What are the differences between Bearing vs Course vs Direction vs Heading vs Track?

  • This answer from English.SE does not focus on aviation, and does not explain 'Track'.

    In basic, simple English, would you please compare and contrast all 5 terms in my question's title? The differences between 'course' vs 'heading' was generously explained in this answer.

  • Tiger963

    Tiger963 Correct answer

    6 years ago

    This is how I explain it, hopefully it helps more than hinders!

    This is where my nose points - and seeing as my nose is attached to my head, this is where my head (and thus my machine) is pointing relative to North.

    This is my INTENDED path of travel that I have calculated taking into consideration winds, variation and declination.

    This is my ACTUAL path traveled over ground - just like a set of tracks I would leave behind in the snow or sand, relative to North

    This is the angle between the location of an object, machine or destination and either:
    - my heading. This is called 'Relative Bearing'.
    - or magnetic north (direction toward the magnetic north pole). This is called 'Magnetic Bearing'.


    So from the picture, if I take off from Springfield enroute to Shelbyville. My course (the intended path) is due East, or 090 degrees. I notice my winds are Southerly (from 183 degrees / to 003 degrees), so I make my heading 095 degrees to compensate for wind drift (or 5 degrees crab into the wind).

    If my calculations are bang on, my track should be the same as my course, however I misjudged the winds, finding out my resulting track over the ground is 081 degrees - I must correct (by increasing) my heading to get back on course.

    Now with some airports, the navaids (NDB or VOR) are not directly at the airfield but some distance away, so if I wanted to either fly directly to the NDB or figure out my position in space during enroute nav checks, I would take the bearing to the NDB/VOR either relative to my heading or relative to magnetic north to find its position.

    Hope this helps.

    Welcome to Aviation.SE! Great answer!

    Good answer; two small points: course is independent of wind, and the winds from the south are not generally referred to as northerly, but would be expressed as 180/50 rather than 003/50.

    I fill like this picture is confusing. To my understanding from this answer, if magnetic bearing is 144 degrees (cw) and heading is 95 degrees (cw), shouldn't relative bearing be (144 - 95) = 49 degrees? If the plane was on course, then only the relative bearing at that point could be 54 degrees! Am I missing something here?

License under CC-BY-SA with attribution

Content dated before 6/26/2020 9:53 AM