Automatic Direction Finder (ADF)

Many general aviation-type aircraft are equipped with ADF radio receiving equipment. To navigate using the ADF, the pilot tunes the receiving equipment to a ground station known as a nondirectional radio beacon (NDB). The NDB stations normally operate in a low or medium frequency band of 200 to 415 kHz. The frequencies are readily available on aeronautical charts or in the Chart Supplement U.S.All radio beacons, except compass locators, transmit a continuous three-letter identification in code, except during voice transmissions. A compass locator, which is associated with an instrument landing system, transmits a two-letter identification.

Standard broadcast stations can also be used in conjunction with ADF. Positive identification of all radio stations is extremely important and this is particularly true when using standard broadcast stations for navigation.

NDBs have one advantage over the VOR in that low or medium frequencies are not affected by line-of-sight. The signals follow the curvature of the Earth; therefore, if the aircraft is within the range of the station, the signals can be received regardless of altitude.

The following table gives the class of NDB stations, their power, and their usable range:

One of the disadvantages that should be considered when using low frequency (LF) for navigation is that LF signals are very susceptible to electrical disturbances, such as lightning. These disturbances create excessive static, needle deviations, and signal fades. There may be interference from distant stations. Pilots should know the conditions under which these disturbances can occur so they can be more alert to possible interference when using the ADF.

Basically, the ADF aircraft equipment consists of a tuner, which is used to set the desired station frequency, and the navigational display.The navigational display consists of a dial upon which the azimuth is printed and a needle which rotates around the dial and points to the station to which the receiver is tuned.

Some of the ADF dials can be rotated to align the azimuth with the aircraft heading; others are fixed with 0° representing the nose of the aircraft and 180° representing the tail. Only the fixed azimuth dial is discussed in this section. [Figure 1]

Aircraft Ground-Based Navigation
Figure 1. ADF with fixed azimuth and magnetic compass

Figure 2 illustrates terms that are used with the ADF and should be understood by the pilot.

Aircraft Ground-Based Navigation
Figure 2. ADF terms

To determine the magnetic bearing “FROM” the station, 180° is added to or subtracted from the magnetic bearing to the station. This is the reciprocal bearing and is used when plotting position fixes.

Keep in mind that the needle of fixed azimuth points to the station in relation to the nose of the aircraft. If the needle is deflected 30° to the left for a relative bearing of 330°, this means that the station is located 30° left. If the aircraft is turned left 30°, the needle moves to the right 30° and indicates a relative bearing of 0° meaning that the aircraft is pointing toward the station. If the pilot continues flight toward the station keeping the needle on 0°, the procedure is called homing to the station. If a crosswind exists, the ADF needle continues to drift away from zero. To keep the needle on zero, the aircraft must be turned slightly resulting in a curved flight path to the station. Homing to the station is a common procedure but may result in drifting downwind, thus lengthening the distance to the station.

Tracking to the station requires correcting for wind drift and results in maintaining flight along a straight track or bearing to the station. When the wind drift correction is established, the ADF needle indicates the amount of correction to the right or left. For instance, if the magnetic bearing to the station is 340°, a correction for a left crosswind would result in a magnetic heading of 330°, and the ADF needle would indicate 10° to the right or a relative bearing of 010°. [Figure 3]

Aircraft Ground-Based Navigation
Figure 3. ADF tracking

When tracking away from the station, wind corrections are made similar to tracking to the station, but the ADF needle points toward the tail of the aircraft or the 180° position on the azimuth dial. Attempting to keep the ADF needle on the 180° position during winds results in the aircraft flying a curved flight leading further and further from the desired track. When tracking outbound, corrections for wind should be made in the direction opposite of that in which the needle is pointing.

Although the ADF is not as popular as the VOR for radio navigation, with proper precautions and intelligent use, the ADF can be a valuable aid to navigation.

