Go or no go: NORDO?

Your trip today is all fun, as you flew from your home base in Delaware, Ohio (DLZ) to Put-in-Bay, Ohio (3W2), a beautiful island airport in Lake Erie. It was a fun day on the water and a great lunch, but now it’s time to head home. The flight will take just under one hour in your rented Cessna 172, as you head south from the Great Lakes towards the northern edge of Columbus.

AFPIBroute

As usual, the question we ask is: go or no go?

The weather

As you open up your iPad at the FBO in Put-in-Bay, you see pretty spectacular weather–after all, that’s why you went flying today. A large high pressure system has settled in over northern Ohio.

AFPIBsurface

That high pressure system is bringing clear skies, as the satellite image shows:

AFPIBsat

Likewise, the radar is clear all along your route, with scattered thunderstorms well south and not moving fast:

AFPIBradar

Finally, the METARs for Port Clinton (close to your departure) and your destination are pretty much perfect:

KPCW 302002Z AUTO 07010KT 10SM CLR 22/09 A3018

KDLZ 302040Z AUTO 08006KT 10SM CLR 26/10 A3013

One small issue…

So what’s the problem? Your airplane, a well-loved trainer, has only one NAV/COM radio and this trusty KX-155 isn’t working. It seemed a little weak on the way in, but after starting the engine for departure, your radio check went unanswered. Likewise, the transmit light is not illuminating. After pulling out your hand-held radio (always prepared!) you confirm that the panel mount radio is dead.

Now you’re faced with a tough decision. The engine is running just fine, the ammeter shows a charge and your moving map iPad app will guide you home. The weather is severe clear, and you won’t be flying through any controlled airspace on your flight. So while flying without a radio certainly isn’t your preference, it doesn’t seem unsafe.

There is not a Minimum Equipment List (MEL) for this airplane and you don’t have your FAR/AIM book close by, so you’re not 100% sure if this is legal or not. But the weather is great, there really isn’t a need to talk to anybody, and the engine is running–it’s tempting to go. There certainly isn’t a radio shop at Put-in-Bay.

Time to decide: scoot home and have your shop take a look at it Monday morning, or shut down and call for help? Tell us what you would do.

39 Comments

  1. GGR says:

    Nope. Failed preflight, no fly. Period. Small issues turn into big issues with no warning.

  2. Fred Patton says:

    Agreed. I wouldn’t go. Legal or not, it busts my personal minimums. And do you know why the radio isn’t working? Could be symptomatic of something else. Get it checked by a pro.

  3. John Swallow says:

    I have to make a presumption that everything else has been checked and found serviceable and only the radio has failed. (And it happens… did so on my brother’s RV-9A a month ago) And that no company/club/regulatory guidelines will be violated.

    I would hazard a guess that the decision has already been made… Why else would you have a hand-held radio on board? To take care of exactly such an occurrence. It’s not ideal, but my standby radio is going to be a hand-held able to be connected to the aircraft jacks or directly to my headset. So, the trip can be made.

    Let’s approach the problem from another viewpoint; consider the aircraft not to be a trainer with a u/s radio; make it an Aeronca Champ with NO radio and paper charts only. You navigated to 3W2 in the morning using your a map and the Mk 1 eyeball. You can certainly find your way back. Flash up and go!

    Now, a caveat: if this is outside your comfort zone or previously made personal guidelines, then you don’t go. But, we sometimes forget that there was a time when a Narco VTR-2A was a luxury. The aircraft in which I started my training had a limited frequency “tune to max whistle” radio and no nav aid. The first amateur built aircraft to fly over the across the Rockies in this part of the world had no radios at all. It can be done.

  4. Larry Baum says:

    Geez — severe clear all the way and a well running airplane. Go back to the 1960s and before, radios and transponders were optional or didn’t exist. iPads, portable handsets, satellite weather were the stuff of science fiction. And people actually flew places successfully. Just with charts and pilotage.

    This flight is in the midwest, between two uncontrolled fields with nothing that even resembles a Class D in the way. There’s an iPad and a handheld radio in the plane. I can think of absolutely no reason NOT to go. Frankly, it would be fun and a change of pace.

    Those who think that without a full compliment of coms, GPS receivers, iPads, handhelds, working autopilots, ADS-B, etc,. it’s impossible to fly anywhere successfully needs to read (or re-read) Ernie Gann or Rinker Buck. With appropriate planning and thought, it can be done and safely too!

  5. Rob Lowe says:

    Do it! Keep your eyes well open, especially around that Buckeye VOR, and fly above 3000 AGL to limit the potential of oncoming traffic from all directions. That doesn’t mean don’t scan the whole sky for traffic, of course.

