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For general aviation small aircraft flying VFR under 10,000 feet, can I use my phone GPS for navigation in the US? So no onboard GPS (which are expensive), no VOR/DME, of course there is always dead reckoning and pilotage.

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    $\begingroup$ My first thought is "Dunning-Kruger Effect", people overestimating their own skills... $\endgroup$ – Harper - Reinstate Monica Apr 13 at 15:59
  • $\begingroup$ I've navigated half way across the US a few times with my phone being the most advanced piece of navigation equipment in the cockpit. Yes. It can be done but I would limit it to VFR only. As with most things in aviation: just don't be dumb about it. $\endgroup$ – acpilot Jun 14 at 5:24
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Can you do it? Sure. It is recommendable? That depends.

If you are planning to use it as your primary source of navigation, then I would say definitely no. Aviation GPS units are designed to be used on aircraft, they are reliable and have airspace maps. There's a reason they are expensive. The same cannot be said for your phone GPS.

But, if you remain aware of your position by other means (visually recognising landmarks and cross referencing them with aeronautical charts) then sure, you can use your phone GPS as an additional source of navigational information.

Just keep in mind that if the GPS suddenly fails, you should be able to continue the flight normally. If you can't, then it means you are trusting the GPS more than you should.

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  • $\begingroup$ Thanks. Just to elaborate. Are there some software on the phone/tablet that contain airspace maps (locally) and can't I just use that to navigate? $\endgroup$ – Shuheng Zheng Apr 12 at 17:40
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    $\begingroup$ The sudden failure applies to aviation GPS as well, which is why it's a good idea to make pilotage your primary means of navigation. (You might also consider the cautionary tales of people who've followed their automotive GPS systems into canals, down cliffs, into deserts or deep snow...) $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Apr 12 at 18:28
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    $\begingroup$ @ShuhengZheng - Ditto what James said. Apps like Foreflight, FlyIQ, FlyGo, Stratus Insight, etc. are EFBs that can contain any and all charts that you need for the entire world (as long as you have the storage space). Foreflight on my iPad takes up between 25-50 Gigs of space. It contains charts for the entire US and then some. All of your flight planning can be done on it. And, except for updating your charts, getting your weather briefing, and filing your flight plan, it does not need a data connection to operate. It & a Stratus make a great tool and backup. Still, rely on your pilot skills. $\endgroup$ – Dean F. Apr 12 at 20:43
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    $\begingroup$ @Dean F.: OTOH, paper maps never experience battery problems :-) $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Apr 13 at 5:11
  • $\begingroup$ "You might also consider the cautionary tales of people who've followed their automotive GPS systems into canals, down cliffs, into deserts or deep snow"- were they not looking out the window?! $\endgroup$ – user253751 Apr 13 at 11:22
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A handheld (or yoke-mounted) GPS such as the Garmin 76S (very ancient now) is very inexpensive and quite useful for VFR navigation, especially for choosing the right heading to end up where you want to go despite crosswinds, and for estimating ETA. For seeing airspace boundaries or having quick access to the location of nearby airports in case of an in-flight problem, something fancier like the IFly700 (also ancient now) is more practical and still not expensive. These days programs similar to what is available on the IFly700 can be run on inexpensive tablets. Using something like one of these options as an inexpensive independent tool in addition to your phone would give you a substantial amount of redundancy and help support a "yes" answer to your question.

You may find it most practical to rely mainly on your phone while keeping the other device stashed away somewhere where you can reach it easily if the phone stops working for some reason, or you may find it advantageous to keep the other device powered up and running in addition to your phone. I've even used two devices at the same time while flying a hang glider, which seems like complete overkill, but there were definite advantages to being able to see two screens displaying different sets of information at the same time without pushing any buttons to switch back and forth.

You may find this ASE question to be related/ helpful-- Why might a moving map Android app consistently record altitude off by 120 feet? .

You may have better luck finding information about good apps to run on your phone for in-flight navigation as well as for saving a record of your flight-- and there are many-- in various sport pilot discussion forums, perhaps the EAA forum, etc. Answers to your present question will likely focus on "is it a good idea to navigate this way?".

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The answer is yes you can use your phone for navigation, if you remain VFR in VMC in the US National Airspace Space. You just must continue to maintain visual reference to the ground and be able to abide by airspace rules (don’t bust any controlled airspaces like A,B,C, or D, SUAs, etc.). There are no navigational equipment requirements for your aircraft other than to have an operational magnetic compass. Your other equipment dictated in Title 14 Part 91.205(b) are more for general flight than they are for navigation.

That being said, you should not use your phone as your primary means of navigation in any scenario. Instead, rely on your piloting skills as primary and the phone as back up. Have a navigation plan. Make a navigation log. Have well defined landmarks and visual reference points along your route. Have a calibrated compass and compass deviation card as well as an accurate clock with hours, minutes, and seconds. Be able to do compass turns and timed turns. Have an accurate/updated sectional chart, a plotter, and an E6b (electronic or manual). Etc.

Smart phones, tablets, and apps have come a long way in recent times. The GPS receivers can get an amazing amount of accuracy for what they are. You don’t even need a WiFi or cellular data signal depending on the app you use. I have been able to track my flight as a commercial passenger or my hiking, biking, or driving in foreign countries without an internet signal.

But, don’t rely on them in the air when it matters. I’ve had my phones shut down after the ambient temperature reached 104°F (40°C) on bike rides. I have had my tablets shut down on cool days in the C172 with the windows open just because they spent the entire cross country trip in direct sunlight in my lap. Good old paper and a manual E6b don’t suffer from these drawbacks.

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    $\begingroup$ I'm not sure why you say that a pilot must have visual reference to the ground under VFR? VFR over the top is generally legal in the US (see this question). $\endgroup$ – Pondlife Apr 12 at 20:51
  • $\begingroup$ @quietflyer - That’s a very good question. I guess it is a moot point if you were VFR-on-top because that is an IFR operation. If you were VFR-over-the-top, you required to have all of the equipment stipulated in Part 91.205(d) according to Part 91.507. Technically, I guess it does not say you have to use the equipment. So, would your above comment make your flight in violation of Part 91.507? $\endgroup$ – Dean F. Apr 12 at 20:54
  • $\begingroup$ @Pondlife - You are right. VFR-over-the-top is legal. Of course, busting an airspace because you did not know where you were is not. If you can maintain positional awareness, you can fly anywhere you want without seeing any visual references. My point in my answer is that doing so would be very unlikely if your gps went out and you had no other navigational aid. Even your compass and clock can only take you from visual reference to visual reference with confidence. $\endgroup$ – Dean F. Apr 12 at 21:18
  • $\begingroup$ See pilotworkshop.com/tips/vfr-over-top or aviation.stackexchange.com/a/31183/34686 . In short the answer could be improved by deleting first half of second sentence. $\endgroup$ – quiet flyer Apr 12 at 22:09
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    $\begingroup$ Actually FAR 91.507 is in subpart F of part 91 (starts at 91.500) which only applies to "Large and Turbine-Powered Multiengine Airplanes and Fractional Ownership Program Aircraft", so I guess I wasn't busting the regs after all, and my suggested edit still stands. $\endgroup$ – quiet flyer Apr 12 at 22:24

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