VFR weather minimums and patterns

PiperPilot1

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PiperPilot1
Hello everyone,

I had a couple questions and wanted to see what the consensus is from some more experienced pilots.

1. For departing and arriving at an airport, say a class D...The other day i flew into a class D at 1500ft and the controller told me to enter a modified left base for runway 18.
I was coming from the northeast so basically flew direct to the numbers at a 45, then started a left turn to land on 18. Before I turned final he said to square of the base and slow down for a cessna that was on final for another runway and a Citation that would be departing another runway; I would be number 3. I slowed down and since I was still not very close to the airport, I was above pattern altitude at say maybe 1300 or 1400 (pattern here is 1000) and turned base and landed.
My question is, do they care how high you are when turning base or when turning final if you are not in the pattern? Should I have been lower? I am always at pattern altitude by the time I roll into the downwind. But in this case, whats the consensus? Im not really entering the pattern so..does it matter? Also, I get that it might be weird to turn final that high, but Im flying a Piper Pawnee (AG airplane) that will come down really quickly when you dump the flaps.

2. Another question is for departing special VFR, can you change pattern altitude to stay within VFR weather minimums? If ceilings are reported 1000OVC and pattern altitude is 1000AGL, could you depart at 900AGL? Could you fly in the pattern at 900FT agl? I understand i must request it, but can you modify pattern altitude to make it work? Are pattern altitudes regulatory/ mandatory?

Likewise, could I fly into a class delta with a ceiling of 600ft OVC and fly the traffic pattern at 500ft and land, if I request special VFR? The airport is in a sparsely populated aera, so my minimum safe altitudes would be ok, but...is this legal?

I know weird questions but the more I learn about flying and apply the rules to real life, the more questions I have. Ive even asked CFIs and havent been able to find a suitable answer. I know regarding the second question the logical answer is "no way" but...is it technically legal? Thanks!!
 
I think of SVFR as allowing class G weather for your individual operation in class E or higher airspace. That removes the cloud clearance restrictions and permits operating with a visibility of one mile. Think also of the "unless necessary for takeoff or landing" in 91.119 that makes it legal fly lower than allowed in that particular airspace. Remember, you need to request SVFR and ATC is under absolutely no obligation to grant it to you.
 
If you’re on downwind, base or final (except a really long one - like five plus miles), you’re in the pattern. I aim to be at pattern altitude NLT four miles out.
 
Dunno, about the last two questions, since in my flying 3 miles vis & 3k bases is an emergency anymore.

Patterns are frequently a busy place with lots of distractions & moving parts. patterns are standardized & predictable for a reason, particularly at an uncontrolled airport. Descending to pattern altitude inside or nearly inside the pattern is an unnecessary risk, since you might be descending on a Cessna who can’t see you above him.
 
I get down to pattern altitude at least a few miles out for deltas and Charlies and most airports actually unless terrain is an issue. I used to be based out of KBED which has a lot of jet traffic. Those guys are generally moving quite fast and their pattern is 500 feet above the piston pattern. I had more than one occasion where they are coming in on downwind move like 280 knots over the ground, then whining about getting RAs for piston traffic. So coming into the pattern too high can put you in a conflict.

Taking off with an SVFR clearance might be legal, but it is generally pretty dumb IMO. I know 5 people will post with why it is not dumb for certain situations. But it's not for me, I'll just file IFR. Before I had that option, I'd stay on the ground.
 
Thanks for the replies! I guess the more prudent thing is to be at pattern altitude a little further out as you guys have stated. I know you should never descend into the pattern and should be at the altitude before you enter, but i usually fly slighly tighter patterns...or at least 3/4 to a mile laterally from the runway. In the future Ill just stick to being at pattern altitude a couple miles out instead of right before I roll into the downwind; that gives me more time to scan for traffic and puts me in a better position if ATC has me do something I wasnt expecting or vectors me for traffic etc.



Thanks a lot for the help!
 
Taking off with an SVFR clearance might be legal, but it is generally pretty dumb IMO. I know 5 people will post with why it is not dumb for certain situations.
I’m not one of the 5…I’ll say it’s quicker to list the situations where taking off with an SVFR clearance is dumb than to list the situations where it isn’t.
 
Yea, Im not one of those 5 either. I just was wondering how it would be used in real life, and that brought up a bunch of questions.
Interesting about being at pattern ALT NLT 4 miles out. My instructor basically said descend all the way until you are just about to roll into the downwind....but I guess that sets you up for a possible traffic problem especially if other airplanes are flying a wider pattern.

What about flying into an airport like LongBeach (LGB)...4 miles is a long distance to fly at 1000ft over a city. I guess thats safer than dive bombing into the pattern, though.
 
