VHF Omnidirectional Range - Technical Specification - Accuracy and Reliability

Accuracy and Reliability

The predictable accuracy of the VOR system is ±1.4°. However, test data indicate that 99.94% of the time a VOR system has less than ±0.35° of error. Internal monitoring of a VOR station will shut it down, or change-over to a Standby system if the station error exceeds some limit. A Doppler VOR beacon will typically change-over or shutdown when the bearing accuracy exceeds 1.0°. National air space authorities may often set tighter limits. For instance, in Australia, a Primary Alarm limit may be set as low as ±0.5° on some Doppler VOR beacons.

ARINC 711 – 10 January 30, 2002 states that receiver accuracy should be within 0.4° with a statistical probability of 95% under various conditions. Any receiver compliant to this standard should meet or exceed these tolerances.

All radio navigation beacons are required to monitor their own output. Most have redundant systems, so that the failure of one system will cause automatic change-over to one or more standby systems. The monitoring and redundancy requirements in some Instrument Landing Systems (ILS) can be very high.

The general philosophy followed is that no signal is better than a bad signal.

VOR beacons monitor themselves by having one or more receiving antennas located away from the beacon. The signals from these antennas are processed to monitor many aspects of the signals. The signals monitored are defined in various US and European standards. The principal standard is European Organisation for Civil Aviation Equipment (EuroCAE) Standard ED-52. The five main parameters monitored are the bearing accuracy, the reference and variable signal modulation indices, the signal level, and the presence of notches (caused by individual antenna failures).

Note that the signals received by these antennas, in a Doppler VOR beacon, are different from the signals received by an aircraft. This is because the antennas are close to the transmitter and are affected by proximity effects. For example the free space path loss from nearby sideband antennas will be 1.5dB different (at 113 MHz and at a distance of 80 m) from the signals received from the far side sideband antennas. For a distant aircraft there will be no measurable difference. Similarly the peak rate of phase change seen by a receiver is from the tangential antennas. For the aircraft these tangential paths will be almost parallel, but this is not the case for an antenna near the DVOR.

The bearing accuracy specification for all VOR beacons is defined in the International Civil Aviation Organisation Convention on International Civil Aviation Annex 10, Volume 1.

This document sets the worst case bearing accuracy performance on a Conventional VOR (CVOR) to be ±4°. A Doppler VOR (DVOR) is required to be ±1°.

All radio-navigation beacons are checked periodically to ensure that they are performing to the appropriate International and National standards. This includes VOR beacons, Distance Measuring Equipment (DME), Instrument Landing Systems (ILS), and Non-Directional Beacons (NDB).

Their performance is measured by aircraft fitted with test equipment. The VOR test procedure is to fly around the beacon in circles at defined distances and altitudes, and also along several radials. These aircraft measure signal strength, the modulation indices of the reference and variable signals, and the bearing error. They will also measure other selected parameters, as requested by local/national airspace authorities. Note that the same procedure is used (often in the same flight test) to check Distance Measuring Equipment (DME).

In practice, bearing errors can often exceed those defined in Annex 10, in some directions. This is usually due to terrain effects, buildings near the VOR, or, in the case of a DVOR, some counterpoise effects. Note that Doppler VOR beacons utilise an elevated groundplane that is used to elevate the effective antenna pattern. It creates a strong lobe at an elevation angle of 30° which complements the 0° lobe of the antennas themselves. This groundplane is called a counterpoise. A counterpoise though, rarely works exactly as one would hope. For example, the edge of the counterpoise can absorb and re-radiate signals from the antennas, and it may tend to do this differently in some directions than others.

National air space authorities will accept these bearing errors when they occur along directions that are not the defined air traffic routes. For example in mountainous areas, the VOR may only provide sufficient signal strength and bearing accuracy along one runway approach path.

Doppler VOR beacons are inherently more accurate than Conventional VORs because they are more immune to reflections from hills and buildings. The variable signal in a DVOR is the 30 Hz FM signal; in a CVOR it is the 30 Hz AM signal. If the AM signal from a CVOR beacon bounces off a building or hill, the aircraft will see a phase that appears to be at the phase centre of the main signal and the reflected signal, and this phase centre will move as the beam rotates. In a DVOR beacon, the variable signal, if reflected, will seem to be two FM signals of unequal strengths and different phases. Twice per 30 Hz cycle, the instantaneous deviation of the two signals will be the same, and the phase locked loop will get (briefly) confused. As the two instantaneous deviations drift apart again, the phase locked loop will follow the signal with the greatest strength, which will be the line-of-sight signal. If the phase separation of the two deviations is small, however, the phase locked loop will become less likely to lock on to the true signal for a larger percentage of the 30 Hz cycle (this will depend on the bandwidth of the output of the phase comparator in the aircraft). In general, some reflections can cause minor problems, but these are usually about an order of magnitude less than in a CVOR beacon.

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