View-Limiting Device

View-Limiting Device

Good evening.  It has been some time since I have posted a blog as I have been fairly busy with my education at Academy College and flying a Cessna 172 out of Crystal, MN.  I have quite a bit of simulated instrument time under my belt and understand the true reason towards why using a good view-limiting device is important.

View-Limiting Device.  Mostly known as “foggles.”


Many foggles when worn with a headset allow the pilot to cheat and see using your peripherals.  After getting into some actual and experiencing what it is really like in the clouds, spatial disorientation is something that simple view-limiting devices tend to neglect.  Proper adjustment of foggles or using something like a hood that totally blocks your outside view will provide the best learning experience and training for the real deal.

Spatial disorientation is an experience that can feel strange and uncomfortable at times.  You are making a standard-rate turn to the right, yet it feels like you are straight-and-level.  Flying by the seat of your pants is essentially one of the most dangerous things for pilots encountering IMC or IFR conditions.  The way to counter spatial disorientation is by monitoring the instruments and relying on their accuracy for the entirety of the flight in meteorological conditions.  One way to ensure that you are getting the most out of your hood time is to make sure the view-limiting device works.  Cheating may make it easier, but experiencing simulated spatial disorientation is essential to becoming a more confident and precise instrument pilot.

View-Limiting Device.  This is a visor hood and is what I recommend for flying simulated instrument.

I am interested to see what people prefer to use when it comes to view-limiting devices and or any stories related to CFII’s not necessarily forcing students to wear their devices for every simulated instrument flight.  I am looking to return to my blog and make more frequent posts with  less details as I have tended to make longer posts than necessary.  Hopefully everybody is having a wonderful year so far and look forwards to more aviation-related posts!

Happy and safe landings for all!  If you would like to read more of my blogs, please follow and comment what you would like to see in the future as I am open to improvements.

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ADF and NDB approaches?

ADF and NDB approaches?

Fixed Card NDB/ADF Approaches

     Good evening aviation enthusiasts!  I hope everybody’s memorial day weekend is beyond great. Today I will be explaining how a non-precision NDB ( Non-directional beacon ) instrument approach is performed and a few tricks I learned through my recent instrument flights. NDB approaches require an aircraft to be equipped with an ADF ( Automatic Direction Finder ) radio to tune to the station that is near an airport. These non-precision approaches are becoming quite outdated as more modern avionics are becoming readily available. Unfortunately, if an aircraft is equipped with an ADF radio, NDB approaches with holding is fair game on the instrument checkride. ADF is actually quite a fascinating piece of equipment due to the frequencies that can be acquired including some local AM radio stations! 

ADF Fixed Card
ADF Compass pointing towards the NDB station.  

     Step-by-step I will explain how I personally brief the approach plate and perform tracking, going missed on the approach and holding over the station. Of course, everybody performs things differently in aviation. I have developed my own preferred method towards operating the navigational instrument.  I think that the way I was taught really allowed me to visualize the basic math that was involved.  My personal choice when shooting these approaches is by not rotating the ADF compass, which is also considered leaving itfixed card. (**Fixed Card refers to leaving the compass stationary with North remaining up regardless of the aircraft’s position**)

   The examples being used are taken from the FAA Testing Supplement (Figure 127 – NDB RWY 28 at Lancaster/Fairfield County Airport [I15]

Lancaster/Fairfield County Airport NDB RW 28 referenced from the IRA Test Supplemental

     Prepare – After starting up the airplane and running through the checklist, the first thing I do is place my approach plate in a position that can be easily referenced at a moment’s glance. I then start at the top of the plate and input the ADF freq. (In this example, I would tune 338, which is located 5.3 nm from the field) I would then put the Columbus ASOS weather frequency in my COM2 radio (**Columbus WX station is used since the Lancaster field doesn’t have a station and as stated by the approach plate, Columbus/Rickenbacker altimeter setting should be used**) Finally, I would perform my run-up and after swapping to tower, tune the CTAF for Lancaster/Fairfield in the COM1 standby. Brief the approach plate and understand the information required to perform the approach such as: Final approach course, Initial Approach Fixes (IAF’s), Missed Approach Instructions and MAP ( Missed Approach Point ), Holding pattern entry type (Direct, Parallel, Teardrop), and most importantly the step-down altitudes and descent minimums for the appropriate airspeed based on type of aircraft being flown.

