GPS Degradation During X Class Solar Flare

Started by RadioRay, June 14, 2014, 12:58:20 pm

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June 14, 2014, 12:58:20 pm Last Edit: June 14, 2014, 01:05:32 pm by RadioRay
I was on a road trip yesterday and on the way home my GPS was having SERIOUS problems obtaining my position. The location and direction of travel indicated was shifting and sometimes even reversing.  It was seriously impeding using the turn by turn directions even on a large divided highway.  It occasionally even showed me as in the opposite lane of travel and instructed me to 'turn around when possible'.  Yeah - I guess so! Naturally, my first question was whether this was a precursor to war and/or a hostile act, but then I remember the cluster of X-class solar flares.  We DEPEND too much as a society on our smart phones/GPS and etc.

QUESTION: do you have paper maps with you, a compass and know how to use them?  When I lives in the Rockies I USED to always keep a topographic map book of my State and less detailed maps of surrounding States , a three day kit and bug-out ruck . . .   used to . . . Time for me to get another map book {DONE} and to keep it in my car, and put together a lite version of the three day kit, emergency water (and rum) and a bit of food. 

Comfort breeds complacency.

>RadioRay  ..._  ._
"When we cannot do the good we would, we must be ready to do the good we can."  ~ Matthew Henry


This is a big thing for me.  In most nasty SHTF scenarios, we'll all be back to paper and pencil.  That's why I have paper forms of:

Survival, living off the land and first aid books
Equipment manuals

And yes, a Rand McNally US atlas and hand compas in my car.  Though if the SHTF I doubt I'd be driving very far.


Also - with our politicians refusing to allow Russian GLONASS (Russian GPS) ground stations on U.S. soil, the Russian have reciprocated and taken back ( 11? ) U.S. GPS ground stations in Russia.  It's something to think about.  Earth's magnetic field, terrain features, Sun , moon & stars are not politically controllable, which is why it's good to know how to navigate using techniques the previous generation used.

I'm with you, Bob: I'd likely need navigation to 'bug' back home and not a lot of travel after that.

"When we cannot do the good we would, we must be ready to do the good we can."  ~ Matthew Henry


Good precaution! Many people who are not schooled in navigation will get a compass but not a map. Well, you know where North is, now what? Sure it can help, but unless you have a map you can't really navigate by dead-reckoning because you don't have any identifiable landmarks. Dead-reckoning is simple, especially on land, but you need to know how and try it at least once. I got lost more than once flying using dead-reckoning.. Thanks to road signs (don't ask me how low I had to get to read them)  :o I found my way back on track. It's easy to miss a mark when the wind is making you drift. On the ground, you simply pick any fixed feature in front of you.. Don't forget local declination, that is a common error that can get you really lost quick. Following roads is definitely easier, but there might be times (troubled) when roads might be better avoided. I love GPS, but I do have map and compass in my bugout bag.

Back when I was flying my favorite navigation instrument, which most other students hated, was ADF (automatic direction finding). ADF is just a needle pointing to a transmitting station (200-415kHz). Then there was VOR and LORAN. Very few still in use as far as I know. Knowing how to find a transmitter might be a useful skill. I used to participate in Fox hunts during the CB craze, but didn't know enough about portable directional antennas back then to win.

Bottom line is, all these aids to navigation can go down. I plan on learning some celestial navigation but it is a vast and complex subject... Map and compass are definitely a must-have combination.



For training the military will jam or otherwise mess with the GPS signals.  This will affect areas hundreds of miles in diameter and they notify the FAA so they can warn the pilots with a NOTAM (notice to airmen).  A friend is a private pilot in CA and was flying to Indiana.  He co-owns a pressurized Piper Malibu and flys way up at like 25,000' so talks to the same controllers as the airliners.  Somewhere over Nevada he started hearing the airliners telling the controllers that they had "degraded nav" and needed a vector (direction to fly) :o .  The airline pilots have become completely dependent on their nav radios.  They really aren't "pilots" in the old sense of the word, but they can type 60 words a minute.  My friend, on the other hand, competes in an annual air rally that doesn't allow any nav radios, so this was a non-event for him.

The US has about 33,000 comercial flights A DAY.  Can you imagine the disruption to our transportation if a gigantic solar flare, or the bad guys, knocked out or GPS system?!?!?