Taking off with an SVFR clearance might be legal, but it is generally pretty dumb IMO. I know 5 people will post with why it is not dumb for certain situations. But it's not for me, I'll just file IFR. Before I had that option, I'd stay on the ground.
Keep in mind that it's the "reported" ceiling/visibility, not necessarily what you actually see. I've approached the field in good VFR weather where I could easily see the runway and the entire approach to it from over ten miles out and the weather station reported IFR conditions. Tower asked me my intentions, I immediately requested Special VFR and it was a complete non-event.
 
2. Another question is for departing special VFR, can you change pattern altitude to stay within VFR weather minimums? If ceilings are reported 1000OVC and pattern altitude is 1000AGL, could you depart at 900AGL? Could you fly in the pattern at 900FT agl? I understand i must request it, but can you modify pattern altitude to make it work? Are pattern altitudes regulatory/ mandatory?

A SVFR is only applicable within the airspace contained by the upward extension of the lateral boundaries of the controlled airspace designated to the surface for an airport. That is only inner ring of Class C and all the Class D.

You must obtain a clearance to operate under a special VFR and you are only relieved of the VFR weather minimums in 91.155 and the SVFR WX minimums are 1 sm - clear of clouds.

91.119 still applies. Except when necessary for takeoff or landing, no person may operate an aircraft below the following altitudes:

Anywhere. An altitude allowing, if a power unit fails, an emergency landing without undue hazard to persons or property on the surface.

Over any congested area of a city, town, or settlement, or over any open air assembly of persons, an altitude of 1,000 feet above the highest obstacle within a horizontal radius of 2,000 feet of the aircraft.

Over other than congested areas. An altitude of 500 feet above the surface, except over open water or sparsely populated areas. In those cases, the aircraft may not be operated closer than 500 feet to any person, vessel, vehicle, or structure.

Except large or turbine-powered airplanes in controlled airspace, there is no requirement to use a pattern altitude.

Each pilot operating an airplane approaching to land on a runway served by a visual approach slope indicator must maintain an altitude at or above the glide path until a lower altitude is necessary for a safe landing.

Each pilot must comply with any departure procedures established for that airport by the FAA. As a VFR pilot, do you know all the departure procedures established for the airport?
 
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I get down to pattern altitude at least a few miles out for deltas and Charlies and most airports actually unless terrain is an issue. I used to be based out of KBED which has a lot of jet traffic. Those guys are generally moving quite fast and their pattern is 500 feet above the piston pattern. I had more than one occasion where they are coming in on downwind move like 280 knots over the ground, then whining about getting RAs for piston traffic. So coming into the pattern too high can put you in a conflict.

Taking off with an SVFR clearance might be legal, but it is generally pretty dumb IMO. I know 5 people will post with why it is not dumb for certain situations. But it's not for me, I'll just file IFR. Before I had that option, I'd stay on the ground.


As an IFR pilot, you won’t take off in controlled airspace with a SVFR clearance with clear and less than 3 miles ground visibility, but you will take off in uncontrolled airspace with an IFR clearance with clear and less than 3 mile ground visibility?
 
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2. Another question is for departing special VFR, can you change pattern altitude to stay within VFR weather minimums? If ceilings are reported 1000OVC and pattern altitude is 1000AGL, could you depart at 900AGL? Could you fly in the pattern at 900FT agl? I understand i must request it, but can you modify pattern altitude to make it work? Are pattern altitudes regulatory/ mandatory?

A SVFR is only applicable within the airspace contained by the upward extension of the lateral boundaries of the controlled airspace designated to the surface for an airport. That is only inner ring of Class C and all the Class D.

You must obtain a clearance to operate under a special VFR and you are only relieved of the VFR weather minimums in 91.155 and the SVFR WX minimums are 1 sm - clear of clouds.

91.119 still applies. Except when necessary for takeoff or landing, no person may operate an aircraft below the following altitudes:

Anywhere. An altitude allowing, if a power unit fails, an emergency landing without undue hazard to persons or property on the surface.

Over any congested area of a city, town, or settlement, or over any open air assembly of persons, an altitude of 1,000 feet above the highest obstacle within a horizontal radius of 2,000 feet of the aircraft.

Over other than congested areas. An altitude of 500 feet above the surface, except over open water or sparsely populated areas. In those cases, the aircraft may not be operated closer than 500 feet to any person, vessel, vehicle, or structure.

Except large or turbine-powered airplanes in controlled airspace, there is no requirement to use a pattern altitude.

Each pilot operating an airplane approaching to land on a runway served by a visual approach slope indicator must maintain an altitude at or above the glide path until a lower altitude is necessary for a safe landing.