Visualizing the approach and and understanding the procedures proceeding the MAP will make for a more precisely flown approach

     Small Corrections – After taking off and departing the airspace, turn in an initial direction to the NDB station so that that ADF needle faces north. (The easiest way to understand where the aircraft is in comparison to the station is by taking the arrow on the ADF instrument and cross-referencing it with the heading indicator. Whatever heading the opposing end of the arrow is facing is the current location of the aircraft in relation to the station. (The needle will ALWAYS point towards the station) Once established on a direct course towards the NDB station, corrections can be made by understanding the amount of deflection that occurs on the ADF compass. The easiest way I can explain this is that if say the needle starts to deflect 20 degrees left on the ADF, correct this by turning 40 degrees left on the present heading and hold this until the needle on the ADF also turns 40 degrees left, then proceed by turning back to the original heading. (**Note that if any wind correction is needed, turn 10 to 20 degrees in the direction needed so that the ADF needle will stay centered up and down pointing directly towards the station without deflecting after a few minutes of tracking the station**)

     Prepare and Execute – As soon as practical, attempt to identify the station just as you would a VOR or Localizer NAV frequency and verify that it is working/correct. To figure out your distance from the station, tune the ADF frequency into the DME (Distance Measuring Equipment). In this example, we use the DME to figure out where our MAP is established and at what point we should begin to descend down to minimums. Always advise intentions on the traffic advisory frequency and allocate proper separation from other aircraft operating within the airspace you are entering. (We would transmit our intentions on 122.8, the CTAF for Lancaster County Airport) As the DME shows that you are approaching the station (Anywhere around 2-5 nm away) the needle on the ADF may begin to deflect in which very slight corrections must be made to ensure that you don’t orbit the station. (**Chasing the ADF needle is BAD and results in confusion when in the vicinity of the NDB station.**)

Always Identify the ADF station and get WX as soon as possible, staying busy and ahead of the airplane is important even though at times you may find yourself waiting on the ADF needle to deflect… It can get boring at times, but never just sit there.

     Passage – After arriving at the station, the needle on the ADF compass will deflect and fall 90 degrees either left or right depending on which side you passed the station. The aircraft should then be turned to the outbound course heading where the procedure turn can be initiated. Have the timer ready and zeroed out so that once the DME shows around 4-5 nm away from the station you can turn and make the course reversal. (In this example, after reaching the station, we would turn right to a heading of 067 where we start our time and after one minute, we will begin to make a standard-rate turn to the right ending on the final approach course of 277 where the ADF needle should be centered north without any deflection pointing towards the station.) Once again, any deflection and wind correction should be made as soon as possible without over-correcting and getting further off course.

     Memorize the Procedure – Looking at the step downs for the specified approach at Lancaster, we know that once we pass-over the station, we can descend from 2,700 feet down to our minimums of 1,620 feet (800 feet above the field with a minimum of 1 mile visibility). Descend at a acceptable rate given the distance to the MAP (Missed Approach Point, which is 5.3 nm from the station). Like any other approach, after arriving at the MAP, immediately start a climb and perform the missed approach procedures as published. (**In this example, we would make a climbing left turn up to 2,700 feet and fly direct to LOM [NDB station] where we will perform a teardrop entry and intercept the 097 outbound course of the holding pattern and fly that heading for one minute.**) We will then proceed to make a 180 degree turn to the inbound course of 277 where the ADF needle should indicate centered without any deflection and again time each inbound and outbound course for one minute. Timing corrections should be made depending on present winds aloft. 

Don’t forget to start that timer, it is a very important part of non-precision approaches and holding alike.

     NDB/ADF approaches can seem difficult and rather confusing at times, but they are actually very basic and a simple way to navigate when weather conditions are decreasing. Like I mentioned earlier, everybody learns things differently and using a fixed-card ADF compass might not work as visualizing the station direction by rotating the compass may help. I certainly don’t expect student pilots and individuals just starting their instrument training to understand this blog post, but once a basic understanding of how these non-precision approaches work, I can almost guarantee that my method will hopefully benefit in some way or another.

