IFR Question


If I am flying IFR on a cloud free day enjoying the scenery, and I see somthing that I want to go down and take a look at like a lake or a whatever, is there a way I can get permission to stop following my flight plan drop down and take a look and then pop back up all under the same IFR flight plan? IF so what is it called or at least how do I ask for it with ATC?



If the controller is not busy, you might try explaining what you want to do, ask him/her if you can cancel IFR for the time being and then pick it up again at another fix down the road.
It’s certainly unusual, and you’d have to get a very understanding controller. If you want to sight-see why not just go VFR? You can still get advisories with flight following.


Ask for a block altitude. But I don’t think he’ll give you one below his vectoring altitude.


I don’t think block altitude was designed for what the original poster had in mind. This is not to say it can’t be done as I have used block altitudes in the practice area in IMC during training, but that was an “expected area” and not in an enroute phase of flight.

He doesn’t mention how low he flies, and like you pointed out, ATC won’t approve below MVA, MEA, OROCA or any other minimum altitude.



They will – you just have to say you can provide your own terrain separation. But I agree that block altitudes aren’t really for the purpose described in this thread.


dbaker is on the right track. Explain what you are going to do and inform the controller that you are VMC and will provide you own terrain seperation.


Thanks guys, never knew that.

Not that I fly that low anyway, but figured there was some legal eagle stuff that would prevent ATC from approving lower then minimum altitude guidance / restrictions.



As was already said, a SHORT explanaition to the controller and then go “VFR on top” for the duration of the sight seeing is another way to do it. A short explanation is nice so ATC doesn’t panic when you start doing weird things.


Just an FYI, that the term “VFR on top” as a very specific meaning. It means you are visual conditions over a cloud deck. VFR over the top is a term for VFR pilots flying over a cloud deck (NOT WISE if not instrument rated).



Just to expand on what Allen said, but the OP’s question was for a clear, cloud free day, and VFR on Top is assuming a cloud layer obscuring the ground. Then there wouldn’t be much use in sight seeing.


Technically you guys are correct, BUT, I’ve gone to an on top clearance in severe clear weather plenty of times. I usually do it to help expedite other aircraft getting a clearance to/from an uncontrolled airport without losing my IFR clearance which I may need later. We’re talking real world here, not what your instructor taught you.


Need a little help with this scenario? VFR on top is an IFR clearance for enroute operations.

Unless you specifically cancel your IFR and you are in your final approach for a particular airport at an UNcontrolled airport, until you cancel IFR, the next IFR plane either has to maintain visual seperation or hold until you cancel IFR.

If the airport is IFR conditions, the airport is essentially your airpspace until you have touched based with ATC cancelling the IFR. No other arrivals will be approved until the plane landing has cancelled IFR. This has happened to me several times at my UNcontrolled airport where I could not even get a special VFR clearance because the plane preceding me did not cancel IFR, and it took a landline call to the FBO to verify the plane landed. I was put in a hold until the problem was resolved.

To help expedite arrivals into my own airport, if it’s severe clear, I will depart VFR and pick up my IFR clearance in the air or cancel in the air well before arriving at my airport. Is that what you are talking about?



Again, by the book you are correct. But, in the real world there is nothing to stop me from requesting either a VFR climb or “I’m VMC, requesting on top” as soon as I lift off. Or even before takeoff. I’ve done entire flights, takeoff to touchdown, with an on top clearance. I’ve had aircraft receive a departure clearance from an uncontrolled airport that I am approaching while on an on top clearance. (see my last paragraph for why I sometimes do it this way)
As you say I’m still on an IFR clearance but as long as I have a VMC limitation of some kind the controller can release another aircraft. Either that or the controllers have been doing it wrong all these years!! Special VFR does block the entire airport because it assumes marginal weather, we are talking about a nice clear day with this scenario.

Another sometimes ignored part of an on top clearance is that you are supposed to stay at or above the MEA whether its an airway, SID, STAR or approach procedure. Unless you are going way below I’ve never heard a controller say anything about it though. The sightseeing scenario might have a problem if the MEA is 8000’ and you want to decent to 2500’. 1000’ or 1500’ below the MEA probably wouldn’t be a problem. Unless your friendly fed is around.

