UHF TACtical Air Navigation Aid
Navigation system used by military aircraft. It provides the user with bearing and distance (slant-range or hypotenuse) to a ground or ship-borne station. It is a more accurate version of the VOR/DME system that provides bearing and range information for civil aviation. The DME portion of the TACAN system is available for civil use; at VORTAC facilities where a VOR is combined with a TACAN, civil aircraft can receive VOR/DME readings. Aircraft equipped with TACAN avionics can use this system for en route navigation as well as non-precision approaches to landing fields. The space shuttle is one such vehicle that was designed to use TACAN navigation but later upgraded with GPS as a replacement.
The typical TACAN onboard user panel has control switches for setting the channel (corresponding to the desired surface station’s assigned frequency), the operation mode for either transmit/receive (T/R, to get both bearing and range) or receive only (REC, to get bearing but not range). Capability was later upgraded to include an air-to-air mode (A/A) where two airborne users can get relative slant-range information. Depending on the installation, Air-to-Air mode may provide range, closure (relative velocity of the other unit), and bearing, though an air-to-air bearing is noticeably less precise than a ground-to-air bearing. A TACAN only equipped aircraft cannot receive bearing information from a VOR only station.« Back to Glossary Index