I remember doing my IMC training and struggling hard to get my head around VORs and NDBs and how to interpret the instruments to figure out where I was in relation to them. I used a program called RANT to try to figure it out and it help a bit. Now there’s an app for it – Radionav Sim - written by a friend of mine, Vincent Lambercy. It’s pretty cool and much cheaper than RANT. Well worth getting if you’re studying for an IMC or IR or just trying to learn radio navigation.
The more dependent we become on GPS, the greater the risk that terrorists will use it to cause disruption and damage. It also puts aviation and large parts of the economy at risk from a single point of failure.
It may not be terrorists. Those morons who point laser pens at cockpits may have a new toy. New Scientist reports that a $30 GPS jammer can kill the signal.
Even accidents and mistakes can cause severe outages. New Scientist cites several examples. For example:
IT WAS just after midday in San Diego, California, when the disruption started. In the tower at the airport, air-traffic controllers peered at their monitors only to find that their system for tracking incoming planes was malfunctioning. At the Naval Medical Center, emergency pagers used for summoning doctors stopped working. Chaos threatened in the busy harbour, too, after the traffic-management system used for guiding boats failed. On the streets, people reaching for their cellphones found they had no signal and bank customers trying to withdraw cash from local ATMs were refused. Problems persisted for another 2 hours.
It took three days to find an explanation for this mysterious event in January 2007. Two navy ships in the San Diego harbour had been conducting a training exercise. To test procedures when communications were lost, technicians jammed radio signals. Unwittingly, they also blocked radio signals from GPS satellites across a swathe of the city.
The Royal Academy of Engineering has just released a detailed report (PDF), Global Navigation Space Systems: reliance and vulnerabilities that underlines the risks. While there is a risk of gross errors, the more insidious threat is “dangerously misleading results which may not seem obviously wrong.”
A significant failure of GPS could cause lots of services to fail at the same time, including many that are thought to be completely independent of each other. The use of non-GNSS back ups is important across all critical uses of GNSS.
Is it time to consider planning a non-GPS alternative as part of an IFR flight plan. For example, could you divert to an airport with a VOR or ILS approach? Could you fly a procedure or missed approach with just a VOR and no GPS guidance? As new GPS-driven glass cockpits take over – I just flew an Avidyne R9 Cirrus to Antwerp, for example – do we need to keep our old-fashioned NDB/DME/VOR/ILS flying skills current as a backup? It’s certainly something to think about.
John Page at RGV, Gloucershire
The system is a big improvement on the regular Avidyne system that I normally use; like going from Windows XP to Windows 7. It’s not quite as good as the Garmin Perspective system that I flew in January with Max Trescott in San Francisco. I suspect that the Garmin system benefits from a few years’ headstart and that the R9 will continue to improve with future releases. I hope so because it’s already very nice.
Avidyne R9 in N147LD
Things I like about the R9:
- Keypad and Geofill makes it easier to enter flight plans.
- Feels very intuitive; it feels like it was designed by pilots. The press-rocker switches are especially elegant.
- Good response rate and higher resolution – this is important and will make accurate instrument flying easier with a glass screen.
- Vectors mode in GPS is a smart idea especially when you use it intercept mode so you can fly headings into your flight plan segments and have the autopilot automatically transition from one to the other
- Duplication and redundancy
- You can split the screens in lots of different and flexible ways.
There are some defects which may be fixed in future releases:
- Autopilot integration with the S/Tec isn’t as good as with the promised integrated digital autopilot
- It’s great when everything is GPS but it slightly fails with radio navigation – DMEs and VORs. For example, it doesn’t autodetect every VOR or ILS because the ident transmissions are slightly different in Europe than the US, which means that it can throw up an error message at the last minute rather than auto-sequencing from the enroute GPS navigation onto an ILS.
- Geofill isn’t so good if you have duplicate waypoint idents. For example, BNN is a VOR near Denham but there’s another one in Norway or something. This confuses the system even though it should be ‘obvious’ which one I’m going to.
- The go-around from a missed instrument approach is hideous. Not like the one-button TOGA button on the Perspective Cirrus. Here’s the sequence you have to follow at 200’ if you want the autopilot to fly the missed approach: press VS on the autopilot, dial up 800 FPM on the climb bug, throttle up, disarm the approach on the PFD, change the nav input on the PFD from the ILS to FMS, go back to the autopilot and press NAV twice to re-engage GPS steering. Ouch.
