GUEST EDITORIAL. Captain Fred Moore, an 18,000-hour veteran who flies 747s and Hercules in all parts of the world from Alaska to Antarctica for Southern Air Transport, expresses his alarm at that young pilots who are entering the world of aviation in the age of FMCs and satnav aren't learning the basics of navigating by pilotage, wet compass, ADF and VOR — and many older pilots are rapidly losing those skills as well. Moore explains why he believes these basic navigation skills are essential, and why today's headlong rush to make GPS the sole means of air navigation is sheer lunacy.
October 26, 1997
|About the Author ...
Fred Moore just
turned 55, has 18,000+ hours, holds an ATP in the 747 and the L-382 "Hercules,"
and commercial type ratings in the DC 3 and the PBY Catalina. Fred soloed in 1959, got his
commercial and multi at Embry-Riddle in 1963, and his instrument rating at FlightSafety
(Houston) in 1964. His general aviation experience includes a few types: Cessna 140, 150,
170, 172, 180, 182, 185, 206, 207, 310, Riley Rocket, 411, & 404; Piper J-3, Pa-11,
PA-12, Pa-18, Super Cub, Apache, Aztec, Geronimo, Colemill Panther, Chieftain, Cherokee
140, 180, Six, 235, Arrow, Turbo Arrow, Comanche 250/260, Twin Comanche; Hughes 300,
Hiller H-23D, Great Lakes, Corbin Baby Ace, Helio Courier, Citabria, Caribou, Beech Queen
Air, Lockheed 18 Lodestar, Twin Otter, Bandierante. He has 6,000 hours in the Beech 18
(got his multi rating in one of those) and 1,000 in the DC 3.
Fred flew night mail in the Beech 18 in the winter in Pennsylvania and New York during
the sixties, and cargo and passengers in the U.S., the Bahamas, the Caribbean, Central
America and Mexico in the Beech, the DC 3, Aztecs, Aero Commanders, Chieftans, Cessna
310's, Cessna 404's, Cessna 206's & 207's, and Cherokee Sixes. He's flown cargo
throughout Latin America, Mexico, the U.S., the U.K., Iceland, Canada, Europe, Central
Asia, China, Africa, Japan and Southeast Asia and Alaska in the Herc and the 747 and made
three trips down to Antarctica in the Herc. He's flown for Southern Air Transport since
Fred is an active skydiver with 700 jumps, has flown jumpers in Cessnas and the Beech
18s, aerial delivery (air drop) in the Herc in Sudan, was checked out as an aerial
applicator (cropduster) pilot in the Herc, has flown it on all seven continents and about
65 countries. Oh, and by the way, Fred has done all this despite the fact that he has been
blind his right eye since being injured in a 1966 auto accident in Freeport, Bahamas.
Otherwise, Fred's just your average, run-of-the-mill pilot.
As a pilot of 38 years experience, I have watched various
navigation systems of varying degrees of reliability come and go. The trend in general
aviation during recent years has been for everyone to jump on the GPS bandwagon. Hundreds
of millions have been spent to install GPS receivers in aircraft of all types, worldwide.
It's a great system. It is not, however, the only system.
I have become increasingly concerned by what appears to be an alarming tendency among
new and upcoming pilots to whine about learning basic navigation. They seem to wonder why,
if this system which provides precise R-nav and V-nav information is now on the scene, do
they have to learn such bothersome techniques as VOR, ADF, pilotage, and dead reckoning?
Even Phil Boyer, president of AOPA, had the temerity to pen an AOPA PILOT editorial
last year complaining that his wife, who was undergoing student pilot training at the
time, was being required to learn the difference between true and magnetic north, and how
to orient herself using an antiquated and obsolete VOR receiver. After all, one just has
to turn on the GPS, allow it to locate itself, punch in the destination airport
identifier, and follow the yellow brick road!
GPS is not a navigation panacea, as many experienced aviators are learning. However,
many in general aviation whoshould know better are leading new and impressionable airmen
to believe that it is.
"Reliance on satellites for navigation, communications or surveillance has the
potential for vastly increased delay or total shutdown of the ATC system," former FAA
Administrator Langhorne Bond told the Air Traffic Control Association's annual meeting
recently in Washington, D.C. Bond went on delineate the various reasons that current
VOR/DME and ILS technologies will continue to be utilized. Among them he mentioned the
potential for GPS signal jamming, sunspot-generated signal degradation, satellite
destruction by hostile sources, and the fact that only one of the four ground stations
controlling the GPS satellites is located in the United States.
I read a wide variety of aviation publications. I have noted disparaging comments
originating from a number of pilots concerning the validity of non-directional beacon
supported navigation, particularly ADF approaches. This disturbs me deeply. ADF is one of
the tried and true navigational systems and is used extensively as a primary enroute and
terminal area navigation aid on a world-wide basis.
I currently fly a Boeing 747-200F. I work for a cargo airline that contracts
its services to other airlines and independent companies worldwide. We have two ancient,
non-digital ADF receivers in the 747 that I fly primarily, and we use them extensively,
particularly when flying the Zipaquira One SID out of Bogota, Colombia. Night. Mountains.
