How often does ATC mis-categorize planes as VFR/IFR?

Discussion in 'Change to my Frequency...' started by drummer4468, Sep 20, 2022.

  1. drummer4468

    drummer4468 Pre-takeoff checklist

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    So I had a flight recently wherein I was out shooting some approaches in actual IMC. Just a quick out-and-back from A to B and went missed back to A. (A) is a towered field and tracon. I picked up my IFR clearance on the ground before taxiing out. Launched into the cloud deck and went on my merry way to (B) about 30ish miles away. Got cleared for the approach, which was uneventful as I went down to mins and started the published missed, which happened to take me back to the VOR colocated at (A).

    So I called back "Approach, Skyhawk 12345 is on the missed, climbing 4000 back to (A)"
    And I got "Skyhawk 12345 radar contact, proceed on course, maintain VFR"
    "Skyhawk 12345 is IMC, can't maintain VFR"
    "Oh, you're IFR?"
    "Affirmative"
    "Were you IFR on the way to (B)?"
    "Yes, sir"
    "OH..okay...sorry about that, fly heading 300 blahblahblah"

    Not at all trying to make a 5-course meal out of a nothingburger, just trying to understand it from the ATC perspective. Him asking if I was IFR on the outbound leg(after the fact) leads me to believe it was more than a momentary brainfart. I was in hard IMC most of the flight and it was a little unsettling in the moment, even though I was at least on their radar. I'm still green in the IFR realm, so curious to hear what more knowledgable people have to say about it.
     
  2. Shawn

    Shawn En-Route

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    Meh...been there as well...not in actual IMC but was given IFR instructions once as VFR and had the same as you while IFR. It happens.
     
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  3. luvflyin

    luvflyin Touchdown! Greaser!

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    I don't think it happens a lot. What most likely happened is the Tower is so used to getting VFR aircraft conducting Practice Approaches, that an IFR aircraft conducting Practice Approaches just didn't register. There was probably a failure of communication between Approach and the Tower.

    EDIT: Read it again. It was all Approach. Did you go back to the same Frequency on the miss that you were cleared for the Approach on? If so, did you recognize the same voice?

     
    Last edited: Sep 21, 2022
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  4. drummer4468

    drummer4468 Pre-takeoff checklist

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    I'm 99% sure I went back to the same freq, since I'd have no reason to dial up anything other than press the flip-flop button when leaving the CTAF. Didn't notice a different voice, but then again most male controllers in my area sound the same to me, lol.

    It just took me off-guard having just gotten multiple IFR clearances, then being mistaken for VFR.
     
  5. luvflyin

    luvflyin Touchdown! Greaser!

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    I think maybe you hit on it in your OP. Flatulence de la Cranium.
     
  6. Jim K

    Jim K En-Route

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    1) did you actually file, or just get a clearance from your local tracon?
    2) was it a 0 code?
    3)I assume "b" was within the same tracon?

    The times this has happened to me have been when I just get a pop-up or practice clearance from my local tracon. They put you on a "local" txdr code beginning with a zero or one and without a strip in front of them, they forget that you're actually ifr. When I file a flight plan and they actually have a strip for me, I have better results. Any more, I file through leidos even if I'm just doing approaches at my home airport. It takes just a couple minutes, and saves that time negotiating with clearance. It also saves them typing in my info (I think?) and they seem to be happier about it.
     
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  7. drummer4468

    drummer4468 Pre-takeoff checklist

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    Yeah, I guess so. I just figured
    1) Yes, I actually filed and picked up the clearance on the ground
    2 and 3) It was within the same tracon, but it was not a local code, started with a 5 iirc

    That's what makes me curious. The mixup would make more sense if it was a pop-up that got hand-jammed in there, but I filed well prior and picked up said clearance before takeoff. I figured that'd make as official as it gets.
     
  8. midlifeflyer

    midlifeflyer Touchdown! Greaser!

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    I've seen it happen with filed flight plans. Multiple TRACON too. They can forget those too.

    i suspect the explanation is simple. An underlying assumption that a light airplane doing multiple approaches for practice on a VFR day is probably VFR.
     