Each pilot must comply with any departure procedures established for that airport by the FAA. As a VFR pilot, do you know all the departure procedures established for the airport?
Thank you! Its interesting about the TPA not being mandatory for light GA aircraft. I never knew that. I have no intention of flying a pattern at 500ft thats for sure, but still interesting to know. As far as departure procedures, I am familiar with the instrument ones and am instrument rated, but the aircraft im flying is not IFR equipped. As far as VFR departure procedures, there are none here.
Thanks again for all the great replies-these forums are awesome!
 
SVFR works great in some safe examples. 1. There is fog on the part of the airport where the WX measuring devices are. There's a runway that is clear and a million and the fog isn't moving. Airport is legally IFR, runway you want to use isn't. 2. Cloud deck that stops right above the airport, ceiling is IFR, you can easily and safely fly to unlimited VFR at the opposite end numbers.
I've used SVFR for both those situations and saved hours waiting for those conditions to change.
Agree that using it to scud run is not a wise choice.
 
Thanks for the replies! I guess the more prudent thing is to be at pattern altitude a little further out as you guys have stated. I know you should never descend into the pattern and should be at the altitude before you enter, but i usually fly slighly tighter patterns...or at least 3/4 to a mile laterally from the
It's best to be at pattern altitude as you approach the airport as it's easier to spot traffic at the same altitude as you are. It's much harder to spot traffic below you against the ground clutter.

Being on the coast it's not unusual for me to fly when when there are scattered or broken clouds at or below normal pattern altitude, requiring a lower pattern. Often in those cases it's totally clear just a few miles farther inland. Or sometimes I'll go up just to shoot some landings when it's too grungy to go anywhere. My home field is uncontrolled, but that would be a perfectly good reason for a special VFR if I was flying from a class D.
 
I’m not one of the 5…I’ll say it’s quicker to list the situations where taking off with an SVFR clearance is dumb than to list the situations where it isn’t.
Probably.

Keep in mind that it's the "reported" ceiling/visibility, not necessarily what you actually see. I've approached the field in good VFR weather where I could easily see the runway and the entire approach to it from over ten miles out and the weather station reported IFR conditions. Tower asked me my intentions, I immediately requested Special VFR and it was a complete non-event.
Landing ? I don't see any issue at all. In fact in that situation I would just tell the tower, field in sight I'm going to land. If they told me I needed a clearance, then I'd ask for it.
As an IFR pilot, you won’t take off in controlled airspace with a SVFR clearance with clear and less than 3 miles ground visibility, but you will take off in uncontrolled airspace with an IFR clearance with clear and less than 3 mile ground visibility?
How do you get that out of what I wrote, lol? Less than 3 miles vis? I'm getting an IFR clearance, personal min thing. These conversations always turn into the fringe outlier examples and how that example is safe. The problem is that you get away with things and the envelope keeps getting pushed until it bites you. I will accept worse weather now than I would when I was VFR only, if I mess up, my fallback is fessing up and asking for a clearance. My mins keep me from pushing the envelope, but it's easier to hold those mins (for VFR) when I can go IFR. VFR only pilots exploiting these loopholes are fooling around with fire IMO.
 
How do you get that out of what I wrote, lol? Less than 3 miles vis? I'm getting an IFR clearance, personal min thing. These conversations always turn into the fringe outlier examples and how that example is safe. The problem is that you get away with things and the envelope keeps getting pushed until it bites you. I will accept worse weather now than I would when I was VFR only, if I mess up, my fallback is fessing up and asking for a clearance. My mins keep me from pushing the envelope, but it's easier to hold those mins (for VFR) when I can go IFR. VFR only pilots exploiting these loopholes are fooling around with fire IMO.
Yup…these conversations always turn into the fringe outlier examples, like VFR pilots exploiting loopholes and pushing the envelope without backups.
 
A SVFR is only applicable within the airspace contained by the upward extension of the lateral boundaries of the controlled airspace designated to the surface for an airport. That is only inner ring of Class C and all the Class D.
And B, and E.
 
Looks like your questions have been answered by others so I won't pile on...but I would get SVFR out of your "main bag of tricks" for now...it really should only be used under very specific situations to be safe, and when you're new, probably nearly never.
 
And B, and E.
I don’t believe you will find a Bravo that allows SVFR. While you are correct about E, the majority private pilots don’t really understand what an Echo at surface is or the knowledge for the procedure to get the SVFR clearance at an Echo, which could require calling clearance delivery and maybe being issued a clearance void time departing an Echo.

God forbid they would have to use a chart supplement to find frequencies.
 