     I appreciate any feedback and suggestions for future blogs. Please like, share and comment with any questions regarding aviation related material and I will reply as soon as I possibly can! Thank you very much for reading and expect more blogs to come in the future (Maybe less technical?). As always, safe flying for all and enjoy each and every moment spent in the sky. To most people, the sky is the limit, but for pilots, the sky is where we belong.

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Avoiding Construction

Avoiding Construction

Welcome back for another aviation blog! Weather in the Twin Cities couldn’t be more nice the past few days and we all know what that brings, road work and endless traffic backups.  I commute three days every week from Eden Prairie to Crystal  Municipal airport and spend nearly two hours sitting in bumper to bumper traffic traveling a measly two miles.  That comes in right around five minutes per mile all due to construction on major highways at rush hour in the heart of crosstown. Some would say that the solution to this inconvenience would be to leave earlier and be patient, but for me? As a pilot?!?  No, I rented a Cessna 172N from Inflight Pilot Training and spent ten minutes departing Flying Cloud Airport where I currently work and reside in the nearby area to Crystal where I taxiied into Thunderbird Aviation.  The day started early as usual where I get up and go to work at Elliott Aviation where I service, tow and fuel aircraft.  It was a hectic day managing lots of transient* (Non-scheduled arrivals) aircraft while also juggling a decent amount of corporate arrivals.  The time flew by and instead of heading directly from work to Crystal for a 17:00 departure, I took my time gathering my flight material and preparing to do some NDB/ADF navigation work.  Around 16:30 I left my apartment to preflight N739BN and do the small hop underneath the class Bravo.  It was at this moment I realised how nice it is to have a Garmin 650 touch-screen GPS for navigation in comparison to the Bendix King that I am slowly beginning to gain a strong understanding of how to operate such primitive avionics.  Anyways, I taxiied Alpha, Delta, X10R X10L Bravo, X36 and did my run-up before departing on Runway 10R.

Twin Cities view on my flight from KMIC to KFCM!

The flight up to crystal was very uneventful and I just followed the magenta line on the Garmin GPS, swapped to crystal tower after getting the weather, and got cleared to make a right downwind for Runway 14R.  The landing was subtle and nothing to note of, not a bad touch-down, but probably not one of my best either.  I taxied via Alpha – Echo into Thunderbird and shut down.  I packed up all my stuff and set it back up in N2436W, the C172R I regularly fly with my CFII Matt.  We did a brief on how the ADF and NDB instruments work before hopping in the airplane an actually doing some navigating towards those specific navigation aids.  I didn’t use the foggles during this flight lesson, but I was also very fixated on the instrument panel and at no point heavily relied on visual flight attitudes.  Flying to an NDB is not a very difficult thing to do if you understand how they work, and the most common issue is to constantly be correcting for the needle which will lead to orbiting the station (Generally located on an airport).  We flew the NDB to Princeton Airport, and then Cambridge before flying the NDB back to crystal and making a better than average landing on 14R once again. It was difficult not to follow the needle on the NDB instrument as when following a VOR navaid, it is acceptable.  I got a solid basic understanding of how to navigate via these prehistoric navigation aids throughout this lesson and am now ready to attempt to shoot some approaches and practice holding.  The dreaded holding on an NDB sounds tricky, but I think I will get the hang of it once I experience it hands on… maybe…

I threw all my gear back into N739BN and took off on Runway 14R behind two other cessnas and once again followed the magenta line back to Flying Cloud Airport and made another uneventful landing on runway 10L.  I ended up putting 0.4 hours on the Cessna 172N from Inflight and it costed around the same amount it would to fill my car up with gas, so it wasn’t the most affordable means of travel, but it sure did get me where I needed to go in 1/10th the time and was beautiful flying next to the Twin Cities on such a nice day.

Hopefully, everybody is doing well in their own training and enjoys reading about my own experiences.  If you enjoyed reading my blog, please like, share or feel free to comment with any questions regarding aviation or the content in my blogs.  As always, fair winds and blue skies for everybody and look forwards to my next blog later this week!