Global Positioning System

The GPS is a satellite-based radio navigation system. Its RNAV guidance is worldwide in scope. There are no symbols for GPS on aeronautical charts as it is a space-based system with global coverage. Development of the system is underway so that GPS is capable of providing the primary means of electronic navigation. Portable and yoke-mounted units are proving to be very popular in addition to those permanently installed in the aircraft. Extensive navigation databases are common features in aircraft GPS receivers.The GPS is a satellite radio navigation and time dissemination system developed and operated by the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD). Civilian interface and GPS system status is available from the U.S. Coast Guard.

It is not necessary to understand the technical aspects of GPS operation to use it in VFR/IFR navigation. It does differ significantly from conventional, ground-based electronic navigation and awareness of those differences is important. Awareness of equipment approvals and limitations is critical to the safety of flight.

The GPS navigation system broadcasts a signal that is used by receivers to determine precise position anywhere in the world. The receiver tracks multiple satellites and determines a pseudorange measurement to determine the user location. A minimum of four satellites is necessary to establish an accurate three-dimensional position. The Department of Defense (DOD) is responsible for operating the GPS satellite constellation and monitors the GPS satellites to ensure proper operation.

The status of a GPS satellite is broadcast as part of the data message transmitted by the satellite. GPS status information is also available from the U.S. Coast Guard navigation information service at (703) 313-5907 or online at www. Additionally, satellite status is available through the NOTAM system.

The GPS receiver verifies the integrity (usability) of the signals received from the GPS constellation through receiver autonomous integrity monitoring (RAIM) to determine if a satellite is providing corrupted information. At least one satellite, in addition to those required for navigation, must be in view for the receiver to perform the RAIM function; thus, RAIM needs a minimum of five satellites in view or four satellites and a barometric altimeter (baro-aiding) to detect an integrity anomaly. For receivers capable of doing so, RAIM needs six satellites in view (or five satellites with baro-aiding) to isolate the corrupt satellite signal and remove it from the navigation solution. Baro-aiding is a method of augmenting the GPS integrity solution by using a nonsatellite input source. GPS derived altitude should not be relied upon to determine aircraft altitude since the vertical error can be quite large and no integrity is provided. To ensure that baro-aiding is available, the current altimeter setting must be entered into the receiver as described in the operating manual.

RAIM messages vary somewhat between receivers; however, generally there are two types. One type indicates that there are not enough satellites available to provide RAIM integrity monitoring and another type indicates that the RAIM integrity monitor has detected a potential error that exceeds the limit for the current phase of flight. Without RAIM capability, the pilot has no assurance of the accuracy of the GPS position.

Selective Availability

Selective Availability (SA) is a method by which the accuracy of GPS is intentionally degraded. This feature is designed to deny hostile use of precise GPS positioning data. SA was discontinued on May 1, 2000, but many GPS receivers are designed to assume that SA is still active.The baseline GPS satellite constellation consists of 24 satellites positioned in six earth-centered orbital planes with four operation satellites and a spare satellite slot in each orbital plane. The system can support a constellation of up to thirty satellites in orbit. The orbital period of a GPS satellite is one-half of a sidereal day or 11 hours 58 minutes. The orbits are nearly circular and equally spaced about the equator at a 60-degree separation with an inclination of 55 degrees relative to the equator. The orbital radius (i.e. distance from the center of mass of the earth to the satellite) is approximately 26,600 km.

With the baseline satellite constellation, users with a clear view of the sky have a minimum of four satellites in view. It is more likely that a user would see six to eight satellites. The satellites broadcast ranging signals and navigation data allowing users to measure their pseudoranges in order to estimate their position, velocity and time, in a passive, listen-only mode. The receiver uses data from a minimum of four satellites above the mask angle (the lowest angle above the horizon at which a receiver can use a satellite). The exact number of satellites operating at any one particular time varies depending on the number of satellite outages and operational spares in orbit. For current status of the GPS constellation, please visit [Figure 4]

