Miscellaneous IFR questions

Discussion in 'Cleared for the Approach' started by AA5Bman, Feb 26, 2020.

  1. AA5Bman

    AA5Bman Pre-takeoff checklist

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    I have been instrument rated for more than 10 years, but I haven't used the ticket much at all. I'm trying to start using it more, and have a handful of questions that I've been wondering about that are probably obvious to people with more experience. Instead of breaking them into individual threads, I thought I’d just compile them here.

    1) Is there such a thing as "VFR under the top"? My thought would be in mountainous areas or underneath an icing layer, maybe you want to be able to maintain your IFR clearance, but you want to (and the weather is conducive to) fly by visual flight rules at an altitude that's lower than the MEA/OROCA/MOCA, could you ask for this? If you can, it’s not VFR on top, because that involves complying with minimum IFR altitudes, so how would you do it?

    2) Relatedly, let's say I have a 500 mile trip, and it makes sense to fly the first 400 miles VFR because it's mountainous and the MEAs are unrealistic (and the weather is good) and then pick up an IFR clearance for the last 100 miles to the destination. How would you best file this? Composite plan? Can you just pick some random fix (RNAV or VOR) and file from there to your destination or does it have to originate at an airport? If I file from my actual origination point to the actual destination, but pick up the clearance in the air, is ATC going to be surprised that I'm 400 miles away from the actual origin point (and at this point the flight plan is probably 3 hours old and already been discarded)? What's the best way to do this?

    3) Let's say you're flying a victor airway and you request a deviation or ATC vectors you off the airway, and then gives you "own nav”. Would you be expected to go back and intercept the airway or go direct from your present position to the next fix?

    4) I know you're allowed to fly ODPs at your own discretion, but if ATC gives you an instruction that contradicts the ODP ("after departure right turn 123 direct XYZ"), I assume you can't just elect to fly the ODP? What about in a non-radar environment?

    5) My instructor always used to recommend filing “No STAR/No SID,” and I think that’s just because he didn’t want to lug around the extra charts. Is this still a “thing”, or since it’s so easy with foreflight, is it more common to just fly the STARs/SIDS in light GA now?

    6). On a visual approach, can you navigate to the runway any way you want? The AIM says “normal procedures,” but I’m curious how that plays out in the real world. For instance, let’s say you’re 10 miles out on a 45 degree to the runway. Are you expected to go straight to the numbers from that position, or track to intercept the final approach course? What if you’re on the upwind side of the airport - intercept the VFR traffic pattern? If you have to go missed, what are you expected to fly (short of vectors)?

    7). In the event of Lost Comms, if no approach has been discussed and an IAF is not part of the flight plan, are you expected to fly to the destination airport first and then to an IAF of your choosing? I know you can pick any approach, but the question is more about how you get from your enroute segment to the IAF - you’re cleared to the airport, not the IAF, so do you go to the airport first and then to an IAF, or do you make a transition from the enroute segment to the IAF directly? I assume you would not descend until at the IAF, but if you’re way over the approach’s altitude for that segment, would you descend in a hold there? Which direction inbound? Probably over-thinking this one...

    8). What are the real-world reasons to request a contact approach and not just fly a published approach? It seems like the only reason I can think of is expediency, but at the sacrifice of some safety.
     
  2. MauleSkinner

    MauleSkinner Final Approach

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    1. It’s called VFR Flight Following

    2. I’d file from where I planned to pick up the IFR clearance.

    3. they should tell you. If they don’t, ask.

    4. communicate your intentions with ATC. You are responsible for not dying.

    5. If you file “no SID/STAR”, you’ll probably get a long clearance that gives you the routing of the SUD/STAR, or you won’t be given a clearance at all, if a SID or STAR is their “norm”.

    6. Tower controlled, do what you think is best unless they give you instructions. uncontrolled, follow traffic pattern rules.

    7. dozens of threads on this, with no consensus. ;)

    8. Thunderstorms over part of the approach procedure. But if you think you’re sacrificing safety with a contact approach, I wouldn’t recommend a visual, either.
     
    Last edited: Feb 26, 2020
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  3. Walboy

    Walboy Cleared for Takeoff

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    Very good questions. Most of them can be answered by reading the AIM and can be explained by CFII during an IPC.

    You'll get some good answers here, but I'm thinking this will quickly devolve into a POA p*zzing contest.

