Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Navigation aids and instrument flight

One of the first navigation aids to be introduced (in the USA in the late 1920s) was airfield lighting to assist pilots to make landings in poor weather or after dark. The Precision Approach Path Indicator was developed from this in the 1930s, indicating to the pilot the angle of descent to the airfield. This later became adopted internationally through the standards of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).

With the spread of radio technology, several experimental radio based navigation aids were developed from the late 1920s onwards. These were most successfully used in conjunction with instruments in the cockpit in the form of Instrument landing systems (ILS), first used by a scheduled flight to make a landing in a snowstorm at Pittsburgh in 1938. A form of ILS was adopted by the ICAO for international use in 1949.

Following the development of radar in World War II, it was deployed as a landing aid for civil aviation in the form of Ground-controlled approach (GCA) systems, joined in 1948 by distance measuring equipment (DME), and in the 1950s by airport surveillance radar as an aid to air traffic control. VHF omni directional range (VOR) became the predominate means of route navigation during the 1960s superseding the Non-directional beacon (NDB). The ground based VOR stations were often co-located with DME, so that pilots could know both their radials in degrees with respect to north to, and their slant range distance to, that beacon.

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