: How does a pilot know where the airport is when he is flying to a particular destination for the first time in his life?

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: How does a pilot know where the airport is when he is flying to a particular destination for the first time in his life?

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He uses a map.

If he has a GPS, that works too.

If he doesn’t have a map or a GPS he can use his radio to ask for directions.

Radar and GPS tell the aircraft where they are and where they are heading the autopilot can be programmed from shortly after take off to just before landing so the pilot doesn’t have to know the way.

You don’t need to know where the airport is. The plane has a navigational database and does the lateral navigation itself.

Unless you are flying VFR/VOR to VOR which is only done in older planes these days, the pilot themselves are flying the plane during take off and landing. Modern planes mostly navigate themselves to the location it is going.

There are, however, special airports that require special training and the pilot is required to fly to it from a certain position themselves, but pilots will be trained for that and only pilots with the qualifications for that airport can fly a plane there.

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Pilots don’t just get into a plane and fly to a city on a whim, like you might decide to take a prettier street at the last minute on the way to the grocery store. They have to declare a flight path a head of time that basically says the exact altitude and direction the plane will fly in from A to B, so it’s sort of getting Google Maps to spit out directions, you might not know exactly where you’re going but you just follow the directions and you’ll get there.

Older planes even had a dedicated navigator who just looked at maps all flight and spat out directions for the pilots who were controlling the aircraft.

Airport runways are also named after the direction they face on a 360 degree circle, so runway 18 runs along the line 180 degrees from North. So even if they don’t know the airport, when the tower tells them “you are cleared to land on runway 22” they know to approach the airport at 220 degrees from North.

Anywho, most of this is computer controlled now with the pilot just monitoring the performance of the autopilot so yeah.

Pilots must purchase detailed navigational maps, called sectionals. These will not only help them find an airport, but will also have navigational aids (mountain peaks, radio towers, etc). These days these are typically electronic rather than on paper and are integrated with GPS, but previously this had to be done by “dead reckoning” — estimating your position based on speed, time traveled, and direction of travel.

In fair weather, small aircraft taking off or landing from small airports generally need to navigate on their own. However planes both large and small flying from a larger airport can file a flight plan, and they will receive “vectors” over the radio from an air traffic controller. A vector is basically “fly this direction at this altitude” and that will get them to their destination.

The journey starts long before you ever step into your plane.

Before flying, you create a flight plan. You use special aviation maps and get current weather data to create a flight plan of your exact route to your destination. Altitudes, directions, speed, timing, radio frequencies, navigation aids, fuel consumption, alternate landing sites in emergencies, along the way, and importantly where you’re getting a burger at when you land (not kidding on the last one).

By the time you’re in the plane, you’re just following your plan, making minor adjustments as you go.

In modern planes? Airlines will give the pilot a flightplan, existing of a departure airport and arrival airport, each defined by a unique 4 letter code. Between these airports the airplane will fly between waypoints designated by 3 or 5 letter codes (these aren’t actually all unique, but the airplane will indicate the distance between these points, so if a pilot for a 2-hour flight suddenly sees a leg several hundred nautical miles, they’ll know it’s likely wrong). These points are also on airways which have a distinct numbering system.

Pilots flying visual will investigate charts before their flight to guide themselves using landmarks and specialised radio beacons are also available for instrument and visual flying.

And if all that fails, the air traffic control will also help.