    If I had a student call me about this one, then I would tell them that this is a great day to test stretching those personal minimums if they felt comfortable doing so. The risks of flying with no radio are certainly manageable within the prescribed flight environment. If they decide they can’t deal with no radio while inflight, then there’s a handheld that can serve as a backup, provided there’s a headset jack for it.

  6. Nard says:

    I would go, since a handheld is there. Without it I would no go. I always carry a fully charged handheld, and an extra battery pack. The handheld has a headset jack and a VOR. I would be uncomfortable landing without a radio, even at an uncontrolled airport.

  7. Ryan says:

    Scribble INOP on a piece of paper and sick it to the radio and blast off. My c-120 didn’t even have a radio and made it all over with just a paper map. That is the joy of flying , not following some magenta line on a GPS.

  8. Hillis says:

    As I tell my students, Orville and Wilbur figured out how to fly in 1903, Marconi didn’t figure out the radio until 1909. we have a 6 year head start. Looks like the conditions favor flying without a radio on this day.

  9. Duane says:

    Easy “go” decision. Not sure why this decision is even questionable given that the pilot has a handheld nav/com radio and a handheld nav device. Indeed, in my case I have at least two handheld nav devices on every flight (a purpose built yolk mount aviation navigator plus my smart phone which has several nav apps on it).

    Fly relatively high on the trip back, to improve the reception and transmission transmission range on the handheld. The handhelds generally don’t have as long a transmission range as panel mount radio. An external antenna helps (Sporty’s sells one as an accessory), but the transmit power is still pretty low on a handheld.

    And enjoy the flight!

  10. Mike says:

    Precisely why I carry not one but two handheld back-up NAV/COMS. I would make the flight.

  11. This case seems actually simple, but the info provided is not enough to make a decision.

    IF the situation is only related to a lack of COM equipment, and fronting that MET scenery, I beleave my decision would have been GO… IF-and-only-if:

    (1) I have paper charts adequate for a correcltly planned VFR flight.

    (2) I have made my flight plan log, for a HDG&estimated times.

    (3) I have enough intermediate safe alternate airstrips where to divert if needed.

    (4) As mentioned in the text we have a handheld transceiver, which might help in case we have to make an unplanned landing before reaching destination.

    (5) Have filed a well detailed VFR flight plan, in order to get SAR service if anything goes wrong.

    (7) I know my limits and feel comfortable with VFR in VMC flight techniques.

    (8) ELT is working well.

    I would also consider an additional communication mean like a cell phone an asset.

    I dont know your experience, but I learnt flying in a PA-11 Cub, which only instrumentation was an altimeter, air speed indicator, tachometer, magnetic compass, oil temp and pressure, fuel level, and a sideslip ball…

    And I flew hundreds of miles in my life whithout even using a radio. Never had even a single misshap. The only missed approach due to a loss of separation was in a controlled airport, and due to an runway incursion.

    If the airspace allow us to fly without a radio, air traffic is not an issue and meanwhile we can keep an adequate surveillance of our surrounding airspace… I dont see an unmanageably risk here.

    Provided additional precautions, the flight itself is possible and very safe.

    • Duane says:

      Eugenio – Seems like you’re making this go-no go decision much more complicated than necessary with your other listed requirements.

      The scenario said the pilot has an IPad with nav software and GPS, so there’s no need (nor any legal requirement) to have paper charts or written nav logs with check points. The IPad provides the pilot with GPS navigation and far better situational awareness than any paper chart could ever hope to provide. And the hand-held nav com provides VOR tracking that can be used in conjunction with either the IPad or paper charts.

      If you prefer paper over electronics, fine, but that’s purely a personal preference. I greatly prefer EFB any day over paper charts, as EFB nav is much more accurate, compact, convenient (as in electronically searchable with nothing but a touch on the pad) and less distracting to use in the cockpit as compared to trying to find the right sectional map, unfold it to the right panel, and then search through a very large and cumbersome paper chart – all while flying the airplane. With EFB I can get to the info I need vastly quicker, allowing me to keep my eyes outside the cockpit where they belong.

      And for those who say, you can’t depend 100% on an electronic device, I say OK, so you can only depend upon the electronics for 99.999% of the time … and if and when the .001% contingency arises, I have a backup unit (they’re very small, lightweight, and cheap, so redundancy is the way to go) immediately available. If you’re worried about battery charge, either keep a spare charged battery, or simply plug the unit into the panel cigarette lighter (which is what I always do).

      As for having safe landing spots, as a safe VFR pilot that’s what your eyes are for – keep’em peeled as you fly, because chances are you’ll have an engine failure when you’re nowhere near an airport. Plus the EFB will give you an instant “nearest” readout on airports, navaids, fuel facilities, etc. as you travel along your route so you can instantly tell if you’re within gliding range of an airport.

      If it’s a matter of calling in SAR, then use the handheld and get flight following (assuming there is a mode C or S transponder in the panel), or else use a SPOT device or a 406 mhz PLB. Either method will provide much more accurate position info than any navlog with checkpoints could ever hope to provide.

