VFR Flight Plan and Flight Following, Briefing

Discussion in 'Change to my Frequency...' started by Samvolnavy, May 26, 2016.

  1. Samvolnavy

    Samvolnavy Filing Flight Plan

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    I am about half way through my instrument rating but I travel cross country regularly, typically 3-400nm. I use flight following religiously for anything other than pattern work. While I plan my flights and brief in detail, I typically don't file a VFR flight plan. Note: I use fore flight for planning and briefing.


    My questions:

    1) If I do file a plan, when I request flight following, will the controller see it and will that help them to know my intentions (other than destination which is always provided)?

    2) If I am using flight following and giving the controller my route, is there any benefit to filing the VFR flight plan?

    3) Since ForeFlight has all my flight data for giving me the briefing, does this get noted by FAA as me requesting information for my particular flight.
     
  2. midlifeflyer

    midlifeflyer Final Approach

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    1. No. VFR flight plans have only one purpose, to give Search and Rescue an idea where to look for you if you go missing.

    2. You will get a lot of disagreement on this one. My answer is yes, but it's limited. There is no guarantee you will in fact get flight following, since it is a workload-based service typically based in the availability of radar coverage. I have been, and have heard others, denied the service, often in situations in which one might want it the most.

    3. What do you mean by noted? Is it available if the FAA questions whether you received a briefing? Maybe. Does it "enter the system" the way a flight plan does? No. Will it help in the first critical hours after you were due to show up somewhere and didn't? Not too likely IMO.
     
    Last edited: May 26, 2016
  3. MarkZ

    MarkZ En-Route

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    1) We have had VFR flight plan strips print out on our printer, but we don't keep them. Our radar doesn't issue beacon codes for VFR's unless we manually input the flight into the radar computer. So, no, we won't see any VFR flight plans you file.

    2) Like Mark mentioned before, filing the VFR flight plan aids in S & R activity should the unthinkable happen. Personally, I happen to think it should be fairly obvious that a VFR pilot take advantage of telling others where he/she may be going, but that's up to you.

    3) The last time I checked into this (about 8 years ago), an information request or weather brief request to FSS or DUATS counts as the PIC obtaining the weather briefing and NOTAM inquiry for a specific flight. I believe ForeFlight accomplishes this if you obtain your weather briefing and NOTAM information from your DUATS account.
     
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  4. midlifeflyer

    midlifeflyer Final Approach

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    Plus, as I teach my students, if you are going to rely on a VFR flight plan it is also a good idea to update it periodically with position reports en route if you are not receiving flight following. That way, if S&R is needed, they at least know where not to look.
     
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  5. MAKG1

    MAKG1 Touchdown! Greaser!

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    And don't underestimate that.

    In perfect conditions, it takes about an hour to search 50 square miles of utterly featureless flat terrain, not counting transit time. If it's hilly scrub, several times that. If it's heavily forested mountains, hundreds of times more. It's essentially impossible to find a downed plane in heavy forest without a fire, ELT, or some assistance from the victim. Assistance is quite rare. Fires, not so rare.

    If you fly a 100 mile flight, and stick to your flight plan within IFR limits (4 nm), that's 16 plane-hours of searching, in perfect conditions. Every position report you give cuts that down in proportion. And do what you said you were going to do in your flight plan, or you might as well not bother.
     
    Last edited: May 27, 2016
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  6. wrbix

    wrbix Line Up and Wait

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    In mountainous terrain, radar coverage w Flight Following can be lost. So in this scenario a filed Flight Plan can be reassuring.
     
  7. Samvolnavy

    Samvolnavy Filing Flight Plan

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    Thanks to all. I think I've been mistakenly assuming that Flight Following was providing enough info in case of off an airport incident. I will start pushing the additional button (or call) to file and close. I've probably used FF on trips 50 flights in the last year and never had services denied due to workload, but I don't live in a high density traffic area either. Thanks much to all the ATC guys that make me safer.
     
  8. MAKG1

    MAKG1 Touchdown! Greaser!

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    In fact, I had this happen Wednesday. Over terrain up to 2900, at 5000. IFR MEA was 6700 on a nearby airway.

    You tend to lose flight following when it would be most useful.
     
  9. midlifeflyer

    midlifeflyer Final Approach

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    My first exposure to this was on my long student cross country. It used to be a 300 NM cross country, so it was easy for weather to change, unforecast, during the course of the day, especially in New England. I had not been using flight following for the return trip and when my route over the White Mountains was blocked by afternoon obscuration, I changed my route, calling FSS to update my VFR flight plan.

    Continuing home, the ceilings on my route kept lowering and lowering. Never to the point of scud running but certainly lower than this student pilot was used to. So I called Boston Approach for flight following. Really wanted it at that point. Unfortunately for me, the unforecast lowering ceilings made them busier and my calls were never even responded to.

    A lesson I never forgot.
     
  10. midlifeflyer

    midlifeflyer Final Approach

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    I want to add one item. I'm actually a bit surprised it has not already come up.