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Local IFR Flight

Local IFR Flight

Good morning ladies and gentlemen!   In today’s blog, I will be talking about the flight I took with my CFII Matt last Thursday.  The weather was clear of clouds with lots of sunshine, but due to the fires burning around our region in the United States and Canada, things were a bit hazy and turbulent.  I preflighted N2436N, the C172R that was chosen for our lesson, and we started and got set up for a short local IFR flight from KMIC (Crystal, MN) up to KMGG (Maple Lake, MN).  The purpose of this lesson was to get me acclimated with the Bendix King on GPS approaches, while also working on resource and time management.

Here is the track log from the entire flight.  KMIC –> KMGG (VOR-A) –> KMIC (RNAV (GPS) RWY 14

We started out by taxiing from Thunderbird Aviation down Alpha and doing our Run-up on Delta preparing for a departure via runway 24R.  Something that I need to work on is really computing every frequency and details of the approach that I will be performing into the airplane so that once I am on the air and enroute to the destination I can stay focused on the task at hand of flying the airplane.  Whether you input all of the information from your approach plate into the airplane while sitting on the ramp, or on the run-up pad, it is important to reduce the amount of work that will be performed in the air if at all possible.

We took off on 24R and experienced a bit of rough air climbing up to 3,000′ MSL where I performed the cruise checklist and started to input the information for an approach into KMGG (Maple Lake) using the VOR-A Approach.   After grabbing the AWOS-3 weather information on 128.325, tuning into the DWN VOR on 109.0 and identifying the station, I briefed my plate by understanding how the MAP (Missed Approach Procedure) is executed and swapped to the Unicom frequency on 122.8.  We flew the approach from an IAF (Initial Approach Fix) of GEP VOR on 117.3 allowing us to perform a straight-in approach and not executing any kind of procedure turn.  I verified all of my MDA’s (Minimum Descent Altitudes) and introduced 10 degrees of flaps and pushed the nose down while reducing power for a 90 knot descent down to the MDA of 1,660′.   Something to note about this approach is that is is not a precision approach, it is a non-precision circling approach and depending on the winds, you must circle to land on the proper runway after flying it down to the MDA.   I flew the approach down and felt pretty good about how well I stayed on course and the rate that I descended down before going missed.  We did a different missed procedure than declared on the approach chart.  We climbed up to 3,000′ and I turned to heading 360 once I reached 2,200 feet.  We then turned towards the GEP VOR and flew direct.

VOR-A Approach into KMGG (Maple Lake, MN) 

While flying direct to the GEP VOR, we got set up for the RNAV (GPS) RWY 14L approach into KMIC (Crystal, MN) using the Bendix King.  The Bendix King is quite the machine… yes indeed… quite the machine… you spend a couple minutes getting the approach all programmed into the GPS and simply move to a different tab and BOOM!  Everything is GONE.  Yep, you have to be careful with how you multi-task on this GPS as it tries to be as inconvenient as possible.  I won’t talk too negatively about the Bendix King though as it works almost identical to say a Garmin 430 or 650 with the fact that a little red flag pops up on the annunciator panel next to the marker indicators and tells you when to start your turn to the next heading while also giving you an accurate ground track to further increase precision.   We set up the approach with the IAF being PIKAW intersection and flew at 3,000′ to the OYNOP Intersection before turning right to our FAF (Final Approach Fix) of ZUNBE.  We already received the ATIS information and understood that we would not be able to land on 14L so I planned on circling to land on 24L or 24R.  Upon sequencing the GPS all the way to ZUNBE, we flew the approach down to the circling minimums of 1,380′ at 90 knots and made a tight turn to the left to join a right downwind for 24R.  I performed a nice and smooth uneventful landing before taxiing down to Thunderbird and shutting down.

RNAV (GPS) RWY 14L  Approach into KMIC (Crystal, MN)

I found that this flight was very helpful and a good lesson learned about how important it is to get set up for the approach while on the ground instead of waiting until in the air where times will be busiest.  This flight was fun as I got to fly an approach into Maple Lake Airport, one of which I have never been to before.  (It is always fun to fly somewhere new and different in my mind!)  Hopefully everybody has had some good weather to fly in and improves their flights after lessons or cross-countries to become the best pilot you can be!

As always, clear skies and calm winds for all!  Please look forwards to more blogs in the future and follow, like and subscribe!  Add me on facebook if you have any questions or would like updates on when more blogs will be posted!