    Questions:

    1) There is no VFR under the top clearance. You seem to be describing VFR under the ceiling. I've never heard of doing this IFR but that's not to say it's not possible. I like to think of an IFR flight plan as a contract between you and ATC. You will be where you're supposed to be, when you're supposed to be there and they will keep you from running into someone else who is also on an IFR flight plan within a framework of standard rules and procedures. Does what you're suggesting fit into those roles?

    2) See AIM 5-1-7 I would file the IFR flight plan beginning at a fix along the route. No, it does not have to begin at an airport.

    3) Go back to the airway unless cleared direct.

    4) You're responsible for obstacle clearance until relieved by ATC. You fly the ODP.

    5) I think it's more common with RNAV, but a lot of SIDs are for jets/turbo props and unavailable for GA piston airplanes.

    6) Follow the regulations regarding flying a pattern. You need to fit into the flow of traffic, if there is any.

    7) This is sure to cause a lot of discussion and has been beat to death here. Personally, I'm not flying to an airport and then back to an IAF.

    8) I dunno.
     
  4. midlifeflyer

    midlifeflyer Touchdown! Greaser!

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    I'll try a couple.

    1. Not officially and it's technically a violation. But I have been offered exactly that. I was returning to Denver from a trip to the west. Tooling along at the 15,000' MEA, sowmeitng went wrong with my portable O2 eqipment. I told ATC what happened and said I was canceling IFR to go lower. Response was, I can keep yo IFR if you can guarantee your own obstruction and terrain clearance. That's a legit inquiry for climbs to an IFR altitude by a VFR aircraft seeking an IFR clearance and is sometimes used for visual descents, but not for sustained enroute flight.

    2. You can do a composite flight plan or just plan on a cold call pop-up. I did a composite once, 25 years ago. Many pop-ups; never been refused. A secret: Unless you are traveling in busy airspace, there are not that many of us tooling around at the altitudes where piston pushers fly IFR, so pop-ups tend to be easy. In mountainous terrain, particularly in the west, it should not be an issue.

    3. Agree with @MauleSkinner completely. Receiving "resume own navigation," unless the deviation was so inconsequential it doesn't mater, my readback always tells ATC what I am going to do to comply. "34X resume own navigation" is the instruction. "Proceeding direct NEXTFX, 34X" or "rejoining V3" is my response.

    4. It is our absolute prerogative to fly an ODP and not hit an obstruction. A departure instruction from ATC is not - repeat - is not - a guarantee of terrain and obstruction clearance. The one exception is being assigned a SID. SID routes include terrain and obstructin clearance.

    5. Once SIDs and STARs stopped being in a separate book ($$ - the original reason), "No SIDs/STARs" became silly. Why a pilot would rather have to copy a lengthy clearance rather than read the clearance and see the route printed on a chart was always beyond my comprehension.

    6. Same as @MauleSkinner. Nontowered, we do not have any special priority over VFR traffic and must not interfere with it. IFR, "Cleared visual approach" is followed almost immediately by "contact Tower." If there are special instructions, one or the other will tell you them. Otherwise do what is sensible. Yo are heading straight ij, continue. Yo are already on a base leg use, it. Heading toward a downwind, use that.

    7. Sticking with lost comm which is at your end, and not an area-wide ATC system failure, the rules say you have to fly to the destination, and then to an IAF. The Chief Counsel fairly recently - 2018 - reaffirmed that. The real world says, you are in radar contact, ATC knows you are lost comm, and is clearing the airspace for you until you land. All you are doing by following the rules is interfering with everyone else's travel.

    8. Zero to add to @MauleSkinner
     
  5. AA5Bman

    AA5Bman Pre-takeoff checklist

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    Thanks a ton for the responses so far. The odd thing is that I just did my IPC (and passed - imagine that!) and I asked some of these questions to the CFII and was met with a kind of blank stare. Especially for #1 and #2. Those questions originate from the fact that I'm based in the mountains where IFR flight in a non-FIKI, non-turbo plane is more or less... useless, and flying to areas where it is more useful, typically along the coast.

    Right, I get your point, but the scenario I was hoping for was something like an IFR clearance, terrain and obstruction provided by me. The idea is that you would be able to revert to the clearance if you needed it and you're not plowing into lowering ceilings trying to get a popup, copy the clearance, and program the clearance - it's already all there. Maybe I'm just hoping for something that simply doesn't exist.

