Nondirectional Radio Beacon (NDB)

The nondirectional radio beacon (NDB) is a ground-based radio transmitter that transmits radio energy in all directions. The ADF, when used with an NDB, determines the bearing from the aircraft to the transmitting station. The indicator may be mounted in a separate instrument in the aircraft panel. [Figure 1] The ADF needle points to the NDB ground station to determine the relative bearing (RB) to the transmitting station. It is the number of degrees measured clockwise between the aircraft’s heading and the direction from which the bearing is taken. The aircraft’s magnetic heading (MH) is the direction the aircraft is pointed with respect to magnetic north. The magnetic bearing (MB) is the direction to or from a radio transmitting station measured relative to magnetic north.

Traditional Navigation Systems
Figure 1. ADF indicator instrument and receiver

NDB Components

The ground equipment, the NDB, transmits in the frequency range of 190 to 535 kHz. Most ADFs also tune the AM broadcast band frequencies above the NDB band (550 to 1650 kHz). However, these frequencies are not approved for navigation because stations do not continuously identify themselves, and they are much more susceptible to sky wave propagation especially from dusk to dawn. NDB stations are capable of voice transmission and are often used for transmitting the Automated Weather Observing System (AWOS). The aircraft must be in operational range of the NDB. Coverage depends on the strength of the transmitting station. Before relying on ADF indications, identify the station by listening to the Morse code identifier. NDB stations are usually two letters or an alpha-numeric combination.

ADF Components

The airborne equipment includes two antennas: a receiver and the indicator instrument. The “sense” antenna (nondirectional) receives signals with nearly equal efficiency from all directions. The “loop” antenna receives signals better from two directions (bidirectional). When the loop and sense antenna inputs are processed together in the ADF radio, the result is the ability to receive a radio signal well in all directions but one, thus resolving all directional ambiguity. The indicator instrument can be one of four kinds: fixedcard ADF, rotatable compass-card ADF, or radio magnetic indicator (RMI) with either one needle or dual needle. Fixedcard ADF (also known as the relative bearing indicator (RBI)) always indicates zero at the top of the instrument, with the needle indicating the RB to the station. Figure 2 indicates an RB of 135°; if the MH is 045°, the MB to the station is 180°. (MH + RB = MB to the station.)
Traditional Navigation Systems
Figure 2. Relative bearing (BR) on a fixed-card indicator. Note that the card always indicates 360° or north. In this case the Rb to the station is 135° to the right.If the aircraft were on a magnetic heading of 360° then the magnetic bearing (MB) would also be 135°

The movable-card ADF allows the pilot to rotate the aircraft’s present heading to the top of the instrument so that the head of the needle indicates MB to the station and the tail indicates MB from the station. Figure 3 indicates a heading of 045°, MB to the station of 180°, and MB from the station of 360°.

Traditional Navigation Systems
Figure 3. Relative bearing (BR) on a movable indicator. By placing the aircraft’s magnetic heading (MH) of 045°under the top index, the RB of 135° to the right is also the magnetic bearing (no wind conditions), which takes you to the transmitting station

The RMI differs from the movable-card ADF in that it automatically rotates the azimuth card (remotely controlled by a gyrocompass) to represent aircraft heading. The RMI has two needles, which can be used to indicate navigation information from either the ADF or the VOR receiver. When a needle is being driven by the ADF, the head of the needle indicates the MB TO the station tuned on the ADF receiver. The tail of the needle is the bearing FROM the station. When a needle of the RMI is driven by a VOR receiver, the needle indicates where the aircraft is radially with respect to the VOR station. The needle points the bearing TO the station as read on the azimuth card. The tail of the needle points to the radial of the VOR the aircraft is currently on or crossing. Figure 4 indicates a heading of 360°, the MB to the station is 005°, and the MB from the station is 185°.

Traditional Navigation Systems
Figure 4. Radio magnetic indicator (RMI). Because the aircraft’s magnetic heading (MH) is automatically changed, the relative bearing (RB), in this case 095°, indicates the magnetic bearing (095°) to the station (no wind conditions) and the MH that takes you there

Function of ADF

The ADF can be used to plot your position, track inbound and outbound, and intercept a bearing. These procedures are used to execute holding patterns and nonprecision instrument approaches.


The ADF needle points TO the station, regardless of aircraft heading or position. The RB indicated is thus the angular relationship between the aircraft heading and the station, measured clockwise from the nose of the aircraft. Think of the nose/tail and left/right needle indications, visualizing the ADF dial in terms of the longitudinal axis of the aircraft. When the needle points to 0°, the nose of the aircraft points directly to the station; with the pointer on 210°, the station is 30° to the left of the tail; with the pointer on 090°, the station is off the right wingtip. The RB alone does not indicate aircraft position. The RB must be related to aircraft heading in order to determine direction to or from the station.