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2. Another question is for departing special VFR, can you change pattern altitude to stay within VFR weather minimums? If ceilings are reported 1000OVC and pattern altitude is 1000AGL, could you depart at 900AGL? Could you fly in the pattern at 900FT agl? I understand i must request it, but can you modify pattern altitude to make it work? Are pattern altitudes regulatory/ mandatory?

A SVFR is only applicable within the airspace contained by the upward extension of the lateral boundaries of the controlled airspace designated to the surface for an airport. That is only inner ring of Class C and all the Class D.

You must obtain a clearance to operate under a special VFR and you are only relieved of the VFR weather minimums in 91.155 and the SVFR WX minimums are 1 sm - clear of clouds.

91.119 still applies. Except when necessary for takeoff or landing, no person may operate an aircraft below the following altitudes:

Anywhere. An altitude allowing, if a power unit fails, an emergency landing without undue hazard to persons or property on the surface.

Over any congested area of a city, town, or settlement, or over any open air assembly of persons, an altitude of 1,000 feet above the highest obstacle within a horizontal radius of 2,000 feet of the aircraft.

Over other than congested areas. An altitude of 500 feet above the surface, except over open water or sparsely populated areas. In those cases, the aircraft may not be operated closer than 500 feet to any person, vessel, vehicle, or structure.

Except large or turbine-powered airplanes in controlled airspace, there is no requirement to use a pattern altitude.

Each pilot operating an airplane approaching to land on a runway served by a visual approach slope indicator must maintain an altitude at or above the glide path until a lower altitude is necessary for a safe landing.

Each pilot must comply with any departure procedures established for that airport by the FAA. As a VFR pilot, do you know all the departure procedures established for the airport?

Flying in the pattern for the purpose of takeoff or landing is not a violation of 91.119 IAW the Legal opinion Robert E. Anderson issued 7-2-2009 by the FAA General Counsel. Outside the pattern it would apply. The pattern altitude is a recommended altitude and not established by regulation and varies with the type of aircraft.
 
I don’t believe you will find a Bravo that allows SVFR...
I believe there are a handful actually. A quick chart check shows Kansas City, Orlando, Miami and Phoenix, where it isn't expressly prohibited...now maybe they just won't issue it, IDK.
 
Flying in the pattern for the purpose of takeoff or landing is not a violation of 91.119 IAW the Legal opinion Robert E. Anderson issued 7-2-2009 by the FAA General Counsel. Outside the pattern it would apply. The pattern altitude is a recommended altitude and not established by regulation and varies with the type of aircraft.
I agree, except the surface area of a Class D airspace has a radius of 5 statute miles. The traffic pattern is generally is within 1 mile of the runway in use. The transition under SVFR must be completed without violating 91.119. Also if you are entering from Class G, 1 mile - Clear of clouds - you are subject to 91.119 there too.
 
I had more than one occasion where they are coming in on downwind move like 280 knots over the ground
Unless they cannot operate that slowly (fighter jets and some trainers) the max indicated airspeed under 10,000 feet is 250 knots. 91.117 (a)
 
Though SVFR has "minimums" specified (1 mike vis. and clear of clouds), it's not really about you and your plane, it's about separation from IFR traffic, so that ATC knows where everyone is and what they're doing. That said, I'm also of the camp that can only think of a few special scenarios where SVFR would be viable for a non-IFR pilot.
 
Though SVFR has "minimums" specified (1 mike vis. and clear of clouds), it's not really about you and your plane, it's about separation from IFR traffic, so that ATC knows where everyone is and what they're doing. That said, I'm also of the camp that can only think of a few special scenarios where SVFR would be viable for a non-IFR pilot.
In Alaska and other more less populated areas SVFR is very common. At times there will be multiple SVFR arrivals.
 
You got answers to most of your questions and since you were asking about this topic in general I'll mention another consideration.

Suppose you plan to fly to or through a class D field having 5 mile radius and is reporting VFR but as you are approaching from more than 5 miles away, it looks like conditions may be less than VFR in their airspace, just not directly over the field where they are reporting. The conditions look good enough that you could remain clear of clouds with > 1 mile visibility, just not standard VFR.

Legally, in that situation you would need an SVFR clearance for the class D even though the field is reporting VFR. Alternately, if you can maintain legal VFR but only on a specific approach path, request that from tower "in order to maintain VFR".

As you probably already know, no SVFR at night unless the pilot is IFR rated and airplane is IFR equipped. And ATC will never offer it, the pilot must request it. Some airports have no SVFR, and this is sometimes but not always indicated on charts or mentioned in the AFD. And some airports have SVFR but only in certain directions - for example at KBFI, no SVFR when runway 14 is in use, only for 32. And ATC/Tower must sequence SVFR with IFR traffic, and IFR has priority, so you may be denied or delayed.

