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VFR Tutorial

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For those who'd like to do some VFR flying, here's a short tutorial on how it works in the USA. Other countries are a little different. Using charts that came with FS, I'll go over a few examples that will cover flights from bush airstrips to the busiest airports and everything in-between. If you take a look in your Fs2002/charts/flights/desert adventure, you'll see some excerpts of what is known as the "VFR sectional". The sectional is the map that VFR pilots use. Hopefully you have them installed, otherwise you might have to browse through your FS CD's. Open up the file Desert06.jpg which centers on Las Vegas and use it to follow along.For the first sample flight, we'll depart Temple Bar on the right side of the map just below Lake Mead and arrive at McCarran, the big airport in Las Vegas. Go ahead and take a look at the Temple Bar airport on the map. You'll see three lines of magenta colored lettering near the airport. The top line is the airport name and identifier. The middle line has some very useful information. The airport is 1549' feet in elevation, runway length is approximately 3500', and the CTAF (common traffic advisory frequency) is 122.8. Please see my post on the unicom for more information on how to use CTAF. The last line tells you that runway 18 has a right pattern. This means that you fly your pattern legs using right turns instead of the usual left turns, but only if landing or taking off to the south. Reasons for this may be obstructions on the east side of the runway or noise abatement. Take a look at some of the other airports on this map. Notice that some have magenta text while others have blue text. If the text is magenta, the airport does not have a control tower. Now take a look at the Boulder City airport toward the bottom and at the middle of the map. The star at the top means it has a rotating beacon. The four tick marks around the runways means that the airport has service such as fuel and maintenance available. In the middle line is an "L" which means the airport has lighting, while the * near the L indicates there's some restrictions to the lighting - probably pilot controlled or time restrictions.Ok, back to Temple Bar. Our transponder is set to 1200 which is the VFR code in the USA. We're going to depart on runway 18 and turn right direct to the Boulder City VORTAC at a cruising altitude of 6500. You do not need to file a flight plan if you are VFR. If you do file a flight plan, it is opened with a flight service station (FSS) and not with ATC. Since we are flying a very short distance in a terminal area, we won't file one. We take off, making the calls on CTAF 122.8 until clear of the airport. Heading toward Las Vegas, we come across a magenta circle labeled "Mode C". This is what's known as the "mode C veil". Mode C is a transponder mode that encodes your altitude and sends it back to ATC in your radar signature. With a few exceptions, Mode C is required to be on inside the veil. The Squawkbox transponder does this by default, so it's nothing we have to worry about.Surrounding the area is a complicated looking network of thicker blue segmented circles divided into sectors. These are not ATC sectors but rather the boundaries for class bravo airspace which surrounds the nation's busiest airports. Bravo airspace typically extends to about 30NM from the primary airport(s), in this case Las Vegas McCarran and Nellis AFB. Sometimes they extend out further or are brought in closer in certain directions. Inside the segments, you're going to see a number that looks like a fraction. The one we see first in our direction of flight is 90/80. This means that bravo airspace in this sector starts at 8000 feet and extends up to 9000 feet. In order to enter bravo airspace, we need a clearance. We are cruising at 6500 here and well below the 8000 foot floor. No clearance is required yet, and we do not need to be in contact with ATC. This however is a good time to tune in the ATIS for McCarran. Coming up on the Hoover Dam, there is another sector in front of us. This one has a floor of 6500'. We have a couple of choices. We can descend and duck underneath the bravo airspace or get a clearance. We'll go ahead and descend to 4500 for now and stay out of it.Coming up on the northwest side of Boulder City, the bravo airspace floor drops down to 4500 right at the VORTAC. Now is a good time for our callup:"Vegas approach, Cessna 1583D, Boulder City, 4500, landing McCarran with tango, I'm a one seventy two slash alpha."We have given a city name as our position. Controllers will know most of the visual landmarks in their area of control. We've told the controller which airport we're landing at, the ATIS code, and our aircraft type and equipment. Even if you have filed a VFR flight plan, ATC (real world) will not have seen it and therefore won't know who you are. The equipment code of alpha means the the airplane has a mode C transponder and DME. Most of the default MS aircraft will be alpha equipped. Here's the common equipment codes available for online VFR flying:/A DME and Mode C transponder/U no DME but with Mode C transponder/G GPS and Mode C (the GPS must be approved for enroute and GPS approaches, i.e. have an approach database. The default MS GPS does not.)The reason for these equipment codes is so ATC will know what the capabilities are for your airplane. For example, if you are uniform equipped, then they cannot give you an instruction like "remain within 20 DME of the XYZ VOR."ATC will give you a squawk code, and you may or may not be asked to ident:"Cessna 1583D, squawk 4651."Several minutes may go by before you hear anything back. The problem here is that we are rapidly approaching the lower 4500 foot floor. We cannot enter until we hear the magic words "cleared into bravo airspace." Turn around, fly in