• Ocean Crossing with Sun & Star Navigation

    Ocean Crossing with Sun & Star Navigation in FSX

    A flight report

    In this article I will describe a recent navigation flight made in FSX, using classical navigation techniques from celestial observations, that means using sun, moon, stars and planets.

    The afternoon before departure, the Cat awaits fully prepared.


    Ocean-crossing flights in aviation history have captured the imagination of the public. There were the early pioneers, the flying boats and the prize money. Names of Lindbergh, Alcock & Brown, Francis Chichester and Kingsford-Smith are etched in the memories of aviation fans. They are inspiring heroes of their time.

    But many more didn't make it to fame or glory. In fact, many didn't make it to their last destination. They fell victim to failing engines, bad weather, or .... they lost their way: Amelia Earhart, Nungesser & Coli, and many, many others.

    Indeed, one of the major challenges in the 1920's to 1940's was navigation. Without GPS, VOR/NDB, INS and other modern means, it was a true worry to find that tiny island out at sea, and before long a crew included a dedicated navigator, who often was the mathematics wizzkid with spectacles, turned down for a pilot.

    Now, for us today, these navigators and flights are long gone. But you can recreate these flights in FSX with the proper aircraft, scenery and weather. However, two problems remain that prevent it from being attractive and realistic.

    First, a long ocean-crossing flight in a slow aircraft in FSX is very, very boring. It takes a long time and it's not in any way challenging or difficult. And flying over water is visually unattractive in absence of photoreal terrain. Selecting Time Acceleration then becomes very tempting, but has little to do with flying.

    Second, navigation at that time was accomplished by using a sextant to sight the sun, moon, stars and planets. Although complicated, inaccurate and hampered by weather, it generally worked when done properly and with clever techniques. But sextant navigation is not included in FSX. Although one or two gauges are available for download, they seem to focus on the visual aspect of the device, not on the navigation techniques required.

    Solving the second problem, achieving sextant navigation in FSX, also nicely solves the first challenge. Because it's guaranteed to keep you very busy and excited. And indeed, it can be done.

    In this article I will briefly explain how this is done, by telling you of a recent flight that I made, and that ended somewhat different than I expected.

    I will also show that FSX needs a few expansions/add-ons in order to make this work, including a self-made piece of software for the heavenly bodies.

    Once accomplished, the result has been very rewarding to me. It feels like I have re-discovered FSX as a valuable practice tool to learn a lost art. For obvious reasons (money, time, an aircraft, courage, a family) I am not able to make real-life ocean crossings as a pilot. But in this way, I have managed to learn this skill and execute it very, very realistically.

    The 3D spherical-math of celestial navigation

    1. Barkingside's Avatar
      Barkingside -
      It would be nice if we could d/l this as a PDF or similar.
    1. donh's Avatar
      donh -
      Great article. I have been using this: dc3_bbsx.zip for about a year, and you're right, it does add to the whole experience. Works great in FS2004, don't know about FSX.
    1. madPILOT's Avatar
      madPILOT -
      Quote Originally Posted by Barkingside View Post
      It would be nice if we could d/l this as a PDF or similar.

      FAA Dokument http://www.faa.gov/regulations_polic...-H-8083-18.pdf

      a good test pilot is always in training
      Thomas, Scorpion
    1. Barkingside's Avatar
      Barkingside -
      Thank you.
    1. Ericvdveen's Avatar
      Ericvdveen -
      I have uploaded the article as a PDF to the flightsim library. It should be available soon.

      I believe there's a fix for FSX for the FS2004 sextant gauge.

      And check this too for more resources:


    1. swanny's Avatar
      swanny -
      LOL Eric!
      Thank you so much for this fascinating read.
      And this, my friends, is why I am NOT working in Commerical Aviation today! (I needed a career that did NOT involve math and calculations and errors.)
    1. allanj12's Avatar
      allanj12 -
      Thanks for this excellent article. It made me think again about the much longer "Double Sunrise' flights Qantas made in WWII and how challenging the navigation was. They had opportunity for a couple of radio fixes, but most of it was navigation of this sort.
    1. lfishe's Avatar
      lfishe -
      This is amazing. I took Celestial Navigation for ocean sailing along time ago. I still have my Sextant, old Almanac and H. O. Pub. NO. 249 Vol. 1, 2, 3 Sight Reduction Tables for Air Navigation (Selected Stars) Epoch 1975.0 Defense Mapping Agency Hydrographic Center, (Latitudes 0 degrees - 39 degrees) (Declinations 0 degrees - 29 Degrees), (Latitudes 40 - 89) (Declinations 0 - 29) U.S. Naval Oceanographic Office. This is the 1st time I have had them out in probably 35 years. I am really glad that you posted this. I had no idea that this could be done in FSX. That doesn't mean I could do it now, but it certainly is intriguing.

    1. apachehunter's Avatar
      apachehunter -
      Excellent article, actually one of the best I've read here at flightsim.com so far!

      I have one question though: "self-built software for Celestial observations, in SciLab and Lua", will this be available to us readers?
    1. Ericvdveen's Avatar
      Ericvdveen -
      Thank you for these wonderful comments! A few responses from my side:

      I would not mind sharing my software, but it does need some manual fiddling, and I am not in a position to provide support. please PM me for software requests.

      Presently I am about halfway a much longer 1400 nm flight using the same technique. I would be happy to put this in another article. Any wishes for what to focus on in that? eg. demonstrate the full calculation for a shot or fix?

      Also I would be looking for people/programmer to further develop this into a proper executable and FSX gauge. Anyone?

    1. dlemmons's Avatar
      dlemmons -
      Hi Eric,
      Is it possible to get a pdf copy of this article?
      I teach ocean navigation for the United State Power Squadron and I would very much like to share this article with my students.

      David L. Emmons SN
      [email protected]
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