Aircraft Radio Magnetic Indicator (RMI) and Distance Measuring Equipment (DME) | Aircraft Systems

Aircraft Radio Magnetic Indicator (RMI) and Distance Measuring Equipment (DME)


Radio Magnetic Indicator (RMI)

To save space in the instrument panel and to consolidate related information into one easy to use location, the radio magnetic indicator (RMI) has been developed. It is widely used. The RMI combines indications from a magnetic compass, VOR, and ADF into one instrument. [Figure 1]

Aircraft instrument
Figure 1. A radio magnetic indicator (RMI) combines a magnetic compass, VOR, and ADF indications

The azimuth card of the RMI is rotated by a remotely located flux gate compass. Thus, the magnetic heading of the aircraft is always indicated. The lubber line is usually a marker or triangle at the top of the instrument dial. The VOR receiver drives the solid pointer to indicate the magnetic direction TO a tuned VOR station. When the ADF is tuned to an NDB, the double, or hollow pointer, indicates the magnetic bearing to the NDB.

Since the flux gate compass continuously adjusts the azimuth card so that the aircraft heading is at the top of the instrument, pilot workload is reduced. The pointers indicate where the VOR and ADF transmission stations are located in relationship to where the aircraft is currently positioned. Push buttons allow conversion of either pointer to either ADF or VOR for navigation involving two of one type of station and none of the other.

Distance Measuring Equipment (DME)

Many VOR stations are co-located with the military version of the VOR station, which is known as TACAN. When this occurs, the navigation station is known as a VORTAC station. Civilian aircraft make use of one of the TACAN features not originally installed at civilian VOR stations–distance measuring equipment (DME). A DME system calculates the distance from the aircraft to the DME unit at the VORTAC ground station and displays it on the flight deck. It can also display calculated aircraft speed and elapsed time for arrival when the aircraft is traveling to the station.


DME ground stations have subsequently been installed at civilian VORs, as well as in conjunction with ILS localizers. These are known as VOR/DME and ILS/DME or LOC/DME. The latter aid in approach to the runway during landings. The DME system consists of an airborne DME transceiver, display, and antenna, as well as the ground based DME unit and its antenna. [Figure 2]

Radio Magnetic Indicator
Figure 2. A VOR with DME ground station

The DME is useful because with the bearing (from the VOR) and the distance to a known point (the DME antenna at the VOR), a pilot can positively identify the location of the aircraft. DME operates in the UHF frequency range from 962 MHz to 1213 MHz. A carrier signal transmitted from the aircraft is modulated with a string of integration pulses. The ground unit receives the pulses and returns a signal to the aircraft. The time that transpires for the signal to be sent and returned is calculated and converted into nautical miles for display. Time to station and speed are also calculated and displayed. DME readout can be on a dedicated DME display or it can be part of an EHSI, EADI, EFIS, or on the primary flight display in a glass cockpit. [Figure 3]

Radio Magnetic Indicator
Figure 3. Distance information from the DME can be displayed on a dedicated DME instrument or integrated into any of the electronic navigational displays found on modern aircraft. A dual display DME is shown with its remote mounted receiver

The DME frequency is paired to the co-located VOR or VORTAC frequency. When the correct frequency is tuned for the VOR signal, the DME is tuned automatically. Tones are broadcast for the VOR station identification and then for the DME. The hold selector on a DME panel keeps the DME tuned in while the VOR selector is tuned to a different VOR. In most cases, the UHF of the DME is transmitted and received via a small blade-type antenna mounted to the underside of the fuselage centerline. [Figure 4]

Radio Magnetic Indicator
Figure 4. A typical aircraft mounted DME antenna

A traditional DME displays the distance from the DME transmitter antenna to the aircraft. This is called the slant distance. It is very accurate. However, since the aircraft is at altitude, the distance to the DME ground antenna from a point directly beneath the aircraft is shorter. Some modern DMEs are equipped to calculate this ground distance and display it. [Figure 5]

Radio Magnetic Indicator
Figure 5. Many DME’s only display the slant distance, which is the actual distance from the aircraft to the DME station. This is different than the ground distance due to the aircraft being at altitude. Some DMEs compute the ground distance for display

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