The Earth
The Solar System & Time
Using Aeronautical Charts
Basics of Navigation
Distance, Speed & Time
Vertical Navigation
Fuel Planning
Practical Navigation Techniques
Radio Navigation
Practice Exam

The NDB and ADF

The Non-Directional Beacon (NDB) is a radio transmitter in a fixed location on the ground.

The Automatic Direction Finding (ADF) equipment in the aircraft will point a needle towards the NDB.

Cockpit Displays

There are three types of ADF cockpit displays:

Fixed Card Relative Bearing Indicator (Fixed Card RBI)
The ADF needle is overlaid on a fixed compass card that cannot move. The needle will indicate the relative bearing of the NDB – i.e. the position of the beacon relative to the nose of the aircraft.
Moving Card RBI
The ADF needle is overlaid on a compass card that can be moved by the pilot. This allows the pilot to set the heading of the aircraft and the needle will show the magnetic direction to the beacon (QDM) and the magnetic direction from the beacon (QDR).

The head of the needle will show the QDM
The tail of the needle will show the QDR
Radio Magnetic Indicator (RMI)
The RMI overlays the ADF needle on a heading indicator. This heading indicator rotates as the aircraft turns so no manual resetting from the pilot is needed to read off a QDM or QDR.

Using the ADF

Once the correct NDB frequency has been entered into the ADF equipment, the morse code identifier should be confirmed. Each NDB transmits its unique identifier in morse code on its radio frequency so the pilot can confirm the correct frequency is entered and the radio signals are being received. The pilot can then either home or track to the beacon.

Homing to the NDB
To home to the NDB, point the nose directly at the NDB by keeping the head of the ADF needle in the 12 o’clock position. This method does not account for wind drift.
Tracking to the NDB
To track to an NDB, you need to fly a heading that compensates for any drift you are experiencing from the wind.

The closer you get to the beacon, the more sensitive the ADF needle will be.

As you pass overhead the beacon, the needle will ‘drop’. It will move from roughly the 12 o’clock position to the 6 o’clock position. If you fly directly overhead the NDB, the needle will drop quickly. If you fly to one side of the NDB, the needle will be slower to drop.

ADF Limitations

The ADF suffers from interference when in the vicinity of thunderstorms and the needle will often point towards a storm rather than the NDB
Terrain can reflect NDB signals, causing incorrect indications
Night Effects
During dusk and dawn, the changing characteristics of the ionosphere can reflect NDB signals and cause interference from NDBs that are a long distance from your aircraft
Limited Range
The low power of most NDBs limits their range to about 15-30nm
Coastal Refraction
When an NDB signal crosses a coastline, the signal is often refracted (‘bent’) causing inaccuracies
No Failure Flag
Typical ADF instrumentation in the cockpit does not have any failure indication, increasing the chances of accidentally using an unserviceable beacon

NDB Frequencies & Details

Maintenance & Testing
Check NOTAMs to make sure an NDB hasn’t been notified as unserviceable. If maintenance is being carried out, the more code ident ‘TST’ may be transmitted.
Designated Operational Coverage (DOC)
The usable range (known as the Designated Operational Coverage, or DOC) of an NDB is stated in the AIP. Some airports have particularly low powered NDBs, known as Locators. Locators typically have a DOC of only 10nm.
Locations, Frequencies & Idents
NDB locations, frequencies, and identifiers (the 1 – 3 letter unique code) are marked on aeronautical charts, and further information about each one can be found in the AIP.
This NDB has the unique identifier MP and its frequency is 373

NDB and ADF Exam Questions

You are tracking away from an NDB on a track of 040° while experiencing 10° of port drift. What relative bearing will the RBI show?

1 Always draw a diagram! Start by drawing an NDB with the track you are flying (040°)

2 Draw the aircraft on this line but with the nose pointed into the wind. In this case, the nose will be pointing 10° to starboard to counteract the 10° of port drift.

When the aircraft is drifting left (port), you point the nose to the right (starboard)

When the aircraft is drifting right (starboard), you point the nose to the left (port)

3 Draw in the RBI. The RBI will be indicating 000° in the direction the aircraft’s nose is pointing. The RBI needle will be pointing parallel to the track, towards the NDB. The relative bearing is the degrees from the nose (000°) clockwise around to the head of the needle.

The relative bearing is 170°