=/\= Starfleet Academy =/\=
Advanced Helm and Navigation Course

Version 4.1 - SD240205.09

Plain Text Version

Previous versions:


  1. Introduction
  2. Duties of the Flight Controller
    1. Navigational References and Course Plotting
    2. Supervision of Automatic Flight Operations
    3. Manual Flight Operations
    4. Position Verification
    5. Bridge Liason to the Engineering Department
  3. Principles of Spaceflight
    1. Impulse Flight
    2. Warp Flight
    3. Advanced Drive Systems
  4. Navigational Terminology
    1. Bearing
    2. Galactic Co-ordinates
    3. Galactic Up
    4. Heading
    5. Port
    6. Quadrant
    7. Standard Orbit
    8. Starboard
    9. Units of Measurement
  5. Starship Flight Procedures
    1. Operating Modes
    2. Destination Input
    3. Combat Procedures
    4. Spacecraft Docking
  6. Shuttle Flight Procedures
    1. Launch and Recovery
    2. Shuttle Types
  7. Closing Remarks
    1. Bibliography
    2. Further Reading
    3. Corrections

1. Introduction

Welcome to the UCIP Academy Advanced Helm and Navigation Course. You will find below a full introduction to the art of flying and navigating a spacecraft, from one as large as a Galaxy or Sovereign class starship to one as small as a shuttecraft or runabout. We have tried to make the course as interesting and involved as possible while still keeping it easy to follow. Good luck!

Lieutenant Commander Edward Devereux

Back to Top

2. Duties of the Flight Controller

The helmsman (or flight controller, Conn for short) is a bridge officer broadly responsible for all flight and navigation operations of the starship. In particular, these are:

2.i. Navigational References and Course Plotting

Conn is responsible for getting the ship to her destination in the most safe and efficient manner possible. The Flight Controller's console displays readings from navigational and tactical sensors, overlaying them on current positional and course projections. Conn has the option of accessing data feeds from secondary navigation and science sensors for verification of primary sensor data. Such cross-checks are automatically performed at each change-of-shift and upon activation of Alert status.

2.ii. Supervision of Automatic Flight Operations

The ship's computer perform's much of the workload for the helmsman. However, computers can make mistakes and it is the responsibility of Conn to detect and correct such errors, reporting them to the appropriate departments (Ops, Engineering and, in extreme cases, the Commanding Officer) if they are serious enough.

2.iii. Manual Flight Operations

The actual execution of flight instructions is generally left to computer control, but Conn has the option of exercising manual control over helm and navigational functions. In full manual mode, Conn can actually steer the ship under keypad control. Care should be taken to keep all manoeuvres within the flight envelope so as not to subject the crew or spacecraft to unnecessary stress unless in an Alert situation.

2.iv. Position Verification

The ship's main computers make use of primary and secondary navigational sensors to continuously update a record of the spacecraft's location. This is accurate to within 10km at impulse speeds and 100km during warp flight. During very slow sublight maneuvers, e.g. docking operations, accuracies of the order of centimetres can be achieved. Conn is expected to take account of these data at all times, relay the information to concerned parties and report any discrepancies.

2.v. Bridge Liason to the Engineering Department

During most routine Cruise Mode operations it is likely that the bridge Engineering station will be unmanned. In such situations Conn is the primary bridge liason to Engineering. (S)he is responsible for monitoring propulsion system status and providing system status reports to the Commanding Officer.

Back to Top

3. Principles of Spaceflight

3.i. Impulse Flight

Impulse Drive is a spacecraft propulsion system using conventional Newtonian reaction to generate thrust. A ship under impulse drive is limited to slower-than-light speeds. Normally, full impulse speed is 0.25c: one quarter of the speed of light. Although this is adequate for most interplanetary travel it is inadequate for travel between the stars. Faster-than-light velocities, necessary for interstellar flight, generally require the use of warp drive.

The impulse drive uses cryogenic slush deuterium as fuel. The slush is further cooled and formed into pellets, which are fired into a fusion reactor to generate high-energy plasma. This is directed from the impulse reaction chamber into an accelerator/generator. If the impulse drive is active the plasma is accelerated and passed to the space-time driver coils; otherwise the plasma energy is diverted to the ship's power distribution net. The driver coil assembly produces a low-level subspace field effect lowering the apparent mass of the spacecraft: this is particularly important for very large starship classes, but is often omitted as unnecessary on smaller ones. Finally, the exhaust is passed to a vectored thrust director which expels the exhaust in a controlled manner to generate the actual thrust and steerage.

