Non-Directional Beacons and Automatic Direction Finders

The Automatic Direction Finder is an instrument built shortly after the discovery of fire.

It is out of usage now and Non-Directional Beacon (NDB) stations are simply turned off if they break down.

However, despite its slow disappearance, you may very well find one in a plane you fly, and it doesn’t hurt to know how to use it.

The ADF at its core is very simple. It’s just an arrow that points to the NDB station.

Some ADF’s have a moveable compass card in them that can be set when using the ADF. However, many do not contain a gyro and the card will not turn when the plane turns. Rather, you set it while straight and level and use it to navigate. Once you turn you will need to set it again.

There are also ADFs with a slaved compass that rotates to show your current heading. These are more convenient, but either way, it is still a simple instrument.

How to use the ADF

To use it locate an NDB station on your chart with the symbol below.

See the Rainbow NDB station in the center of the image below. The magenta information box to the left contains the name of the station, its frequency (363), its ID (RNB) and the morse code to identify it.

To fly to an NDB station simply tune its frequency and turn so the arrow is pointed up. Don’t forget to listen to the station ID just like you would for a VOR.

It isn’t too much more complicated than that. If you want to approach the station on a specific heading then it helps to visualize your current situation before acting.

For example, say you want to approach Rainbow from directly South of the station. The needle is currently pointing to a heading of 330. This means that you are South East of the station. I like to look at the needle and then point out the window in the direction of the station. It helps me to get more situational awareness and determine which way to go. If you want to approach heading 360 then you will need to go to the left and watch the needle until it is pointing directly North.

Try this out next time you have access to an ADF, because it may be your last chance!

Bonus Feature

The ADF has one more important but little-known feature. It happens to fall on the same range of frequencies as AM radio so if there are any good stations in your area you can listen to them. Just tune to the station and press the ADF button on your audio panel. Instead of hearing morse code, you will hear AM radio. As you listen, the needle will point to the radio stations antenna as well!

Macho

A Beechcraft Baron pilot was flying home after a week of watching airshows at a popular fly-in. After watching so many loops and barrel rolls he was certain he could easily do the same. He executed the maneuver correctly, accelerating and then entering a climb before rolling. But as he was upside down, pulling his way through the roll, his aircraft began developing too much airspeed and his attempts to get through the roll caused a complete structural failure leading to a wing separating from the aircraft, killing him and his passengers.

Macho means that you believe you can do anything. This hazardous attitude is marked by the need to prove that you are the best. It can lead to deadly and highly avoidable choices.

Signs of a Macho attitude

It’s not too hard to spot a macho attitude, especially in others! If you find yourself thinking some of the thoughts below (in bold) then you are experiencing a macho attitude to some degree.

  • “Come on! I can do this.” Wrong! You do not know all of the factors involved. You should get formal training from someone who knows.
  • “I am a better pilot than others. I’ll show them!” Wrong! Flying is not a competition and safety is the skill that really makes a good pilot.
  • “I will prove that I am the best.” No, you are not the best. In fact, your macho attitude makes you one of the worst kind of pilots. Shake off this attitude or never fly again!

Don’t be foolish

If you are the type of person that needs to compete and prove yourself be very careful about aviation. You really need to control your attitude and avoid getting into any kind of competition and never try to show off your aviation skills. Trying to show that you are the best pilot is a recipe for embarrassment or death.

The FAA response to the macho attitude is “Taking chances is foolish”. Do you persist and think that the chances are improved because you are so great of a pilot? I’m going to stop you right there. You are wrong about your skills and your macho attitude is a serious hazard to yourself, others, and the safety record of aviation. Please stay away from planes if you can’t get over yourself. I have seen too many pilots put their passengers lives in serious risk because of their macho attitude (which probably stems from insecurity)! GET HELP!

Are you a pilot?

I saw this question on Facebook recently:

Do you call yourself a pilot after you have your PPL? I don’t do it but tried once recently during an interview as a kids aviation interest group instructor and she asked which airline I’m in. I said I’m not an airline pilot in which she replied, “Then you’re not a pilot!” Share your opinion.

