For those pilots who play by the rules, it is extremely unlikely to get lost while flying. However, pilots especially those flying under Visual Flight Rules get lost sometimes. Reasons include flying to a new area, poor flight planning, improper instrument checks, flying into instrument meteorological conditions and others. In this post, we share a few tips on lost aircraft procedures vis-à-vis what to do when you get lost in flight.
Fly the aircraft first
Do not panic. Fly the aeroplane first. Ensure that you scan your immediate surrounding to avoid collision with other traffic or obstacles – both man-made or natural.
Look for notable landmarks
Flying over land will help you to easily spot landmarks than flying over water. The Malawi Civil Aviation Regulations require that a pilot be conversant with the route and other key features of the area where s-he will transverse. By ensuring that you have the latest VFR sectional chart and being aware of the notable landmarks along your route, you will reduce your chances of getting lost in flight.
Be sure you are within range
Air Traffic Control is your first line of defence when it comes to helping you know where you are when you are lost. Contact the last assigned ATC facility and ask for help. Be sure to tell them the truth that you are lost. With most VHF radios, climbing will increase reception as you increase your line-of-sight range. As a prudent pilot, you must reduce your workload as much as possible to avoid making mistakes that often result in accidents. For example, you must climb first and after levelling and trimming the aircraft, you can then communicate with ATC. Remember that you must Aviate, Navigate and then Communicate.
There are 5Cs which are recommended things to do when you are lost. Although these are basic recommendations, they have been proven to help most pilots who have found themselves getting lost especially on cross-country flights:
- Confess to yourself that you are lost.
- Climb to the route ceiling or above minimum safe altitude to increase radio range.
- Conserve your fuel — slow down.
- Communicate to appropriate controlling agency (Air Traffic Service Unit).
- Comply with the controller’s instructions (fuel permitting).
You can use navigation aids to locate your nearest fix or VOR station. At Eastrise, our students learn how to use NavAids during their initial training before we check them out for their first cross-country flight. This is one of the ways we help our students to build proficiency and to stay safe.
Declare an emergency
If you are unable to establish contact with ATC and other aircraft in your immediate surrounding, you must declare an emergency. Tune to the emergency frequency (121.5 MHz or 406) and squawk 7700 on the transponder. Remember that all emergencies must start with the phrase MAYDAY spoken thrice.