Aircraft Ground-Based Navigation
Figure 4. Satellite constellation

VFR Use of GPS

GPS navigation has become a great asset to VFR pilots providing increased navigation capability and enhanced situational awareness while reducing operating costs due to greater ease in flying direct routes. While GPS has many benefits to the VFR pilot, care must be exercised to ensure that system capabilities are not exceeded.Types of receivers used for GPS navigation under VFR are varied from a full IFR installation being used to support a VFR flight to a VFR only installation (in either a VFR or IFR capable aircraft) to a hand-held receiver. The limitations of each type of receiver installation or use must be understood by the pilot to avoid misusing navigation information. In all cases, VFR pilots should never rely solely on one system of navigation. GPS navigation must be integrated with other forms of electronic navigation, as well as pilotage and dead reckoning. Only through the integration of these techniques can the VFR pilot ensure accuracy in navigation. Some critical concerns in VFR use of GPS include RAIM capability, database currency, and antenna location.

RAIM Capability

Many VFR GPS receivers and all hand-held units are not equipped with RAIM alerting capability. Loss of the required number of satellites in view, or the detection of a position error, cannot be displayed to the pilot by such receivers. In receivers with no RAIM capability, no alert would be provided to the pilot that the navigation solution had deteriorated and an undetected navigation error could occur. A systematic cross-check with other navigation techniques would identify this failure and prevent a serious deviation.In many receivers, an updatable database is used for navigation fixes, airports, and instrument procedures. These databases must be maintained to the current update for IFR operation, but no such requirement exists for VFR use. However, in many cases, the database drives a moving map display that indicates Special Use Airspace and the various classes of airspace in addition to other operational information. Without a current database, the moving map display may be outdated and offer erroneous information to VFR pilots wishing to fly around critical airspace areas, such as a Restricted Area or a Class B airspace segment. Numerous pilots have ventured into airspace they were trying to avoid by using an outdated database. If there is not a current database in the receiver, disregard the moving map display when making critical navigation decisions.

In addition, waypoints are added, removed, relocated, or re-named as required to meet operational needs. When using GPS to navigate relative to a named fix, a current database must be used to properly locate a named waypoint. Without the update, it is the pilot’s responsibility to verify the waypoint location referencing to an official current source, such as the Chart Supplement U.S., sectional chart, or en route chart.

In many VFR installations of GPS receivers, antenna location is more a matter of convenience than performance. In IFR installations, care is exercised to ensure that an adequate clear view is provided for the antenna to communicate with satellites. If an alternate location is used, some portion of the aircraft may block the view of the antenna increasing the possibility of losing navigation signal.

This is especially true in the case of hand-held receivers. The use of hand-held receivers for VFR operations is a growing trend, especially among rental pilots. Typically, suction cups are used to place the GPS antennas on the inside of aircraft windows. While this method has great utility, the antenna location is limited by aircraft structure for optimal reception of available satellites. Consequently, signal loss may occur in certain situations where aircraft-satellite geometry causes a loss of navigation signal. These losses, coupled with a lack of RAIM capability, could present erroneous position and navigation information with no warning to the pilot.

While the use of hand-held GPS receivers for VFR operations is not limited by regulation, modification of the aircraft, such as installing a panel- or yoke-mounted holder, is governed by 14 CFR part 43. Pilots should consult a mechanic to ensure compliance with the regulation and a safe installation.

Tips for Using GPS for VFR Operations

Always check to see if the unit has RAIM capability. If no RAIM capability exists, be suspicious of a GPS displayed position when any disagreement exists with the position derived from other radio navigation systems, pilotage, or dead reckoning.Check the currency of the database, if any. If expired, update the database using the current revision. If an update of an expired database is not possible, disregard any moving map display of airspace for critical navigation decisions. Be aware that named waypoints may no longer exist or may have been relocated since the database expired. At a minimum, the waypoints to be used should be verified against a current official source, such as the Chart Supplement U.S. or a Sectional Aeronautical Chart.