Continue reading “Are you a pilot?”

Finding Other Planes

Visually scanning for traffic is an important skill, and it is often overlooked in training.

To find other planes in the sky get used to a simple search pattern called a scan.

The core of the scan is looking in small 10 degree segments within your view. Choose a small area of the sky and focus your eyes there. How small of an area? Imagine a 172 about a mile away. You need to focus within 3 or so wingspans of the plane. By focusing your eyes in such a small area , your brain can look to infinity and pick out planes at much farther distances than normal.

You can try this on the ground. Find a place where you have a decent view towards the horizon. Almost anywhere will work if you aren’t facing tall trees or buildings. Take a lot of time and focus your eyes into the distance in a very small area. It helps if you look towards airports or cities. If you do this long enough, when a plane comes by you will see it where you otherwise might never have picked it out of the background.

Expanding the Search

It doesn’t really help if you are only looking for traffic in one part of the sky. So we need to scan in a pattern.

There are two basic patterns to use and it is up to your preference to decide which one you like.

  • Start looking to your left and scan each 10 degree section for 3 seconds or so before moving on to the next until you have scanned all the way left to right.
  • Start scanning in the center of your vision and then work your way out to both sides until you have scanned the whole area.

The important thing is to be looking for traffic. This will already put you ahead of many pilots who are not scanning!

Blind Spots

Flying high-wing aircraft? How do you see other planes while turning? You can’t! This means that you MUST lift the wing before beginning a turn. So when you are about to turn left, bank to the right about 15 degrees and look to the left. Then begin your turn to the left.

Look at your cockpit structure. If pieces of the frame are blocking your vision then lean around them to look outside.

You should normally be scanning an area of about 60 degrees in front of you. Be aware, however, that a plane can approach at a very shallow angle right next to you. Be sure to look to the sides occasionally and make sure another aircraft isn’t getting too close.

Eye Fatigue

Looking for other traffic can be tiring. You can reduce fatigue by maintaining an outside scan more than an inside scan because switching between looking near and far is one of the more fatiguing things to do to your eyes.

It is recommended that you spend one quarter or less of your time looking inside the cockpit.

Once you find traffic you need to react appropriately to avoid a collision.

How Much Fuel Do You Need?

When I got my private pilot license I did what many new pilots do. I took family and friends up for a ride.

On a clear day with calm winds I was preparing to fly a Cessna 152 with a friend of mine who had asked to go up. This was my third or fourth flight with a passenger.

During preflight, I found that the fuel tanks were not full but they appeared to be near the top. I did not use a fuel stick to measure the exact amount but I reasoned that it was enough. This was a big mistake. I considered asking for fuel but I didn’t want to bother the line service guys.

We departed and flew over our houses and to a nearby airport. Finally, we decided to return, although I very easily might have continued flying. Fuel was the farthest thing from my mind.

We landed and put the plane away. But that’s not the end of the story.

A few days later I was called into the Chief Flight Instructor’s office. He informed me that the fuel records showed that I had less than 20 minutes of fuel left when I landed.

Landing with this small reserve can happen on a well planned out flight if the winds change, but it was particularly dangerous in my case because I was not aware of the urgency of the situation!

Never Again

I learned a lot from that experience. I never flew again without knowing exactly how many gallons of fuel I had onboard.

In addition, I set personal minimums in excess of the legal minimums.

If you feel like you are bothering line service with a small fuel request then say something like “Hey, this might only take 2 or 3 gallons but I want to be totally sure.” If the line service technician isn’t a complete sociopath then they will understand and be more than happy to help you.

The Rules

The legal minimum amount of reserve fuel that you can depart with is enough to fly for 30 minutes after you reach your planned destination. If you are flying IFR or at night, then you need 45 minutes of reserve fuel.

I very strongly encourage you to use a safer personal minimum. The fuel gauges in many light aircraft are very bad and give you little idea of your current fuel quantity.

I use a personal minimum of 1 hour for day flying and for night or flight in IMC I want to have a lot more than that, sometimes double the required fuel.