Station Passage

When you are near the station, slight deviations from the desired track result in large deflections of the needle. Therefore, it is important to establish the correct drift correction angle as soon as possible. Make small heading corrections (not over 5°) as soon as the needle shows a deviation from course, until it begins to rotate steadily toward a wingtip position or shows erratic left/right oscillations. You are abeam a station when the needle points 90° off your track. Hold your last corrected heading constant and time station passage when the needle shows either wingtip position or settles at or near the 180° position. The time interval from the first indications of station proximity to positive station passage varies with altitude—a few seconds at low levels to 3 minutes at high altitude.


The ADF may be used to “home” in on a station. Homing is flying the aircraft on any heading required to keep the needle pointing directly to the 0° RB position. To home in on a station, tune the station, identify the Morse code signal, and then turn the aircraft to bring the ADF azimuth needle to the 0° RB position. Turns should be made using the heading indicator. When the turn is complete, check the ADF needle and make small corrections as necessary.

Figure 5 illustrates homing starting from an initial MH of 050° and an RB of 310°, indicating a 50° left turn is needed to produce an RB of zero. Turn left, rolling out at 50° minus 50° equals 360°. Small heading corrections are then made to zero the ADF needle.

Traditional Navigation Systems
Figure 5. ADF homing with a crosswind

If there is no wind, the aircraft homes to the station on a direct track over the ground. With a crosswind, the aircraft follows a circuitous path to the station on the downwind side of the direct track to the station.


Tracking uses a heading that maintains the desired track to or from the station regardless of crosswind conditions. Interpretation of the heading indicator and needle is done to maintain a constant MB to or from the station.

To track inbound, turn to the heading that produces a zero RB. Maintain this heading until off-course drift is indicated by displacement of the needle, which occurs if there is a crosswind (needle moving left = wind from the left; needle moving right = wind from the right). A rapid rate of bearing change with a constant heading indicates either a strong crosswind or close proximity to the station or both. When there is a definite (2° to 5°) change in needle reading, turn in the direction of needle deflection to intercept the initial MB. The angle of interception must be greater than the number of degrees of drift, otherwise the aircraft slowly drifts due to the wind pushing the aircraft. If repeated often enough, the track to the station appears circular and the distance greatly increased as compared to a straight track. The intercept angle depends on the rate of drift, the aircraft speed, and station proximity. Initially, it is standard to double the RB when turning toward your course.

For example, if your heading equals your course and the needle points 10° left, turn 20° left, twice the initial RB. [Figure 6] This is your intercept angle to capture the RB. Hold this heading until the needle is deflected 20° in the opposite direction. That is, the deflection of the needle equals the interception angle (in this case 20°). The track has been intercepted, and the aircraft remains on track as long as the RB remains the same number of degrees as the wind correction angle (WCA), the angle between the desired track and the heading of the aircraft necessary to keep the aircraft tracking over the desired track. Lead the interception to avoid overshooting the track. Turn 10° toward the inbound course. You are now inbound with a 10° left correction angle.

Traditional Navigation Systems
Figure 6. ADF tracking inbound

NOTE: In Figure 6, for the aircraft closest to the station, the WCA is 10° left and the RB is 10° right. If those values do not change, the aircraft tracks directly to the station. If you observe off-course deflection in the original direction, turn again to the original interception heading. When the desired course has been re-intercepted, turn 5° toward the inbound course, proceeding inbound with a 15° drift correction. If the initial 10° drift correction is excessive, as shown by needle deflection away from the wind, turn to parallel the desired course and let the wind drift you back on course. When the needle is again zeroed, turn into the wind with a reduced drift correction angle.

To track outbound, the same principles apply: needle moving left = wind from the left, needle moving right = wind from the right. Wind correction is made toward the needle deflection. The only exception is while the turn to establish the WCA is being made, the direction of the azimuth needle deflections is reversed. When tracking inbound, needle deflection decreases while turning to establish the WCA, and needle deflection increases when tracking outbound. Note the example of course interception and outbound tracking in Figure 7.

Traditional Navigation Systems
Figure 7. ADF interception and tracking outbound

Intercepting Bearings

ADF orientation and tracking procedures may be applied to intercept a specified inbound or outbound MB. To intercept an inbound bearing of 355°, the following steps may be used. [Figure 8]

Traditional Navigation Systems
Figure 8. Interception of bearing
  1. Determine your position in relation to the station by paralleling the desired inbound bearing. In this case, turn to a heading of 355°. Note that the station is to the right front of the aircraft.
  2. Determine the number of degrees of needle deflection from the nose of the aircraft. In this case, the needle’s RB from the aircraft’s nose is 40° to the right. A rule of thumb for interception is to double this RB amount as an interception angle (80°).
  3. Turn the aircraft toward the desired MB the number of degrees determined for the interception angle, which as indicated (in two above) is twice the initial RB (40°) or, in this case, 80°. Therefore, the right turn is 80° from the initial MB of 355° or a turn to 075° magnetic (355° + 80° + 075°).
  4. Maintain this interception heading of 075° until the needle is deflected the same number of degrees “left”from the zero position as the angle of interception 080° (minus any lead appropriate for the rate at which the bearing is changing).
  5. Turn left 80° and the RB (in a no wind condition and with proper compensation for the rate of the ADF needle movement) should be 0° or directly off the nose. Additionally, the MB should be 355° indicating proper interception of the desired course.

