Navigation Database Currency (Part Three)

Coupling the FMS to the Navigation Indicator(s)

Every advanced avionics cockpit features one or more navigation instruments used for course guidance. The navigation indicator (e.g., a horizontal situation indicator (HSI) or electronic HSI) may include one or more course deviation indicators (CDIs), as well as one or more radio magnetic indicators (RMIs). When automatic course/ en route/ approach tracking is desired, you must couple (or connect) the FMS to the autopilot and select “navigation” as the source for the autopilot versus “heading” source, for example. With VOR navigation, that was sufficient. Now, with multiple sources of navigation data available, you must also ensure that the proper navigation information source was selected in the FMS. Every advanced cockpit offers buttons or switches that allow you to choose which navigation indications will be shown on which display or instrument.


This situation becomes complicated in aircraft that contain dual FMS/RNAV installations and redundant selectable displays or instruments. The pilot must learn how to configure each navigation instrument to show indications from each possible navigation source.

Figure 3-16 shows an example of a primary flight display (PFD) navigation indicator that combines a course deviation indicator (CDI) and a radio magnetic indicator (RMI), and allows the pilot to display indications from one of two FMS on either indicator.

Figure 3-16. Coupling the FMS to navigation instruments.

Figure 3-16. Coupling the FMS to navigation instruments. [click image to enlarge]

Common Error: Displaying the Wrong Navigation Source

The annunciations showing which navigation sources are displayed on which navigation instruments are often small, so there is significant potential for displaying a navigation source other than the one you intended to select. The consequences of losing track of which navigation signals you are following can be significant: you may think you are steering along one course when in fact you are steering along a different one. Be sure to verify these settings prior to departure, and again each time you make changes to any navigation instrument. Some installations compound this potential with automatic source switching. The most common switching mode is a GPS source to be automatically deselected when the VOR is set to an ILS localizer frequency and a signal is present. Typically, that is not a problem since the pilot intends to switch to the ILS anyway. However, the error arises upon missed approach, when the pilot selects another frequency to follow a VOR missed approach routing. At that point, some units revert back to the previous GPS or other RNAV routing selected instead of the VOR frequency that the pilot just picked. This can result in gross navigation errors and loss of obstruction clearances. In some units, this is a shop programmable or jumper selected option. Check your unit’s features. Always check for correct navigation source selection and cross-check against the published procedure. Be ready and able to fly and navigate manually.


Awareness: Mode Awareness

Mode awareness refers to the pilot’s ability to keep track of how an advanced avionics cockpit system is configured. As shown in Figure 3-16, every advanced avionics system offers an annunciation of which mode is currently set—somewhere in the cockpit! There is no guarantee that you will notice these annunciations in a timely manner. The configuration of these systems must remain part of your mode situational awareness at all times. One strategy is to include “mode checks” as part of your checklist or callout procedures. For example, after programming a route into the FMS, verify that the navigation indicator shows course guidance from the desired source, and that the indication agrees with your estimate of the correct direction and distance of flight.

Essential Skills

  1. Determine whether the FMS is approved for the planned flight operation.
  2. Determine if your FMS can be used as a primary navigation system for alternate requirements.
  3. Understand how entries are made and how the entries can be canceled.
  4. Understand how that unit(s) is installed, and how it is programmed or jumpered for optional functions.
  5. Determine which navigation sources are installed and functional.
  6. Determine the status of the databases.
  7. Program the FMS/RNAV with a flight plan, including en route waypoints, user waypoints, and published instrument procedures.
  8. Review the programmed flight route to ensure it is free from error.
  9. Find the necessary pages for flight information in the databases.
  10. Determine which sources drive which displays or instruments, and where the selection controls are located.
  11. Determine and understand how to use and program optional functions and equipment installed with FMS/ RNAV basic unit.