Some helicopter crashes are caused by a disoriented pilot. This would presumably be impossible with a GPS with terrain maps. Are pilots required to use a GPS when flying a helicopter in the US?

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    $\begingroup$ Disorientation is often not about losing track of where you are but about losing track of where you're going, and which way you're pointing. This is very much possible even with a GPS. $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 28, 2020 at 3:54
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    $\begingroup$ a lot of helicopters (and aircraft) don't even have GPS equipment and are perfectly legal to operate. $\endgroup$
    – jwenting
    Commented Jan 28, 2020 at 5:30
  • $\begingroup$ To add to pericynthion's point, here's an accident report about a GPS-equipped helicopter CFIT, IMC at night: ntsb.gov/Investigations/AccidentReports/Pages/AAR0602.aspx $\endgroup$
    – user44968
    Commented Jan 28, 2020 at 8:35
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    $\begingroup$ GPS doesn't help you know which way is up. $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 28, 2020 at 14:51
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    $\begingroup$ Not only is it possible to become disoriented with a GPS installed, but the GPS could actually contribute to that disorientation. Aviation GPS systems are a bit notorious for being difficult to program. Pilots can and do easily get disoriented when they start fidgeting with one, get fixated on it, and end up ignoring all the other flight indications. Orientation and situational awareness aren't technology problems; they're training problems. $\endgroup$
    – Dave-CFII
    Commented Jan 28, 2020 at 15:58

3 Answers 3


No, pilots are not required to use GPS maps or moving GPS while flying helicopters or fixed-wing aircraft.

There are some approaches to landing that require GPS (called RNAV) approaches, but the airports that they serve usually have other types of non-precision approaches as well.

Helicopters have specialized maps that are called Helicopter Route Charts that are supposed to provide additional information relevant to helicopter pilots. These charts may be carried in paper form, although newer aircraft also have them as electronic moving maps. The pilots may also (but are not required to) be using electronic flight bags with moving maps/terrain/synthetic vision.

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    $\begingroup$ RNAV (be it B or P) is also required on certain airways, departure and arrival procedures (even when followed by a traditional instrument approach) and in certain airspaces (when IFR, of course). The days of VOR2VOR are long gone and inertial navigation can only guarantee certain precision. $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 28, 2020 at 16:32
  • $\begingroup$ Yes, to fly some routes/approaches you need specific equipment, like a GPS, but the pilot could also pick an approach/airway that doesn't have those requirements. $\endgroup$
    – Ron Beyer
    Commented Jan 28, 2020 at 17:07
  • $\begingroup$ Well, according to European Civil Aviation Conference enroute operations above FL95 require BRNAV (RNP5). Countries may designate non-RNAV routes in the lower airspace but there is no such route in our country. I assume one could get a clearence for DCT below FL95. Many TMAs require PRNAV (RNP1). $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 28, 2020 at 17:30
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    $\begingroup$ @VladimirF The question is tagged "FAA", so I wasn't considering any other countries in this answer. $\endgroup$
    – Ron Beyer
    Commented Jan 28, 2020 at 18:24

A disoriented pilot may include pilots who are disoriented with respect to attitude. GPS does not provide attitude information, although it could be inferred to a degree.

A Ground Proximity Warning System (GPWS) uses GPS data and digital elevation models (terrain) to predict terrain collisions. Such a device gives warning when an aircraft trajectory is likely to collide or nearly collide with terrain. These systems are common on fixed wing and rotorcraft.

In 2002 the US FAA mandated TAWS or GPWS for all turbine airplanes having 6 or more passengers. I am unaware of a similar requirement for helicopters, but I seldom fly helicopters, particularly larger than a 206.

For helicopter flights there is only a requirement in the US to have maps or charts suitable for the navigation used. If VFR these could be Helicopter charts, terminal charts, sectionals, WAC/ONC, even instrument charts. Old man Jeppesen just made notes on a notebook, and later marketed them.

To specifically answer your question, there are no generalized requirements for GPS or moving map GPS in helicopters.

And as a relevant footnote, GPWS systems have been available at a relatively low cost for general aviation aircraft for well over 20 years, which would provide terrain warning, with verbal audio in the pilot cabin.


GPS is never required in any aircraft. No navigational aid/equipment is required in aircraft flying VFR (Visual Flight Rules) or Daytime Special-VFR except for a magnetic compass. Nighttime Special-VFR and all IFR (Instrument Flight Rules) require navigational equipment specific for the flight undertaken and/or the Instrument Procedure flown. This may or may not mean GPS, VOR, DME, LOC, and/or ADF may be required. It depends on the circumstances. Even the magnetic compass is not considered a navaid in an aircraft. It is technically a flight instrument.


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