Pilot's tip of the week

Using Bearing Pointers


Subscriber question:

“I’m transitioning to a glass cockpit and it has bearing pointers. What are they, and what’s the point?” — Katia G.


A bearing pointer is simply a needle that points to a station. On the HSI pictured, the head of the needle indicates the bearing to the Los Angeles VOR tuned in NAV1, 090 degrees in this case. The same bearing pointer shows you’re on the 270-degree radial because 270 is on the tail.

Every system is different, but there’s usually a button to select what each bearing pointer points to, as well as turn them on or off. Most systems can show either a tuned VOR or the active GPS waypoint. This can be helpful in a bunch of IFR situations. Here are three:

When flying an airway route, use bearing pointers to crosscheck GPS navigation. When you’re on course to a VOR, the bearing pointer should show agreement by lining up perfectly with the HSI’s course pointer. If it doesn’t, you may have the wrong waypoint in your GPS.

If GPS fails, use bearing pointers to track your position down an airway using crossing radials. Tune a VOR that’s offset from your route into NAV2 and set VOR2 on a bearing pointer. The tail of the needle shows what radial you’re on, allowing you to fix your position along the airway.

Certain IFR clearances are easier to follow using bearing pointers. Suppose ATC instructs you to fly one VOR radial to intercept a different VOR’s radial. There’s no named intersection you can enter in the GPS. You could create a GPS user waypoint, but a simpler solution might be using a bearing pointer for one or both radials.

The best place to practice with bearing pointers is in cruise flight when there’s not much else to do. You’ll find many more uses for the quick situational awareness they provide. It’s definitely worth your time.”

When you use GPS for navigation, do you also use a backup source? (This could be VORs, pilotage, dead reckoning, etc.)

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