While the spacecraft is under impulse power Conn is responsible for monitoring the inertial dampening system. In the event a specified manuever exceeds the capacity of the inertial dampening system, the computer will request that Conn modify the flight plan to bring it within the permitted performance envelope. During Alert status, however, flight rules permit Conn to specify manuevers that are potentially dangerous to the ship and/or her crew.

3.ii. Warp Flight

Warp drive is the primary faster-than-light propulsion system. It employs the controlled annihilation of matter and antimatter, regulated by dilithium crystals, to generate the tremendous power required. The human race developed warp drive in 2063. Earth's first warp flight took place on April 4, 2063; the warp ship Phoenix took off from Resurrection, Montana, under the command of her designer, Dr. Zephram Cochrane, thereby triggering humanity's first contact with the interstellar community.

The warp drive uses supercooled slush deuterium and antideuterium as fuel. Since antimatter annihilates normal matter on contact, great care is taken to store the antimatter within magnetic containment fields. Two streams of reactants, one deuterium and one antideuterium, are fired down a cylindrical apparatus known as the Matter/Antimatter Reaction Assembly (M/ARA), or warp core. These streams meet at a precisely calculated point on a dilithium crystal. Dilithium has the special property that it can mediate matter/antimatter reactions without itself being destroyed. A tuned stream of high-energy plasma is produced. This is passed along the power transfer conduits to the warp nacelles. Here the plasma stream is passed through a series of warp coils, which generate a subspace field known as the warp field. This field lowers the apparent mass of the spacecraft, allowing faster-than-light travel. The propulsive effect is provided by the oscillating, peristaltic nature of the field generated.

When a starship is under warp propulsion, Conn is responsible for monitoring the subspace field geometry with help from Engineering. The Conn station is continuously updated with data coming in from the long range sensors and will automatically make course correctments to adjust for any minor variations in the density of subspace. It is part of Conn's responsibility to supervise this automatic process.

For technical reasons stemming from engine efficiencies and some very involved subspace physics it is more convenient to measure warp speeds in terms of warp factors than multiples of the speed of light, c=3×108ms-1. Eugene's law states that there is a warp velocity that cannot be reached and which corresponds to 'infinite speed'; by convention this is placed at warp 10, although the increasing frequency of operations in the warp 9.99+ region may soon necessitate a recalibration to place Eugene's limit at warp factor 15 or 20.

Warp Factor Speed (×c) Notes
(Full Impulse) 0.25 Sublight speed.
1 1 Speed of light, c.
2 10  
3 39  
4 102  
5 214  
6 392  
7 656  
8 1024  
9 1516 Typical maximum speed
for Starfleet vessels.
9.9 3053  
9.99 7912  
9.9999 199516 Subspace radio speed
with booster relays.
10 (Infinite) Unattainable.

3.iii. Advanced Drive Systems

There are several drive systems capable of much greater speeds than conventional warp drive, such as the Borg transwarp drive and the quantum slipstream drive. The operational speeds of these drives are of the order of Warp 9.9999. Some Starfleet vessels are equipped with such drives, but all are considered highly experimental.

Back to Top

4. Navigational Terminology

4.i. Bearing

A bearing is a mathematical expression giving the position of an object with respect to the ship's forward centreline. The first number given is the azimuth (read off clockwise from above the ship) in degrees and the second the elevation, again in degrees; the two are separated by the word "mark."

Bearing 019 mark 038
Bearing 019 mark 038.


4.ii. Galactic Co-ordinates

Whereas bearings and headings use polar co-ordiantes, galactic co-ordinates use Cartesian co-ordinates. The corresponding concept in navigation on a planet's surface is that of latitude and longitude. Of course, there are three co-ordinates in space, and so galactic co-ordinates are given in an (X, Y, Z) format.

Technical note: By convention, the galactic centre is used as the origin (0, 0, 0) for galactic co-ordinates, and the co-ordinate axes are aligned as follows.

4.iii. Galactic Up

It is a well-known saying that "there is no 'up' in space." While this is technically correct, we can establish conventions for 'up.' On a planet it is traditional to use a magnetic pole (i.e. North) as such a convention. In galactic navigation we frequently use the centre of the galaxy as 'up.' There is, of course, no magnetism involved; this is simply a system adopted for convenience.

4.iv. Heading

Headings (or absolute headings) are measured relative to the centre of the galaxy. This is analagous to a directional system used on Earth that is based on angular differences to a reference point located at the northern rotational axis (or sometimes magnetic pole). 000 mark 0, therefore, corresponds to a course directly towards the galactic centre. Note that headings are independent of the spacecraft's orientation.

