Transiting Airspace with Flight Following

Pilots who are receiving radar advisories, better known as VFR Flight Following, often wonder if they will be cleared to enter airspace along their route.

For example, assume you’re flying VFR between Albany, OR (S12) and Scappoose, OR (KSCP).

(To see the route below on charts at, click here.)

As you can see on the chart below, the direct route takes you over Salem (KSLE), a Class D airport; just west of the Class D airspace at Aurora, OR (KUAO); and later through the Class D airspace at Hillsboro (KHIO). The course also tracks just west of the busy Class C airspace that surrounds Portland International Airport (KPDX).


After takeoff, you contact Cascade Approach for flight following, get a squawk code, and, without restrictions from ATC, proceed on the direct route to KSCP. An overcast layer at 3000 ft. MSL restricts your cruise to at or below 2500 ft.

Do you have to contact the towers at KSLE and KHIO for permission to transit their airspace? Although you’ll remain legally clear of the Class D airspace at KUAO if you can remain on the direct course, what if you need to zig and zag to avoid clouds? Should you contact Aurora Tower? What about the Class C airspace at KPDX?

The September 2017 issue of Air Traffic Procedures Bulletin (PDF), a newsletter for air traffic controllers published by the FAA, clarifies the roles of pilots and air traffic controllers when pilots are receiving flight following. The bulletin notes that pilots and controllers have shared responsibility.

VFR Aircraft Receiving Radar Advisories (VFR Flight Following) Approaching Class D

What are ATCs responsibilities? Who is responsible for the pilot’s communication responsibility within the Class D surface area?

Many times, pilots receiving VFR Radar Advisories believe that as long as they are talking to one ATC facility, they have fulfilled their responsibility for entering a Class D airspace. Pilots may believe that controllers will tell them when/if they are approaching a Class D surface area. As controllers, we have a responsibility to coordinate with the appropriate ATC facility having jurisdiction over the airspace.

First, controllers must follow the guidance in Air Traffic Control (JO 7110.65, PDF available here):

As controllers, we have a responsibility to coordinate with the appropriate ATC facility having jurisdiction over the airspace, FAA Order JO 7110.65W states:


b. Coordinate with the appropriate control tower for transit authorization when you are providing radar traffic advisory service to an aircraft that will enter another facility’s airspace.

NOTE− The pilot is not expected to obtain his/her own authorization through each area when in contact with a radar facility.

But the bulletin notes that pilots also have a regulatory requirement to establish two-way communications before entering Class D or Class C airspace, as noted in the AIM and other sources.

The pilot’s responsibility to meet their radio communication requirement to enter Class D airspace is NOT eliminated when receiving VFR Radar Advisories. The Aeronautical Information Manual, 3-2-1, states:

d. VFR Requirements. It is the responsibility of the pilot to ensure that ATC clearance or radio communication requirements are met prior to entry into Class B, Class C, or Class D airspace. The pilot retains this responsibility when receiving ATC radar advisories. (See 14 CFR Part 91.)

To resolve this conflict, the bulletin goes on to explain:

Since both the controller providing VFR Radar Advisories and the pilot who is receiving the advisories have a clear responsibility, there can be some confusion about which party is communicating with the ATC facility having jurisdiction over the Class D surface area. 14 CFR 91.129 includes language that specifies that it is the pilot’s overall responsibility for complying with the Class D communications requirement.

There are a few ways controllers can assist pilots when providing VFR Radar Advisories that will ultimately help with controller workload. Since the pilot is responsible for their Class D communication requirement, if the controller coordinates with the ATC facility having jurisdiction over the surface area, let the pilot know, so they do not query you. If you are too busy to coordinate, you are required to terminate VFR Radar Advisories in a timely manner so the pilot is able to contact the Class D ATC facility prior to entry.

It’s also important to note that air traffic control facilities have letters of agreement (LOA) to establish local procedures, such as entry and exit routes at busy airports, handoffs between facilities, and similar matters. These LOA are not typically published for pilots. An LOA may allow an approach facility to send aircraft under its control through a Class D surface area at specific altitudes and along certain routes. Or the LOA may streamline the coordination required before one controller allows an aircraft to enter another controller’s airspace.

