The Makeshift Altitude Bug

Have you ever been assigned an altitude by Air Traffic Control, only to forget it at some point in the laborious climb to some-odd thousand feet? If not, just be patient: you will! Oh sure, it’s easy when you’ve got altitude bugs, glass cockpits and all the bells and whistles. But what do you do when your airplane doesn’t have an altitude bug? You make your own.

Take a look at the instrument panel and tell me: are you really using all of that stuff at the same time?

Cessna 172 Panel

Do you see it? Look to the right. I’m talking about VOR #2 and the ADF. Even on an instrument flight, you will rarely be utilizing all three of these instruments simultaneously. So let’s turn one of them into an altitude bug.

The Rule of Thumb

For simplicity, I’m going to use VOR #1 to navigate and VOR #2 as my altitude bug. Suppose you are assigned 7,000 feet. Just turn the OBS on VOR #2 to a course of 070. Just think of the OBS course as a flight level selector:

5,000 feet is analogous to flight level 050, so set 050 on the OBS. 12,000 feet is close to flight level 120, so set a course of 120. Got it?

If you are lucky enough to have an ADF needle with a rotating compass card, you can always make the same settings there instead.

The big disadvantage of this technique is that it forces you to fly without reference to the extra instrument (VOR #2 or ADF), but you probably weren’t using it anyway – especially that crotchety old ADF needle.

What are your tricks for remembering altitude clearances?


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About the author
Pat Flannigan is a professional pilot and aviation blogger. He has been flying for fifteen years and is currently working as an airline pilot in the United States.

2 Replies to The Makeshift Altitude Bug

  1. Sylvia says:

    I have to admit, I write everything down all the time. But this is a really good idea and as you say, I could set the ADF fast if someone is clearing me level by level.

  2. Eric says:

    I write everything down, but whenever I’m in an aircraft with the KAP 140, I use the ALTS as my bug.

Please, share your thoughts and opinions

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