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Learning To Fly

Learning To Fly

Well, I was planning to post the lyrics to the song “Learning to Fly,” by the Foo Fighters, but I figured that it wouldn’t be a very aviation related blog, so I will stick to the aviation content and discuss the process involved in what it takes to become a pilot. Everybody has looked up at the sky at some point in their lives and pondered about what it would be like to fly an airplane.  Many people consider aviation to be one of those hobbies or interests that are simply unobtainable or out of their comfort zone, but I am here to tell you that it is very much a realistic and worthwhile experience from start to finish.

Alright, the first thing that comes to mind with flight training is money.  Aviation is a very expensive hobby, but if you break down the process into manageable expenses and allocate the time to devote yourself to learning something new, you will soon find out that obtaining a pilot’s license is priceless.  Breaking down the costs involved in obtaining your PPL (Private Pilots License) is critical to understanding the overall expenses and exactly how much it will cost in the end.  Something that I will note is that the quicker you train and satisfy the requirements for a PPL, the easier and more cost effective everything will be in the long run.  Finding a flight school that has affordable rates is difficult.  Many schools hire instructors that are simply there to build time and further their own aviation careers without having the compassion for others with the desire to delve into the aviation world. Oddly enough, you can tell fairly quickly if a CFI (Flight Instructor) is pushing you for your money and providing an “okay” experience, rather than an instructor that simply gets excited about talking aviation and shows a passion for the lifestyle they chose.

Personally, I considered many flight schools in the Twin Cities for starting my flight training, or simply scheduling the first flight better known as an introductory flight.  I visited Inflight Pilot Training located in the Elliott Aviation FBO at Flying Cloud Airport (Eden Prairie, MN)  and was blown away with the initial interaction that I received upon walking into the office. black-gold-213px Inflight has several CFIs varying in age and experience, but something I noticed is that the one thing each and every instructor has in common is the passion for aviation as a whole.  The atmosphere that I experienced through Inflight is the exact reason why I have such a big interest in flying and also feel obligated to share the experience with others so that the general aviation community can grow.

Understanding the time requirements and specific standards for qualifying for a PPL is important as working through the training with an idea of what to expect for each and every flight will allow for time and money efficient lessons.  The following list of time requirements and standards for a PPL are…

A TOTAL time of 40 Hours involving the following two categories:

20 Hours with an Instructor while satisfying these specific requirements:

  • 3 Hours of cross-country
  • 3 Hours of night flight including a cross-country in excess of 100 nautical miles in distance and 10 takeoffs/landings within a traffic pattern at an airport
  • 3 Hours of training with reference to the instruments (Hood Time) in a Single-Engine Airplane (S.E.L.)
  • 3 Hours of flight training within 60 days of the practical test date (Checkride)

10 Hours of Solo time in a Single-Engine Aircraft while also completing:

  • 5 Hours of Solo cross-country time
  • A cross-country flight to three separate airports to a full stop in excess of 150nm total and 50nm each leg
  • At least 3 takeoffs and landings to a full stop at a towered airport

In addition to these items, general requirements include things such as acquiring at least a third-class medical certificate and passing the FAA Private Pilot written exam.  Out of all the things that you can do to start your training on the right foot, the first step should be to study for the FAA written exam and PASS the test with at least a 70% .  The written test is 60 questions out of a HUGE 1,000+ question bank that you should be able to answer prior to being ready for the test.Ground school  I found that the written exams is always the most difficult part in getting any sort of rating whether it be the PPL or Instrument rating.  Taking a ground school will be the best way to prepare for the studying and will introduce many important basic aspects involved with flying airplanes.  Inflight offers ground schools for both the private and instrument ratings to introduce the study topics required for the written and are extremely valuable for the minimal expense.

         Flying an airplane expresses freedom and is also a huge achievement as the general aviation community is on the decline.  If anybody has the slightest interest in learning to fly, I would say “GO FOR IT,” because you will NEVER regret the decision.  If anybody has any questions regarding flight training, or suggestions for my blog, feel free to comment and I will provide answers to the best of my knowledge.  If you enjoyed this blog, please like and follow me on wordpress, or add me on facebook for more aviation blogs in the future.

As always, V1, V2, Rotate, Positive Rate, Gear up, smile.

