There are two places you may become temporarily unaware of your position. In the General Flying Area, (GFA) where you do about a third of your training, or on a Navigation. You have a few options to figure out where you are using common VFR lost procedures. Airfields have a way of melting into the surrounding terrain and can be pretty hard to spot. This can happen at any level of experience - we prefer not to say "lost" - since there are things you can do to become certain of your position again. Follow the FIVE GOLDEN RULES: CCCCC. ATC, (Air Traffic Control), help is almost always at hand, and if it isn't, then you can always do a Precautionary Landing if your options are diminishing.
5 Golden Rules for VFR Lost Procedures
If you cannot reach ATC, climb for better radio coverage. Do not climb if this will put you into cloud or above more than 4/8 of the white fluffy stuff. You need to see the ground.
Tell ATC about your predicament. They will then best know how to help you. They might put you onto your own frequency, or give you a SQUAWK code to put in your Transponder so they can pick you out of the crowd on their radar screen.
Conserve fuel and height where possible. Do not circle around, slow down, and lean your mixture if applicable and appropriate. Breathe.
Do what ATC tells you to do.
If you cannot do what ATC tells you to do, inform them and tell them why. They will make another plan for you. Eg if they are diverting you to an airfield and you will run out of fuel before getting there. If they ask you to climb, or head into a direction that will put you into cloud, tell them.
Lost on a Nav close to Pietermaritzburg Airport
While training in the Circuit one idle Tuesday afternoon, a Student Pilot called Pietermaritzburg Tower for joining for a touch and go. There was a slight tremor in the Student's voice. She said she was unsure of the Airfield's position, there was a big dam in front of her, and she was routing from Virginia Airport. (As local pilots, we instantly knew she was about 8nm to the East of Pietermaritzburg Airfield.)
Did you know that when you call a Tower on your VHF Radio, they can see your relative position to them on something called a VDF?
A VDF is a Very High Frequency Direction Finding gadget that Towers have as part of their arsenal of equipment. Your Aircraft radio transmits in the VHF range - Very High Frequency range of 30 to 300 megahertz (MHz). These are line of sight radio waves. You use a VHF radio in your aeroplane to talk to other Pilots and to Air Traffic Control.
When you push your PTT (Push To Talk) button and transmit your message, the Tower Controller you are speaking to can see your relative position to himself, at his airfield, and can give you a heading in nil wind (a QDM) back to the Airfield.
This means you can call your closest manned Tower, give your IPTAN call and request a QDM to quickly apply an effective VFR lost procedure! (It also means if you give a false position report, (maybe you are a bit lost), Tower can see that.)
A Tower Controller can therefore guide you back to his airfield by using your radio transmissions, no radar required!
Our young student pilot did not fly the QDM she was given. She kept circling close to the dam. If you do this, your position is constantly changing relative to the Tower and Tower can't do much to help you. You will eventually run low on fuel. Luckily for her, a local pilot nearby offered to go find her, and lead her to Pietermaritzburg Airport like a Mother Goose. She then saw the field, joined the approach, did not descend, flew overhead and headed back for home. I suspect she was somewhat rattled.
Lost on a Nav in the middle of nowhere.
VFR lost procedures can also be applied when you are out of range of a Tower without a GPS or VOR or ADF. There are two methods:
You look at your planned track on your map, assess the direction of the wind and your heading to get an idea of whether you might be left or right of track, and scan up to about 10° in a radiating arc left and right of your last known position to assess if you can pick up features on the map that match the ground. Once found, correct your heading to ease back towards your intended track.
Call ATC, usually Information Airspace, and ask for a heading to your next point. They have you on radar, and might have been watching you with amused concern. If they cannot pick you up, they will ask you to climb and contact them on reaching the altitude or flight level that they asked you to climb to. They will give you a special SQUAWK code if you do not already have one, so they can identify you, and then will assist you to get where you are going. South Africa has complete radar coverage only above 10,000ft.
If you turn onto your Magnetic Track right from the start of your Nav, pick a point in the distance and adjust your heading as necessary to track to that point, it is impossible to get lost. If visibility is reduced, you may need to do this a few times on your route.
Another tip to avoid needing VFR lost procedures is to make sure your speed is set for your nominated TAS in your flight log, or you will always be behind schedule, which can be unnerving.
Plan your flight. Fly the Plan.
Power and Attitude gives you predictable performance.
Enjoy the flight.