“Where am I going?”

GPS helps you determine exactly where you are, but sometimes important to know how to get somewhere else. GPS was originally designed to provide navigation information for ships and planes. So it’s no surprise that while this technology is appropriate for navigating on water, it’s also very useful in the air and on the land.

On the Water

It’s interesting that the sea, one of our oldest channels of transportation, has been revolutionized by GPS, the newest navigation technology. Trimble introduced the world’s first GPS receiver for marine navigation in 1985. And as you would expect, navigating the world’s oceans and waterways is more precise than ever.

Today you will find Trimble receivers on vessels the world over, from hardworking fishing boats and long-haul container ships, to elegant luxury cruise ships and recreational boaters. A New Zealand commercial fishing company uses GPS so they can return to their best fishing holes without wandering into the wrong waters in the process.

The High-Tech Fish Finder
The old sonar fish finders have been around for a while, and they’re pretty helpful when you want to find a school of rowdy largemouth bass. But what do you do when the ocean is your fishing hole and all those fish are your livelihood? An innovative New Zealand fishing company is using Trimble GPS to help them locate and land the catch of the day.

Scalord Products Ltd. have upgraded to NT200 GPS receivers and the Omnistar Differential GPS service to navigate to and within orange roughy fishing grounds. These fish live on underwater sea mounds and other geological features which are difficult to fish over. The speed and accuracy of the NT200 enables them to position their vessel and gear accurately, and safely fish these small areas.

The GPS receiver is interfaced with an acoustic trawl positioning system on two of the boats providing an exact geographical position of the nets. This is not only helpful when looking for a favorite fishing hole, but in avoiding any international boundaries that might be just a few yards off. “It was difficult to fish without GPS,” said Sealord’s Vessel Manager Richard Wells. “The Differential GPS service has improved its capabilities. We also fish Hoki where tow line accuracy is important.”

But GPS navigation doesn’t end at the shore.

Flying a single-engine Piper Cub or a commercial jumbo jet requires the same precise navigation information, and GPS puts it all at the pilot’s fingertips as safely as possible.

By providing more precise navigation tools and accurate landing systems, GPS not only makes flying safer, but also more efficient. With precise point-to-point navigation, GPS saves fuel and extends an aircraft’s range by ensuring pilots don’t stray from the most direct routes to their destinations.

GPS accuracy will also allow closer aircraft separations on more direct routes, which in turn means more planes can occupy our limited airspace. This is especially helpful when you’re landing a plane in the middle of mountains. And small medical evac helicopters benefit from the extra minutes saved by the accuracy of GPS navigation.

Where the Runway Meets the Mountains
As if landing an airplane wasn’t demanding enough, the airport at Juneau, Alaska has an extra challenge. It’s surrounded by glacier-covered mountains. And if you miss your first approach there’s no way out except the way you came in since there’s a 3,000-foot peak just beyond the end of the runway. But when Trimble, working with the FAA, set up a test of a Differential GPS navigation system, it helped the pilots tame the mountains and land safely.

The mountains have hindered the use of traditional ILS (Instrument Landing Systems) since they obstruct radio signals. But the DGPS installed at the airport and on five specially equipped aircraft now allows pilots make their approach with bulls-eye accuracy. Layton Bennett, owner of L.A.B. Flying Service, which has a DGPS receiver installed in one of his aircraft, reports “Our pilots say it’s more accurate than anything they’ve ever flown.”

DGPS corrects the signal degradation that is common with standard GPS, and provides 2 to 3-meter lateral accuracy and 3 to 5-meter vertical accuracy at the airport. The Juneau test also proves the reliability of the GPS signal at high altitudes, which is not the prime focal area of the GPS signal footprint. Even better, the precise position information provides controllers in the tower with a real-time pictures of the landing aircraft. A two-way data link sends the plane’s location back to the tower where it’s displayed on a computer monitor.

