Lost Procedures in Aviation

Pilots · 3 min read · Sep 12, 2022
lost procedures aviation

Technology like GPS and advanced communications have helped improve air navigation, but aircraft can still get lost. As the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) describes on its website, the “realization” that the aircraft position is wrong does not happen instantly. It is more like a process of noticing that the expected references or checkpoints are not in place.

Unfortunately, this situation can become dangerous. The aircraft may not have sufficient fuel to reach its destination after retaking the original heading, and there may not be an available facility to perform a precautionary landing nearby.

So, what should the pilot do in that situation? If you are wondering, we invite you to read below as we share the lost procedures with you.

What to do if you get lost in the air?

The first thing any pilot should do is avoid panic. This way you will help yourself, and there is a lot of help available for you, from an air traffic controller in the nearest airport to other aircraft in the air.

Better yet, you can always take advantage of the 5 C’s of lost procedures in aviation, a series of steps that will prove you are not completely lost indeed.

Two small airplanes flying over a desert with an oasis.

What are the 5 C’s of lost procedures in aviation?

The 5 C’s of lost procedures in aviation can be interpreted as a checklist that uses 5 words beginning with the letter C to help you memorize the steps you must follow. These 5 C’s will help determine position and heading of the aircraft, as well as the best course of action from then on.

Let’s take a look at the 5 C’s in detail.

Climb for better radar coverage

Generally, radar coverage, as well as radio and navigation reception improves at a higher altitude. However, climb cautiously to conserve fuel and avoid getting into clouds that may block your view. This will not help you identify any landmarks the air traffic controller could provide to help you determine your position. Situational awareness is a key skill at this stage.

Communicate to get assistance

After you ensure good coverage, communicate your situation to the air traffic controller and ask them to suggest a heading. The controller will identify you in the radar screen and will be able to provide radar vectors to follow. As we mentioned, there is a lot of help out there.

AOPA describes on their website that “the Pilot’s Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge recommends that you contact any available facility using the frequencies found on your sectional chart.

You can also try a flight service station on the universal frequency 122.2 MHz. If the situation becomes threatening, use 121.5 MHz and set the airplane’s transponder to 7700. If your airplane has a GPS, try the Nearest ATC frequency feature.”

Confess you are lost

This is related to the 5 hazardous attitudes all pilots should avoid. Not accepting the fact that you are lost and confessing it to ATC when you communicate can be a terrible mistake. When you confess, you help whoever is providing you with assistance to identify you on the radar screen out of the many aircraft they have there. This is usually achieved by providing you with a unique transponder code.

Comply with ATC

Why would you ask for assistance if you are not going to follow their instructions? Of course, if you see that any of the instructions will complicate your current situation even further, you must communicate it.

Perhaps a climb instruction may put you in a position where clouds will be blocking your view, something that is not desirable when you are lost. Also, avoid the macho attitude from the 5 hazardous attitudes mentioned before. You do not need to prove to anyone you can do it yourself. Get that needed help.


This clearly refers to conserving fuel. Check the fuel state at all times to make sure you can maneuver and reach your destination as indicated by ATC. Also, conserve height and do not climb to a high altitude. As we said, this will help you see checkpoints like a river or the race track of a town, but remember to avoid the clouds.

A small airplane flying under some dark clouds.

Closing thoughts

Obviously, the feeling of getting lost is never a nice feeling, not when you are on the ground, nor when you fly. However, as a pilot, you must always remember that you are not alone when you fly. You can always establish communication to get help, and your sectional chart is a great ally to do so.

Also, keep in mind that you can easily determine your position when you climb by identifying a simple point of reference. And if you cannot find that point of reference, there may be other ways to find your location along your flight, from using a GPS to following radar vectors provided by ATC.

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Jet pilot @NASA

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