TopNav 2014

What is the TopNav Competition? The Royal Institute of Navigation (RIN) has been running this annual competition for 25 years to promote light aircraft navigational skills.

Crews of 2 or more are challenged to navigate a route as accurately as possible, testing their skills in the arts of planning, map reading and visual navigation. Routes are about 150 miles long, but a shorter route is available for slower aircraft such as microlights. The competition has 2 venues, North and South, and for several years these have been hosted at Retford (Gamston)  in Nottinghamshire and White Waltham near Maidenhead.

A GPS tracker is carried to obtain a ‘black box’ readout of the actual path of the aircraft, and crews have to hand in a detailed log showing their navigational and airmanship (safety) decisions made en-route. In addition, photos of each of the 7 or so turning points (TP) have to be submitted to the judges as soon as possible after the sortie.

Entries are judged on accuracy of planning and flying, conformance to the route with penalties for being more than half a mile from track, or missing the over-flight of the TPs. Experienced entrants are given a handicap and crews are not allowed to use GPS equipment during the competition. Account must be taken of NOTAMS (notice of a hazard), Regional QNH (altitude reading), appropriate frequencies and listening squawks (local air traffic warnings). Any zone infringements would be heavily penalised!

I entered TopNav North with Graham Purchase, a colleague from Bustard Flying Club, MOD Boscombe Down. We flew in a Robin DR400 and this year’s route was to the West, passing Mansfield and Belper, around Stoke-on-Trent and over Buxton and Carsington Water, before returning to Gamston Aerodrome for a well earned cup of tea!

I made all the calculations, while my colleague drew the route on the ¼ million chart and marked each keg with the midpoint and minute marks, to help with staying on time. In the air, I flew as accurately as possible whilst sharing the map reading. Meanwhile my colleague kept an eye on the tracking, wrote the log and took the photos. The forecast wind was significantly in error, so it was necessary to calculate the actual wind velocity, based on track-made-good (route travelled) and elapsed time for the first leg. This made for some quick mental arithmetic and a cool head!

We were lucky enough to be declared the winners of TopNav North, winning the British Airline Pilots Association (BALPA) prize, and also received the RAF Flying Clubs Association prize having finished third overall. The prizes were presented at the Annual General Meeting on 16th July by the RIN’s patron, HRH Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh.

This was an excellent opportunity to gain some navigational experience despite having only just obtained my Private Pilot License and having minimal flying hours! The competition was very friendly but challenging for even the most experienced pilot.