By its definition, remote flying means you’re a serious distance from the bells and whistles of civilization. As a pilot, embarking on a flight into a remote area of Australia involves an extra element of preparation and a highly disciplined approach to your airborne techniques.
Here are a few tips to keep you safe and on track whilst you’re enjoying the dress circle view that flying over our outback delivers.
Navigation over featureless terrain
With the increasing accuracy and reliability of GPS, it has become a widely used navigation tool in most aircraft over the past decade or two. We can probably all admit to following that magic magenta line a little too often instead of using the map reading and dead reckoning skills we were taught as students.
However, remote flying is not a situation where you want to be leaving anything to chance, so it’s vital that your situational awareness is turned up to high volume, and that you use any and all available tools to help you, including GPS. In fact, use everything you’ve got! GPS (plus a spare hand-held if you have one), electronic flight bag (EFB) providers, back-up paper charts – use the lot.
Your most basic navigational requirements are: Where am I? And where am I going? Out here, you may be flying over mostly featureless terrain. When there are no roads, or homesteads or rivers to help you, everything starts to look the same so you need to pay particular attention to holding your heading and keeping track of your times and distances.
Pay close attention to following your progress on your map. Anticipate landmarks and waypoints that should be coming up. Not there? Try looking either side of your track. The wind may be stronger than forecast and pushing you off-track. Comparing your position relative to these landmarks is the logical and simplest way to identify if you need to adjust your heading to remain on track. A good tip is to try and confirm you are established on your desired track as soon as practicable after departure. Always be aware of that “O” component in your CLEAROF checks: Orientation.
Regular calibration of compass
Aligning your compass with your directional indicator should be a regular check at the beginning and throughout any flight. Pay particular attention to your DG after any spirited manoeuvring of the aircraft, which could tend to give your DG its marching orders, and can send your reading way off what the compass is telling you. This becomes an issue when you are correcting your heading using an inaccurate DG. So if you’ve just taken off from the postcard airstrip amongst the canola and you’ve circled overhead for a few dozen photos, you might like to have a glance and see what that’s done to your DG reading. If it needs resetting, wait til you’ve reached your top of climb and then reset it – at least then you’ll be on your way to where you think you’re going.
Remember that you’ll be likely flying far beyond the coverage of a VTC or a VNC, and so will be cruising along with just your WAC for company. There goes your easy access to en route radio frequencies and so much other useful information! Make sure you take the required En route Low chart ERC (L) so you can see at a glance any PRD areas, CTAF frequencies along your route, Area frequency boundaries, VOR and NDB frequencies and Morse identifiers you may need.
For VFR pilots, the ERC is not the most user friendly chart going, cluttered as it is with IFR routes and waypoints, leaving little real estate for any topography or useful landmark identification. This is not what this chart is for. Make things easier for yourself and draw in your route, highlighting your waypoints, so that at least you have a focus point when glancing at the ERC for quick information.
If you do find yourself in the situation where you are swapping between the ERC, WAC, VNC, VTC, then remember to be aware of the different scales on each chart. There are rulers easily obtainable with the three scales needed for the WAC (1:1,000,000), VTC (1:250,000) and VNC (1:500,000).
These days, EFBs with popular flight planning software allow you to display your flight plan on your iPad or similar tablet, overlaid on your choice of chart. This is an invaluable tool whilst you’re flying, and goes a long way towards increased situational awareness. However, regardless of rigorous testing, an EFB in the form of an iPad, is just like any other mainstream electrical product and can fail without notice. So, never rely on it without backup. And of course, never leave home without your ERSA. It’s the bible.
CAO 20.11 states that “Aircraft planned to operate within or through the designated remote area [as shown in ERSA GEN FIS 17] are required to carry survival equipment suitable for sustaining life in the area over which the flight is planned”. Read the Emergency section of the ERSA so that you know what that survival equipment should comprise. Also have a read through our separate topics on EFBs and Bush Strips here in Out-n-Back.
Although generally predictable and benign, the weather in remote areas can change quickly. For example raised dust can reduce forward visibility in the same way that cloud and fog do. Before you know it you can be inadvertently flying in IMC. Thunderstorms can develop rapidly and produce micro climates that are best avoided. Be prepared with the most recent forecasts and develop a clear picture in your mind about possible trends in today’s and tomorrow’s weather patterns.