By Howard Deevers
English is the official language of aviation, worldwide. We all learn that when we learn to fly. Of course, aviation has its own language as well. We had to learn new terms and phrases, and words that we use nowhere else. And, don’t forget the abbreviations; a whole book full of shortened terms.
Let’s start with VOR. We all learn about the VOR navigation very early in training, the Very High Frequency (VHF, another abbreviation) Omni-Directional Range transmitter that is used for aviation navigation. It would be way too complicated to call it by the formal name, so it is just shortened to VOR. We can make it even more complicated by calling it VOR/DME. What’s that? DME is short for Distance Measuring Equipment. If you have a DME receiver in your plane, you can not only get a direction to, or from, a VOR, but even tell the distance to it; nice to know information.
The VOR came into use after the ADF. Remember the ADF? Automatic Direction Finder. The ADF came first and was considered a very revolutionary advance to air navigation. The ADF is an AM (not FM) receiver that gives you relative bearing to a radio transmitting beacon, or an AM radio station. The earliest devices had a “fixed” compass card with a needle that would point to the transmitter. It required the pilot to do some mental gymnastics to find the correct heading TO the transmitter. More modern ADF receivers have a rotatable card, so just rotate the card to your present heading, and the needle points to the heading you will need to fly to get to the station, no mental math needed. I’m sure that I got that answer wrong on my first Instrument Written exam.
These wonderful Navigation Aids (NAV/AIDS) came well before GPS. Global Positioning System, which is a satellite-based, rather than ground-based, system. GPS changed everything. GPS can be used for every type of navigation: hand held GPS receivers can be used while hiking, driving, or flying! Nearly all new cars seem to come equipped with GPS receivers built in, ships at sea can navigate with GPS to anywhere on earth, and, of course, our airplanes can have either a GPS built in or portable GPS system helping you find any airport, VOR, NDB, intersection, or “waypoint” in the US or other countries, if you have a database for those countries.
GPS came about as a result of the “Cold War.” Russia had launched the first satellite to orbit the Earth in 1957. The US wasted no time in getting into the act. The early satellites were crude compared to what we have today, but the course had been charted for future GPS navigation.
That leads us to the next acronym ADS-B, or the Next Gen of air traffic control (or management). ADS-B is short for Automatic Dependent Surveillance – Broadcast. Like the VOR, this name needs to be shortened, too. VOR sounds easy, but ADS-B sounds cumbersome. It has one letter too many. Everything else we use has only 3 letters. Pilots are still struggling with how to use this term when talking to ATC (Air Traffic Control, another easy 3 letter acronym). I hear pilots responding to ATC when they get a traffic advisory with, “I’ve got him on my ADS-B.” That could be very confusing for the ATC person. Does that response mean that the pilot actually sees the traffic; does that pilot have ADS-B in only and not the out and sees that traffic on his iPad along with 5 other traffic displays; or is the pilot just not looking outside at all?
ADS-B was introduced at Oshkosh over 10 years ago, and the mandate for equipping is January 1, 2020. Neither the FAA nor pilots have come up with any shorter way to say ADS-B. Of course, ADS-B has two parts: IN and OUT. The IN part is easy, and not too expensive. You can purchase an ADS-B IN receiver for about $600 or build your own using a Raspberry Pi and plug in USB GPS receivers for about $250. These will display traffic and weather on your iPad and do not have to be permanently mounted in the plane. Be warned, however, that without ADS-B out, you may not be getting the full traffic picture!
The OUT part requires a permanent mounting in, or on, the plane. This must include a WAAS GPS source to supply position information to be transmitted on your Transponder. The FAA called this “the Next Gen” of Air Traffic Control; meaning, Next Generation. With the rapid advances in electronics, we just wonder what comes after this, Next Gen II? Or maybe something like that. I do think that we will use this “Next Gen” system for at least 10 years, but a lot can happen in 10 years, especially when you are talking about electronics. Our space travels may have a bigger effect on earth-bound traffic than we think. Only time will tell.
Don’t forget to check the ARIZONA PILOTS ASSOCIATION web site for another safety seminar near you. They are free, and be sure to “Bring Your Wingman.”