NOTE: The rate of an ADF needle movement, or any bearing pointer for that matter, is faster as aircraft position becomes closer to the station or waypoint (WP).

Interception of an outbound MB can be accomplished by the same procedures as for the inbound intercept, except that it is necessary to substitute the 180° position for the zero position on the needle.

Operational Errors of ADF

Some of the common pilot-induced errors associated with ADF navigation are listed below to help you avoid making the same mistakes. The errors are:

  1. Failure to keep the heading indicator set so that it agrees with the corrected magnetic compass reading. Initiating an ADF approach without verifying that the heading indicator agrees with the corrected compass indicator reading may cause the pilot to believe that he is on course but still impact the terrain (CFIT).
  2. Improper tuning and station identification. Many pilots have made the mistake of homing or tracking to the wrong station.
  3. Positively identifying any malfunctions of the RMI slaving system or ignoring the warning flag.
  4. Dependence on homing rather than proper tracking. This commonly results from sole reliance on the ADF indications rather than correlating them with heading indications.
  5. Poor orientation due to failure to follow proper steps in orientation and tracking.
  6. Careless interception angles, very likely to happen if you rush the initial orientation procedure.
  7. Overshooting and undershooting predetermined MBs, often due to forgetting the course interception angles used.
  8. Failure to maintain selected headings. Any heading change is accompanied by an ADF needle change. The instruments must be read in combination before any interpretation is made.
  9. Failure to understand the limitations of the ADF and the factors that affect its use.
  10. Overcontrolling track corrections close to the station (chasing the ADF needle) due to failure to understand or recognize station approach.

Very High Frequency Omnidirectional Range (VOR)

VOR is the primary navigational aid (NAVAID) used by civil aviation in the National Airspace System (NAS). The VOR ground station is oriented to magnetic north and transmits azimuth information to the aircraft, providing 360 courses TO or FROM the VOR station. When DME is installed with the VOR, it is referred to as a VOR/DME and provides both azimuth and distance information. When military tactical air navigation (TACAN) equipment is installed with the VOR, it is known as a VORTAC and provides both azimuth and distance information.

The courses oriented FROM the station are called radials. The VOR information received by an aircraft is not influenced by aircraft attitude or heading. [Figure 9] Radials can be envisioned to be like the spokes of a wheel on which the aircraft is on one specific radial at any time. For example, aircraft A (heading 180°) is inbound on the 360° radial; after crossing the station, the aircraft is outbound on the 180° radial at A1. Aircraft B is shown crossing the 225° radial. Similarly, at any point around the station, an aircraft can be located somewhere on a specific VOR radial. Additionally, a VOR needle on an RMI always points to the course that takes you to the VOR station where conversely the ADF needle points to the station as a RB from the aircraft. In the example above, the ADF needle at position A would be pointed straight ahead, at A1 to the aircraft’s 180° position (tail) and at B to the aircraft’s right.

Traditional Navigation Systems
Figure 9. VOR radials

The VOR receiver measures and presents information to indicate bearing TO or FROM the station. In addition to the navigation signals transmitted by the VOR, a Morse code signal is transmitted concurrently to identify the facility, as well as voice transmissions for communication and relay of weather and other information.

VORs are classified according to their operational uses. The standard VOR facility has a power output of approximately 200 watts, with a maximum usable range depending upon the aircraft altitude, class of facility, location of the facility, terrain conditions within the usable area of the facility, and other factors. Above and beyond certain altitude and distance limits, signal interference from other VOR facilities and a weak signal make it unreliable. Coverage is typically at least 40 miles at normal minimum instrument flight rules (IFR) altitudes. VORs with accuracy problems in parts of their service volume are listed in Notices to Airmen (NOTAMs) and in the Airport/Facility Directory (A/FD) under the name of the NAVAID.

VOR Components

The ground equipment consists of a VOR ground station, which is a small, low building topped with a flat white disc, upon which are located the VOR antennas and a fiberglass cone-shaped tower. [Figure 10] The station includes an automatic monitoring system. The monitor automatically turns off defective equipment and turns on the standby transmitter. Generally, the accuracy of the signal from the ground station is within 1°.

Traditional Navigation Systems
Figure 10. VOR transmitter (ground station)

VOR facilities are aurally identified by Morse code, or voice, or both. The VOR can be used for ground-to-air communication without interference with the navigation signal. VOR facilities operate within the 108.0 to 117.95 MHz frequency band and assignment between 108.0 and 112.0 MHz is in even-tenth increments to preclude any conflict with ILS localizer frequency assignment, which uses the odd tenths in this range.

The airborne equipment includes an antenna, a receiver, and the indicator instrument. The receiver has a frequency knob to select any of the frequencies between 108.0 to 117.95 MHz.

