Visual Navigation Should Remain A Visual Business

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Pablo Edronkin

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A few days ago I had to fly my mighty Piper Cub Special, an original, 1947 PA-11 from a military base in Buenos Aires, where it received asylum in a hangar, to a private runway in the middle of the Pampas. The flight in question was to last for about two hours and a half following a course that roughly went westwards, and then a little bit to the southwest. My idea was to use a GPS plus follow a big road that goes over the provincial territory. There are small towns, all with runways for crop dusters and generally speaking, you would say that flying over road number five would keep you on the edge of civilisation, but still within it.

So, in the event of any problem, I would be able to land the white and green 'Yankee Mike India' (the whole markings are LV-YMI) on any of those small airfields. Moreover: even in the event of an unlikely but plausible emergency landing, I would have a road and people nearby. For those of you who don't know it, a Cub Special can land almost anywhere, so that wouldn't be a problem.

But shortly after taking off the controller told me to vacate the terminal area of Buenos Aires using 'VFR corridor number ten' I did not remember which corridor had which number, but it didn't sound good right from the beginning. Then I looked at the chart and saw that number ten lies southwards. I had to pass over the whole city with a single-engine, vintage plane, and to went over Ezeiza international, one of the busiest airports in the country. The controllers were in part right: I could reach my destination thorough this corridor until leaving the whole TMA or terminal area, and then follow a westwards course using a VOR station located in the area.

The first problem was that Cubs rarely carry a VOR radio, and YMI never felt like making big exceptions I the field of avionics; my Cub has an eolic alternator and a standard VHS equipment, most have no electrical system at all, but that's it. The second problem was that while the controllers where right even considering distances, because their chosen route was shorter, it would led me into a territory where there are no big roads, only dusty trails for agricultural equipment and farmers. The nearest serious road would be always about fifty kilometres away and there were far less alternative airfields, plus, my flight plan stated the same thing that I said to those whom I verbally explained how did I planned to reach my destination, including a fried that would pick me up there with his car. They all assumed that I would fly visually, following interstate road number five, plus my GPS.

I asked the controller if he could send me back to my original way out of the city but it was not possible due to heavy traffic in the north: so, I made all my way out of the TMA using corridor number ten, and then decided to intercept my original route. So I set my GPS to lead me to the nearest pre-established waypoint and after twenty minutes going NW, I found myself over friendly territory. Then I called home and my friend, to tell them that I was on my way.

Landing was no problem and immediately I called the controllers to say that the flight ended normally. The flight took me twenty minutes more and some more fuel, but I think it was the wisest thing to do instead of following the course suggested by air traffic control (once you leave controlled airspace they can only suggest, but not order you to do as they would like) since over their route of choice I had no alternatives, no good ground references for visual navigation, it would need further explanation to those advised about my flight and in the event of a precautionary or emergency landing, It would only make things more complicated.

Following the shortest route while performing any sort of navigation may sound tempting, it may even sound as plain common sense to other people, but you, as the navigator are the only person that should have the last word, so use it wisely.

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