In a tape drive, the head assembly hosting servo readers and data writers/readers must initially be moved to a target position, so that information can be written to or read from the desired tracks. In tape systems with flangeless rollers, as recently introduced in IBM's tape drives for improved performance and extended drive and tape lifetime, the initial positioning of the servo readers over the servo bands, from which the position-error signal for steady-state track-following operation is obtained, has to be fast. This requirement is dictated by the nonnegligible lateral tape motion experienced in tape paths with flangeless rollers. In this paper, a method is proposed to utilize both the servo readers and the data readers in a drive to detect the presence of a valid servo signal. If the servo readers are not positioned over a servo band, the distance between servo readers and servo band can thereby be continuously estimated by identifying the data reader detecting the presence of a servo signal. This information is then provided to a control element that controls the joint operation of a coarse stepper motor and a voice-coil motor based fine actuator with large stroke in a feedback or feed-forward configuration to achieve fast servo reader positioning. In the feedback-based approach, all data channels are continuously monitored to detect the presence of a valid servo signal and a pseudo position-error signal is generated and fed back to the control unit to drive the actuator towards the target position. In the feed-forward approach, a trajectory for the actuator is determined as soon as the servo band is in the capture range of the fine actuator and a control signal is generated so that the servo reader rapidly lands over the servo band with optimum control effort. © 2011 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.