Dead Reckoning and Pilotage

A place to relax and discuss flying topics.

Moderators: GAHorn, Karl Towle, Bruce Fenstermacher

Dead Reckoning and Pilotage

Postby GAHorn » Fri Dec 04, 2020 4:15 pm

Difficult to believe in modern times... until one realizes how reliant most of us have become to GPS and moving maps.... but if YOU lost your moving map, Ipad or such... would you have remembered to confirm Morse Identifiers .. Would YOU have been willing to admit you’re lost to ATC and ask for help?

Not too many years ago (early 2000’s) I departed at night and found myself between layers which were brightly illuminated in an orange-glow from surface lights. I then realized my heading made NO sense.... my old-style D.G. which I always set/confirm with runway heading before brake-release showed us heading west... when we had departed only fifteen minutes earlier from DWH (in northwest Houston) for the Austin area. We should have seen a Westerly heading. The mag compass showed something east. Did I fail to set the DG? Or did I re-set it to the mag compass and not recall? The loran I had back then failed to reassure me.
WHEN and HOW did I get turned-around and headed in almost the exact Opposite direction? Did I become disoriented as we entered that layer between clouds and found ourselves still VFR but in that unusual illuminated cloud-deck? Did I actually get completely turned around?

Being stuck VFR between layers at night requires concentration on instrument, hand-flying skills and this didn’t help matter because the layers weren’t “level”...they slanted giving the impression of flying in a “bank”. (Subconsciously, the slanted-layers would coax me into a bank as-well which resulted in a constant turning-tendency. It was very disorienting.)

The mental confusion which overtakes one when this sort of thing becomes overwhelming to using good logic. It was very surprising to me as to why I couldn’t make sense of anything, after-all, at that point in time I was a 12K+ hour pilot with thousands of instrument experience and this can’t happen to me.... can it...?? Wow. (Let me assure you it is very distracting the thoughts that run thru your mind if this ever occurs to you.)

I finally decided to ask for help, so I checked the charts and grabbed an ATC frequency and declared to them my “compass” had failed (not quite knowing what else to tell them) in an effort to unscramble the conflicting instrument indications I was seeing. West on one compass...East on another ...when both had agreed earlier... and now, flying in a weird, orange airspace with slanting layers above and below was difficult to even believe the artificial horizon or bouncing Turn-and-Bank indicators.

Houston had me squawk a txdr code and Ident... then confirmed I was tracking EAST! 8O The magnetic compass which supposedly cannot fail...was showiing 280 degrees. 8O
THEN it became visible to me... the small spiral-bound notebook my passenger (also a pilot) had placed on top of the panel just behind the mag compass! That steel-spring wire-wound binding was interfering with the mag compass! I yanked it off the coaming and tossed it in his lap and the compass swung around and showed 080..!! which very nearly agreed with the D.G. :oops:
I thanked ATC and made a 180 and headed back West, (I’d almost entered Houstons Class-C) exiting that unique cloud-layer about Brenham Tx 50 miles later, and enjoying no more confusion in the starlit clear skies all the way home.

Yes... it can still happen.. Here’s a Boeing 737 crew who ended up crashed in the jungle over their mistake and failure to admit error and ask for help.
Note: FIFTEEN out of 21 airline pilots, on a subsequent test, made the same error as the accident crew. Don’t think something just as goofy can’t happen to you.
'53 B-model N146YS SN:25713
50th Anniversary of Flight Model. Winner-Best Original 170B, 100th Anniversary of Flight.
An originality nut (mostly) for the right reasons. ;)
User avatar
Posts: 19321
Joined: Fri Apr 12, 2002 8:45 pm
Location: Spicewood (Austin), Texas

Re: Dead Reckoning and Pilotage

Postby mmcmillan2 » Sat Dec 05, 2020 2:53 am

Wow! Interesting story!
Posts: 41
Joined: Sat Jul 04, 2020 9:30 pm

Re: Dead Reckoning and Pilotage

Postby edbooth » Sat Dec 05, 2020 2:54 pm

One of my early instructors told me , "NEVER put anything on top of the panel" To this day over 50 years later, I do not.
Ed Booth, 170-B and RV-7 Driver
User avatar
Posts: 480
Joined: Wed Nov 24, 2004 3:03 am
Location: Trenton,SC

Return to The Pilot Lounge

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 13 guests