Thursday, July 24, 2008

Catching Up

When a comment gets posted to this blog, I'm supposed to get an email. Unfortunately, an email is not always sent and I when I logged onto Blogger the other day I noticed several comments awaiting my review. Some comments had to do with older posts and I've put those comments up and responded to most. If you posted one of these delayed comments, my apologies for my less than timely response. To paraphrase one of the lines from the movie Repo Man, "I blame Blogger."

One commenter was really asking an unrelated question, so I'll quote it here and offer my opinionated answer:
I'm doing my initial issue multi engine instrument rating here in Aus, and everything is based off the NDB/ADF. You cannot gain an initial issue without demonstrating use of those.

In the US it seems the NDBs are being switched off, so I'm assuming the fundamentals of the rating is not geared around this antiquated piece of equipment.

Is this the case? How is the thing structured in the US?

Thanks if you have time to reply.

Good question Tony. NDBs are being phased out in the U.S., but they still quite common in some parts of the country. There are very few NDB stations remaining in California, but a large number are in service in the Midwest and Eastern states. I know at least one part 121 freight operator that requires pilot applicants to demonstrate an NDB approach. Whether or not an instrument rating candidate in the U.S. will be asked to demonstrate an NDB approach or NDB navigation depends to a large extent on where the practical test is being conducted.

The other obvious issue is the equipment installed in the aircraft the applicant is using for the practical test. If you don't have a functioning Automatic Direction Finder, the examiner can't very well ask you to demonstrate its use. This doesn't preclude an examiner from asking you theoretical questions about NDBs and their use during the oral portion of the test, it just makes it less likely. The same principal holds true for an IFR-approved GPS receiver and an autopilot. If you don't have a GPS in the plane or if the GPS database isn't current, the examiner can't ask you to use it. If your aircraft has a functioning autopilot, you'll be required to demonstrate its use on an approach.

Isn't it interesting how many old ADF receiver and flakey autopilots are suddenly placarded INOP just before a check ride?

There's an amazing amount of variety (or is it inconsistency?) in the approach facilities available in the U.S. where the list of possible navigation aids include ILS (instrument landing system), Localizer, LDA (Localizer-type Direction Aid), SDF (Simplified Directional Facility), VOR, NDB, and GPS/RNAV. Oh, I forgot to mention the MLS (Microwave Landing System): It was supposed to replace the ILS but it never really ... er ... took off. There are only a dozen or so SDF approaches in the entire U.S. and none in California, where I live and work. This situation has all the hallmarks of a system that grew up over time with a little being added here, then a little there. This means instrument pilots who fly to a variety of destinations in the U.S. need an almost encyclopedic level of knowledge on all these systems and their limitations.

NDB navigation outside the U.S. is generally alive and well, as I found when I flew through the Caribbean. So I do my best to expose instrument applicants to NDB navigation. I don't have access to many aircraft with a functioning ADF and there are just a few nearby NDBs around with which to navigate - Stockton and Watsonville come to mind. One can still use the G1000 to simulate an AFD/NDB setup.

Expanding this scenario further, consider flying IFR in a steam gauge aircraft (with separate, round instruments) versus flying a glass panel aircraft with integrated electronic displays. A pilot who learns in a steam gauge aircraft and earns his or her instrument rating could theoretically jump into a glass cockpit and launch into the soup. And vice versa. So while there are plenty of regulations and equipment in the U.S., I'm not sure how much "structure" there actually is.

Did I say that out loud?


Blake said...

Canada, like Australia, has large vast open spaces.

As such, the NDBs are popular because they are cheap and easy to run.

Most of the approaches in Canada are either NDB approaches, especially up north. Even localizer approaches, usually use NDBs as a reference.

Demonstrating how to track inbound or outbound (and recognise station passage) is a requirement for the Commercial License in Canada. You get to chose the navaid, however. So you can use a VOR, NDB, or GPS waypoint.

NDBs may be a pain in the butt, but they are necessary in countries like Australia and Canada.

I did a rough count and it looks like Australia has over 2700 NDBs, while Canada has over 1200

Tony Harrison said...

Thanks for writing on this John, nice work. I'm up for my initial issue multi engine instrument rating on Monday, so should be interesting. Off to practice this afternoon and tomorrow just to be sure!

The training has been good, but the lack of consistency between the three instructors who have had a hand in my training has brought about challenges that just did not need to be there (in my humble opinion!)

The fundamentals are still the same of course, it's just everything that goes around that.

Certainly the NDB work will be a challenge as the forecast is for 25 knot winds almost abeam the outbound course, and asymmetric will just make me work that bit harder. Always enjoy a challenge.

Keep up the great work.

Tony Harrison said...

Hi again,

Just to close the loop on this, I passed my CIR oral and flight test yesterday! After an intense 3.6 hours in a Duchess the examiner was happy enough with my performance to give me the rating.

And geez, that was hard work! Great fun learning and honing my skills and now feel I'm a more confident and competent pilot.

I think I'll keep my personal minimas high for a while until I gain a bit more experience.

Now just to find a job.....!