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Flying a Better Traffic Pattern

Flying a Better Traffic Pattern

As you may have imagined by the title, today’s blog is going to be all about flying a more precise VFR traffic pattern allowing for a much better approach to land. Traffic patterns are basic maneuvers used on controlled and uncontrolled airports to provide sequencing for yourself and other aircraft to land safely.  Understanding each and every leg of the traffic pattern is very important.  The traffic pattern consists of four legs and when drawn out on a map will show a rectangle.  This pattern must be flown accordingly while taking wind direction and other aircraft into consideration, especially at uncontrolled airports.  Airports that are located in Golf or Echo airspace, otherwise known as uncontrolled airspace, list the pattern direction for each Runway (Left or Right Traffic) and it is up to the pilot to make an appropriate entry.  Most uncontrolled airfields have a left traffic pattern unless specifically stated in the AFD (Airport Field Directory).  Now, hopefully some of the people reading my blogs have a little bit of experience and understand how the patterns work, but I will explain them as best I can to hopefully provide a simpler overall picture.  Of course, I will be referencing a traffic pattern for piston single-engine, more specifically, the Cessna 172 or 152.

For example, we will use a controlled airfield (Flying Cloud Airport) and walkthrough some tips and tricks that I found to help me out greatly.   The four legs of the traffic pattern are:

Traffic Pattern drawn
Basic Diagram of how the traffic pattern works when using parallel runways 28R and 28L at Flying Cloud Airport (Eden Prairie, MN)
  • The Upwind leg (This leg is easiest to remember since you are flying into the wind when you takeoff).  I like to start my turn after taking off right around 400 feet AGL so that I get a bit of distance from the runway, while also leaving myself enough room to climb up to the pattern altitude and get setup to land.
  • The Crosswind leg (Right around 400 feet AGL, you should start initiating a 90 degree turn to either the left or right depending on which pattern you are flying.)  A helpful trick I learned to make sure that your turns are perfect right angles is to look out the back window on the upwind leg to verify that you are still straight-out from the Runway, then pick a spot that you think is close to 90 degrees on the horizon, followed by initiating a gentle standard-rate turn until you reach your point.
  • The Downwind leg (This is the leg that is generally entered when arriving at an uncontrolled airfield, and also should be the point in your traffic pattern where you reach the pattern altitude for the field) The best way to figure out how far to bring the crosswind leg out from the field is by looking at the runway behind you and give yourself about 3/4 mile distance before turning to your downwind leg.  Once established on the downwind leg, referencing the active runway, fly parallel to it until you are abeam the numbers or threshold before starting the descent and introducing the flaps or carburetor heat if required.
  • The Base leg (After starting your descent and maintaining about 400 feet per minute rate, pick a point that you feel will set you up for one final turn while also taking the final approach distance in mind so that in a perfect world, you will intercept the PAPI Lights (These are lights that tell pilots by giving four white lights indicating too high, and four red lights indicating too low, with two white and two red being right on glideslope.)  Once you turn onto your base leg, keep a 90 degree angle between the aircraft and the runway while keeping wind in mind as you will most likely be turning “into” the wind and might not have to bank as quickly as it appears.  Most people tend to turn into the final approach course too early and end up coming in at a slight angle instead of holding the centerline right after the turn levels out.
  • Finally, the Final leg  (Upon reaching this leg, the aircraft should be configured to land and at the Vref airspeed, or the airspeed recommended for a controlled descent while following the PAPI approach lights all the way down to the numbers.)

****Base to Final turns are the most deadly part of a traffic pattern as the aircraft tends to get slowed up due to a dirty configuration (flaps down), and a cautious eye on the power setting and altitude must be maintained at all times to avoid getting close to the stall speed which could potentially result in a low altitude spin.**** 

Turning  Base to Final in the pattern at Le Sueur Municipal Airport (MN) 

Nobody flies airplanes exactly alike, so each and every individual develop their own process towards performing a traffic pattern, but I figured I would at least explain how I fly my patterns and achieve near-perfect rectangles when I look at the track log on Foreflight.  Please let me know if there are any important steps that you guys use when flying different legs of the traffic pattern and what allowed you to improve greatly in doing so.

