Can you determine altitude above ground level?

I know the altimeter tells altitude above sea level. But, is there a way to know your altitude above the ground you are flying over?

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Your altitude (msl), minus the ground level of the airport you are flying over. Gives absolute (?) or true (?). The resultant is your absolute altitude above that spot on the ground.

Use of radar altimeters, is another method.

Yes there is! albeit it’s a binary indicator

I found out this the other when flying in fog; your screen goes black with a message that you have crashed


HA Ha…yup… if your brakes don’t stop you…something else will! :slight_smile:

But, what if your not near an airport?

I use aviation charts which give a general idea of the elevation, similar to a topographical map.

Can be cities, mountain tops or passes, water towers with the elevation painted on them.

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It is kind of hairy flying at night in mountainous areas with no VFR navigation and sometimes not knowing how close you are tot he ground. Thanks for the tip on using charts. But, I wonder how pilots do it. Do they fly the route during daylight hours to familiarize them self? or just fly higher than the highest peak along their chosen route if visibility is 0?

If visibility is 0… you fly IFR. and remain 2000 feet above the mountainous terrain.

Aviation charts, give the pilot an safe altitude number inside each grid… it is based on the highest elevation within that grid.


Everything I’ve flown had a RAD ALT…I miss it.

RAD alt is usually limited to 2500ft…

As a good pilot, sure you have the relevant aviation charts to hand :slight_smile: As said above, they show the minimum safe altitude for each grid. Here’s an example from a UK CAA chart (which is waaay out of date by the way…)

And don’t forget to keep your altimeter pressure setting correct, particularly if pressure or temperature are dropping. Remember, “High to low, beware below!”


Real pilots plan their flight. Within this planning phase you look at your route and check the altitudes (and other things)

  • Use radio altimeter (depends on aircraft and only works up to a certain height)
  • Calculate QFE from QNH (doesn’t make sense in most cases as values change way to quickly)

Unfortunately the tools in MSFS don’t exactly lend themselves to this task.

But the tools outside of msfs2020 do it very well. Flight planning begins before you enter the cockpit.

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I know that but there should be better flight planning tools built in.

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It’s a flight simulator, not a planning simulator.
You are the pilot so you are responsible. So take everything that is at your disposal.


If that was the case then they shouldn’t include checklists for the planes or log books or anything else like that.
Planning is part of flying.

I simply plan my flight with skyvector, or if in the US, foreflight since I have it for the US.

Exactly, it‘s a FLIGHT simulator. And every flight includes a proper preparation. Everything else is what people here seem to be so scared of: a game :wink:

Anyway and back to topic: of course we can look at charts etc. But for flying around just for fun it‘s totally sufficient to simply look out of the window. The sim itself has no function or feature to determin the current altitude above ground. In reality you have to remain a certain altitude above rural or urban areas but in the sim (or game :wink: ) it doesn‘t really matter. In airliner cockpits and in some smaller jets or IFR certified and commercial or business aircraft there is a radio altimeter but for the vast majority of approaches it‘s not required.

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