Years ago, back in the mid 90′s, when I was undertaking my instrument rating, a friend sent me a link to download a tacky little PC-based procedural trainer that I ended up using for hours on end in an attempt to reinforce the principles behind VOR and NDB intercepts and approaches. There’s no doubt in my mind that this little tool – however crappy by today’s standard – saved me hours of airtime and thousands of dollars over the course of my rating.
We got pretty lucky once we harvested UFO technology and progressed beyond the 386 processor. Affordable PC-based simulation was plentiful and certainly within easy reach of anybody that had committed the finances to flight training. No longer would you have to stand in an empty living space flying a broomstick around your house like a fool. Visualisation has its obvious benefits, but nothing beats being able to fly the actual procedures on a computer with animated indications preceding a structured flight lesson.
I was fortunate in that I taught countless instructor students over the years; unfortunate in that I didn’t actually get to fly any approaches. However, sitting back criticizing (one of my favorite things to do) was almost as good as actually getting my hands dirty. The principles were cemented so deeply into my psyche that I’d never forget – or so I thought…
When instructing became less of a financial option, I reluctantly stuck to my day job in aircraft that were all fitted with funky radios and/or glass cockpits, and I concentrated on the type of teaching that required less of a commitment. All of a sudden, my raw IFR skills began to deteriorate without my knowing it. I thought I knew what was going on… or at least that’s what I kept telling myself. It’s hard to validate our ego when we constantly let the aircraft do all the heavy lifting. Even the instrument ratings I flew in the 777 were conducted on autopilot (since it’s an automated machine). The only NDB approach we ever flew in the 777 was the old twin locator onto Melbourne’s RWY 16 – but even then we used an overlay and flew it in VNAV PATH. Not only was I not really flying an NDB approach, but the aircraft would fly the vertical path and, of course, compensate for any wind. I didn’t even touch the controls.
In my case, years had passed… and so did the need to have the same level of proficiency that I once did when it came to ground-based navigation. Simply put, the automation made me lazy (sound familiar, Karlene?)
Fast forward to present day. It was only a few weeks ago where I flew a company check ride (Operator Proficiency Check) in a Boeing 737. When it came time to fly the same twin locator into Melbourne I’d flown a hundred times before, the familiarity was all gone. I was hand flying (yes, actually flying) on one engine at night on approach to minimums. I had 30 knots of crosswind and both GPS systems had failed (the instructor quickly slewed the underlay off track so the beloved magenta track line wasn’t available). All of a sudden, I was essentially in one of those ‘little’ aircraft we throw sticks at when we taxi by. I found myself referring back to the principles that I hadn’t applied in years. Heading + Relative Bearing = Track to Station. Rule of Thumb: 5 degrees of drift for each 10 knots of wind (corrected). Head of the needle falls onto the track; tail falls. Thankfully – and I seriously mean thankfully – Gary from Digital Aviation had sent me a download link to his Radio Navigation Simulator a few days prior for a review. Little did I know that the 30 minutes I spent playing with his application was the reason I flew the approach so awesomely (if I do say so myself!)
I’m not ashamed to admit that most GA pilots could probably have flown that approach with far less brain power than I used on that day. There are basic principles that we let go of when we don’t use them often enough and I saw that first hand… in a flight test. I’ve got Gary’s RNS in my kit now and I’ll be sure to pull it out every now and again to refresh myself on all those basic principles that are far too easy to forget.
Radio Navigation Simulator
Based on navaids around the United Kingdom, you “fly” a small aircraft with reference to two cockpit VOR’s, one ADF and a DME. Speed, altitude and wind can all be adjusted as necessary. Gesture supports zooming in and out and altering instrument indications. The instrument cluster can be minimized to maximize available airspace… although there are countless other options; far too many to talk about. Virtually any feature can be cycled on or off in real time.
A great feature for instrument and/or night students is the ability to simply drag the little aeroplane icon around the screen so that instrument indications reflect the change of location in real time.
The application is available in an iPhone/iPod touch only version for $4.99. The full version is $9.99. It shouldn’t be more than a few days before Gary rolls out additional features into the product that include new panel options (full HSI and dual needle RMI – NDB/VOR) and, additionally, support for the new iPad(3?) retina display. New “training areas” will also be included for “ab-initio” students looking at learning basic features before progressing onto more complex models.
Gary says that there are additional advanced features that will be made available over coming months but I’m not quite sure he’d want me sharing specific details. What he did describe to me makes an excellent product even better.
- Flight Environment mapped in Latitude and Longitude.
- RNS operates with a Synthetic Aeronautical Database.
- The Radio Navigation Facilities area is approx 300 x 200 nm.
- Unrestricted Lat & Long flight outside of Facilities area.
- Area Navigation Facilities are VOR, VOR-DME and NDB.
- Scalable Chart with Facilities, Idents, and Aircraft symbols.
- Full Chart management with VOR Radials and Planned Routes.
- Aircraft Track Trail can be displayed, or suppressed.
- Flight Panel and Navigation Chart simultaneously displayed.
- Realistic Flight Panel with the following Instruments:
- VOR, DME, ADF (RMI or RBI) and Directional Gyro .
- Manageable Radios for ADF, NAV1 and NAV2 (with DME).
- Airspeed range 60 to 600 knots.
- Altitude management and display.
- Flight profile in Real or Compressed Time.
- Wind velocity, 0 to 99 kts, from any direction, steady or variable.
- Dead Reckoning Navigation Capability.
- Intuitive Multi-Gesture Operated User Interface.
- Touch Button Flying Controls.
- PopUp Toolbars & Annunciations to manage Flight Panel facilities.
- PopUp Toolbars and Icons to manage Chart facilities.
- Embedded – Getting Started Help.
- Printable Radio Navigation exercises with charts.
If you’re an instructor, student, IFR or night candidate, flight simulator enthusiast or IFR rated pilot, I highly recommend RNS. It’s available by searching for “Radio Navigation Simulator” in iTunes or by clicking this link.
This video by an unknown user is a little poor so I’ll try and do one myself sometime soon.
More images and information is available from the Digital Aviation website.
- GPS Failure and Subsequent Navigation
- Paired Oceanic Transition Waypoints
- Instrument Flying Day 4 Instrument Navigation
- Instrument Flying: Classroom, Week 1
- Instrument Flying Day 3 Attitude Instrument Flying
- The Boeing 787 – Evolutionary and Revolutionary
- First look at V Australia’s Boeing 777 Simulator