    I think that's what I'll do, too, and it sounds like that could be pretty much any fix (doesn't have to be an airport). I assume that you would list as your ETD as the time you actually plan on arriving at that "departure" fix (i.e. account for the 400 miles worth of flying, time-wise, in your ETD calculation).

    Hah. Okay, that's what I gathered, too - I think I found some of those threads...

    Ahh... good call. That makes sense.

    For the ODP question, I'm a little surprised that the consensus is that you fly the ODP, when given an instruction to the contrary. I assume you tell tower you are going to fly the ODP and negotiate some agreement there. If you didn't, wouldn't you be in violation (short of exercising emergency authority)?

    What about flying a missed approach on a visual? I assume you would re-enter the traffic pattern as if you were VFR, and not fly a published missed approach (first of all - which approach's missed would you fly?).
     
  6. MauleSkinner

    MauleSkinner Final Approach

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  7. luvflyin

    luvflyin Final Approach

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    4) You assume correctly. You can refuse the heading when you get the Clearance and say you will need to use the ODP. But you can't read back the heading as part of your clearance and then just go ahead fly the ODP. Radar or Non Radar environment does not change the requirement that you must comply with an ATC Clearance. But of course in a Non Radar environment you are very unlikely to be given a heading. "I know you're allowed to fly ODPs at your own discretion" is not quite accurate. ODP's are optional meaning you don't have to fly them just because they are there (under Part91, 135 and 121 you do unless assigned something else.) If ATC does not give you specific departure instructions such as a SID or heading to fly, then it's optional. You can fly the ODP or make up your own way to get to the first element (fix, Navaid, airway) of the Route in the Clearance. But of course if they 'assign' the ODP in the Clearance then it is not optional, you must fly it.
     
  8. JScarry

    JScarry Pre-takeoff checklist

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    There are several reasons that you might request a contact approach instead of a visual that I detailed in this post.

    tl;dr Hazy day with the sun in your eyes. You can’t see the airport but you can see the ground and follow a freeway/road into the airport.
    Clouds are lower than 1,000' AGL but you have good forward visibility. Contact approach only requires COC.
    ATIS is reporting below visual approach minimums but visibility in the cockpit is good.
     
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  9. flyingron

    flyingron Touchdown! Greaser!

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    While you didn't ask, I should point out that VFR-on-top doesn't necessarily need to be "on top" either.
     
  10. midlifeflyer

    midlifeflyer Touchdown! Greaser!

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    Rule No 2 of both VFR and IFR flight - be on the same page as ATC. (Rule No 1 is, you are PIC and it is your life, not the guy sitting in a tower on the ground)

    Yes, if you get a clearance which says turn right heading 230 and there is an ODP which has you turning left 090 or climb over the airport or whatever, you tell ATC you plan to fly the ODP. It is not much of a negotiation. It's more of a statement. You have done your preflight planning, read the ODP and the takeoff minimums and the diverse departure areas, if any. You have made a decision that the ODP is necessary for your safety. What is there to negotiate?
     
  11. AA5Bman

    AA5Bman Pre-takeoff checklist

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    I kinda did, but I think the big issue is that is has to be above the MEA - that's one thing it has to be on top of.
     
  12. midwestpa24

    midwestpa24 Pattern Altitude

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    I've done a contact approach one time. Here was the scenario, the base of the clouds was just above the minimum vectoring altitude for the approach, so we broke out about 2,000 AGL. I could see all the familiar landmarks around home base, but couldn't see the airport due to 2-3 miles visibility in mist and rain. Couldn't get the visual as we couldn't see the airport. Could have flown the full procedure for the approach, but didn't feel it was necessary. Hence the contact approach. I kind of think of it as Special VFR, while still on an IFR clearance.
     
  13. Palmpilot

    Palmpilot Touchdown! Greaser!

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    It's hard to see any upside to Mr. van West's asking the Chief Counsel that question. :rolleyes1:
     
    Last edited: Feb 27, 2020
  14. Palmpilot

    Palmpilot Touchdown! Greaser!

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    I once did a night-IFR departure from a non-towered field in the Sierra Nevada foothills, with a clearance direct to a VOR that would involve initially flying approximately parallel to the mountain range, and I wasn't comfortable doing that since I couldn't see the mountains. On contacting ATC on climbout, I told the controller that I wanted to fly direct to another VOR for a while, which would result in flying more-or-less perpendicular away from the mountain range, to put some distance between the mountains and me before turning towards the VOR in the original clearance. This was a roll-my-own departure, not even an ODP. The controller had zero problem with it. (The conditions were VFR at my departure point and IFR at my destination.)
     
