In the days of aviation before the release of the Global Positioning System (GPS), pilots had to rely on a number of systems and methods in order to navigate and reach their destination efficiently. While visual flight rule (VFR) pilots can utilize physical landmarks to discern and navigate their surroundings, such methods would prove fruitless when vision is obstructed during certain weather patterns or times of the day. As such, pilots had to rely on VOR ground stations to traverse from one point to the other with instrumentation.
Before the GPS revolutionized aerial navigation, pilots steadily relied on a number of older area navigation (RNAV) technologies. RNAV is a method of carrying out instrument flight rule (IFR) navigation, and it consists of utilizing navigation beacons to set a course. At the time, many avionics manufacturers created RNAV systems that could take advantage of the already existing VORs and DMEs to produce waypoints for flight. With the use of cockpit parts and systems, the pilot could take advantage of specific radial distances to even program a waypoint that was far from a VOR station, opening up wide possibilities of instrument navigation.
As avionics manufacturers continued to advance and improve the capabilities of RNAV systems, pilots were able to increase their efficiency and navigational abilities with ease. The inertial navigation system, or INS, radically changed the ability of navigation at the time, and it allowed for aircraft movement to be measured through the use of gyros. As such, navigation could be measured completely internally as the gyros would be able to determine the rate at which the aircraft was travelling in a given direction. Additionally, such avionics would negate the need for ground radio stations once calibration and operations were checked. To ensure that measurements provided by the gyro were accurate, many aircraft would implement a redundant gyro so that measurements could be cross-referenced and corrected as needed.
Another major navigational instrument that predated the GPS was the LORAN. With system types such as the LORAN-C, aircraft could determine their latitude and longitude through the use of ground radio stations. To do this, the LORAN would transmit long-range radio signals at a low-frequency in order to garner highly accurate readings. As the LORAN system contained a database of airports and other aids, it could be used similarly to a GPS.
Since then, the GPS has served as the primary RNAV system that many pilots across the globe rely on. With its ability to communicate with satellites and provide extremely accurate positioning, pilots can now travel to almost any point on the world with the simple click of a button to program a destination. Due to the wide range at which RNAV systems are able to navigate, standardization has been put in place to ensure that each technology is separated by its capability. Generally, systems are certified on specific service levels, and crew members must all be trained in how the device is operated.
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