      Really – this is just a normal VFR flight, no different or riskier than any other. The only difference – and it’s not a risk factor – is using a handheld nav-com rather than a panel mount radio.

  12. Yes. It’s true, I noticed that. And I agree in what you say regarding precision and so on.

    Actually, I am an Apple Certified Support Professional, I have my degree in informatics and I will never rely absolutely in electronic devices.

    Also, I don’t really know local regulations at that place. In Argentina the only authorized charts for flying are the official charts (of course paper charts). Anyway, In this case I would use that iPad. But I would prefer a full VFR navigation instead of rely on a hand held device for navigation. In my experience, handhelds VHF transceivers with nav capabilities are quite less precise and reliable than the panel-mounted devices. Also the GPS will be of great help, but I thing that in such good meteorological situation, an old-fashioned VFR observational navigation will be the best idea.

    Keeping observation of terrain, and your surrounding airspace, will improve situational awareness and airspace surveillance, and at the same time making the flight much more enjoyable.

    On the other hand, I would prefer to make a full preparation of the flight before getting on the plane, planning the route adequately, knowing your possible alternate airfields before you start the flight. Much better than relying on an iPad, or whatever. You can always use the iPad if it is available, but if it is not due to… (whatever), it is good to have spent some extra time in planning.

    The time you save in planning is more risk you are assuming airborne. Of course you have to balance it, and maybe this case doesn’t worth too much time, but my point is to point what the idea of a safe flight should be.

    Make a well and consciousness analysis of your situation before you even get on the plane, try to get a good plan, and at least one “B” plan on a different basis (i.e. if your main plan is electronic, have an alternate non-electronic alternative).

    :)

  13. Mark Neumann says:

    Daylight? Of course I’d go. Every pilot should be able to make that trip.

  14. Mark Neumann says:

    Daylight? Of course I’d go. Every pilot should be able to make that trip.

  15. Fortson Rumble says:

    Go. I really don’t see a problem, you have comms – hand held – which btw would be a great time to use and get comfortable with, check it out before you take off.

  16. Alan Flewitt says:

    NOGO. Handhelds have limited range so in the case of an emergency you may not be able to contact anyone. I always carry a handheld and have had to use it once and was very disappointed at how difficult it was to communicate with a Class D airfield.

  17. Dave Huprich says:

    This illustrates why we should turn off all the avionics once in a while on a nice Saturday morning and just use pilotage or dead reconning. Sometimes radios fail when we not sitting safely on the ground.

  18. Carla says:

    OMG! OGR and FRED Patton, you have to be young airline pilots to say what you just said about NOT going on a severe clear day with no radio. Read what Larry Baum says, he’s 100% correct, back in the 60’s, didn’t even have radio’s OR Electrical systems in airplanes, had to handprop your airplane, and they flew around fine, they didn’t crash! Flying without a radio, can be beautiful, it’s a lot quieter for one! I can’t believe you would opt to cancel a flight on a VFR day back home yet, because of No radio, even when there is no one to FIX the radio where you’re currently at? You two guys need to try flying sometime, and turn your radios off, turn your avionics master switch completely off, when you’re airborne, go ahead, the engine will NOT die. The airplane will fly fine. Turn your Master switch off, the airplane will still fly beautiful! How did you get your license?

  19. Eugenio says:

    Carla, you are absolutely right. The only thing I would like to emphasize is the pre-flight preparation, a full VFR planning, comprehensive and good flying techniques.

    I learnt to fly that way in a PA-11 Cub… No radio, no other navigational instrument than a magnetic compass and a clock. And I never missed a place, and I did enjoyed that times. No batteries, no electric starter, no lights…

    But every minute you spend preparing your VFR flight translates into a more enjoyable flight, whith no surprises, and no need to improvise.

    Once said that… I beleave something is going wrong in training. When pilots are so centered in radios, gps or other external help… Something has been lost in the middle.

    I think it’s time to recover some basics… Before it is too late.

    ;)

  20. Mark C says:

    Holy cow, I can’t believe this is even a debate. Seriously, if you’re too timid to make that flight NORDO, please stick to Flight Simulator and leave real airplanes to real pilots. I wouldn’t trust the iPad though, before launching in the AM I’d have made sure I had a paper chart, even if an outdated one, so when the electronic wonder box got the hiccups I could still look out the window and figure out where I am. Cities, rivers, and railroads rarely move, and the day I can’t locate an airport on a clear VFR day with just a chart and the windscreen I’ll mail my ticket back to the FAA.

  21. Jack says:

    It all depends on your comfort level. If you have never flown without a radio then you may not feel comfortable attempting the flight. I grew up flying without a radio, so I feel that this would be a very easy flight to make. I would not look down upon or give less respect to a pilot who feels otherwise.