I would like to dedicate this article to my readers and say thank you for reading my blog. Please look forwards to more blogs coming throughout this week.  Sincerely, I appreciate each and every like and share that I get and would personally like to thank everybody in supporting these posts.  Of course, these posts do take time and I have fun while I do them, so please leave any suggestions or questions you may have in the comments and I will be sure to personally respond to each and every one of them.

As always ladies and gentlemen, blue skies and calm winds for all.

Check out to reference any charts or airport diagrams such as the ones used in my blogs!

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VFR Flight Following

VFR Flight Following

Flight following is an essential safety precaution when flying cross-country flights, and I find it to be a convenience when flying around the Minneapolis class bravo airspace. VFR flight following is formally known as Radar Traffic Information Service in which ATC provides enhanced traffic awareness. Many pilots make flight following harder than it has to be and can sometimes be daunting when contacting departure as many airliners and IFR traffic is talking on the same frequency. When picking up flight following, ATC provides you with two vital pieces of information which are a departure frequency, and a squawk code. The Squawk code is a unique four digit code that you enter into the transponder on the airplane so that ARTCC (Air Route Traffic Control Center) can see you on the radar scope. A flight following clearance is similar to an IFR clearance, but much more basic. Not only does flight following aid in the separation of other aircraft, but it also provides safety alerts like terrain or obstruction awareness. Now, the real question is, how do I pick up my flight following, and when does it terminate?
For example, I will use a departure out of KFCM (Flying Cloud Airport, Eden Prairie MN) and request KSTC (St. Cloud, MN) as the destination.

Something you must never forget is that when you are VFR, you are VFR! Visual Flight Rules still apply and must be taken into consideration at ALL times!

I generally start out my flight by doing everything that I normally do…  Preflight, start-up, pick up the ATIS or AWOS weather information, and get the aircraft into takeoff configuration. Once you are ready to taxi, when contacting ground control, simply add a little more information to your request instead of providing a basic departure direction of flight.

“Flying Cloud Ground, Cessna 739BN is at Elliott, would like Flight Following to St. Cloud with Golf.”

ATC will either give you the departure frequency and squawk code immediately, or provide taxi instructions and will have you copy it down prior to departing.

“739BN, Flying Cloud Ground, remain outside the bravo airspace until cleared to enter, departure frequency is 134.7, squawk 4526”

Once the information is received, put the departure frequency (134.7) into the standby COM and also input the squawk code (4526) into the transponder. (VFR flights always maintain the squawk code 1200, so 4526 is a unique code for ATC to recognize your specific aircraft)Aircraft-Aviation-Transponder Once you get cleared to takeoff, tower will generally tell you when to swap frequencies and move over to the departure frequency where you will swap and provide ATC with some essential information. The information that you will provide is rather simple; tell them who you are, your altitude and selected cruise altitude, along with your intentions.

“Minneapolis Departure, Cessna 739BN is climbing through 1,200′ for 3,500′, direct St. Cloud.”

Odds are, the departure frequency could be busy with other traffic, including airliners operating out of the international airport nearby. DO NOT lose your confidence, there is nothing daunting or scary about speaking with these controllers as they are generally pretty patient and helpful if any mistakes happen to be made. (Everybody makes mistakes sometimes when talking on the radio, we are only human…) Finally, once ATC responds, they will most likely ask you to “ident,” in which you push the ident button on the transponder. (By pushing the ident button, the radar tag showing your aircraft blinks aiding the controllers in locating your aircraft and verifying that it is you)

“Cessna 739BN, Minneapolis Departure, ident.”
**(After pushing ident…)**
“Cessna 739BN, Radar Services acknowledged, cleared into the bravo airspace, maintain VFR direct St. Cloud.”

When using flight following enroute, sometimes ATC will hand you off to a different frequency and controller, simply comply and swap frequencies then announce to the new controller that you have swapped and are now with them. Upon approaching the destination, the controller will say that radar services are terminated, or hand you off to the tower.

Using Flight following is great, and I recommend it to anybody that doesn’t normally use radar services as it makes your flight a little bit more entertaining while keeping the duration of the flight much more safe and efficient!

If anybody has specific questions or would like to know more information about using flight following, please post a comment or add me on facebook and ask away!

Calm Winds and Blue Skies for all!

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