Also, if you are VFR in class B airspace (you are cleared for the Bravo), the standard VFR cloud clearance distances do not apply. Legal VFR is 3 miles visbility and clear of clouds.

It is also helpful to read the ATC side of the SVFR rules: https://www.faa.gov/air_traffic/publications/atpubs/atc_html/chap7_section_5.html
 
Unless they cannot operate that slowly (fighter jets and some trainers) the max indicated airspeed under 10,000 feet is 250 knots. 91.117 (a)

But they’re allowed to fly with a tailwind.

The couple I remember were business jets. One was a Citation. I wasn't ripping on them, well maybe a little on the guy whining about RA. But it seems if they can slow down when they are in close, they should. Usually atc routes them outside the delta onto about a 5 mile final, but not always as in these cases. I figured out a long time ago, it's not a good place to be above pattern altitude, with in a few miles of this airport, or most airports for that matter.
 
And then there's Half Moon Bay, where flying a right 45 entry for Rwy 30 at pattern altitude would require boring a hole through a ridge.
 
Suppose you plan to fly to or through a class D field having 5 mile radius and is reporting VFR but as you are approaching from more than 5 miles away, it looks like conditions may be less than VFR in their airspace, just not directly over the field where they are reporting. The conditions look good enough that you could remain clear of clouds with > 1 mile visibility, just not standard VFR.
Actually, no.

91.155 says if visibility is reported at the airport, that visibility is what determines whether or not the airspace requires a SVFR clearance.
 
Actually, no.

91.155 says if visibility is reported at the airport, that visibility is what determines whether or not the airspace requires a SVFR clearance.
The FAA Controller guidance I linked above says otherwise: Section 5, 7-5-1, (b)
"SVFR operations may be authorized for aircraft operating in or transiting a Class B, Class C, Class D, or Class E surface area when the primary airport is reporting VFR but the pilot advises that basic VFR cannot be maintained."

Also: I interpret 91.155 differently. It says VFR minimums (500/1000/2000 3 mile) apply in class D airspace. So if conditions are below that, you can't legally operate in class D. You would need SVFR clearance for that. How do you interpret this differently?
 
The FAA Controller guidance I linked above says otherwise: Section 5, 7-5-1, (b)
"SVFR operations may be authorized for aircraft operating in or transiting a Class B, Class C, Class D, or Class E surface area when the primary airport is reporting VFR but the pilot advises that basic VFR cannot be maintained."
That doesn’t say SVFR is required, it says they may issue one if the pilot requests it.
Also: I interpret 91.155 differently. It says VFR minimums (500/1000/2000 3 mile) apply in class D airspace. So if conditions are below that, you can't legally operate in class D. You would need SVFR clearance for that. How do you interpret this differently?
I’m not interpreting it, I’m reading it.

“(d) Except as provided in § 91.157 of this part, no person may take off or land an aircraft, or enter the traffic pattern of an airport, under VFR, within the lateral boundaries of the surface areas of Class B, Class C, Class D, or Class E airspace designated for an airport—
(1) Unless ground visibility at that airport is at least 3 statute miles; or
(2) If ground visibility is not reported at that airport, unless flight visibility during landing or takeoff, or while operating in the traffic pattern is at least 3 statute miles. “
 
Think you both are in violent agreement. SVFR is required if you want to fly in that airspace and aren't IFR. No SVFR, no legal way to enter except IFR. Pretty sure you are both saying that.
 
Think you both are in violent agreement. SVFR is required if you want to fly in that airspace and aren't IFR. No SVFR, no legal way to enter except IFR. Pretty sure you are both saying that.
Pretty sure not.
 
That doesn’t say SVFR is required, it says they may issue one if the pilot requests it.
OK, but why would the pilot request it if he didn't need it?

I’m not interpreting it, I’m reading it.

“(d) Except as provided in § 91.157 of this part, no person may take off or land an aircraft, or enter the traffic pattern of an airport, under VFR, within the lateral boundaries of the surface areas of Class B, Class C, Class D, or Class E airspace designated for an airport—
(1) Unless ground visibility at that airport is at least 3 statute miles; or
(2) If ground visibility is not reported at that airport, unless flight visibility during landing or takeoff, or while operating in the traffic pattern is at least 3 statute miles. “
So the difference seems to be the regulation you cite provides this exception for aircraft that are taking off or landing. This implies that VFR aircraft transiting the class D airspace without taking off or landing would need the standard VFR cloud clearances, or an SVFR clearance.
 
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