There are different ways of representing coordinates.

  • When I went to school, in geography class, we learned longitude and latitude as degrees, minutes, and seconds (like 52° 30' 59" N, 13° 22' 40" E)
  • When I copy a position from a maps app, I get decimal coordinates (like 52.51625 °N, 13.37767 °E)
  • In nautics, coordinates use decimal minutes (like 52° 31.0' N, 013° 22.7' E)
  • The institutions of disaster relief use UTMREF system (like 33U UU 8996 1970)

I am aware that you can convert all these systems into each other. But still:

I am particularly interested in the coordinate notation that is preferably used in helicopter flights. If this differs from region to region, I'm particularly interested in what's common in Germany.

  • $\begingroup$ Military or civilian? $\endgroup$ Nov 24, 2022 at 14:26
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Used in what context? User input in a system, internal representation of that system, ATC communications, else? $\endgroup$
    – Federico
    Nov 24, 2022 at 16:57
  • $\begingroup$ Use of a coordinate system is more dependent on mission and location than aircraft category and class. $\endgroup$ Nov 24, 2022 at 17:03
  • $\begingroup$ In Canada actual aeronautic navigation is Lat long, but when flying for industry its normal to use UTM coordinates instead as they are simpler to relay and are more suited to the short distances and precision need to navigate to a particular clearing or tiny helipad. $\endgroup$ Nov 28, 2022 at 9:07

2 Answers 2


The standard in aviation is same as Nautical. That is Degrees and Minutes, and if a position needs to be depicted more precisely than that, they don't use Seconds (60 in a minute) they use tenths of minutes.

So you will see "45o 30'N" for 45 degrees, 30 minutes, but for a more detailed locator, they just add a decimal to the minutes value, instead of seconds. Thus it becomes something like "45o 30.6'N" for 45 degrees, 30 minutes and 6 tenths of a minute. The grid sub unit marks on aviation charts are in tenths of a minute as well.


In our institution, we operate a research helicopter based on the Eurocopter EC135 (now renamed to Airbus H135), the ACT/FHS.

As we develop control algorithm for this machine we use two formats:

  1. Due to the digital output of our custom Inertial Navigation System, we use the decimal representation of the GPS coordinates (like 52.51625 °N, 13.37767 °E). This is the most convenient format, as we can use it digitally.
  2. Often, for local navigation, we translate these coordinates to a local NED frame, which we then can use for a lot of local navigation algorithms. In this frame we can say that we are for example 500 m North, 200 m South and 300 m up from a given reference point. This is a lot easier to use, however if you are farther away then 30km from your reference point, the local approximation really starts to show.

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