June 14, 2014, 11:44:01 pm #5 Last Edit: June 14, 2014, 11:53:36 pm by RadioRay
I was astounded at the flak I took for teaching myself basic celestial navigation when I was prepping for long range sailing. Coming from the defense industry, I know a bit about the vulnerabilities of the GPS system - excellent though it is.  It's not not discussed much, and the controlled media have people believing that 'all is well', but more than once I've received a 'Notice to Mariners' of GPS problems, naval EW exercises off shore and etc.  There are also unintentional jamming of GPS signals by cheep, commercial electronics, one case being approaches in Monterey Bay, California, eventually traced (by hams) to a TV antenna amplifier that have an SHF oscillation product blanketing the civilian GPS band. There are more, if you search them out.

Fred Rebel - Sailed from Australia to the USA using a VERY fine - home made sextant, long before electronic navigation.

There is also the factor that GPS for civilians has the capability of dithering and 'selective availability' which -who knows- might be potentially accessible to hackers - especially with those GPS ground stations on foreign soil.

>>>>====> I was reading about a blue water, large 'gin palace' sailboat that had to be rescued because of 'failure of navigational equipment'. Oh? I can virtually guarantee that they did not have even a plastic sextant and basic set of tables aboard and the skills to use them for latitude sailing; add a $5.oo E-bay electric watch and you're getting longitude too - better than what Captain Cooke used to map much of the Pacific. Improvised celestial navigation, using what you can make, won't have you safely threading narrow approaches in shallows in the dark but you CAN find specific parts of a continent pretty easily.  OTOH - I've read of more than one SKILLED navigator who, when improvised was the only option, used their skills and made a rough,  'sextant-like' sighting protractor.  One Russian ROUTINELY used a children's protractor and soda straws to sight horizon and celestial object and he sailed from post-USSR Russia all around the med, Atlantic and Caribbean.

Master skills - once 'owned' skills travel lightly and the rest can often be found, scrounged or made outright.

73 de RadioRay ..._   ._

Ps. For fun and a quick intro, download a 'celestial navigation' app for your smart phone.  It's a quick intro.  If you can get within 10 miles, you're doing fine, 5 and you're a 'master' of iPhone-waza!
"When we cannot do the good we would, we must be ready to do the good we can."  ~ Matthew Henry


 I love and have several maps. I have no problems using maps and using them well.

So long, and thanks for all the fish.

So long, and thanks for all the fish


My pilot friend calls GPS and several other things SRDs (skill replacement devices).


When I was a private pilot, I flew all over without a GPS. Every pilot did back then. Of course I was young and did a lot of dumb things. Like go cross country with only a half hour of fuel reserve (the legal limit). After being blown a little off of course and not knowing my real ground speed I finally landed at my destination running on fumes. Or the time I set off on a night crosscountry flight in a rental. I foolishly planned to use the airplane's ADF to guide me to my destination airport without first confirming that the plane's ADF was operational or that the NDB at the destination was operating for that matter. That was my first mistake that day. The second was not to trust my compass on that calm night but instead I let myself get fooled into thinking that the lights of the city to my South looked too close for me to still be on-course so I let myself be duped into turning several degrees to the North. I soon found myself over mountainous terrane at night without a clear idea of where I was or how to find my airport. I'd like to say that it was my skill, resourcefulness, clear thinking and coolness under presure that got me through those times but I'm affraid it was more likely dumb luck that's kept me alive.

Today I fly a Cessna TU206 in the mountains of Mexico. I never go anywhere without at least an hour of fuel reserve and I don't know how I would do it without a GPS. I always keep a handheld one in my flightbag as a backup to the panel mounted one. Many of the airstrips are not more than a straight stretch of logging road. I've had trouble spotting airstrips when my GPS was telling me "you're circling right over it dummy". The only reason I knew I had arrived at my airstrip is because the GPS swore I was there.

I'm afraid that my dead reckoning skills are pretty rusty. Sometimes I tell myself "I'm going to do this one without the GPS" but then I remember that if a get a bit off-course and add several minutes to the flight which is costing someone several dollars a minute I'm costing someone several dollars just to prove to myself that I haven't lost it.  One of these days I'm going to do it and pay the difference myself. It will give me extra incentive not to get off-course.

At the end of the day, the level of precision and safety the GPS has given aviation can never be understated. Back in the days before GPS, getting lost was one of those occupational hazards we just lived with. Occasionally it would end in disaster for someone but that would never happen to me. I've always found my way eventually haven't I? GPS has given us a new perspective of the risks involved. Today, navigating without a GPS on board introduces  unnecessary  and unacceptable risks  and we simply don't do it. 


A friend of mine gave me a cheap plastic model. Enough to learn on. Fortunately the beach is close by.. Now I need the table. I downloaded the Bowditch book on navigation, but it's pretty up there...