The ON/OFF/volume control turns on the navigation receiver and controls the audio volume. The volume has no effect on the operation of the receiver. You should listen to the station identifier before relying on the instrument for navigation. VOR indicator instruments have at least the essential components shown in the instrument illustrated in Figure 11.

Traditional Navigation Systems
Figure 11. The VOR indicator instrument

Omnibearing Selector (OBS)

The desired course is selected by turning the omnibearing selector (OBS) knob until the course is aligned with the course index mark or displayed in the course window.

Course Deviation Indicator (CDI)

The course deviation indicator (CDI) is composed of an instrument face and a needle hinged to move laterally across the instrument face. The needle centers when the aircraft is on the selected radial or its reciprocal. Full needle deflection from the center position to either side of the dial indicates the aircraft is 12° or more off course, assuming normal needle sensitivity. The outer edge of the center circle is 2° off course; with each dot representing an additional 2°.

TO/FROM Indicator

The TO/FROM indicator shows whether the selected course, if intercepted and flown, takes the aircraft TO or FROM the station. It does not indicate whether the aircraft is heading to or from the station.

Flags or Other Signal Strength Indicators

The device that indicates a usable or an unreliable signal may be an “OFF” flag. It retracts from view when signal strength is sufficient for reliable instrument indications. Alternately, insufficient signal strength may be indicated by a blank or OFF in the TO/FROM window.

The indicator instrument may also be a horizontal situation indicator (HSI), which combines the heading indicator and CDI. [Figure 12] The combination of navigation information from VOR/Localizer (LOC) with aircraft heading information provides a visual picture of the aircraft’s location and direction. This decreases pilot workload especially with tasks such as course intercepts, flying a back-course approach, or holding pattern entry. (See Flight Instruments, for operational characteristics.) [Figure 13]

Traditional Navigation Systems
Figure 12. A typical horizontal situation indicator (HSI)
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Figure 13. An HSI display as seen on the pilot’s primary flight display (PFD) on an electronic flight instrument. Note that only attributes related to the HSI are labeled

Function of VOR


The VOR does not account for the aircraft heading. It only relays the aircraft direction from the station and has the same indications regardless of which way the nose is pointing. Tune the VOR receiver to the appropriate frequency of the selected VOR ground station, turn up the audio volume, and identify the station’s signal audibly. Then, rotate the OBS to center the CDI needle and read the course under or over the index.

In Figure 11, 360° TO is the course indicated, while in Figure 14, 180° TO is the course. The latter indicates that the aircraft (which may be heading in any direction) is, at this moment, located at any point on the 360° radial (line from the station) except directly over the station or very close to it, as in Figure 14. The CDI deviates from side to side as the aircraft passes over or nearly over the station because of the volume of space above the station where the zone of confusion exists. This zone of confusion is caused by lack of adequate signal directly above the station due to the radiation pattern of the station’s antenna, and because the resultant of the opposing reference and variable signals is small and constantly changing.

Traditional Navigation Systems
Figure 14. CDI interpretation. The CDI as typically found on analog systems (right) and as found on electronic flight instruments (left)

The CDI in Figure 14 indicates 180°, meaning that the aircraft is on the 180° or the 360° radial of the station. The TO/ FROM indicator resolves the ambiguity. If the TO indicator is showing, then it is 180° TO the station. The FROM indication indicates the radial of the station the aircraft is presently on. Movement of the CDI from center, if it occurs at a relatively constant rate, indicates the aircraft is moving or drifting off the 180°/360° line. If the movement is rapid or fluctuating, this is an indication of impending station passage (the aircraft is near the station). To determine the aircraft’s position relative to the station, rotate the OBS until FROM appears in the window, and then center the CDI needle. The index indicates the VOR radial where the aircraft is located. The inbound (to the station) course is the reciprocal of the radial.

If the VOR is set to the reciprocal of the intended course, the CDI reflects reverse sensing. To correct for needle deflection, turn away from the needle. To avoid this reverse sensing situation, set the VOR to agree with the intended course.

A single NAVAID allows a pilot to determine the aircraft’s position relative to a radial. Indications from a second NAVAID are needed in order to narrow the aircraft’s position down to an exact location on this radial.

Tracking TO and FROM the Station

To track to the station, rotate the OBS until TO appears, then center the CDI. Fly the course indicated by the index. If the CDI moves off center to the left, follow the needle by correcting course to the left, beginning with a 20° correction.

When flying the course indicated on the index, a left deflection of the needle indicates a crosswind component from the left. If the amount of correction brings the needle back to center, decrease the left course correction by half. If the CDI moves left or right now, it should do so much more slowly, and smaller heading corrections can be made for the next iteration.

Keeping the CDI centered takes the aircraft to the station. To track to the station, the OBS value at the index is not changed. To home to the station, the CDI needle is periodically centered, and the new course under the index is used for the aircraft heading. Homing follows a circuitous route to the station, just as with ADF homing.