While a hand-held GPS receiver can provide excellent navigation capability to VFR pilots, be prepared for intermittent loss of navigation signal, possibly with no RAIM warning to the pilot. If mounting the receiver in the aircraft, be sure to comply with 14 CFR part 43.

Plan flights carefully before taking off. If navigating to user-defined waypoints, enter them prior to flight, not on the fly. Verify the planned flight against a current source, such as a current sectional chart. There have been cases in which one pilot used waypoints created by another pilot that were not where the pilot flying was expecting. This generally resulted in a navigation error. Minimize head-down time in the aircraft and maintain a sharp lookout for traffic, terrain, and obstacles. Just a few minutes of preparation and planning on the ground makes a great difference in the air.

Another way to minimize head-down time is to become very familiar with the receiver’s operation. Most receivers are not intuitive. The pilot must take the time to learn the various keystrokes, knob functions, and displays that are used in the operation of the receiver. Some manufacturers provide computer-based tutorials or simulations of their receivers. Take the time to learn about the particular unit before using it in flight.

In summary, be careful not to rely on GPS to solve all VFR navigational problems. Unless an IFR receiver is installed in accordance with IFR requirements, no standard of accuracy or integrity can be assured. While the practicality of GPS is compelling, the fact remains that only the pilot can navigate the aircraft, and GPS is just one of the pilot’s tools to do the job.

VFR Waypoints

VFR waypoints provide VFR pilots with a supplementary tool to assist with position awareness while navigating visually in aircraft equipped with area navigation receivers. VFR waypoints should be used as a tool to supplement current navigation procedures. The use of VFR waypoints include providing navigational aids for pilots unfamiliar with an area, waypoint definition of existing reporting points, enhanced navigation in and around Class B and Class C airspace, and enhanced navigation around Special Use Airspace. VFR pilots should rely on appropriate and current aeronautical charts published specifically for visual navigation. If operating in a terminal area, pilots should take advantage of the Terminal Area Chart available for the area, if published. The use of VFR waypoints does not relieve the pilot of any responsibility to comply with the operational requirements of 14 CFR part 91.VFR waypoint names (for computer entry and flight plans) consist of five letters beginning with the letters “VP” and are retrievable from navigation databases. The VFR waypoint names are not intended to be pronounceable, and they are not for use in ATC communications. On VFR charts, a stand-alone VFR waypoint is portrayed using the same four-point star symbol used for IFR waypoints. VFR waypoint collocated with a visual checkpoint on the chart is identified by a small magenta flag symbol. A VFR waypoint collocated with a visual checkpoint is pronounceable based on the name of the visual checkpoint and may be used for ATC communications. Each VFR waypoint name appears in parentheses adjacent to the geographic location on the chart. Latitude/longitude data for all established VFR waypoints may be found in the appropriate regional Chart Supplement U.S.

When filing VFR flight plans, use the five-letter identifier as a waypoint in the route of flight section if there is an intended course change at that point or if used to describe the planned route of flight. This VFR filing would be similar to VOR use in a route of flight. Pilots must use the VFR waypoints only when operating under VFR conditions.

Any VFR waypoints intended for use during a flight should be loaded into the receiver while on the ground and prior to departure. Once airborne, pilots should avoid programming routes or VFR waypoint chains into their receivers.

Pilots should be especially vigilant for other traffic while operating near VFR waypoints. The same effort to see and avoid other aircraft near VFR waypoints is necessary, as is the case when operating near VORs and NDBs. In fact, the increased accuracy of navigation through the use of GPS demands even greater vigilance as there are fewer off-course deviations among different pilots and receivers. When operating near a VFR waypoint, use all available ATC services, even if outside a class of airspace where communications are required. Regardless of the class of airspace, monitor the available ATC frequency closely for information on other aircraft operating in the vicinity. It is also a good idea to turn on landing light(s) when operating near a VFR waypoint to make the aircraft more conspicuous to other pilots, especially when visibility is reduced.