    Last edited: Feb 27, 2020
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  15. Palmpilot

    Palmpilot Touchdown! Greaser!

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    Been there, done that, and didn't want to fly way out of the way to get on the ILS, since I was late to a meeting.
     
  16. Palmpilot

    Palmpilot Touchdown! Greaser!

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    Amen. As has been said before, our goal should be to live long enough to "attend the hearing."
     
  17. midlifeflyer

    midlifeflyer Touchdown! Greaser!

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    Fortunately there wasn't any real downside either. As Jeff notes, pilot side lost com is rare these days. . And the rules about the approach don't even kick in unless you didn't encounter any visual conditions along the way. And if all that happens, it's probably a sign of something else more serious in the airplane and emergency authority comes into play. My one and only lost complete lost comm (VFR) was one where I thought the next thing was going to be the smell of burning insulation,
     
  18. denverpilot

    denverpilot Tied Down

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    Great answers so far.

    Just to amplify a point ... don’t get the VFR under the top idea too entrenched in your head. You can tool around IFR in VMC all day long if the controller is happy with your altitude.

    And if they’re not, remember you might be down in no man’s land for obstacle avoidance. As you mentioned, in mountainous terrain you’re usually just avoiding big rocks and that’s relatively easy. But if you’ve trapped yourself between big rocks below and icing above, you need an escape plan. Continuing isn’t too bright.

    But for us rock avoiding western pilots we need to remember that in flatland when you’re done there in no man’s land doing your own avoidance — those flatlanders have towers. Big ones. Don’t hit those. They’re going to ruin your whole day.

    If weather is causing you to scud run, from a practicality sake it doesn’t matter if you call it VFR or IFR with extra steps... you probably shouldn’t be there. :)
     
  19. denverpilot

    denverpilot Tied Down

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    Oh one other thing.

    Look at the STARs and SIDs out of most of the satellite airports you’re likely to be flying out of.

    See that one that says radar vectors for 50 miles to your final course?

    That’s the one you’ll get nowadays most of the time except in highly dense multiple airport airspace or crazy terrain.

    Haha. :)
     
  20. smv

    smv Line Up and Wait

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    Towers in the flatlands? Shirley you jest... ;)

    Screenshot_20200227-160903_Pilot.jpg
     
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  21. denverpilot

    denverpilot Tied Down

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    It’s creepy to go by one of those sticking out of an undercast. :)
     
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  22. SbestCFII

    SbestCFII Line Up and Wait

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    --- No compelling reasons if a standard instrument approach is unavailable, but I have requested a couple in the last decade, only in areas where I was very familiar with the area.
     
  23. sarangan

    sarangan Line Up and Wait

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    I never understood the reason behind "No SID/STAR". I suspect if the AIM had never mentioned it, it wouldn't even be a thing. Most SIDs say very simple things like fly runway heading to XXX altitude, and expect radar vectors. Yes, some are more complicated, but nothing more complex than a standard instrument approach. Even if you say no to SID/STAR you are most likely going to be flying that anyway.
     
  24. Larry in TN

    Larry in TN Cleared for Takeoff

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    Many years ago, charts were on paper and a pilot didn't necessarily have the SIDs/STARs book. The note was to tell ATC that you didn't have the SID/STAR plates and that they'd either have to read you the procedure as a clearance or issue an alternate clearance.

    It was never intended to be a way for a pilot to decide he didn't want to fly SIDs/STARs.
     
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  25. flyingron

    flyingron Touchdown! Greaser!

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    And that was fixed long before electric charting. Jepp always put the SID/STAR charts in their volume (along with other information that a person who casually subscribed to the then-NOS government plates alone wouldn't have). The NOS books were changed decades ago to print the SIDS and STARS with the approach plates decades ago. Soon thereafter, the NO SID/STAR nonsense was removed from the AIM and other publications, but some curmudgeon pilots still grasp at that and eventually take issue when ATC gives them the SID anyhow.

    Declining the SID never really made much of a difference, as ATC would just read you the clearance full out. It might cause you more grief on arrivals.
     
  26. aterpster

    aterpster En-Route

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    It was an AOPA initiative when SIDs and STARs first came out. Perhaps in the early 1960s. Lots of publicity at the time.