To track FROM the station on a VOR radial, you should first orient the aircraft’s location with respect to the station and the desired outbound track by centering the CDI needle with a FROM indication. The track is intercepted by either flying over the station or establishing an intercept heading. The magnetic course of the desired radial is entered under the index using the OBS and the intercept heading held until the CDI centers. Then the procedure for tracking to the station is used to fly outbound on the specified radial.

Course Interception

If the desired course is not the one being flown, first orient the aircraft’s position with respect to the VOR station and the course to be flown, and then establish an intercept heading. The following steps may be used to intercept a predetermined course, either inbound or outbound. Steps 1–3 may be omitted when turning directly to intercept the course without initially turning to parallel the desired course.

  1. Determine the difference between the radial to be intercepted and the radial on which the aircraft is located (205° – 160° = 045°).
  2. Double the difference to determine the interception angle, which will not be less than 20° nor greater than 90° (45° × 2 = 090°). 205° + 090° = 295° for the intercept).
  3. Rotate the OBS to the desired radial or inbound course.
  4. Turn to the interception heading.
  5. Hold this heading constant until the CDI center, which indicates the aircraft is on course. (With practice in judging the varying rates of closure with the course centerline, pilots learn to lead the turn to prevent overshooting the course.)
  6. Turn to the MH corresponding to the selected course, and follow tracking procedures inbound or outbound.
Course interception is illustrated in Figure 15.
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Figure 15. Course interception (VOR)

VOR Operational Errors

Typical pilot-induced errors include:

  1. Careless tuning and identification of station.
  2. Failure to check receiver for accuracy/sensitivity.
  3. Turning in the wrong direction during an orientation.This error is common until visualizing position rather than heading.
  4. Failure to check the ambiguity (TO/FROM) indicator, particularly during course reversals, resulting in reverse sensing and corrections in the wrong direction.
  5. Failure to parallel the desired radial on a track interception problem. Without this step, orientation to the desired radial can be confusing. Since pilots think in terms of left and right of course, aligning the aircraft position to the radial/course is essential.
  6. Overshooting and undershooting radials on interception problems.
  7. Overcontrolling corrections during tracking, especially close to the station.
  8. Misinterpretation of station passage. On VOR receivers not equipped with an ON/OFF flag, a voice transmission on the combined communication and navigation radio (NAV/COM) in use for VOR may cause the same TO/FROM fluctuations on the ambiguity meter as shown during station passage. Read the whole receiver—TO/FROM, CDI, and OBS—before you make a decision. Do not utilize a VOR reading observed while transmitting.
  9. Chasing the CDI, resulting in homing instead of tracking. Careless heading control and failure to bracket wind corrections make this error common.

VOR Accuracy

The effectiveness of the VOR depends upon proper use and adjustment of both ground and airborne equipment.

The accuracy of course alignment of the VOR is generally plus or minus 1°. On some VORs, minor course roughness may be observed, evidenced by course needle or brief flag alarm. At a few stations, usually in mountainous terrain, the pilot may occasionally observe a brief course needle oscillation similar to the indication of “approaching station. Pilots flying over unfamiliar routes are cautioned to be on the alert for these vagaries, and in particular, to use the TO/ FROM indicator to determine positive station passage.Certain propeller revolutions per minute (rpm) settings or helicopter rotor speeds can cause the VOR CDI to fluctuate as much as plus or minus 6°. Slight changes to the RPM setting normally smooths out this roughness. Pilots are urged to check for this modulation phenomenon prior to reporting a VOR station or aircraft equipment for unsatisfactory operation.

VOR Receiver Accuracy Check

VOR system course sensitivity may be checked by noting the number of degrees of change as the OBS is rotated to move the CDI from center to the last dot on either side. The course selected should not exceed 10° or 12° either side. In addition, Title 14 of the Code of Federal Regulations (14 CFR) part 91 provides for certain VOR equipment accuracy checks, and an appropriate endorsement, within 30 days prior to flight under IFR. To comply with this requirement and to ensure satisfactory operation of the airborne system, use the following means for checking VOR receiver accuracy:

  1. VOR test facility (VOT) or a radiated test signal froman appropriately rated radio repair station.
  2. Certified checkpoints on the airport surface.
  3. Certified airborne checkpoints.

VOR Test Facility (VOT)

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) VOT transmits a test signal that provides users a convenient means to determine the operational status and accuracy of a VOR receiver while on the ground where a VOT is located. Locations of VOTs are published in the A/FD. Two means of identification are used: one is a series of dots and the other is a continuous tone. Information concerning an individual test signal can be obtained from the local flight service station (FSS.) The airborne use of VOT is permitted; however, its use is strictly limited to those areas/ altitudes specifically authorized in the A/FD or appropriate supplement.

To use the VOT service, tune in the VOT frequency 108.0 MHz on the VOR receiver. With the CDI centered, the OBS should read 0° with the TO/FROM indication showing FROM or the OBS should read 180° with the TO/FROM indication showing TO. Should the VOR receiver operate an RMI, it would indicate 180° on any OBS setting.

A radiated VOT from an appropriately rated radio repair station serves the same purpose as an FAA VOT signal, and the check is made in much the same manner as a VOT with some differences.