    There is a substantial contingent who see VFR flight plans as useless. Leaving out the "I always file IFR" group, even those of us who see them as being useful, don't use them all the time. Some will argue that flight following, especially in combination with someone expecting you to arrive or call (I must text my wife soon after landing somewhere), can be a reasonable substitute. If you disappear from flight following without explanation, ATC is supposed to initiate S&R and they know where you last were. Calling FSS en route for a weather update can also fix your position and exclude the flight up until then. Friends or family who are expecting to see or hear from you will probably get worried long before the VFR flight plan S&R process gets initiated, will try to reach you and, failing that, start making calls.

    With the reality of non-filing VFR flight plans so prevalent, and widespread availability of flight following you may ultimately decide you really don't really need it for most flights. So consider this: there is nothing that says you have to file a VFR flight plan on the ground before you leave!

    Scenario: You are on one of those 300-400 NM flights, with flight following, and get that call, "Unable continue flight following. Squawk VFR." You can definitely call FSS on the radio and file a VFR flight plan from your present position.
     
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  11. MAKG1

    MAKG1 Touchdown! Greaser!

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    Definitely? No. There are substantial places where you can't reach FSS by radio, particularly at low altitude. And the local RCOs seem to be going down with surprising regularity. Those are NOTAMed, but did you read the comms NOTAMs before leaving?

    CAP requires flight plans for every flight over 50 miles, VFR or IFR. We did three of those Wednesday; two were IFR, the third was VFR. Getting ahold of FSS to activate required climbing for reception. That may not be an option in some places.
     
  12. midlifeflyer

    midlifeflyer Final Approach

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    Since I flew in the Rockies for 20 years, you know I agree with you about the inability to reach FSS.
    As you said, it's about good planning. A trip into an area of known poor radar coverage like mountainous areas where you don't have great capability to go high enough should include a filed flight plan at the beginning. I was referring to reasons other than terrain where there is generally good coverage.

    But, even in mountainous areas. at least typically, radar coverage is gone before communications (I've received service even without radar coverage), so at the point of being dropped, there should usually (but I agree not always) some ability to get a flight plan in.

    (BTW, by "definitely" I meant permission, not ability, but point taken)
     
  13. AggieMike88

    AggieMike88 Touchdown! Greaser! PoA Supporter

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    Per a presentation from a regional FSS Supervisor (and senior CAP pilot), he is a big fan of the DeLorme and Spot devices. Those can be tied back to your account and flight and aid in updating position and reducing search radius.

    More info about that at this link
     
  14. MAKG1

    MAKG1 Touchdown! Greaser!

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    Sure. And the new pilots could use a reminder that many (but not all) VORs can be used to contact FSS. Sometimes you listen on a different frequency than you transmit; when this happens, the VOR box will have a frequency with an "R" suffix above it. You listen on the nav radio VOR frequency and transmit the "R" frequency. If the VOR frequency is underlined, it's used for something else (usually HIWAS), and if it's hatched, it's used for identification only. As an example, you can use Maxwell VOR to contact Rancho Murieta Radio, listening on 110.0 and transmitting on 122.1.

    https://skyvector.com/?ll=39.25926681573951,-122.42154693249815&chart=301&zoom=1
     
  15. MAKG1

    MAKG1 Touchdown! Greaser!

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    As a CAP mission pilot, I use Delorme all the time. It is REALLY easy to knock it out if its power socket (or forget to turn the 12V power on), and then the battery discharges and it doesn't work at all. If I happen to have base staff on the radio at the time, I'll get a ping. Otherwise, it silently does nothing. And Delorme is quite vulnerable to IT errors. All of California was offline early this week, until we discovered that every aircraft had been deselected in the database.
     
  16. mkosmo

    mkosmo Pattern Altitude PoA Supporter

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    Was it really a VFR flight plan, or submitted as an IFR flight plan with a "VFR/" altitude?
     
  17. steviedeviant

    steviedeviant Pre-Flight

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    I trained at a Class C airport and we only filed one VFR plan through the 800 WXBRIEf during my training. I am wondering, WHEN, do most of you open the plan? If I am leaving a class C airport with flight following, can they open it for me or do I need to request a frequency change to 122.2 and then open the plan? Or do I just file with Lockheed and get the text to open and start it from there?

    How do most of you open and close your plans? cell, iPad (I only have WI-FI version). I think I am still a little confused about that.

    Stephen






     
  18. AggieMike88

    AggieMike88 Touchdown! Greaser! PoA Supporter

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    If you're a customer of LockMart, and have your profile established with your mobile phone number, you can open and close flight plans by sending them a text message.

     
  19. 4CornerFlyer

    4CornerFlyer Pre-takeoff checklist

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    If you make a practice of giving a pilot report on every on-local flight, this serves as a position report, plus it gives useful information to every other pilot out there.
    Jon
     
  20. Harold Rutila

    Harold Rutila Pre-takeoff checklist

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    If there is an FSS RCO/GCO on the ground, I always call them during my runup and advise them I'd like to "show an assumed departure time of 5 minutes from now." If I end up departing later than 5 minutes, I'll call them from the air and update my departure time. 5 minutes is usually a good estimate when departing from my local airports.

