True Course Vs True Heading: Understanding Aircraft Navigation Terms

posted by Chris Valentine

Are you trying to figure out different aircraft navigation terms? Read this article to learn more about understanding true course vs true heading.

Did you know there are over 600,000 pilots in just the US?

Pilots are in great demand and learn an impressive amount of information that allows them to do their job.

Learning aviation terms is an important part of flying a plane. Some terms are commonly used, so anyone who flies a plane for any amount of time will inevitably learn about true course vs true heading and some other terms.

Other terms are used more rarely, meaning that even pilots have to set aside special study time to learn them.

These terms are just as important as the more common ones. Read on to learn the navigation terms you need to know!

True Course vs True Heading

True course is a term that tells you what course an airplane is following across the ground. Airplanes are designed to calculate their true course using a sectional map and a navigation plotter.

True heading is the same as true course, but with one alteration. True heading corrects for wind.

More Aviation Terminology

Magnetic course is another term that is based on true course. True course bases its movement calculations on the plane’s location relative to true north.

Since true north is based on the earth’s magnetic field, and the magnetic field can fluctuate, the true course today and the true course tomorrow may be different. Magnetic course corrects for differences in the magnetic field.

Magnetic heading is very similar. Instead of correcting the true course for magnetic changes, magnetic heading adjusts the true heading for magnetic changes.

Pilots also need to keep track of their craft’s speed and altitude. The plane’s airspeed indicator gives an indicated airspeed reading.

However, that reading is affected by position inaccuracies. To counter this potential mistake, calibrated airspeed corrects for those inaccuracies.

An airplane is full of complicated instruments, some of which can affect the normal functioning of the plane’s compass.

The compass heading takes into account the interferences of other instruments and theoretically tells you which exact heading you should follow. While nothing is truly exact, it can be a big improvement.

Indicated altitude is a term that tells you how far you are from sea level. Note that it does not tell you how far you are from the ground.

This means that at an indicated altitude of 1000 feet, you might be 900 feet from the ground in one place, and only 300 feet from the ground in a place with higher elevation.

Absolute altitude is the term used to tell you the distance between the earth and the plane.

Ground Effect 

Aircraft ground effect is the name for a fascinating aviation phenomenon. As the airplane gets closer and closer to the ground, at some point it becomes difficult for the airplane to continue to descend.

As air gets trapped between the wings and the ground, a cushion of air is created that hold the airplane up just above the ground. Experienced pilots have to learn to correct for this phenomenon, but not overcorrect.

Adjusting for the ground effect just right, skilled pilots can control their craft to achieve a smooth landing.

Know Your Stuff!

We hope you’ve enjoyed this explanation of true course vs true heading and other aviation terms. To learn more about flight literacy, check out our other articles!

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