The frequency normally approved by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is 108.0 MHz; however, repair stations are not permitted to radiate the VOR test signal continuously. The owner or operator of the aircraft must make arrangements with the repair station to have the test signal transmitted. A representative of the repair station must make an entry into the aircraft logbook or other permanent record certifying to the radial accuracy and the date of transmission.

Certified Checkpoints

Airborne and ground checkpoints consist of certified radials that should be received at specific points on the airport surface or over specific landmarks while airborne in the immediate vicinity of the airport. Locations of these checkpoints are published in the A/FD.

Should an error in excess of ±4° be indicated through use of a ground check, or ±6° using the airborne check, IFR flight shall not be attempted without first correcting the source of the error. No correction other than the correction card figures supplied by the manufacturer should be applied in making these VOR receiver checks.

If a dual system VOR (units independent of each other except for the antenna) is installed in the aircraft, one system may be checked against the other. Turn both systems to the same VOR ground facility and note the indicated bearing to that station. The maximum permissible variation between the two indicated bearings is 4°.

Distance Measuring Equipment (DME)

When used in conjunction with the VOR system, DME makes it possible for pilots to determine an accurate geographic position of the aircraft, including the bearing and distance TO or FROM the station. The aircraft DME transmits interrogating radio frequency (RF) pulses, which are received by the DME antenna at the ground facility. The signal triggers ground receiver equipment to respond to the interrogating aircraft. The airborne DME equipment measures the elapsed time between the interrogation signal sent by the aircraft and reception of the reply pulses from the ground station. This time measurement is converted into distance in nautical miles (NM) from the station.

Some DME receivers provide a groundspeed in knots by monitoring the rate of change of the aircraft’s position relative to the ground station. Groundspeed values are accurate only when tracking directly to or from the station.

DME Components

VOR/DME, VORTAC, ILS/DME, and LOC/DME navigation facilities established by the FAA provide course and distance information from collocated components under a frequency pairing plan. DME operates on frequencies in the UHF spectrum between 962 MHz and 1213 MHz. Aircraft receiving equipment that provides for automatic DME selection assures reception of azimuth and distance information from a common source when designated VOR/ DME, VORTAC, ILS/DME, and LOC/DME are selected. Some aircraft have separate VOR and DME receivers, each of which must be tuned to the appropriate navigation facility. The airborne equipment includes an antenna and a receiver.

The pilot-controllable features of the DME receiver include:

Channel (Frequency) Selector

Many DMEs are channeled by an associated VHF radio, or there may be a selector switch so a pilot can select which VHF radio is channeling the DME. For a DME with its own frequency selector, use the frequency of the associated VOR/ DME or VORTAC station.

ON/OFF/Volume Switch

The DME identifier is heard as a Morse code identifier with a tone somewhat higher than that of the associated VOR or LOC. It is heard once for every three or four times the VOR or LOC identifier is heard. If only one identifier is heard about every 30 seconds, the DME is functional, but the associated VOR or LOC is not.

Mode Switch

The mode switch selects between distance (DIST) or distance in NMs, groundspeed, and time to station. There may also be one or more HOLD functions that permit the DME to stay channeled to the station that was selected before the switch was placed in the hold position. This is useful when you make an ILS approach at a facility that has no collocated DME, but there is a VOR/DME nearby.


Some DMEs correct for slant-range error.

Function of DME

A DME is used for determining the distance from a ground DME transmitter. Compared to other VHF/UHF NAVAIDs, a DME is very accurate. The distance information can be used to determine the aircraft position or flying a track that is a constant distance from the station. This is referred to as a DME arc.


There are many instrument approach procedures (IAPs) that incorporate DME arcs. The procedures and techniques given here for intercepting and maintaining such arcs are pplicable to any facility that provides DME information. Such a facility may or may not be collocated with the facility that provides final approach guidance.

As an example of flying a DME arc, refer to Figure 16 and follow these steps:

Traditional Navigation Systems
Figure 16. DME arc interception
  1. Track inbound on the OKT 325° radial, frequently checking the DME mileage readout.
  2. A 0.5 NM lead is satisfactory for groundspeeds of 150 knots or less; start the turn to the arc at 10.5 miles. At higher groundspeeds, use a proportionately greater lead.
  3. Continue the turn for approximately 90°. The roll-out heading is 055° in a no wind condition.
  4. During the last part of the intercepting turn, monitor the DME closely. If the arc is being overshot (more than 1.0 NM), continue through the originally planned roll-out heading. If the arc is being undershot, roll-out of the turn early.
The procedure for intercepting the 10 DME when outbound is basically the same, the lead point being 10 NM minus 0.5 NM or 9.5 NM.

When flying a DME arc with wind, it is important to keep a continuous mental picture of the aircraft’s position relative to the facility. Since the wind-drift correction angle is constantly changing throughout the arc, wind orientation is important. In some cases, wind can be used in returning to the desired track. High airspeeds require more pilot attention because of the higher rate of deviation and correction.