The ultimate goal of the Trimble/FAA project is to prove the reliability, accuracy and safety of DGPS and certify it for Class 1 commercial landings. So far, the operation of the system has been flawless and the results very encouraging. This is one test that GPS passed with “flying” colors.

Get Me to the Hospital On Time
When you’re flying a critical patient to the hospital might not always follow standard routes and predetermined schedules. That’s why the University of Wisconsin Hospital and Clinics knew the issue of navigation would be critical for FAA approach approval to their landing pad. And that’s why they put a Trimble GPS-based landing system to work.

“Time is crucial when you’re trying to save lives,” says John McCarthy, Training Officer for Corporate Jet’s Air Medical Services Division. “Trimble’s 2101 GPS navigation system allows us to perform our jobs more efficiently and safely. Its operation has been flawless and easy to use with unquestionable accuracy.”

Pilots use GPS to continuously check flight accuracy and conditions for approach. They can automatically sequence up to 40 flight plans with 40 waypoints each, show the nearest airport, plan vertical descents, and display minimum safe altitudes.

It was this application of Trimble GPS to a tricky navigation problem that brought FAA approval. The University was granted non- precision approach approval, the second such approval to a hospital landing pad in the world.

But you don’t need your head in the clouds to use GPS for navigation.

But GPS navigation doesn’t end at the shore.


Finding your way across the land is an ancient art and science. The stars, the compass, and good memory for landmarks helped you get from here to there. Even advice from someone along the way came into play. But, landmarks change, stars shift position, and compasses are affected by magnets and weather. And if you’ve ever sought directions from a local, you know it can just add to the confusion. The situation has never been perfect.

Today hikers, bikers, skiers, and drivers apply GPS to the age-old challenge of finding their way. Borge Ousland used Trimble GPS to navigate the snow and ice to ski his way to the top of the world and into the record books. And two wilderness rangers employed GPS to establish a route across the Continental Divide for horse riders and packers.

A Bible, Jimi Hendrix, and GPS
Polar history was made on April 22, 1994, when Norwegian Borge Ousland reached the North Pole after skiing 1000 kilometers from Siberia alone and unsupported. For this incredible challenge Børge carried a bible to read, some Jimi Hendrix to listen to, and a Trimble Scout GPS receiver to help find his way.

After the helicopter dropped him on the windswept Siberian Severnay Island, Børge began dragging his 275 pound sled.well. north!. All along the way, his GPS receiver kept him informed of his location and direction, as well as where the North Pole actually was.

Miles of open water and a featureless ice cap made this an unequaled navigation challenge. It’s one thing to navigate land, but it’s quite another when the “land” keeps shifting underfoot. And what was ice one day would be open water the next.

Seven weeks and nearly 600 miles later, and “thinking only of lasagna,” his Trimble GPS receiver informed him that he was precisely on the North Pole. He had covered nearly 600 miles over snow and ice, floating across open water (his sled doubled as a boat), in temperatures that reached 35° below zero across some of the most difficult and dangerous territory on Earth.

Forest Service Trail Riders
Here’s an application that combines navigation with collecting data for a mapping project. Ronald Wilcox and Gary Carver are Forest Service Wilderness Rangers who recently began to establish a new route along the Continental Divide so people using horses or pack stock can have access to this back country. Using a Trimble Explorer, they set off on horseback from South Pass City, Wyoming, spending their first six days navigating broad deserts, deep snow, flooding rivers and lousy weather.

Since they were riding through country with no existing trails, much of their time was spent hunting for routes their horses could maneuver. As you can imagine, their first attempts were fraught with meanderings and double-backs. Though they rode 45 horseback miles, the Explorer showed they had only gained five straight miles from their starting point. During their ride they plotted waypoints and determined coordinates and stored them in the Explorer for the new map.

On the fourth day they ran out of water, but the existing map showed a good water source at Lady South Spring. “We determined the coordinates on the map and set it up as a waypoint in the Explorer,” said Ronald. “The next morning we rode straight to it.”