Aviation In Canada

Monday, March 07, 2005

Getting Lost, Part 1

One thing I mentioned yesterday is that inexperienced cross country VFR pilots sometimes get lost. It's really easy, even in familiar territory, to lose one's bearings and suddenly familiar terrain can look a little less than familiar. Here's a story of my own.

I trained in Nova Scotia, a province in Canada, for those who don't know, which is almost an island, save for an isthmus of land joining it to New Brunswick. I flew from CYAW to CYTN to CCQ3 back to CYAW. This little triangle took me across the southern portion of the isthmus, therefore water was on both sides. Vis was pretty good, though the horizon faded into the clouds with a sort of wintertime haze. After the touch-and-go at CYTN, I was climbing out for CCQ3 and enjoying the scenery, which I hadn't seen before on anything other than a map. I still thought I was pretty familiar with it all, or at least the coastal landforms. I reached 4,500 and levelled, still enjoying the scenery for a while. Eventually, I realized I had been neglecting my cockpit duties, and returned to the panel for a scan of gauges. Heading, good. Altitude, good. Fuel, oil temp and pressure, suction, etc. All good. Time to recheck estimates for the route. Strange. I can't seem to recognize any of the local landmarks, and I can't place myself on the map. I looked all around, and couldn't see anything I had planned on using as a reference point. I found what appeared to be sort of prominent marks out the window and couldn't seem to locate any on the map.

Fortunately, it's a small province and I had full long-range tanks when I left. Knowing the overall lay of the land, I wasn't concerned. Eventually I'd find some coastline and I'd know where I was. Still, I was concerned about my lack of ability to orient myself. So, to fill time until I could see where I was, I looked at the plane's LORAN-C. The flight school gave us a very basic tour of LORAN in groundschool, and the only thing I could remember was how to get current position. That was good enough to see where I was on the map. When I found my position on the map, I was amazed at how many things I should have been able to see to determine my position. Looking out the window, I was further amazed that they were all there: The power lines, this small odd-shaped lake, the hill a few miles north and the secondary highway crossing my track up ahead. Now I was embarassed. But at least I knew where I was. How could all of these features pass blindly by me when I didn't know where I was, and suddenly appear when I had confidence in a position. I love the psychology of it.

More tomorrow...