4.v. Port

The left-hand side of the ship as seen from above/behind.

4.vi. Quadrant

The Milky Way galaxy is frequently divided into four quadrants designated by the Greek letters Alpha, Beta, Gamma and Delta:

Galactic Quadrants
The Galactic Quadrants: Alpha, Beta, Gamma and Delta.

4.vii. Standard Orbit

This is the default orbiting pattern above a class-M planet. It is designed to afford maximum sensor coverage of a planet's surface and environs while maintaining transporter and communications links with Away Teams on the planet's surface.

4.viii. Starboard

The right-hand side of the ship as seen from above/behind.

4.ix. Units of Measurement

UCIP uses the metric system of units as established on Earth during the 19th Century. This means that distances are given in kilometres, and so on. For very long distances the light-year is used: this is the distance travelled by a body travelling at the speed of light for one Terran year, and is approximately 9.46×1015 metres.

Another important unit is the Cochrane, which is the unit of subspace field stress, named after the Terran warp scientist Zephram Cochrane. One Cochrane is that subspace field stress which will exactly permit a body to travel at the speed of light. In fact, the subspace field stress in Cochranes is equal to the speed of travel in multiples of the speed of light, although local conditions may affect this slightly.

Back to Top

5. Starship Flight Procedures

5.i. Operating Modes

There are several flight operating modes for a starship, which are specified by the Commanding Officer, although in certain cases the computer can initiate Alert status upon detection of a potentially critical situation. In brief, the major operating modes are:

Cruise Mode: This refers to the normal operating condition of the spacecraft.

Yellow Alert Mode: This is a condition of increased readiness in which key systems are brought to greater operating capacity in anticipation of potential crises. Yellow Alert may also be invoked as a partial stand-down from Red Alert.

Red Alert Mode: This condition is invoked during actual or immediately imminent emergency conditions. It is also invoked during battle situations.

External Support Mode: This is a state of reduced system operations typically invoked when the ship is docked at a starbase and is at least partially dependent on external power or environmental support systems.

Reduced Power Mode: These protocols may be activated when power availability or power usage is reduced to less than 26% of normal cruise mode load.

There are also two special operating modes specific to certain kinds of starship:

Separated Flight Mode: This set of protocols is used by vessels capabale of spacecraft separation such as the Galaxy and Prometheus classes. Many Red Alert operating rules apply since such separation is typically for combat or other emergency situations.

Blue Alert: A special set of protocols usually reserved for operations such as planetary landings. Not all starship classes are capable of this; among others, the Intrepid, Defiant and Nova classes can perform planetary landings.

5.ii. Destination Input

Conn can specify a course by any means desired, even up to plotting the entire course manually. However, six standard destination input modes exist.

Known object: Any planet, star system or facility in the navigational database is acceptable as a destination.

Destination sector: A sector identification number or common name is a valid input. If no more specific destination is given the destination will default to the geometric centre of the specified sector.

Spacecraft intercept: Any object on which a sensor lock has been established may be targetted for an intercept course. Conn may then specify a type of closing path, a relative closing speed, an absolute closing speed, or a desired time to intercept. Several variations of this mode exist for use in combat situations.

Relative bearing: A flight vector may be given as an azimuth-elevation bearing relative to the current attitude of the spacecraft.

Absolute heading: A flight vector may also be be given as an azimuth-elevation heading relative to the centre of the galaxy.

Galactic co-ordinates: Standard (X, Y, Z) co-ordinates are an acceptable but cumbersome method of input.

5.iii. Combat Procedures

Starship combat can occur at either warp or sublight speeds. At impulse one's choice of weaponary is practically unlimited. However, at warp, phasers are largely ineffective, for two reasons: first, phasers travel at light speed, and so would almost always be 'outrun' by both target and firer; and second, phasers are severely disrupted by passage through strong subspace fields (like the warp field). The ACB-jacketed device goes some way towards overcoming these difficulties; however, photon and quantum torpedoes remain the weapons of choice for warp-speed combat.

Defensive Manoeuvres:

Defensive manoeuvres consist largely of evasive patterns of one kind or another. When performing evasive manoeuvres Conn should be aware of the positions of enemy ships and their arcs of fire (so that (s)he can stay out of them). If it is not possible to stay out of the enemy's fire arcs attention should be given to moving rapidly and unpredictably so that the enemy will have difficulty establishing a weapons lock. Also try to align the ship so that if she is hit the sections with strongest remaining shields / armour are hit.