circles, do what ever you have to do to keep out. Another option is to start another descent and duck under it. A third option would be to fly around the south side of Boulder City where the floor is 6000. But, ATC comes back to us:"Cessna 1583D, radar contact two miles east of Boulder City, 4500, cleared into bravo airspace, traffic is a Cherokee at 12 o'clock, eastbound, climbing from 2700 feet."The controller has told us what altitude we are reporting. We should verify this with our altimeter as sometimes the mode C altitude can be different from our pressure altitude due to equipment failure. We have also been given a traffic advisory. Advisories will include aircraft type if known, a clock direction, direction of flight, and altitude. You respond with either "looking" or "have traffic."We've been cleared into bravo airspace and are in contact with ATC now. However, navigation is still our responsibility. We will not be "vectored" unless traffic is heavy and we need to be sequenced in. ATC comes back:"Cessna 83D, where are you parking?"If you are VFR or a charter flying into a large airport, you will almost always get asked this. Also, the controller has shortened our callsign to the last three letters which is common practice in the USA, but only for N number callsigns. The controller always initiates this, not the pilot. You reply:"Cessna 83D is going to Las Vegas Executive." This is the name of the FBO where we will be refueling. It's located on the northwest side of the airport."Cessna 83D, make entended right base runway 01 left.""Right base, 01 left, Cessna 83D."We have the airport in sight and adjust our flight path to put us on an extended base leg. As we get close to the airport, approach calls us:"Cessna 83D, you can go ahead and descend to pattern altitude." Being a prepared pilot, we have looked up the pattern altitude of 2975' for McCarran during preflight. If you don't have an airport directory for your online flights, you can use the rule of thumb of 800' above the airport for light aircraft. Looking at the sectional, you can see that the elevation for McCarran is 2181'. Add 800 to it, and you can use a pattern altitude of 2981' which will be close enough. Approach comes back to us:"Cessna 83D, keep your speed up, traffic is a Learjet on a 10 mile final, contact tower 119.9, good day."You reply:"Cessna 83D, keeping speed up, 119.9."Since you have plenty of runway, you can elect to land flaps up and try to get out of the way as quick as possible. Contact tower now:"McCarran tower, Cessna 1583D for 01 left."Unless there's traffic ahead of you, you should be immediately cleared to land:"Cessna 1583D, winds 040 at 5, cleared to land 01 left."We park and rest up a bit at the FBO before our return flight to Temple Bar. We can also telephone a FSS for a weather update.VFR DEPARTURE WITH FLIGHT FOLLOWING FROM A PRIMARY CLASS B AIRPORTOnce we're ready to depart, we get the ATIS. In the ATIS, you'll hear something like, "...departing VFR aircraft contact clearance delivery (or ground) for clearance...". Whether you contact delivery or ground depends on the airport and time of day. At the larger airports, it will usually be delivery. We'll use ground as an example since online delivery positions are rarely manned:"McCarran ground, Cessna 5183D at Las Vegas Executive with information victor, request bravo clearance and advisories to Temple Bar, 5500. I'm a one seventy two slash alpha, and I'm ready to taxi."Again, we have not filed a flight plan. The controller takes this information and prepares what is known as a "flight strip" for you. This is passed on to other controllers if you are handed off. By saying "advisories", we have requested what is known as VFR flight following. With flight following, you will be handed off from controller to controller much like an IFR flight. This will continue even after you are out of bravo airspace as long as the controller's workload permits. This service can be voluntarily cancelled by either the pilot or controller. For shorter flights, I prefer this versus filing a flight plan. You get traffic information, and if you need help you are already in contact with ATC. Another advantage to this over filing a flight plan is that it gives you more flexibility on your route and flight time. There's no need to go through the hassle of radioing a FSS for amendments to your flight plan.As we taxi out, ground contacts us:"Cessna 5183D, I have your clearance.""Cessna 5183D ready to copy.""Cessna 5183D, heading 050, maintain VFR at or below 3500, squawk 5223, departure frequency 124.3.""Cessna 5183D, 050, VFR at or below 3500, 5223, 124.3.""Cessna 5183D, readback is correct."quawk 4651." This exchange is much like an IFR clearance with the important exception that we are not "cleared to" anywhere. Also, we did not get our requested altitude of 5,500. After takeoff, we climb to a safe altitude of 500' then immediately turn to our assigned heading of 050. Tower hands us off to approach, and we give them a call:"Vegas approach, Cessna 5183D, 3100 for 3500."We may have to climb a bit more before the controller sees us on radar. After a few minutes, approach comes back:"Cessna 5183D, radar contact, you can proceed on course and say your requested altitude?""Cessna 5183D would like 5500.""Cessna 83D, climb to 5500."Now we can turn direct to our destination and continue climbing. ATC will continue to give us traffic advisories. You will be handed off to Center once out of the terminal area just like on an IFR flight. Once near our destination, center will say goodbye:"Cessna 5183D, radar service terminated, squawk 1200, frequency change to advisory approved."From here, we call the unicom and get a landing advisory then make reports on CTAF. VFR DEPARTURE FROM A CLASS D AIRPORTTake a look at Henderson airport just south of McCarran. Henderson is tower controlled (blue color), but is outside of bravo airspace. It's a little difficult