Maintaining the arc is simplified by keeping slightly inside the curve; thus, the arc is turning toward the aircraft and interception may be accomplished by holding a straight course. When outside the curve, the arc is “turning away” and a greater correction is required.

To fly the arc using the VOR CDI, center the CDI needle upon completion of the 90° turn to intercept the arc. The aircraft’s heading is found very near the left or right side (270° or 90° reference points) of the instrument. The readings at that side location on the instrument give primary heading information while on the arc. Adjust the aircraft heading to compensate for wind and to correct for distance to maintain the correct arc distance. Recenter the CDI and note the new primary heading indicated whenever the CDI gets 2°– 4° from center.

Traditional Navigation Systems
Figure 17. Using DME and RMI to maintain an arc

With an RMI, in a no wind condition, pilots should theoretically be able to fly an exact circle around the facility by maintaining an RB of 90° or 270°. In actual practice, a series of short legs are flown. To maintain the arc in Figure 17, proceed as follows:

  1. With the RMI bearing pointer on the wingtip reference (90° or 270° position) and the aircraft at the desired DME range, maintain a constant heading and allow the bearing pointer to move 5°– 10° behind the wingtip. This causes the range to increase slightly.
  2. Turn toward the facility to place the bearing pointer 5°– 10° ahead of the wingtip reference, and then maintain heading until the bearing pointer is again behind the wingtip. Continue this procedure to maintain the approximate arc.
  3. If a crosswind causes the aircraft to drift away from the facility, turn the aircraft until the bearing pointer is ahead of the wingtip reference. If a crosswind causes the aircraft to drift toward the facility, turn until the bearing is behind the wingtip.
  4. As a guide in making range corrections, change the RB 10°– 20° for each half-mile deviation from the desired arc. For example, in no-wind conditions, if the aircraft is ½ to 1 mile outside the arc and the bearing pointer is on the wingtip reference, turn the aircraft 20° toward the facility to return to the arc.
Without an RMI, orientation is more difficult since there is no direct azimuth reference. However, the procedure can be flown using the OBS and CDI for azimuth information and the DME for arc distance.

Intercepting Lead Radials

A lead radial is the radial at which the turn from the arc to the inbound course is started. When intercepting a radial from a DME arc, the lead varies with arc radius and groundspeed. For the average general aviation aircraft, flying arcs such as those depicted on most approach charts at speeds of 150 knots or less, the lead is under 5°. There is no difference between intercepting a radial from an arc and intercepting it from a straight course.

With an RMI, the rate of bearing movement should be monitored closely while flying the arc. Set the course of the radial to be intercepted as soon as possible and determine the approximate lead. Upon reaching this point, start the intercepting turn. Without an RMI, the technique for radial interception is the same except for azimuth information, which is available only from the OBS and CDI.

The technique for intercepting a localizer from a DME arc is similar to intercepting a radial. At the depicted lead radial (LR 223 or LR 212 in Figures 18, 19, and 20), a pilot having a single VOR/LOC receiver should set it to the localizer frequency. If the pilot has dual VOR/LOC receivers, one unit may be used to provide azimuth information and the other set to the localizer frequency. Since these lead radials provide 7° of lead, a half-standard rate turn should be used until the LOC needle starts to move toward center.

Traditional Navigation Systems
Figure 18. An aircraft is displayed heading southwest to intercept the localizer approach, using the 16 NM DME are off of ORM
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Figure 19. The same aircraft illustrated in Figure 18 shown on the ORM radial near TIGAE intersection turning inbound for the localizer
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Figure 20. Aircraft is illustrated inbound on the localizer course

DME Errors

A DME/DME fix (a location based on two DME lines of position from two DME stations) provides a more accurate aircraft location than using a VOR and a DME fix.

DME signals are line-of-sight; the mileage readout is the straight line distance from the aircraft to the DME ground facility and is commonly referred to as slant range distance. Slant range refers to the distance from the aircraft’s antenna to the ground station (A line at an angle to the ground transmitter. GPS systems provide distance as the horizontal measurement from the WP to the aircraft. Therefore, at 3,000 feet and 0.5 miles the DME (slant range) would read 0.6 NM while the GPS distance would show the actual horizontal distance of .5 DME. This error is smallest at low altitudes and/ or at long ranges. It is greatest when the aircraft is closer to the facility, at which time the DME receiver displays altitude (in NM) above the facility. Slant range error is negligible if the aircraft is one mile or more from the ground facility for each 1,000 feet of altitude above the elevation of the facility.

Area Navigation (RNAV)

Area navigation (RNAV) equipment includes VOR/DME, LORAN, GPS, and inertial navigation systems (INS). RNAV equipment is capable of computing the aircraft position, actual track, groundspeed, and then presenting meaningful information to the pilot. This information may be in the form of distance, cross-track error, and time estimates relative to the selected track or WP. In addition, the RNAV equipment installations must be approved for use under IFR. The Pilot’s Operating Handbook/Airplane Flight Manual (POH/AFM) should always be consulted to determine what equipment is installed, the operations that are approved, and the details of equipment use. Some aircraft may have equipment that allows input from more than one RNAV source, thereby providing a very accurate and reliable navigation source.


