GPS: We're Hooked!
Reprinted with permission from FAA Aviation News
It all started innocently enough'somebody realized
a LORAN receiver from a boat would work in the air. It was the 90's and things
were changing fast. Everyone was looking forward to the next new innovation in
navigation, the same way that coffee drinkers look forward to that first cup in
the morning. Then came something called GPS and it all seemed too good to be
First hand-held appeared'heavy and bulky. Once
again many were from marine applications. Then the real aviation panel mounts
showed-up on the scene. It was hard to 'Just Say No.' Everybody was doing it and
it looked like GPS had become the navigation means of choice. At first they were
just novelties rather than our 'real' means of navigation.' With 'Direct-to'
capability and a database full of useful information like the 'nearest airport'
and frequencies for Air Traffic Control (ATC) and Automated Flight Service
Station (AFSS), we quickly forgot about the venerable VORs, NDB's and DMEs that
had faithfully served us for so many years.
Some pilots couldn't get enough. We've all seen
them'the ones who have a panel-mounted unit and a hand-held GPS receiver. That
way, if one quit, they wouldn't have to kick the habit and go back to VORs.
Sun 'n Fun' and EAA's AirVenture - became the
Woodstock's of what was new in GPS innovation. Next thing we knew there were
even IFR-approach certified GPS receivers. Now we had the monkey on our backs.
It was next to impossible to quit the GPS habit. Few even tried.
Let's face it. We're all GPS shooked! That's not
a bad thing. What we're really hooked on is the area navigation or RNAV
capability when using GPS.
Now this does come at a cost 'and an airline
pilot who was flying his personal Cessna 180 while using a new handheld GPS
captured it early and amazingly well. The reporter had 15,000 hours total time
and held an ATP certificate. This pilot submitted an
Reporting System (ASRS) report. I don't know who this gentleman is because
ASRS reports are anonymous. Whoever he is, if he is reading this and would
contact me, I'll buy him lunch at the FAA Headquarters cafeteria. (Don't all
call at once!) I would be honored to sit down with such a clairvoyant and
prophetic individual. Anyway, here's what he said in July of 1997:
I am a 30-year airline pilot flying in a
light civil aircraft. The en route wx began to deteriorate and I had to make a
180-degree turn to stay VFR. I was lucky'I found a hole and climbed on top.
During the climb, I lost part of my NAV. My new GPS gave me good position info
while I worked my way around the wx. I like the use of the battery powered
backup to assist in the NAV effort.
The reporter also stated he only sent in the
report because he was so impressed with the safety aspect of the GPS with pen
light batteries being able to help him out of a situation which could have
become a problem. He is quite impressed with the GPS unit and operation. His
major concern is that it is so good and so reliable that it may lead people into
situations where they should not be. He feels every flight instructor should
indicate this factor in big red letters to all students: They cannot rely solely
on the 'magic.'
With the aviation community hooked on GPS for
more than a decade now, it may surprise you to learn that GPS NOTAMs must be
specifically requested from either AFSS (via phone) or DUATs. This is because
the NOTAMs, other than GPS, effective for your route of flight are located and
displayed automatically. GPS NOTAMs cover such a wide area that they are not
listed by a specific location and must be specifically requested.
Here's another ASRS report from August of 1996
that demonstrates the importance of always requesting GPS NOTAMs. This pilot
laments the need to ask for GPS NOTAMs. The aircraft was a Cessna 172.
Day VFR flight from Wilmington to Avery
County Airport Spruce Pine, NC. Filed VFR flight plan and closed in Hickory, NC.
We landed Hickory, NC, and called Avery County Airport for wx into Avery County.
Report was minimum haze, good visibility. We departed Hickory with about one
hour 45 minutes fuel. We were unable to find the Avery County Airport because of
poor visibility. Our GPS told us we were over Avery Airport, but could not see
it. New Bern flight watch did not tell us about a NOTAM that all gps systems
were inaccurate due to the missile attack on Iraq.
About 30-40 minutes later we landed at the
Banner Elk Airport in hopes of taking on fuel, but none was available. We again
departed with directions to Avery County Airport. We were not able to locate
Avery County after repeated calls to Charlotte Approach. We were told when
passing Charlotte's airspace that the radar was out for maintenance below 10,000
feet for five hours, so we could not get vectors to Avery County as planned.
With about 40 minutes of fuel remaining, we were still unable to find airport. I
then decided to remain in a valley with good visibility over a golf course. The
remaining fuel could and would not get us back over the mountains to safety. Our
situation was getting desperate. After getting calls and help from local pilots
to get us out, but with visibility getting worse, we decided if we ran out of
fuel this would be the best option. Our fuel ran out. I set for a landing on the
golf course, but several golfers were playing, so I decided to land on a
highway. A safe landing was made with no injury to people on ground or to crew.
Very little damage to airplane.
What would I do different next time? Refuel
in Hickory before going further and receive several hours of mountain flying
from a CFI in that area. I would also receive a more detailed wx report from
Avery County Airport from a qualified pilot. Had I known the haze was as bad as
it was I would have parked the plane and rented a car for the remaining trip.
Callback conversation with reporter revealed the
following info: reporter states that his passenger pilot had done all the work
obtaining the briefing and planning the flight. He did not request NOTAMs and
was not given any. Reporter feels something as important as a GPS change should
be part of the normal briefing and one should not have to request it.
GPS NOTAMs are an easy thing to forget during a
preflight briefing. This may be because GPS is almost always available. We've
become spoiled. By asking for GPS NOTAMs you could save yourself an unpleasant
Here's a GPS NOTAM issued recently. Note the
very large area that could be affected.
GPS 04/009 ZDC GPS IS UNRELIABLE AND MAY BE
UNAVAILABLE WITHIN A 275 NM RADIUS OF 2958N/0791500W AT FL400. DECREASING IN
AREA WITH A DECREASE IN ALTITUDE TO 229 NM RADIUS AT FL250, 163 NMR RADIUS AT
FL100, AND 120 NM RADIUS AT 4000 FT AGL. THE TEST AREA IMPACTS THE WASHINGTON,
JACKSONVILLE AND MIAMI ARTCC AIRSPACE. WEF 0604201800-0604202100
Give some thought to a back-up plan if your GPS
receiver fails. A simple thing like the batteries going dead can contribute to
an accident like this.
About 1830 Central Standard Time, a Bellanca
14-13 crashed in a parking lot of a casino near Tunica Mississippi, while on a
personal flight. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed at the time and no
flight plan was filed. The airplane was substantially damaged and the pilot, the
sole occupant, was not injured. The flight originated from the Moore-Murrell
Airport, Morristown, Tennessee, about 1430.
The pilot stated that he had flown this trip
several times and he did not on this flight perform fuel consumption
calculations. He also stated that he was navigating using a global positioning
system (GPS) unit and about 10 minutes before arrival at his planned
destination airport, the batteries in the GPS unit failed. He continued the
flight looking for the airport and stated that he delayed obtaining assistance
from air traffic control and did not attempt to use the VOR navigation system in
his airplane to determine his position. He located a place to perform a forced
landing due to fuel exhaustion and after touchdown during the landing roll; the
airplane collided with trees then came to rest.
Go ahead and keep your GPS habit - but cover
your bases by requesting GPS NOTAM's to make sure GPS will be available. Then,
have a backup plan in case of an aircraft GPS or handheld GPS hardware failure.
Be ready for the time when you have to quit 'cold turkey.'
Michael Lenz is a Program Analyst in Flight
Standards Service's General Aviation and Commercial Division.