A good pilot is always learning -- how many times have you heard
this old standard throughout your flying career? There is no truer
statement in all of flying (well, with the possible exception of
"there are no old, bold pilots.") It's part of what makes aviation
so exciting for all of us... just when you think you've seen it
all, along comes a scenario you've never imagined.
Aero-News has called upon the expertise of Thomas P. Turner,
master CFI and all-around-good-guy, to bring our readers -- and us
-- daily tips to improve our skills as aviators, and as
representatives of the flying community. Some of them, you may have
heard before... but for each of us, there will also be something we
might never have considered before, or something that didn't
"stick" the way it should have the first time we memorized it for
the practical test.
It is our unabashed goal that "Aero-Tips" will help our readers
become better, safer pilots -- as well as introducing our
ground-bound readers to the concepts and principles that keep those
strange aluminum-and-composite contraptions in the air... and allow
them to soar magnificently through it.
Look for our daily Aero-Tips segments, coming each day to you
through the Aero-News Network. Suggestions for future Aero-Tips are
always welcome, as are additions or discussion of each day's tips.
Remember... when it comes to being good pilots, we're all in this
“Back in the day” before GPS, LORAN or widespread
use of transponders in training airplanes, instructors put great
store in teaching a procedure to “get found” if
students became inexorably lost. It was (and still is) called
“VHF Direction Finding.” Colloquially it’s
known as a “DF Steer.”
A DF (for Direction Finding) Steer requires three things:
- An airplane equipped with a VHF radio.
- A ground facility with DF capability.
- A trained operator on the ground.
Generally DF Steers are provided by a Flight Service
Station. The lost pilot contacts FSS on any frequency and
confesses “lostness.” The FSS specialist then
directs the pilot to a discrete radio frequency and ask him/her to
key the microphone for, say, five seconds. The DF equipment
then displays the airplane’s direction from that
frequency’s ground antenna (akin to a VOR radial). The
specialist relays this information to the pilot, hoping he/she will
recognize some ground reference that helps confirm position along
A good operator could direct the pilot to a second DF frequency
for a second plot. Assuming the airplane isn’t
traveling fast, it will be at the displayed intersection of the two
A great DF operator could then issue the pilot vectors to the
nearest airport, occasionally asking for another transmission to
update the plotted location. This is especially helpful if
the pilot is disoriented, or if he/she is lost in poor visibility
and/or dark night conditions.
Aero-tip of the day: Call your local FSS
and ask when they can accommodate a training DF Steer -- maybe
during your next Flight Review. FSS probably needs the
practice also. Keep the DF Steer in your bag of tricks for
the day you’re lost and an electrical failure or fire leaves
you with only a comm radio.