For more information about your obligation to follow ATC instructions, see Compliance with ATC Clearances and Instructions—Even When VFR.

For more information on this topic, see BruceAir’s Guide to ATC Services for VFR Pilots.


Flying the Extra: Seattle to Las Vegas

Each year around the end of September, I fly the Extra 300L from Boeing Field (KBFI) in Seattle to its winter base at Boulder City, NV (KBVU) outside Las Vegas. The video below shows highlights from the flight this year. Enjoy the dramatic changes in the landscape from the well-watered Puget Sound region to the desolate desert in southern Nevada.

BruceAir-Extra-009.jpgPhoto: Felix Knaack

The Extra isn’t designed for long-distance journeys, and I have to make two fuel stops to complete the journey of about 900 nm (1670 km). I usually stop at Bend, OR (KBDN) and Yerrington, NV (O43). The flight itself typically requires 5.5 – 6.0 hours; with the two stops the total block time is usually about 8 hours.

You can view the route that I flew at here.

Stalls at “Any Attitude, Any Airspeed”

Every pilot learns that a wing can stall “in any attitude and at any airspeed.”

But it’s difficult to demonstrate that principle in a typical training aircraft. This video of an exercise that I do with my stall/spin/upset recovery students shows the value of training in an aerobatic aircraft.

I fly a basic loop, but at several points during the maneuver, I intentionally increase the angle of attack by pulling back abruptly on the stick. Each time I pull, the angle of attack quickly reaches the critical angle of attack, and the airplane shudders in an accelerated stall, regardless of the airplane’s airspeed or pitch attitude relative to the horizon.

In other words, you can change the airplane’s attitude (and its angle of attack) almost instantly, but changing its flight path requires more time. That difference between the attitude and the flight path is angle of attack, and when that angle exceeds the wing’s critical angle of attack, the wing stalls.

It’s also helpful to remember that a loop is just a vertical turn. The same principle applies when you bank the wings and turn an airplane in the horizontal plane. If you pull back on the yoke or stick during a turn, you increase the angle of attack. Pull back too aggressively, and the wing will reach its critical angle of attack and stall, regardless of the indicated airspeed.

New Edition of AC 00-6 Aviation Weather

FAA has published a new edition of AC 00-6 – Aviation Weather (PDF), the 1975 handbook that explains weather theory for pilots.

New scientific capabilities now necessitate an update to this AC. In 1975, aviation users were not directly touched by radar and satellite weather. In 2016, much of what airmen understand about the current atmosphere comes from these important data sources. This AC is intended to provide basic weather information that all airmen must know. This document is intended to be used as a resource for pilot and dispatcher training programs.

The new edition of the companion handbook, AC 00-45 Aviation Weather Services, which explains aviation weather reports and forecasts and the briefings available to pilots, is also available at the FAA website.

Simulated Wake-Turbulence Encounter

I do the exercise below with my stall/spin/upset students to simulate the disorienting effect of a wake-turbulence encounter. We perform 1-1/2 aileron rolls to inverted and then push and roll to recover to normal upright flight. The exercise is confusing at first, and the nose always drops well below the horizon during the “upset.” It’s a great way to help pilots understand what could happen if they were caught in a wintip vortex.

Wake turbulence caused by wingtip vortices is major hazard to small aircraft.


The wingtip vortices are a by-product of lift. You can find detailed information about wake turbulence in FAA Advisory Circular AC 90-23 and in the Aeronautical Information Manual (Chapter 7, Safety of Flight; Section 3, Wake Turbulence).




Short Aerobatic Videos

I have collected short excerpts from a recent aerobatic flight near Seattle, WA to demonstrate a few basic aerobatic maneuvers. Each video shows the maneuver first from the left wingtip and then from my perspective in the rear cockpit of the Extra 300L.

You can find many more videos at my YouTube channel, BruceAirFlying.

Taking the Extra 300L for a Spin

Here’s a basic intentional spin in the Extra 300L. The camera shows the instruments in the front cockpit. Note the airspeed during the spin.