Celestial nav is pretty geeky stuff.  In college they gave short courses during winter break.  Celestial nav was one I really wanted to take, but never did.  Today, unless I have a salt water boat I'm not seeing much need, but I still want to learn it. 


I picked up this plastic sextant on ebay for about $35. I'm surprised at how accurate it is, being plastic and not as rigid as a metal sextant. Like Gil says, it's good for practicing. It would also work for emergency navigating which is what it's made for. Celestial nav is pretty easy really, If you can learn morse code cel. nav should be a breeze. I used "Dutton's Navigation and Piloting" as my primmer. It lays it out in an easy to understand way. The hardest part of cel nav is using the reduction tables. I use an iPhone app called "Sight Calc" to calculate the reductions. I think it was free. I also use another iPhone app called "ezSights". It's a full solution nav app that replaces the almanacs, reduction tables, and plotting charts. It works well and is about as inexpensive as any of it's peers. It takes all the work out of it. Just enter a few variables and the reading off of the sextant and it instantly draws your LOP. I also have some nautical almanacs for the ipad from the same people that make ezSights, if I want to look up the information longhand. Of course the only problem I have is that all of my cel nav publications are electronic which means that when all electronics are fried I can't use my sextant. Obviously I have to go out and buy some paper copies. They have some multi-year almanacs out there that you'd only have to buy once every several years as an alternative to the normal nautical almanacs that are only good for one year and cost just as much as the multi-year solutions.

I highly recommend that you got to and go to his celestial navigation 101 series of posts. He lays out cel nav basics in a way that everyone can understand in a few short blog posts. He also lists three of the stand-alone paper pubs for cel nav and talks about what sextant to get. He actually gives high praise to Gil's plastic sextant.


QuoteI highly recommend that you got to and go to his celestial navigation 101 series of posts.

Great :) Thanks for the link! Will do.



Quote from: vwflyer on June 16, 2014, 07:04:56 pmThey have some multi-year almanacs out there that you'd only have to buy once every several years as an alternative to the normal nautical almanacs that are only good for one year and cost just as much as the multi-year solutions.

I picked up a copy of "Long Term Almanac 2000 - 2050 for the Sun and Selected Stars" published by Starpath from Seattle.  That's one of the schools the blogger teaches at.  My copy is paperback but Amazon now has a hard copy edition for the same price Starpath charges for the paperback:

I got it to use in reverse - I know where I am (and I'm not likely to leave) but I figured I could use it to determine an accurate time of day in case over-the-air time services vanish.  It might come in handy for keeping skeds.  Or something.  I also bought a 1930s wind-up pocket watch that keeps good time... now I just need an accurate way to measure azimuth/elevation, but used transits are a little beyond my budget.  I don't have sightlines to anything that looks like a horizon because of the trees around here so I don't know how well a sextant would work.



QuoteI figured I could use it to determine an accurate time of day in case over-the-air time services vanish.

Good point Quietguy. Timekeeping was one of the reasons I bought the sextant I have. You can actually find local noon fairly accurately with only a sextant and no pubs. Sailors have used noon sightings since before almanacs. It's not accurate enough to set your chronometer to but definitely accurate enough to set a sked.  Of course for you to be able to collaborate with other people you'd have to know the difference between your geographic local noon and time zone noon.

You take several successive sightings of the sun starting a little before noon. As the measured altitude continues to grow it is approaching noon. There will be a couple of minutes where the sun doesn't seem to be going up or down and then the sightings will start to show that the sun is coming down. The middle of that time where the sun is not rising or setting is local noon. Set your watch to that and then correct it by the number of minutes needed to read time zone noon.

QuoteI don't have sightlines to anything that looks like a horizon because of the trees around here so I don't know how well a sextant would work.

I feel your pain. I live in the middle of the dessert and our duckpond is about the biggest body of water I have within a hundred miles (that might not be entirely true). I definitely don't have a good horizon to work from. Normal bubble levels attached to the sextant are not accurate enough and true navigation grade levels are like you say, way out of my price range. That's why reflection sighting is so cool. Water's surface is perfect because it is self leveling and very reflective. Rather than measuring the angular difference between the sun and the horizon you measure the difference between the sun and it's reflection on the surface of the water. You then divide that angle in half and what you get is the angle of the sun over the horizon. One problem with this method is that even the slightest breeze will make the reflected image bob up and down so much as to render it useless. They make special "artificial horizons" that have built-in wind guards and sun shades but they cost about $30. I don't need the sun shade because my sextant has a horizon shade and I'd like to think I can build some kind of a water container with an effective wind block for much less than $30. It's on my to-do list.