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) 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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