- I got caught out by the intercept mode on the vectors mode. After going missed, I forgot to disarm it and it takes quite a few key strokes to delete the approach from the flight plan, so the plane decided to go off and try to reintercept the approach. If I had been in IMC and not quite on the ball, the plane would have flown right back over the airport or something. Ouch. I think the default for vectors mode should be not to intecept – I’d rather be asking myself ‘what do I do next’ than asking the plane ‘what the hell are you doing?’
- I wish we had satellite weather in the UK. One of the planes I fly has a satphone in it that downloads weather and I would say that it is a huge safety benefit.
After a long day of flying, we did some night circuits for currency and to get on the night list at Denham. A friend of mine used to be a US Navy pilot and he said that landing on a carrier at night was the scariest thing he ever did. Denham’s a bit like that, but at least the runway isn’t moving. But all you see is runway lights in a black hole. But flying at night on a clear evening is one of the great joys of flying – still, smooth, different and familiar at the same time.
This is a guest post by Chris Powell from his highly recommended aviation blog.
When I entered my aviation training I was already an atypically well-prepared student. I’d been following aviation and the flying community off and on since childhood. I’d flown in the right seat plenty of times, already understood basic aerodynamics, and generally knew a lot more than most people who walk through the school’s front door.
In retrospect, however, there are a number of things I know now that I wish I had known then. In no particular order, here are some of the more relevant bits of knowledge I’d like to pass on to the next person about to take the plunge into general aviation.
- Do not impose any artificial deadlines. If you are a pilot-in-training, the overwhelming odds are you’re a goal-driven, type-A personality. You will be predisposed to mentally calculate hours, divided by training days, equalling “X” date as your projected certification date. It’s just who you are. The problem is, you will begin to fret if this date slips or changes in any way; you can’t help it, it’s in your makeup to set and meet goals. Your instructor will throw a wrench into your carefully crafted mechanism when he informs you that you need an extra lesson on landing proficiency, and your natural reaction will be to resent him for altering your plans.
You should make every effort to live in the “now” of your training, and avoid looking too far ahead. For one, the training today is enjoyable and rewarding — so do enjoy it! For another, you’re imposing artificial stress in an already stressful curriculum. So focus on today’s training and leave tomorrow’s for tomorrow.
- As a corollary to #1, don’t plan on going anywhere around your checkride date. I had a 10 day vacation planned and reserved weeks in advance; as I got closer to my checkride and realized it would likely fall just days before my vacation, my stress soared. Would I complete the check before I left? Would the weather cooperate? If I missed it or blew it, how much would it cost to regain my edge after two nonflying weeks? You really don’t need this kind of stress, especially around checkride time. Just plan on being in town and flexible with your schedule.
- Equipment really does fail, so don’t get lazy. If you aren’t absolutely familiar with General Aviation planes already, you can be forgiven for imagining them as cars with wings: crank up and go, and things just reliably work. But the fact is, airplanes — especially training aircraft — lead very arduous lives, and despite being fawned over by attentive A&P mechanics they do break. You’ll train for equipment failure, of course, but it doesn’t really sink in until you actually see things fail in flight. Some of the equipment failures I personally have witnessed over time include a GPS flatly refuse to receive signal; a gyro heading indicator go haywire and fail to indicate; a complete radio stack failure; numerous illumination outages; an intermittent transponder; an in-flight vacuum pump failure. And yes, you probably will check your drain sumps a hundred times and get nothing but clean fuel every time, but I’m here to tell you that you will one day see water come out — so conduct your preflight with diligence every single time, and be mentally prepared for the day that something stops working.
- PIC responsibility is real. (…and the magic word “unable”) This one takes a while to sink in, even though you’ll be drilled on it again and again. You must learn and truly grasp that you — not ATC, no one else — is responsible for the safe conduct of your aircraft. You are in command.
You are in a partnership with ATC, so by all means understand and respect how their authority works, but recognize that the voice on the radio is not some Magical Sky God possessing omnipotence. They are human; they sometimes err; they may ask or suggest something you are not comfortable with; and in the end, they cannot fly or land the plane for you. This does not mean they are your enemy, it merely means that you are in charge and must always consider what is best, for your risk is greater than theirs.
