Monday, November 19, 2007


Turning errors is most apparent when turning to or from a heading of north or south. This error increases as the poles are neared and magnetic dip becomes more apparent. There is no turning error when flying near the magnetic equator.

In the Northern Hemisphere, when making a turn from a northerly heading, the compass gives an initial indication of a turn in the opposite direction. It then begins to show the turn in the proper direction, but lags behind the actual heading. The amount of lag decreases as the turn continues, then disappears as the airplane reaches a heading of east or west. When turning from a heading of east or west to a heading of north, there is no error as the turn begins. However, as the heading approach north, the compass increasingly lags behind the airplane's actual heading. When making a turn from a southerly heading, the compass gives an indication of a turn in the correct direction, but leads the actual heading. This error also disappears as the airplane approaches an east or west heading. Turning from east or west to a heading of south causes the compass to move correctly at the start of a turn, but then it increasingly leads the actual heading as the airplane nears a southerly direction.

The amount of lead or lag is approximately equal to the latitude of the airplane. For example, if turning from a heading of south to a heading of west while flying at 40° north latitude, the compass rapidly turns to a heading of 220° (180° + 40°). At the midpoint of the turn, the lead decreases to approximately half (20°), and upon reaching a heading of west, it is zero.

The magnetic compass, which is the only direction-seeking instrument in the airplane, should be read only when the airplane is flying straight and level at a constant speed.

This will help reduce errors to a minimum. If the pilot thoroughly understands the errors and characteristics of the magnetic compass, this instrument can become the most reliable means of determining headings.

Instrument check—Prior to flight, make sure that the compass is full of fluid. Then during turns, the compass should swing freely and indicate known headings.

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