Radio Navigation – Distance Measuring Equipment (DME)

in Communication and Navigation

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 11-119]

Figure 11-119. A VOR with DME ground station.

Figure 11-119. 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 11-120]

Figure 11-120. 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.

Figure 11-120. 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 11-121]

Figure 11-121. A typical aircraft mounted DME antenna.

Figure 11-121. 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 11-122]

Figure 11-122. 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.

Figure 11-122. 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.