NAME WITHHELD BY REQUEST
The techniques of multifunction display orientation always seem to differ at the user level, and I find it a humbling experience when both pilots learn from each other's methods. Whether it is a day visual flight rule cross-country flight or a night vision goggle tactical flight, there are many opinions on how one should orient their MFD. So, what is the best way to orient your MFD? I think my most recent experience may shed some light on the question.
I was the scheduled pilot in command of a continuation flight consisting of a day instrument flight rule flight for currency with NVG time-on-target for training on the return. My background at that point was mostly civilian other than flight school and one deployment in the Army. My pilot was also a PC, with all of his flying experience coming from the Army, so I took advantage of the situation to discuss different operating techniques.
The good part about the planning aspect is that Army Regulation 95-1, DOD FLIP, local standing operating procedures and checklists keep personal technique to a minimum. It wasn’t until we got to our run-up that we finally had something to discuss. As I was reading off checklist items, I said, “Set up MFDs, flight director, and FMS for the mission.” I noticed my PI and I both had our MFDs set to the same map scale; however, mine was oriented north up and his was set to heading up. Finally, we had something to discuss. I asked my PI why he had his MFD set to heading up. He replied, “That’s just how I’ve always done it.” He then asked me why I had my MFD set to north up. I responded, “I guess that’s I how I have always done it as well.”
Neither of us had a valid explanation as to why we oriented our MDFs the way we did. The rest of the run-up, taxi and takeoff went without any other topics to discuss. It wasn’t until our en route phase that I was able to shed some light on my technique.
We had some quiet time at one point in the flight, so I thought it would be good to ask some questions about the navigation chart we were using. I started with some easy questions such as, “What kind of airspace are we in?” and “What kind of VOR are we flying toward?” I then asked, “What frequency would we use to contact the closest flight service station?” There was suddenly a pause followed by a slow, descending, left-hand turn. I did not notice how much we had descended until air traffic control called and asked, “Army 12345, say altitude?” I quickly grabbed the controls, initiated a climb back to our assigned altitude and responded to the call.
I looked over at my PI, who was embarrassed about the situation, and said, “What the heck, man?” He apologized and said he didn’t notice what he was doing. My immediate thought was that he was somehow spatially disoriented, so I maintained the controls and asked my question again. “What frequency would we use to contact the closest flight service station?”
Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed my PI essentially flipping his head upside down to read the frequency on the chart. I realized he inadvertently moved the flight controls as he flipped his head to read the chart. I knew this was a great time to preach that he should use my technique and orient his MFD to north up so he could read it properly. He agreed and we proceeded with the rest of the flight without any further issues.
After refueling at the airfield, we took off on our return leg, which was our NVG time-on-target training. We had a great plan already made in the system with time marks along our route and dog houses to practice our time on target. This time I was on the controls and we both had our MFDs set to north up.
Everything was going well as we were heading north to our destination and my PI was reading off times to the next air control point. We then made a turn to the west to avoid a hostile area. As I looked down to see what the time was going to be to our next ACP from the dog house on the MFD, my PI announced, “Why are you climbing to the right?” I had started a climbing right-hand turn as I was turning my head sideways to read the dog house. It then dawned on us both. The dog houses that were oriented with the heading did not read correctly for that mode of flight with the chart set to north up. We quickly changed our map orientation to heading up. He then proceeded to preach to me how it is important to be able to read your information properly.
In the end, we did not have anything catastrophic affect our flight, but, without crew coordination, both situations could have easily turned into a very bad situation. We walked away from a successful flight and we both learned that just because “it’s what I’ve always done” doesn’t mean that it is what you should always do. I will now orient my MFD differently for different modes of flight to safely and effectively conduct a mission.