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What is the difference or correct terminology for flying into a bearing (or radial?) when navigating by VOR? What is the difference? What is the correct lingo for VOR communication?

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Question: What is the correct lingo for VOR communication?

When referencing navigation with respect to a VOR (VOR/VORTAC/TACAN) the correct terminology/reference would be "Radial" as in, for example:

Intercept the Barko two seven zero radial

(with Barko [BAR] being the name of the VOR). When written on charts it would be BAR R-270.

When using the VOR system of navigation bearing is not the correct communication/procedural reference.


There are numerous examples of how this terminology is used in ATC/Pilot verbal communication or when using digital or paper navigation tools/charts/etc. This link is to the FAA Order JO 7110.65Z (Air Traffic Control Handbook) showing similar examples as noted above beginning on page 2-5-1 (Section 5. Route and NAVAID Description).

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  • $\begingroup$ Confusing answer. "But if you are flying directly away from BAR then your bearing is 270 degrees from BAR." ???!!! This is confusing and misleading. Who cares what Bearing you are from the VOR? Is the VOR going to sprout wings take off and fly towards you? Bearing is a direction you, in your position, need to point in order to point at a target or position, not the direction someone else needs to point to point at you, (unless explicitly defined as such) $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 21, 2023 at 12:35
  • $\begingroup$ @toga, The term Bearing is used in a multitude of situations. "Southwest 5421, The field is bearing 175 for ten miles", or "Ruckus 23, 2 Bandits bearing 340, 22 miles, angles 12", as opposed to "Ruckus 23, 2 bandits - Bullseye 175, 18 miles ...", where the 175 is understood to refer to a radial from the Bullseye point. It always refers to the Direction of a point or object or something else you are describing from your position, never the direction from that object to yourself. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 21, 2023 at 14:38
  • $\begingroup$ @CharlesBretana since the OP's question is essentially What is the correct lingo for VOR communication? I've limited my answer to that to eliminate any confusion. $\endgroup$
    – user22445
    Commented Apr 21, 2023 at 17:23
  • $\begingroup$ @Toga, my apologies, my picky over-pedantic brain gets me in trouble at times! I didn't mean to imply your answer was wrong, (it is not), just that (as you seem to reflect in your last comment), thought that by using the word Bearing in your answer to refer to the direction that someone at the VOR has to look to see you, reverses the common usage and might cause more confusion than clarification. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 21, 2023 at 22:26
  • $\begingroup$ ... so I guess that if we want to limit our answer to how to refer to what we are doing when "... flying into a bearing (or radial?) when navigating by VOR..." , we should answer, "You can't fly into a bearing. A bearing is just a direction. not a position. You can't say "I'm in the 270 Bearing". What you should say (assuming you are west of the VOR heading 090), is: "N1234B is inbound to the <identifier> VOR on the 270 radial". (a position (a line), on the ground). $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 21, 2023 at 22:31
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Radial is the word we use to refer to the actual line on the ground emanating or radiating from a VOR or TACAN, or for that matter from any defined geographic point. Think of it as a spoke on a wheel.
Bearing is the direction or ground track (no-wind heading) we would need to turn to in order to point directly at the VOR, TACAN or Point on the ground.

When on any specific radial, you need to point in the reciprocal magnetic direction to point directly at that point.
E.g., if on the 180 radial, you would point north to put the point directly on the nose. The Bearing to the point would be 360.

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  • $\begingroup$ I don't believe it is incorrect to refer to a bearing from the station. If you are inbound on the 090 radial your bearing is 270 to the station. At station passage when the flag flips from "TO" to "FROM" your bearing is still 270, but it is now a bearing from the station, and you are on the same radial as your bearing. Right? Can't there be a bearing that takes you away from a station? $\endgroup$ Commented May 8, 2023 at 17:33
  • $\begingroup$ @Michael, you are confusing the concept of "bearing" with the concept of heading, or ground track. According to Miriam Webster, the most appropriate definition of "Bearing" is "the situation or horizontal direction of one point with respect to another or to the compass." so it is a bit backwards to use it to refer to the bearing of your own aircraft from the navaid. Your heading to the station might be 270, but bearing means from a point or position. I guess you might say the VOR's * bearing* from you is 270, but that just sounds weird.... $\endgroup$ Commented May 9, 2023 at 13:56
  • $\begingroup$ I don’t think I’m confused, I just think the term bearing is bi-directional. The Webster definition you quoted even makes that point. It might be less common usage the other direction, but I don’t think it’s actually wrong. $\endgroup$ Commented May 9, 2023 at 14:29
  • $\begingroup$ I'm not even sure what you mean by "bi-directional". As you said, the word Bearing implies the direction from a point to a second point, i.e. the direction, heading, or track someone or something at the first point would need to point or move to get to that second point. Once you've passed that point, it makes little sense, and is kinda useless to use the word bearing at all. What would you be trying to communicate? The heading that the VOR would need to move in to get to your aircraft? $\endgroup$ Commented May 10, 2023 at 0:58
  • $\begingroup$ "...one point with respect to another..." In other words, between two points - in either direction. And it says nothing about movement of the points. $\endgroup$ Commented May 10, 2023 at 1:31

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