Old School, New School


Admiral Grace Hopper was an amazing person, well known for her contribution to modern computing. Less well known than her famous nanoseconds (look it up), she was fond of saying that “because we’ve always done it that way” was never a valid reason for anything. I’ve long tried to head that guidance.

Last month, our article “Are You Ready for MON?” described the FAA’s plans to get around in a persistent GPS failure. The National Airspace System is retiring a lot of VORs, but will retain some critical VORs and ground-based instrument approaches—the Minimum Operating Network—with the idea that without GPS we’ll still be able to navigate to one of those MON airports (not necessarily where we’re going) and fly a VOR, LOC, or ILS approach.

During a recent planned GPS outage on the U.S. east coast, some pilots declared an emergency because they couldn’t navigate. Clearly, not all of us can manage without GPS.

Many “old-school” pilots like me, have lamented the decay of skills for ground-based navigation. But, I’ve remained mindful of Admiral Hopper’s Old School, New School warning about sustaining the past for no valid reason. But, MON is a valid reason.

Do you still occasionally go through an engine-failure exercise? Most of us do. Why? The rate of engine failures is such that the chances of actually losing an engine are comfortably low. But, we still practice for that unlikely event. The likelihood of a real GPS outage is quite small, but not nonexistent, just like the odds of an engine failure. So just as we run the occasional engine failure
drill, so should we occasionally practice ground-based navigation and approaches.

Few of us remain instrument current without some deliberate practice. I recently had to spend a few hours in the sim to log a fresh six approaches. In the past, I’d often take the lazy path and just fly RNAV approaches, even coupled to the autopilot. This time, based on that March article, I mostly flew ILS approaches,
even adding a VOR approach, and did so without the autopilot. Interestingly,
my flying actually wasn’t bad, but it was with the buttonology that I struggled.

Actually flying the airplane using ground-based nav is pretty much the same as using GPS, so we shouldn’t struggle too much to keep the needles centered. But, it’s the setup that gets us. Could you, with no GPS available, actually manage that G1000 on your panel to fly an ILS or a VOR approach without the moving map, without the flight plan, but just using green needles and tuning and identifying the station(s)?

So, next time you’re getting a couple approaches to stay current, why not toss
in an ILS or even a VOR approach without entering it in your flight plan? If you can, turn off your GPS, or at least cover up the moving map(s). You might be
surprised at the results.

—Frank Bowlin


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