Lost Aircraft Procedures


Resources Available if Lost:

  • The aviation environment is full of resources available to pilots
  • The most obvious resource is air traffic control radar services, which include:
  • Additionally, pilots may reach out to control entities which include tower, approach, and center
    • Air traffic control may ask you to squawk a distinct transponder code which controllers can use to identify the pilot if under radar contact
  • Pilots may also consider using their electronic flight bag resources to find the nearest airport or navaid, which can help identify where a pilot is in relation to a known point
  • Finding prominent landmarks provides pilots with another resource to determine their location
  • Pilots may consider broadcasting on a known frequency or guard
    • Pilot: "Any station, [Callsign] lost, request assistance"

Five C's:

  • Circle:

    • If able, you want to minimize your travel so you can orient to the location without anything changing and not get any further off track
  • Confess:

    • Admit that you are lost and need some form of assistance
    • Write down the time you determine you are lost
    • Avoid stressing out and convincing yourself you are lost when maybe you are not
  • Climb:

    • "Climb to cope"
    • Ceiling and visibility permitting climb to improve radio reception (comm and NAVAID) and forward visibility
    • Be sure not to fly around aimlessly, circle if required during a climb
  • Conserve:

    • Operate the aircraft (when straight and level) at maximum endurance power setting
    • When oriented, fly max range
    • Check your fuel state and determine how much time you have
  • Communicate:

    • Request assistance on the area working frequency
    • Try to communicate using all available channels and NAVAIDs
    • If unable try calling an approach control frequency with a PAN report and request vectors
    • If unable to receive any reply, switch to guard and deliver a PAN report
    • If required set transponder 7700
    • If ATC responds then comply with instructions
    • UHF: "PAN-PAN, PAN-PAN, PAN-PAN, [Callsign], [Situation], [Position], [Intention] PAN-PAN, PAN-PAN, PAN-PAN"
  • Comply:

    • If you are attempting to land at a strange field, circle it at a safe altitude and locate all obstacles and hazards
    • Determine the wind direction and duty runway and get a rough estimate of runway length and width
    • Try to contact the tower on guard prior to landing
    • Use the best estimation of pattern altitude

    • Never fly above overcast layers

Methods to Determine Position:

  • Circle and climb of the five C's give us time and perspective to determine our position
  • Circling allows us to take stock of our area, looking for prominent landmarks to reference on a sectional
  • Climbing allows to see further, but also allows for better reception of ground-based navigation aids, whereby a pilot could find a bearing from a station and maybe also determine distance to narrow down position

Lost Aircraft Procedure:

  1. Maintain positive aircraft control at all times
  2. Remain calm
  3. Conserve fuel by leaning the engine for the best economy operation and reduce power as much as practical
  4. Maintain situational awareness, using a sectional chart and NAVAIDs as follows:
    • Sectional:

      • Reset the heading indicator (HI)
      • Turn the sectional chart to match your heading
      • Watch for prominent landmarks
      • Match the landmarks to the sectional chart
    • Obtain assistance from ATC or FSS
    • If unable to establish contact with anyone, squawk 7700 and transmit "in the blind" on 121.50 MHz to obtain assistance
    • Carefully monitor the amount of fuel and make a precautionary landing, preferably at an airport, before exhausting the fuel supply

Lost Aircraft Procedure Common Errors:

  • Not conserving fuel
  • Unaware of fuel
  • Improper calculations
  • Not turning toward an airport

Private Pilot - Lost Procedures Airman Certification Standards:

  • Objective: To determine the applicant exhibits satisfactory knowledge, risk management, and skills associated with lost procedures and can take appropriate steps to achieve a satisfactory outcome if lost
  • References: AIM; FAA-H-8083-2, FAA-H-8083-3, FAA-H-8083-25; VFR Navigation Charts

Lost Procedures Knowledge:

The applicant demonstrates understanding of:

Lost Procedures Risk Management:

The applicant is able to identify, assess, and mitigate risk associated with:
  • PA.VI.D.R1:

    Collision hazards
  • PA.VI.D.R2:

    Distractions, task prioritization, loss of situational awareness, or disorientation
  • PA.VI.D.R3:

    Recording times over waypoints
  • PA.VI.D.R4:

    When to seek assistance or declare an emergency in a deteriorating situation

Lost Procedures Skills:

The applicant exhibits the skill to:


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