to make out, but there is an area carved out of the bravo airspace for it with a floor of 5000 and a ceiling of 9000. Just to the north, the bravo airspace floor comes all the way down to the surface to protect McCarran and Nellis AFB. Looking at the information for Henderson, you'll see the letters "NFCT". This means non-federal control tower. In other words, it's privately or city government operated. The reverse highlighted "C" means that the tower frequency of 125.1 is also the CTAF frequency when the tower closes for the night. This is the frequency that you will use to self announce your position and intentions.There is no ATIS available for this particular airport. To depart, simply call tower when holding short:"Henderson tower, Cessna 5183D holding short of 18, east departure."Give the direction of departure in a cardinal heading, i.e. south or southeast. There is no clearance required as long as you're staying out of bravo airspace, and you do not get a squawk code. Tower will clear you for takeoff and may ask you to call when clear of their airspace (5 miles away) if they do not have radar:"Cessna 5183D, winds 240 at 5, cleared for takeoff, call five miles east."Once you are clear to the east, let them know:"Henderson tower, Cessna 5183D, thank you."That's all there is to it.FLIGHT TO A CLASS C AIRPORTOne more quick example. Open up the file /fs2002/charts/Flights/Alaskan Floatplane/alaska06.jpg. We'll depart Kenai and fly to Anchorage. Kenai is a tower controlled airport (blue symbol and information). It is in class D airspace with boundaries indicated by the dashed blue circle around the airport. Departure proceedures are the same as with the Henderson example above. Just give tower a departure direction. In this case, we'll depart due north. Around the Kenai VOR, there is a compass rose printed on the map. Notice the large variation between magnetic north (the large arrow labeled "0") and true north (straight up on the map). We'll take the 360 radial to the coast, then follow the coast up to Anchorage.Surrounding Anchorage you'll see a thick magenta circle divided into sectors. This is charlie airspace, and serves the same function as the bravo airpace around Las Vegas. You'll see this kind of airspace around medium density airports. Inside each sector is a fraction showing the floor and ceiling of the airspace. Notice the north-northeast side of the airport is unprotected. Entry into charlie airspace does not require a clearance. It just requires that you establish radio contact with ATC.A ways up the coast on our route from Kenai, you'll see a magenta colored flag labeled Moose Point. This is a VFR checkpoint for Anchorage. The callup is similar to the above Vegas flight:"Anchorage approach, Cessna 5183D, over Moose Point at 5500, landing with information golf, I'm a 172/A."You will then get a squawk code from ATC and directions for landing.Departing Anchorage is similar to departing Vegas. Give your ground location,requested departure direction, desired cruise altitude, and aircraft type and equipment to either ground or delivery. Once clear of charlie airspace, you will be told to squawk 1200 and have a good day unless you have requested VFR flight following.VFR WEATHER MINIMUMSVFR weather minimums can vary depending on which class of airspace you are in. To make it simple, minimums are generally 3 statute miles in controlled airspace. I'm going to very loosely define controlled airpace as the airspace around airports that have a published instrument approach, whether they have a control tower or not. It's a little more complicated than that, but for online flying that should work. If you are flying above 10000 feet, then minimums increase to 5 miles. In uncontrolled airspace, minimums are 1 mile in the day and 3 miles at night. You cannot fly VFR above 18000 feet, so your highest available cruising altitude will be 17500 feet assuming standard pressure and easterly heading.THE SPECIAL VFR CLEARANCEWhen visibility goes below VFR minimums, the field becomes IFR. VFR operations are not possible except with a Special VFR clearance. An SVFR clearance can be obtained by ATC and will allow you to arrive or depart as long as visibility is at least one mile for airplanes. Helicopters can fly with less than one mile as long as they remain clear of clouds. If there's no tower, you can get the clearance from Center. You do not need to file a flight plan, but you should give ATC enough information about your intentions so that they can fit you into their traffic flow. You will be given a squawk code, but not an altitude since you need to keep away from clouds. If departing, ATC does not continue to provide separation once you are clear of the airport. You are on your own after that. Not all airports allow SVFR clearances. In this case, you will see "No SVFR" on the sectional airport information. -Rich

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Very nice once again Rich. Excellent reading and informative.

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Thanks for the great information on VFR!I collected all of the Sectional Chunks from MapTech used in your examples.Temple Barhttp://mapserver.maptech.com/homepage/inde...&latlontype=DMSMode C in Las Vegashttp://mapserver.maptech.com/homepage/inde...&latlontype=DMSHendersonhttp://mapserver.maptech.com/homepage/inde...&latlontype=DMSBoulder Cityhttp://mapserver.maptech.com/homepage/inde...&latlontype=DMSKenaihttp://mapserver.maptech.com/homepage/inde...searchscope=domMoose Pointhttp://mapserver.maptech.com/homepage/inde...searchscope=domAnchoragehttp://mapserver.maptech.com/homepage/inde...searchscope=domThese are current sectional chunks and probably differ slightly from the FS2002 examples.Thanks Again, I printed out all seven pages and saved a local copy.Regards,BobSP.S. Sorry about the oversized links that screw up the view.

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