Lousy air traffic control. Bad weather. We pay very close attention to tuning and
identifying those four NDB's when climbing out of Bogota at our maximum runway-limited
takeoff gross weight. Trust me on this.
Prior to checking out in the 747, I flew the civilian version of the Lockheed Hercules,
the L-382. The Herc is a special-purpose aircraft. Originally designed by Lockheed as a
military assault transport, the civilian derivative is the world's greatest bush plane. I
have landed it on road sections, taxi strips, and runways carved by machete-wielding
tribesmen out of the African bush. I have landed it repeatedly on a one-way dirt strip in
the central highlands of Papua New Guinea, after having shot an NDB/DME approach through a
thick stratus layer into a valley carved by one of the world's most scenic lakes. NDB/DME,
you ask? In PNG, that's what they use to let down into blind valleys at night. Better know
those ADF procedures, folks.
During the eight years that I flew the Hercules, my company, Southern Air
Transport, was extensively involved in various African relief operations sponsored by
several international relief organizations. Among the many were The International
Committee of the Red Cross, Caritas, UNOSOM, UNDRO, the the Lutheran World Foundation, and
Medicines Sans Frontières. I had many opportunities, most assuredly not always-welcomed
opportunities, to return to the basics.
I used GPS on a limited basis in Africa a few years back while flying Lockheed Hercs on
relief missions, particularly in the southern Sudan. We were required to locate bush
strips or drop zones near small villages in what may be described as a "trackless
waste" where pilotage was difficult due to the similarity of many terrain features
and the additional problem of potentially being hit by ground fire if we flew too low. We
used a handheld Garmin GPS receiver to supplement the Omega systems that were installed in
the Hercs at the time, because Omega was occasionally incredibly inaccurate.
In this day and time of positive control, Class A & B airspace, and the ubiquitous
transponder, it seems to me that much of the freedom has disappeared from flying. That
does not negate, however, what I feel to be the absolute necessity of initially learning
the basics of all forms of navigation when acquiring the skills that will set the
groundwork for a lifetime career in aviation.
Admittedly, we no longer have to fly along reading the signs on water tanks and
following railroads to locate a small grass strip out in the hinterlands. I often did that
as a kid flying around the northern Gulf of Mexico. It was fun, and it insured that I
would have to really work hard at getting lost. (Which I occasionally did, anyway.)
All those years ago I soloed July 4th, 1959 at Bates Field in Mobile, Alabama at age
16 I never contemplated that I would find myself some thirty-three years later trying
to read a GNC chart while ensconced in the command seat of a Lockheed Hercules, eighteen
thousand feet over southern Angola, looking for the town of Ongiva. Problem was, I had two
Omega receivers in the airplane, and they had each led me to a different airport. Two
Omegas; two airports; two towns.
Why not just get a VOR fix? What's a VOR? You won't find them in a country that has
suffered from twenty years of civil war, where "rebels" held half the
countryside, and where, in those days, the only functioning instrument approach procedure
in the entire country was an ADF approach into Luanda that worked, most of the time, when
the power was on.
So, which airport was Ongiva? I had no way of knowing precisely, based on the
information that the Red Cross Project Manager had given me. He'd said something like,
"Just go on down there. You'll figure it out." This was Africa, not Ohio, and
this was normal procedure. If you can read a map, find the neighborhood and nobody shoots
at you, you are very likely in the right place.
Had I had a functional GPS in the cockpit, it would have simplified the matter
tremendously, assuming that it hadn't shorted out because it was packed with West African
dust, assuming that no one in the area was jamming the signal, assuming that the
electrical bus powering it hadn't popped all three circuit breakers, or assuming that no
one had stolen it the night before.
So, all those years ago when my first flight instructor, Walker Taylor, insisted that I
learn how to successfully arrive at Point B without using anything but a compass, a
sectional chart, and a watch, he insured that I could pretty much be assured of
successfully locating Ongiva, Angola, thirty-three years down the road. And I did.
Almost every wide-eyed kid who starts out these days learning to fly hopes that he or
she will end up in the business end of a high-tech near-mach cruiser, staying at the best
hotels, flying the hot international routes, visiting Paris, Rome, London, Buenas Aires
Truth is, many things happen and we aren't all Flag Carrier material. Many of us end up
out in the toolies in some third-world "country" flying marginally-maintained
aircraft, trying to avoid hostile ground fire, malaria, dengue fever, dysentery, wild-eyed
sixteen-year-old Somali machine gunners, and occasionally shooing green mambas and camel
spiders out of our tents while keeping a weather eye out for the wayward hyena.
I suppose that in a perfect world, knowing the difference between true and magnetic
north won't matter much. But down the bumpy road of life, there are many potholes. There
may come a day in the distant future when the ability to remember the basics and shoot a
fixed-card NDB approach to minimums, or read a GNC chart and figure out just what that
squiggly little line that bisects that river bed at the blown suspension bridge means,
might just save your behind.
Southern Air Transport