NAVIGATION & WAYPOINTS
(Getting from "Point A" to "Point B")
Learning to fly a plane isn't really all that difficult. Getting a plane into the air and back down again (in one piece) is something that just about anyone can do, but getting your plane to go where you want it to go - that's what separates the men from the boys.
The first skill you'll learn when it comes to navigating is called "dead reckoning". It's simply looking around at local landmarks and figuring out where you are. Once you figure out where you are, then you figure out what you've got to do to get where you want to go.
Let's say you've decided to fly from one airport to another - you look at your map and see there's a river running from the end of the runway to an airport 20 miles off to the west. You go jump into your plane, take off and "follow the river" to the airport.
An even better way of navigating is realizing that it will take you about 10 minutes (flying 120 miles per hour) on a heading of 270 degrees (due west) to reach your destination. When you combine the two, calculating your speed and heading, and at the same time watching to see that the river is still down there, now you're doing what's known as good old fashioned "dead reckoning" Believe it or not, there's actually a large arrow painted on a mountain side in Arizona that points towards Phoenix - at one point in time, that was how pilots found their way to the airport...
Ok, let's jump ahead to radio navigation. Years ago the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) built a network of hundreds of radio transmitters all over the country. When you're in range, your radio can tell you what heading to fly to go directly to that specific station.
If you wanted to, you could fly from station to station (unfortunately, not always in a straight line) and eventually get where you're headed, but now, computers do some a little crunching and you're able to create a phantom "waypoint" that you can fly to. You don't have to follow the actual path of the stations anymore - with waypoints, you can fly ANYWHERE you want to.
Waypoints have made navigating a whole lot easier for everyone.
(Of course, you gotta make sure all of them little electronic gizmo's are still working...)