your planned heading is off by a few degrees, as long as you keep looking out the window for landmarks it’s pretty difficult to get lost, especially with that GPS as a backup. But won’t it feel awesome to know that you can make the trip confidently without it?