Fuel exhaustion is the most common cause of engine failure. So by following a safe personal minimum and taking no chances with fuel, you can significantly decrease your odds of having to face this emergency.

Consider these questions:

  • Do you have a personal minimum for fuel?
  • Will line service really be “bothered” if you ask for more?
  • Did you verify the fuel level yourself after getting a top off?
  • Did you check that your fuel is clean and of the correct type?

 

What is Line Service?

At most local FBOs the ground crew is referred to as line service. Sometimes they are called ramp agents or line service technicians. (FBO stands for “fixed base operator” and it just means the company at the airport that provides services to your plane).

The great men and women of line service are all friendly but their interest and involvement in aviation vary. Some of them are pilots or student pilots, and others like planes but aren’t planning on taking lessons. There are even some line service technicians who don’t care about planes at all!

Depending on the airport, a big part of the job for a line service technician is friendliness. These are the people that greet you and your passengers after a flight. They are selling their FBO services to your passengers just as much as they are selling to you.

If you run across an unfriendly or rude line service agent let the company know. Thier negative attitude is not just uncomfortable, it can also be dangerous or costly. Consider someone doing a hasty careless job while towing a multi-million dollar jet. CRUNCH! Or maybe they are fueling your Cessna 172 with jet fuel. Or what if they bump into your wing and don’t tell anyone…..that can get you killed!

I, myself, worked line service for about 6 years across 3 airports including Phoenix Sky Harbor. If you are young and interested in aviation, line service is a great job, and some flight schools will give you a discount if you work there (ask before you apply).

At most small airports line service will operate with a crew of just 1 – 4 employees sharing the various jobs across the field. Each line service agent at a small airport does every job. They drive tugs, fuel trucks, luggage trucks, deice trucks, etc… They know how to handle various types of planes and they learn how to push planes into a hangar in tight formation. They act as wing walkers, standing next to the wing to let the tug driver know it is safe from obstacles. They act as marshallers, waving their orange wands to let pilots know where to park. They operate ground power units, air conditioning units, air start units, lavatory service carts, and all manner of machinery needed to support air operations.

When dealing with line service be friendly like you would anywhere, but understand the relationship. You need to tell them what you need for your plane and they will do it. You need to make your own fuel decisions. Even if you are a newly soloed student pilot and you feel like others know more than you….you are the one calling the shots!

 

 

Temperature Conversion Rule of Thumb

This is not the best way to convert between Fahrenheit and Celsius! But it is the quickest, especially if you are doing the math in your head.

F = 2C + 30

This means that the temperature in Fahrenheit is equal to 2 times the degree in Celsius + 30. So if it is 10 degrees Celsius then 10 doubled is 20 and then 20 plus 30 is 50 Fahrenheit.

You can also convert the other way with the equation below.

C = (F – 30)/2

Warning! This is not exact at all.

The real equations are F = (9/5)C + 32 and C = (5/9)(F-32)

So if the AWOS gives you the temperature in Celsius and you just want to decide if you will need a sweater, then go ahead and use this rule of thumb.

If you need the information for calculating performance, then this rule of thumb is inappropriate to use and there is a much better way.

 

Instrument Flight Rules

Instrument Flight Rules, commonly called IFR, are a set of rules that apply to planes flying by instrument reference. This is in opposition to VFR (Visual Flight Rules), flown by visual references. Basically, if you can see where you are going, then VFR is an option, but IFR is always an option.

This set of rules requires a pilot to have an instrument flight plan and follow a set of procedures that govern communication and navigation.

IFR flying requires constant communication with ATC and a mixture of visual traffic separation when you are in VMC and reliance on ATC for separation when you are in IMC.

How do I know if I’m flying IFR?

If you have to ask, you’re not flying IFR!

But seriously, to fly IFR you will need to file an IFR flight plan, get a clearance from air traffic control, and comply with that clearance. You can fly IFR in VMC, but you can only log IFR, or “flight by reference to instruments” time when you are flying in actual IMC.