As an example, at one point I was doing solo night landings for proficiency using my airport’s large, well-illuminated, 9000′ runway. It’s the natural choice for a pilot learning night work. For jet traffic reasons, the tower requested that I move to the airport’s narrow, short, not-as-well-illuminated runway. I agreed, but after having a look I decided that I was more comfortable on the large runway. It was a simple matter to radio the tower and negotiate a quick nearby orbit to kill time while the traffic cleared. Bottom line: it was up to me to determine what was safest and to request that. The tower, by the way, was perfectly happy to oblige me, but don’t let “offending someone on the ground” be a reason to remain passive in the case of doubt. You are PIC: remain actively in control of your flight and do what it takes to conduct it safely. The magic word “unable” is in every experienced pilot’s (and controller’s) toolkit — use it if you’re asked to do something incorrect or unsafe.
- Leverage AOPA and the FAA Wings program. Membership in these two should be mandatory for every new student pilot. AOPA is working overtime to ensure your privileges as a general aviator are protected. And believe me, these privileges are under constant attack. The vast majority of people don’t fly recreationally, and if they think of GA planes at all, they probably regard them as noise nuisances. AOPA stands between GA and the masses who would like to turn our prime airport land into developments; they lobby against user fees; they publish great rafts of useful training and safety information. They are our sole bulwark against a very bleak GA world.
If you are in GA, in the United States, and not an AOPA member, you should be completely ashamed of yourself. Run, do not walk, to their website and sign up right now.
The FAA Wings program goes hand-in-hand with AOPA, and in fact they partner with each other to disseminate truly fantastic safety training materials. I’ve gained a tremendous amount from their courses and seminars — the production level on these things is absolutely stellar and they pour a tremendous effort into making them informative, enjoyable and just plain good. (Besides, when you complete various levels of the program you get little metal wings to pin on.) Unlike most things in aviation, this is completely free to join and use, and you can elect to be notified of seminars in your area. Through FAA Wings I got early notice a facility tour at Seattle-Tacoma International (that was quickly filled to capacity).
This is a guest post by Jason Schappert from the highly recommended M0A blog.
Even in today’s age where the navigational instruments are state of the art and technologically advanced, pilots will still find a situation wherein he or she is lost in the air.
There can be a momentary panic at the onset of the thought that the airplane is lost. That is understandable: airplanes depend on fuel to fly, and every minute that you are lost you are wasting precious fuel. It might even come to a point to make an emergency landing somewhere if the fuel is not enough. Such a thought is scary for pilots, as some emergency landings are just controlled crashes that can result to injury. However, it is important for pilots not to give in to these thoughts and instead keep their wits about them.
In order to circumvent the effects of panic, the five C’s of aviation have been devised. The five C’s are: Confess, climb, conserve fuel, communicate and comply.
In some cases, panic kicks in when one has denied to himself for sometime that he is lost. When you find that you are seemingly off-course, admit to yourself that you are lost. Trying to tell yourself otherwise will only amplify the shock that you will feel once the truth sets in. Remember you need to be very calm with this. Check the instruments and find out how far you are off course. If there are errors in the instruments, note them as well.
Climb to the maximum safe altitude that your aircraft can fly. This will be useful later on as it can help you save fuel and spot landmarks from the better vantage point.
Conserve fuel so that you are minimizing the chances of you having to "perform a crash" or emergency landing because you don’t have sufficient fuel to reach your destination. Cut down to the most fuel-efficient speed and power that your aircraft can muster as you wait for instructions.
Call for help. Controllers are there to help you out, and make sure your transponder is on so they can see in your their radar. This way, they can pinpoint your exact location and give you the necessary course to set you back on the right path.
If the tower or controller gives you directions, don’t argue. Remember, you are the one who is lost and they are the ones who has the instruments to guide you back in. You’re not in the position to dispute their vectors and suggested approaches.
(Matthew Stibbe here – in the UK, it’s well worth calling Distress and Diversion on 121.5 if you’re, ahem, temporarily unsure of your position. They have satellites, tracker dogs and all kinds of cool stuff at their disposal. Plus they’re nice people and they like helping pilots.)
The UK’s Guild of Air Pilots and Air Navigators (GAPAN) has launched its scholarship programme for 2010. It has funds for seven PPLs, one ATPL course plus flying instructor and other courses and burseries.
For more details: http://www.gapan.org/career-matters/scholarships/.
Here are the winners from 2009 – a very happy bunch since they have had their training paid for by someone else!