    Radar flight following and having an active flight plan are two totally different things. If a controller's workload gets too high, if the radar goes down for maintenance, or if you are unable to cruise at a high enough altitude for radio or radar coverage, you will no longer be followed and the service will be terminated.

    In the past, the workload factor of having to open and close flight plans via a radio made things difficult. In today's world where we can open, close, and sometimes even modify VFR flight plans from anywhere with a mobile signal and/or WiFi coverage, there is really no excuse not to file and activate a VFR flight plan when flying VFR.

    The main benefit of activating your VFR flight plan is having an automatic trigger in place that requires someone to start looking for you at a set time if you have not closed your flight plan as expected. That person works at FSS and will start calling every facility along your route, FBOs, your destination contacts (if filed), etc. It is a very extensive process that seems to be underappreciated and widely misunderstood in the GA community.

    One more thing: If you really needed to, you could always ask any ATC facility to advise FSS you've landed. I once had a situation in Kankakee, IL where all lines of communication to FSS were completely down. The RCOs in the area as well as dial lines at Chicago Center were down. We were apparently the first to discover it that morning. FSS was calling my phone, but I didn't have enough cell coverage to maintain the call. Finally we were able to contact Lafayette Tower, whose dial line did work, and who was able to relay our flight plan closure to FSS.
     
  21. Harold Rutila

    Harold Rutila Pre-takeoff checklist

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    Also, a Flight Service pro-tip, courtesy of a friendly briefer last year: If you're getting briefed on the phone, tell them you'd like to file a VFR flight plan first, then receive a standard briefing afterward. It's easier to provide all the information up-front than to play "fill in the blanks" with the briefers; they don't collect all of the required flight plan information when you simply request a standard weather briefing.
     
  22. steviedeviant

    steviedeviant Pre-Flight

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    Great. I had set that up just never used it at this point.
     
  23. Jmcmanna

    Jmcmanna Pre-takeoff checklist

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    Most likely submitted as IFR with "VFR" as the altitude. The NAS computer handles flight plans completely differently between the VFR and IFR boxes when you are filing.
     
  24. midlifeflyer

    midlifeflyer Final Approach

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    I call Flight Service on the radio after I leave.

    I generally see no reason to bother ATC at a Class D or C airport with opening a VFR flight plan for me. I wait until I change frequencies or, if I am staying with TRACON for flight following, ask for a "frequency change to call Flight Service" at a good moment.
     
  25. danhagan

    danhagan Line Up and Wait

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    Or it can fail miserably:

    Flew El Paso to Carlsbad NM a few years ago, opened flight plan and flew to destination. Approaching Carlsbad I called FSS from the air and asked them to close the plan ... they indicated they prefer I call from the ground. So I land, button everything up and call by phone and cancel.

    The next day, after entering a flight plan through duats, I call up to activate the flight plan for the return trip. FSS indicates that my flight plan from yesterday is still open ... I inform them I closed by phone after being refused an in air close ... at which point I asked, "If that flight plan is still open and expired, why aren't you guys calling and looking?" I get an immediate response, "previous flight plan closed and current activated". I operated with a Spot and FF instead for years and have a very detailed route that I leave with the wife ... texting which portion of the flight is complete or weather deviations is easy if within 4000 AGL.
     
  26. Palmpilot

    Palmpilot Touchdown! Greaser!

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    All method CAN fail. That doesn't tell us which ones have the best track record.
     
  27. luvflyin

    luvflyin Pattern Altitude

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    A couple other thoughts on the subject.
    Good point. There doesn't have to be adverse conditions to give a PIREP. Clear and smooth is useful to both other pilots and the forecasters. A recorded event with your call sign, time and position will have happened and will serve as a position report.
     
  28. Ghery

    Ghery Final Approach

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    Our club rules require a VFR flight plan be filed and opened whenever traveling more than 100 nm from home (KOLM) or any flight across the Cascades. When flying VFR I pick up FF, as well. Never been turned down by Seattle Center. When current I file IFR. They can't drop you from that, so regardless of the weather that is my preference.
     
  29. Palmpilot

    Palmpilot Touchdown! Greaser!

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    One time when I was on a training flight on an IFR flight plan, the controller told us that the controller for the next sector declined the handoff. (I don't remember what happened next.)
     
  30. steviedeviant

    steviedeviant Pre-Flight

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    Thanks. So in this case you go over to 122.2 and open the plan. I assume you close it once you have the airfield in sight or do you wait until after landing? Just thinking that if you are flying to another class c or d airport, you would be taking with them and may not get the chance to close while in the air.
     
  31. midlifeflyer

    midlifeflyer Final Approach

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    I've done it both ways. I've closed in the air close to my destination on the theory that if something happens, I will be talking to someone anyway. I've also closed by radio on the ground at towered airports where FSS can be reached on the ground, and, of course, by telephone once shut down.
     
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  32. weilke

    weilke Final Approach

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    This happened on an actual IFR clearance?
     
  33. Palmpilot

    Palmpilot Touchdown! Greaser!

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    Yes. Surprised the heck out of us. It only happened that one time though.