Radio Navigation–Tim's VOR Simulator


Introduce student to a simple Java VOR simulator for self-directed learning and practice for radio navigation.


  1. Sources for Tim’s VOR simulator
  2. Basic commands
  3. Problem set-up
  4. Sample problems

Instructional aids

Tim’s VOR simulator


Sources for Tim’s VOR simulator

Tim’s VOR simulator is a free, Java application that runs in Internet Explorer and Firefox. It’s a rudimentary VOR/ADF/HSI/DME simulator, but once familiarized with the basic commands, it’s a great tool for learning radio navigation. You can get it by searching for “Tim’s VOR simulator”, or just go to Atlas Aviation (which has a clock on the same page…great when you start learning instrument procedures). It has it’s limitations, but requires less of a learning curve than Microsoft Flight Sim, and costs you infinitely less than learning radio navigation while airborne.

Basic commands

All the instructions are below the simulator window, but to control the speed and turn rate,  you’ll use the arrow keys; space levels the wings. “1” and “2” cycle the instruments that are displayed. “T” tracks your progress and “R” toggles the radials on and off. “H” hides the plane and track, and “L” randomly repositions the plane. “P” pauses the simulation. The OBS can be changed by 1 degree by clicking the “<” and “>” buttons, and by 10 degrees by clicking the corresponding chevrons. The simulator shows distance to the station in the upper right corner of the instrument panel, and heading, airspeed, and turn rate along the bottom of the simulator panel.

Because it’s an applet, your cursor needs to be active in the applet window for your keyboard inputs to be registered. This is the most frustrating feature of the simulator. If your keyboard commands aren’t registered, grab your mouse and click the OBS setting buttons or click over the station (clicking anywhere else in the simulator will reposition the plane, which will probably piss you off–it’s still less of a hassle than dealing with MSFS).

Problem set-up

To practice VOR navigation, press 2 until the directional gyro (compass) is shown in the lower panel. Drag the red station to the center of the simulator panel. Press the up arrow to increase the airspeed to 90 knots and watch the needle center as the plane flies north of the station. These simple exercises will introduce you to how the instrument indications change as the aircraft’s position relative to the station changes. Watch a video that demonstrates these steps

  1. Try repositioning the plane (by just clicking within the simulator panel) to different corners of the simulator panel to see how the needle deflection changes.
  2. Try changing the heading to observe how the needle deflection changes.
  3. Drag the airplane from one side of the simulator panel to the other and watch the changing needle indications.

Sample problems

Once you think you understand how the VOR and DG indications correlate to the aircraft’s position, use these exercises to test your knowledge.

Direction to the station. Watch a video that demonstrates these steps.

  1. Position the station in the center of the simulator panel, pause the simulator (P), stop any bank (SPACE), and zero the airspeed (DOWN ARROW).
  2. Hide the airplane (H) and press L.
  3. Rotate the OBS to determine what radial the airplane is on.
  4. Press H to reveal the airplane’s position.
  5. Try changing the airplane’s initial heading (P, LEFT/RIGHT ARROW, then SPACE, then P again) after step 2.

Fly to the station. Watch a video that demonstrates these steps.

  1. Cover the simulator panel with a sticky note.
  2. Repeat steps 1-2 above.
  3. Increase the airspeed to 90 knots, press T to trace your route, and complete step 3 above.
  4. Press P and use the arrow keys to navigate to the station.
  5. Check your route by pressing H. Your route should require the smallest turn to get to the station, without overshooting the inbound radial.
  6. Try random starting headings by following step 5.
  7. Instrument and Commercial students: add wind by pressing “W”, then click and drag so you have 10-30 knots of wind.

Two-station navigation. Some questions on the FAA exams require you to use a combination of 2 VOR indications and/or DME to determine where on an airway you are. In this scenario, you are navigating to a station using one VOR (and are usually started to the left or right of course); on the airway, there’s an intersection defined by a radial from another station. The problem will require you to determine where you are relative to the center of the airway and the intersection. This exercise will help you practice navigation on an airway using an HSI (which incorporates the DG) and a VOR. Since the simulator only shows 2 instruments, you have to use the HSI and should practice the first 2 problems with the HSI first.  Watch a video that demonstrates these steps.

  1. Start with the simulator paused.
  2. Press 1 until the HSI is shown in the upper panel and 2 until the VOR is shown in the lower panel.
  3. Drag the red station to the 9 o’clock position of the simulator window and the blue station somewhere between the 10- and 1-o’clock positions.
  4. Position the airplane near the 3-o’clock position.
  5. Change the airplane’s heading so that it’s pointed toward the red station.
  6. Set the HSI OBS on a westerly radial with a TO indication (eg, 270); set the VOR OBS on a southerly radial (eg, 200).
  7. Press P to start the simulation (and add airspeed if necessary).
  8. Fly to the red station and observe the changing indication as you approach, align with, and pass the second station’s bearing.
  9. Fly this several times so you understand the behavior of the second station indications.
  10. Try flying to the red station, then hide (H) the airplane. Turn around (easy way is to zero your airspeed and add some bank until you’ve reversed your heading).
  11. Fly to the intersection, then fly north toward the blue station.
  12. Fly south from the blue station to the intersection, then turn and fly away from the red station.

Real-life advice and experience

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Additional resources


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