VOR RNAV is based on information generated by the present VORTAC or VOR/DME system to create a WP using an airborne computer. As shown in Figure 21, the value of side A is the measured DME distance to the VOR/DME. Side B, the distance from the VOR/DME to the WP, and angle 1 (VOR radial or the bearing from the VORTAC to the WP) are values set in the flight deck control. The bearing from the VOR/DME to the aircraft, angle 2, is measured by the VOR receiver. The airborne computer continuously compares angles 1 and 2 and determines angle 3 and side C, which is the distance in NMs and magnetic course from the aircraft to the WP. This is presented as guidance information on the flight deck display.

Traditional Navigation Systems
Figure 21. RNAV computation

VOR/DME RNAV Components

Although RNAV flight deck instrument displays vary among manufacturers, most are connected to the aircraft CDI with a switch or knob to select VOR or RNAV guidance. There is usually a light or indicator to inform the pilot whether VOR or RNAV is selected. [Figure 22] The display includes the WP, frequency, mode in use, WP radial and distance, DME distance, groundspeed, and time to station.

Traditional Navigation Systems
Figure 22. Onboard RNAV receivers have changed significantly. Originally, RNAV receivers typically computed combined data from VOR, VORTAC, and/or DME. That is generally not the case now. Today, GPS such as the GNC 300 and the Bendix King KLS 88 LORAN receivers compute waypoints based upon embedded databases and aircraft positional information

Most VOR/DME RNAV systems have the following airborne controls:

1. OFF/ON/Volume control to select the frequency of the VOR/DME station to be used.
MODE select switch used to select VOR/DME mode, with:
  • Angular course width deviation (standard VOR operation); or
  • Linear cross-track deviation as standard (±5 NM full scale CDI).
2. RNAV mode, with direct to WP with linear cross-track deviation of ±5 NM.
3. RNAV/APPR (approach mode) with linear deviation of ±1.25 NM as full scale CDI deflection.
4. WP select control. Some units allow the storage of more than one WP; this control allows selection of any WP in storage.
5. Data input controls. These controls allow user input of WP number or ident, VOR or LOC frequency, WP radial and distance.
While DME groundspeed readout is accurate only when tracking directly to or from the station in VOR/DME mode, in RNAV mode the DME groundspeed readout is accurate on any track.

Function of VOR/DME RNAV

The advantages of the VOR/DME RNAV system stem from the ability of the airborne computer to locate a WP wherever it is convenient, as long as the aircraft is within reception range of both nearby VOR and DME facilities. A series of these WPs make up an RNAV route. In addition to the published routes, a random RNAV route may be flown under IFR if it is approved by air traffic control (ATC). RNAV DPs and standard terminal arrival routes (STARs) are contained in the DP and STAR booklets.

VOR/DME RNAV approach procedure charts are also available. Note in the VOR/DME RNAV chart excerpt shown in Figure 23 that the WP identification boxes contain the following nformation: WP name, coordinates, frequency, identifier, radial distance (facility to WP), and reference facility elevation. The initial approach fix (IAF), final approach fix (FAF), and missed approach point (MAP) are labeled.

To fly a route or to execute an approach under IFR, the RNAV equipment installed in the aircraft must be approved for the appropriate IFR operations.
Traditional Navigation Systems
Figure 23. VOR/DME RNAV RWY 25 approach (excerpt)

In vertical navigation (VNAV) mode, vertical guidance is provided, as well as horizontal guidance in some installations. A WP is selected at a point where the descent begins, and another WP is selected where the descent ends. The RNAV equipment computes the rate of descent relative to the groundspeed; on some installations, it displays vertical guidance information on the GS indicator. When using this type of equipment during an instrument approach, the pilot must keep in mind that the vertical guidance information provided is not part of the nonprecision approach. Published nonprecision approach altitudes must be observed and complied with, unless otherwise directed by ATC.

Traditional Navigation Systems
Figure 24. Aircraft/DME/waypoint relationship

To fly to a WP using RNAV, observe the following procedure [Figure 24]:

  1. Select the VOR/DME frequency.
  2. Select the RNAV mode.
  3. Select the radial of the VOR that passes through the WP (225°).
  4. Select the distance from the DME to the WP (12 NM).
  5. Check and confirm all inputs, and center the CDI needle with the TO indicator showing.
  6. Maneuver the aircraft to fly the indicated heading plus or minus wind correction to keep the CDI needle centered.
  7. The CDI needle indicates distance off course of 1 NM per dot; the DME readout indicates distance in NM from the WP; the groundspeed reads closing speed (knots) to the WP; and the time to station (TTS) reads time to the WP.


The limitation of this system is the reception volume. Published approaches have been tested to ensure this is not a problem. Descents/approaches to airports distant from the VOR/DME facility may not be possible because, during the approach, the aircraft may descend below the reception altitude of the facility at that distance.