Wikipedia and other sources assert that Charles Lindbergh used dead reckoning on his historic flight from Long Island to Paris but—likely being aimed at a broader audience—are short on specific technical details.

With few or no landmarks to use as references, how was Lindbergh able to stay on course while over the Atlantic ocean?

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    $\begingroup$ The article about dead reckoning has good explanation if you read it completely. $\endgroup$
    – Jan Hudec
    Jul 24, 2014 at 5:01
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    $\begingroup$ With the primitive weather forecast at that time and no landmark in the ocean, it's unbelievable that he could arrived Paris as planned. The wind directions and air speeds changes while flying in a long distance in a long time. So, whatever the wind forcast figures that he used were not likely what he got in flight. It's an astonishing dead reckoning skills. $\endgroup$
    – user16298
    Aug 7, 2016 at 13:07
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    $\begingroup$ I don't think he used dead reckoning. He made it I think, didn't he? $\endgroup$ Aug 7, 2016 at 23:47
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    $\begingroup$ @TylerDurden How's that working out for you, being clever? $\endgroup$
    – Greg Bacon
    Aug 8, 2016 at 0:27
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    $\begingroup$ Good, I crack me up. Happiness is being able to laugh at your own jokes. $\endgroup$ Aug 8, 2016 at 1:48

2 Answers 2


It's actually "ded" reckoning (short for deduced), and it doesn't involve landmarks, it is simply flying a heading for a certain amount of time, that's it. When you start adding in landmarks and things, that is called "pilotage."

Typically, visual navigation over land is mostly pilotage, with a bit of ded reckoning occasionally. When you get over the water, like Charles Lindbergh, you do mostly ded reckoning. When you do have a chance to use a landmark, you can update your location and basically restart your ded reckoning from a known point. Lindbergh also used the stars to update his position and based new ded reckoning tracks on those positions.

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    $\begingroup$ The world's smartest man looked into the etymology of Dead Reckoning $\endgroup$ Jul 25, 2014 at 17:10
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    $\begingroup$ Wow. I didn't know that. I always thought it was from "if you don't reckon right, you're dead." $\endgroup$
    – radarbob
    Jul 30, 2014 at 3:32

Lindbergh had only an induction compass, clock, and drift sigh for navigation.

He plotted out a great circle route that was broken into 100 mile, straight segments.

Using the drift sight he could determine ground speed. With the clock he could determine distance and course. The compass gave heading.

Every 100 miles he would have to make a course change.


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