Offensive Manoeuvres:

There are various standard attack patterns. When performing these it is important to do so with speed and efficiency, so giving the enemy minimal time to react. Try to keep the flight path a stable as possible so that the Tactical officer can deploy the ship's weapons effectively. At the same time, it is important to apply a little of the principles of evasive manoeuvres at all times, even when attacking: for example, it is not wise to attack an enemy ship head-on if her forward batteries are the strongest of all.

There are some manoeuvres regarded as 'classics':

The Picard Manoeuvre: This manoeuvre takes advantage of the fact that some vessels do not have faster-than-light sensors. One ship starts at some distance from the enemy, typically 30 light-seconds. This ship then goes to warp and dewarps much closer to the enemy ship, say, 1 or 2 light-seconds away. Since the enemy will not yet have seen the ship move from its former position (the light will take 30 seconds to reach the enemy, and the ship has outrun that light) they now see the ship in two positions at once. In the confusion, an attack can be mounted. This manoeuvre was first used by Captain Jean-Luc Picard of the U.S.S. Stargazer in the Battle of Maxia to destroy an attacking Ferengi ship.

The La Forge Manoeuvre: Developed by Lt. Geordi La Forge of the U.S.S. Enterprise this manoeuvre was used to detect an cloaked automated drone attacking the Enterprise. La Forge had the ship descend into the atmosphere of a nearby planet. The drone continued its singleminded attack, following the Enterprise; once in the atmosphere it caused atmospheric turbulence, allowing it to be targetted despite its cloaking device. It should be noted that most starships are not designed for atmospheric flight and may not be able to withstand the tremendous heat generated by atmospheric friction.

5.iv. Spacecraft Docking

Docking a large starship is a very delicate operation requiring great accuracy. To achieve this Conn makes use of the Reaction Control System (RCS). This is the system which controls each thruster pack individually to achieve the required rotational and translational motions. Low-power tractor beams are also used, much as lines of rope were employed in the days of seafaring vessels; such tractor emitters are mounted both on the starship's thruster packs and about the docking facility.

Spacedock regulations forbid the use of any propulsion system other than thrusters and tractor beam assistance within the confines of spacedock. It is usually safest to wait until the ship is clear of dock by at least a kilometre before engaging impulse drive.

Back to Top

6. Shuttle Flight Procedures

6.i Launch and Recovery

The ultimate authority for all shipboard operations is, of course, the commanding officer. For practical purposes this authority resides in the Operations Manager on the bridge, and so it is Ops who will authorize all shuttle launch / recovery operations. Having given permission for the launch / recovery operation Ops informs the Shuttlebay Officer, who has overall responsibility for the approach path. On small ships the Shuttlebay Officer will direct the shuttle in / out himself; on larger ships he will delegate this task to the Flight Deck Officer for the appropriate shuttlebay.

The launch / recovery process is highly automated. Large parts of the shuttle's guidance system are handed over to the ship's main computer for control, and low-power tractor beams near the shuttlebay doors assist in approach and landing. It is, however, required that a shuttle pilot be able to launch or land the shuttle on full manual control. Naturally, only thrusters are to be used while in close proximity to the ship. Operational guidelines state that speeds should remain below 1ms-1 within the shuttlebay and 25ms-1 within 100m of the ship itself.

6.ii Shuttle Types

There are many different types of shuttle in service in Starfleet. Below are some of the ones you are likely to meet.

Shuttlepods are the smallest type of shuttle, usually carrying 2-3 people at most.
Standard Shuttlecraft:
The shuttle to the left is typical, capable of carrying 4-6 people. It has limited warp capability and can be armed with Type IV phasers for special missions.
Cargo Shuttle:
Cargo shuttles are specifically adapted for carrying bulky and/or hazardous cargoes that cannot be moved by transporter.
Captain's Yacht:
On many vessels the Commanding Officer has a small vessel for his personal use, often for diplomatic functions. The example to the left is from a Sovereign class vessel.

Back to Top

7. Closing Remarks

7.i. Bibliography

The authors made use of The Star Trek: The Next Generation Technical Manual by Rick Sternbach and Michael Okuda and The Star Trek Encyclopedia: A Reference Guide to the Future by Michael and Denise Okuda in compiling this course guide, as well as previous versions of this guide. Our thanks to the authors of all these works.

7.ii. Further Reading

The authors recommend that students of this course also read the course guides for Engineering, Operations and Security/Tactical. These four courses (Helm included) cover all main bridge operations; study of one increases the understanding of all the others.

7.iii. Corrections

In the event that some portion of the guide is in error please contact the authors at helm@academy.ucip.org. We shall endeavour to correct mistakes as soon as possible.

Back to Top