A good pilot is always learning -- how many times have you
heard this old standard throughout your flying career? There is no
truer statement in all of flying (well, with the possible exception
of "there are no old, bold pilots.")
Aero-News has called upon the expertise of Thomas P. Turner,
master CFI and all-around-good-guy, to bring our readers -- and us
-- daily tips to improve our skills as aviators. Some of them, you
may have heard before... but for each of us, there will also be
something we might never have considered before, or something that
didn't "stick" the way it should have the first time we memorized
it for the practical test.
Look for our daily Aero-Tips segments, coming each day to
you through the Aero-News Network.
Some time ago I wrote about
DF (for Direction Finding)
steers, the system whereby Flight Service Station
(FSS) facilities can locate a lost airplane by triangulating its
position using the airplane's radio broadcasts.
The DF steer system is going away. Remember that the process was
created at a time when two-way radios were as advanced as many
airplanes got-even as late as the late 1980s, when I began
instructing, two of our three rental airplanes at my FBO had no
transponder, and our instrument trainer had no Mode C (altitude
reporting) capability. Now sources say as much as 80% of the
general aviation fleet is equipped with some form of GPS-driven
moving map display.
The result is that more modern procedures for locating lost
airplanes make maintaining ground-based direction finding equipment
and the training of FSS specialists in the technique seem
superfluous. As Lockheed-Martin consolidates the existing
nationwide system for FSSs to only 17 "FS21" facilities, the ability to
provide DF steers will be even more severely curtailed.
Consequently, the Federal Aviation Administration now tells us
to prepare to use other means to find our
way if we get lost. FAA invites our comments by July 28th, but it
seems that the "sparingly" used DF steer system, it's operation
"beyond its useful life cycle" and "improved radar coverage, pilot
education and technologies such as area navigation (RNAV) and
global positioning satellite (GPS) have reduced the utilization of
DF steers and have essentially made DF's obsolete."
If you're unsure of your location:
- Climb if necessary for better radio, ground-based navigation
reception and radar coverage;
- Contact Flight Service using FSS frequencies, Flight Watch
(frequency 122.0 below 18,000 feet) or an ATC frequency for your
- Orient yourself with GPS if available;
- Ask ATC for radar identification and, if necessary, vectors to
a suitable location or airport; or
- Triangulate your position using VORs and/or ADF, getting your
radial/bearing off two facilities, plotting them on your
aeronautical chart and finding the point of intersection-your
location (at the time you took the bearings)-Note: this is an
exercise right out of the Private Pilot syllabus when I learned to
fly, but which I fear is becoming a lost art in a world of
In this era of pop-up Temporary Flight Restrictions (TFRs) it's
important to get your location quickly or confess your "lost-ness"
to ATC fast to avoid interception... or worse.
Aero-tip of the day: Refresh your ability to
determine your location using in-cockpit navigation systems, with
and without GPS.