Radio Navigation – Area Navigation (RNAV)

in Communication and Navigation

Area Navigation (RNAV)

Area navigation (RNAV) is a general term used to describe the navigation from point A to point B without direct over flight of navigational aids, such as VOR stations or ADF nondirectional beacons. It includes VORTAC and VOR/DME based systems, as well as systems of RNAV based around LORAN, GPS, INS, and the FMS of transport category aircraft. However, until recently, the term RNAV was most commonly used to describe the area navigation or the process of direct flight from point A to point B using VORTAC and VOR/DME based references which are discussed in this section.


All RNAV systems make use of waypoints. A waypoint is a designated geographical location or point used for route definition or progress-reporting purposes. It can be defined or described by using latitude/longitude grid coordinates or, in the case of VOR based RNAV, described as a point on a VOR radial followed by that point’s distance from the VOR station (i.e., 200/25 means a point 25 nautical miles from the VOR station on the 200° radial).

Figure 11-123 illustrates an RNAV route of flight from airport A to airport B. The VOR/DME and VORTAC stations shown are used to create phantom waypoints that are overflown rather than the actual stations. This allows a more direct route to be taken. The phantom waypoints are entered into the RNAV course-line computer (CLC) as a radial and distance number pair. The computer creates the waypoints and causes the aircraft’s CDI to operate as though they are actual VOR stations. A mode switch allows the choice between standard VOR navigation and RNAV.

Figure 11-123. The pilot uses the aircraft’s course deviation indicator to fly to and from RNAV phantom waypoints created by computer. This allows direct routes to be created and flown rather than flying from VOR to VOR.

Figure 11-123. The pilot uses the aircraft’s course deviation indicator to fly to and from RNAV phantom waypoints created by computer. This allows direct routes to be created and flown rather than flying from VOR to VOR. [click image to enlarge]

VOR based RNAV uses the VOR receiver, antenna, and VOR display equipment, such as the CDI. The computer in the RNAV unit uses basic geometry and trigonometry calculations to produce heading, speed, and time readouts for each waypoint. VOR stations need to be within line-of sight and operational range from the aircraft for RNAV use. [Figure 11-124]
Figure 11-124. RNAV unit from a general aviation aircraft.

Figure 11-124. RNAV unit from a general aviation aircraft.

RNAV has increased in flexibility with the development of GPS. Integration of GPS data into a planned VOR RNAV flight plan is possible as is GPS route planning without the use of any VOR stations.