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Fri, Jul 14, 2006

ANN's Daily Aero-Tips (07.14.06): DF Steer Revisited

Aero-Tips!

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.

Aero-Tips 07.14.06

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 area;
  • 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 hyper-precise GPS.

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.

FMI: Aero-Tips

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