  9. Brad Z

    Brad Z Final Approach

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    It happened to me once when we were doing practice approaches. I got a “squawk VFR frequency change approved” rather than a “frequency change approved, report IFR cancellation on…”. After I landed at the non-towered field, I called to clarify how we became VFR, and if not, that we cancelled IFR. It turns out it was a trainee working us who screwed up. No harm no foul. These things typically happen when you’re doing non-standard stuff like instrument training.
     
  10. mandm

    mandm Line Up and Wait

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    It’s habit to say “maintain VFR” but they actually mean maintain VMC or visual conditions. I think, but I’m not sure, that if they tell you maintain visual, they are not legally responsible for separation, so when you are IMC they are responsible and you suddenly become a priority for controllers.

    I’ve departed airspace and delayed climbing due to clouds and I got called out on it twice, while we were both repeating maintain VFR. I think it all happened in a matter of 30 seconds. But I should have reported the weather conditions more promptly looking back on it. Just misjudged the distance and also experienced a door pop open on takeoff climb.
     
  11. Jim K

    Jim K En-Route

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    Yep, sounds like an old fashioned brain fart then. I don't believe a vfr aircraft on flight following (or just tagged up to enter/leave class c) looks any different on the scope than an ifr. I don't know how they keep track of who's who, other than controllers are special people. It is a little surprising they would do that on a missed approach, and I agree that would be unsettling when you're busy in imc. As long as you're on a code though they shouldn't let you hit anyone, and a gentle reminder that you're ifr was the correct thing to do.

    To answer your question I've had this 2 or 3 times in the 2 years I've been rated, and always while doing practice approaches.
     
  12. Jim_R

    Jim_R Cleared for Takeoff

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    I almost always fly IFR these days, but rarely in IMC. Dozens of times while on an IFR plan, when I get handed off to a new controller I've been asked, "What's your destination?" Much more rarely (maybe ~5 times) I've been treated like a VFR Flight Following flight until I reminded them I was IFR.

    Overall, makes me wonder what info the controllers have/don't have readily at hand. Still happens often enough that it seems like there's a lot of room for improvement.
     
  13. luvflyin

    luvflyin Touchdown! Greaser!

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    What it's going to look like in the Data Block on the Radar is going to vary from facility to facility, dependent on type of Radar they have and local procedure. Haven't seen him in a while, but @Radar Contact might pop in and give some examples of what they do in Chicago. @Timbeck2 could tell us what it may look like in Tuscon. @PastZTL has recent Center experience.
     
    Last edited: Sep 21, 2022
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  14. Timbeck2

    Timbeck2 Final Approach

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    The data block may be irrelevant as what may have happened was that you had a trainee controller. Before they un-keyed did you hear another voice saying something like “He’s IFR you moron!”?

    You guys have got to remember that controllers don’t come from a factory fully qualified to work somewhere. They have to be trained anywhere they go.

    But to answer the question, VFR codes here start with 04. VFR with flight following starts with whatever the computer spits out. VFR data tags also have an asterisk after the call sign. IFR doesn’t.
     
    Last edited: Sep 21, 2022
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  15. Pilawt

    Pilawt Final Approach

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    After several instances of miscommunication I got into the habit of adding "VFR to <destination>" whenever I check in with a new controller.
     
  16. luvflyin

    luvflyin Touchdown! Greaser!

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    Think I've asked before but don't remember. Is it ARTS there, or STARS
     
  17. Timbeck2

    Timbeck2 Final Approach

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  18. midlifeflyer

    midlifeflyer Touchdown! Greaser!

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    Brain farts happen. I was once IFR but never heard the word "cleared" when I picked it up in the air.
     
    Last edited: Sep 22, 2022 at 4:01 PM
  19. Hang 4

    Hang 4 Pattern Altitude

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    I got cleared to land on 13R at JFK once when going over the top from NJ to CT. Mixed up handoff from NJ to JFK approach. Very relieved controller when I let him know that I was just passing through.
     
  20. PastZTL

    PastZTL Pre-takeoff checklist

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    In the center environment ERAM will display your altitude for VFR F/F as VFR/075. For IFR it displays your altitude as 080. The only way I can think that it might get mixed up is if someone amended the altitude erroneously to an IFR altitude format and left out the VFR/ portion. Still, you'd wind up with an IFR data block that said the assigned altitude was 075, which should lead to questions.