  22. rick says:

    I would have gone and completed this flight faster than it took to read all the replies! I fly an older 172M with questionable reliability of panel. having an ipad with wing-x is the next best thing to flying a with a G1000 MFD… in fact given the touch screen vs. buttons and knobs it may be better than the G1000 MFD in many aspects.

  23. Brian says:

    I think the point of this article is that the aircraft is no longer Airworthy, and legally can not be flown. What you have to do is de-activate the radio (pull the circuit breaker or fuse), placard the radio inoperative. Now your good to go!

  24. Amelia says:

    It has already all been said. The late Ray Neuffer, CFI, admonished his student early and often: “Put down that mic and fly the airplane, girl! Bernoulli was a lot more important than Marconi!” The weather is good, the airplane is good, you have functioning eyeballs, for heaven’s sake, GO. And pay attention.
    Unless, of course, you were looking for an excuse, even a flimsy one, to spend more time at the lake.

  25. Franklin Porath says:

    Actually I’ve done it. Many times. Flat terrain, nice day… enjoy the freedom! Don’t be so completely reliant on various technologies that you are frozen when the electrons aren’t there!

  26. Brian Knoblauch says:

    If I was sure it was just the radio and not a symptom of a larger problem, I’d inop the radio and go. Handheld radio (without an externally mounted antenna connection) aren’t terribly useful in my experience, so that’s not a factor either way. Lack of radio isn’t a big deal on a perfect day when I wouldn’t be using services anyways. I’ve had an inflight emergency once, and since I was IFR I was already talking to somebody, and other than them knowing where I was it wasn’t really a benefit. If I hadn’t already been talking to them, I wouldn’t have had the spare time to dial them up anyways. I was putting that airplane down *right now*… So, with the limited information presented, it’s a “go”.

  27. Jerry Collier says:

    As a native Ohio Buckie I am familiar with the area and the Lake Erie resort area.

    I also have made it a point to know the systems of my airplane by participating
    in owner assisted annuals.

    I would shut down the airplane to make inspection of the radio system taking notice of headset connections, mic connections. antennas, circuit breakers / fuses. If there was another headset i would try it or borrow a headset from the FBO ( if available)

    If all trouble shooting failed to resolve the com problem, I would proceed with the flight in
    daylight hours, and be prepared to make a landing at an alternate airport if more serious situations arose. I would keep the electrical drain on the power system to a minimum in case the problem was an alternator, regulator or battery.

    I also would keep the hand held radio turned off until needed as this would conserve the stored battery energy.

    If a cell phone is available communications with flight service would be available and flight service could give you phone numbers of towers if needed. I actually used this procedure when I had an alternator failure and the aircraft battery power was depleted,

  28. Mark says:

    I’d go, and fly back again because I left my sunscreen…

  29. Phil says:

    The radio is just another gadget. Turn ‘em all off look out the window and begin to enjoy flying.

  30. Joe says:

    This decision is a no-brainer: GO.
    The pilot already GOT there, so the plane is in otherwise good operating condition. As long as the pilot placards the radio inop, he’s good to go (14 CFR 91.213 (d) applies- look it up).

    When I was living in Alaska, flying with radio silence was the norm- even when the radio worked! I spent many an hour in a PA12 and a C172 up there and didn’t crash and routinely fly in Florida with the radio off.

  31. Luis says:

    Go. Storms to the south. High pressure to the north. Weather still seems like the most imminent threat regardless of how small. So stay to the right of the center of the hi pressure. Leave stand by radio on stand by till you really need it. Make all the calls you need to make on phone before leaving. 99-brief and open a flight plan. turn off all unneeded electrical equipment Not needed. Squawk vfr. Do a good run up and keep an eye on ammeter during flight. follow nav log and after landing.
    CLOSE YOUR FLIGHT PLAN!
    Did I miss anything?

  32. Tim says:

    I’d certainly be comfortable doing the flight back NORDO given the other information provided, but many of you are overlooking the words “rented Cessna” in the information. If I’m away from the home airport in a rental I always call back to the owner/dispatch if anything is abnormal to validate the plane of action. Perhaps there are local requirements with the flight school/rental operation that need to be taken into consideration; maybe they prefer to hop up there with a mechanic and a replacement radio. But aside from that, it would be a nice easy flight with a lot more added awareness required in both traffic patterns. A nice day like that in the Midewest and everyone is out flying!

  33. Steve Vana says:

    Sure. You have the handheld for the pattern work and you have the sectional for this VFR trip (you ALWAYS carry one, right). Do a quick flight plan and file it. It’s good practice and the flight is a good confidence builder for low time pilots. Get out there and practice your pilotage skills! Fly North and turn left at the lake, the islands are easy to distinguish from each other (former Clevelander).

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