IFR Fix: A loss for words

December 16, 2011

IFR fixGosh, what a lucky break. Here you are in the stuff, flying cleared-as-filed most of the way. Unusual in this busy airspace corridor.

Must be because traffic is light today; in fact, it’s been quite a while since anybody has spoken up on the frequency.

“Center, radio check?”

Then you see the popped circuit breaker.

Well, it’s only lost com, not a real emergency. You’ll just squawk that special code—7600, or is it 7700? How confusing!—and proceed from there. 

Yep, lost communications is one of those simple subjects. One question, one answer. Maybe a little more complicated in IMC, but nothing compared to ice or thunderstorms.

Proceed from there—but, by what route, and what altitudes after the clearance limit? What approach should you fly at the destination? Don’t the rules say when the approach should begin? That could mean holding; you haven’t held in ages. (Never seems necessary.)

Something else: Just how much of a problem is this electrical glitch? Other equipment seems to be working okay. There’s no funny smell in the cabin. The battery seems fully charged.

Wait. Somewhere in this cockpit, there’s a handheld radio. (Release the yoke when fumbling in your flight bag, and then in your overnight bag, and then under the other stuff on the rear seat, to avoid adding unusual-attitude recoveries to this impromptu lesson in system failures.)

The handheld radio’s nowhere to be found; a flash memory of it barking weather information from the kitchen table materializes, and then vanishes in a puff of denial.

This is starting to sound like one of those stories you read in a magazine. Stories that make you shake your head and wonder if people can really be so sloppy.

Maybe ATC is trying to call you from the ground. How? On a VOR with voice capability? On your cellphone? Where is your cellphone? Do they have the number?

Lucky you, you break out into VFR conditions, and can divert to the towered airport nearby. End of crisis.

Wait.

Diverting there means a no-radio arrival at a towered airport. There’s a procedure for that. It was on your oral exam for the instrument rating. You aced it ... What was that procedure again?

Lost com. A simple subject, not to be confused with an emergency.

Earning an instrument rating is guaranteed to be one of the most challenging, rewarding, and fun projects a pilot takes on during a lifetime in aviation. Each week, this series looks at the IFR experience from a new perspective. Catch up on what you may have missed in the IFR Fix archive.