As you point out there are several ways to help expedite things at uncontrolled airports, VFR departures, VFR climbs after reaching on top, etc. all good for your fellow pilots. Yes, waiting for the other guy to make that phone call can take forever sometimes.

I’m just trying to point out ways that either I have done, or have heard other pilots do, that may not be exactly what the FARs or AIM call for but are “close enough” to not be a problem. I’m certainly not advocating stretching the envelope too far.

To answer the original question, yes there are ways to do it. It will involve some sort of VFR or VMC limitation and may very well depend on where you are and the controller you are working with. Sightseeing in Colorado will no doubt be different from sightseeing in Kansas.

ON an aside note:
I had a controller point out to me years ago that the IFR traffic count for a particular airport only happens if you depart with a clearance issued before takeoff or any approach clearance has been issued on arrival. You can cancel IFR 3 seconds later if you want to, the traffic count still happens. So if you are trying to get a better approach or some sort of upgrade to your favorite place keep that in mind.

Anyway, I guess we’ve beat this up pretty well!! I’ve got to go sort through 8 tons of laundry following a two week trip!! Ain’t flying glamorous.


While I can see how a controller has some amount of discretion in a situation like this, I can imagine the following thought process: I have responsibility for this aircraft. While the pilot says he can see and will avoid terrain, he wants to descend below my minimum vectoring altitude for this sector. If I allow him to do that IFR and something goes wrong, it would be very hard for me to explain how I allowed a flight under my control to collide with terrain. Controller to pilot: NXXXYY, IFR terminated, squawk 1200, VFR altitude pilot’s discretion, minimum vectoring altitude for your sector is YYYY feet. Please advise when you are ready to resume IFR.


I still have to respectfully disagree with your statement above. Any limitations are derived by spacing requirements. ATC can’t see what you see, and cannot take your word that it’s VMC for the aircraft behind you. I don’t exactly know what you mean by VFR climb, as for IFR, minimum climb rate is 500 feet per minute for us pistons. There is nothing that says you cannot exceed that, just that you have a minimum climb rate.

Seperation of aircraft is the determining factor for releasing IFR planes from an uncontrolled airport, thus the command “hold for release” as the ATC controller jockeys planes around the airport clearing up the airspace.

I am betting in your case, your space seperation from the airport is the determining factor in releasing the plane behind you, or the airplane behind you is not picking up their IFR clearance until airborne. The departure of the plane behind you has nothing to do with your declaration of VMC conditions.

I am not a controller, and hope a controller does chime in, but unless the pilot can maintain visual seperation, meterological conditions do not change the seperation requirement under IFR. And if he maintains visual seperation, more then likely, he is picking up his IFR in the air rather then the ground.

In my experiences, if an IFR plane is in front of me, and departs, I am not cleared for at least 2 minutes even though I can see him in the wild blue yonder. It was once suggested I depart visually, and maintain VFR so I could depart sooner, and pick up my clearance in the air. This was a win win situation as I could depart immediately and ATC didn’t have to jockey the planes around KMBO to clear up the airspace for me since I could maintain VMC conditions.

Unless that lake, house or whatever you want to circle is within 4 miles of the airway, OROCA or MOCA must be considered which is a higher altitude.

Can you define VFR climbs? See above for standard IFR climbs. Other then climbing less then 500 fpm (flatter then standard rate of climb), I don’t know of any VFR climb standards that would differ from climbing under IMC.

Isn’t cleared for the visual approach an approach clearance for IFR and count toward the traffic count? or are you suggesting that an IFR published approach must be executed? Same for picking up your clearance in the air, why wouldn’t that count?

Nah, haven’t beat this up, as at least from my side, I am always continously learning :slight_smile: Don’t have too muh fun doing that laundry :smiley:



Idea works in slow ATC sectors, but it’s not just a matter of resuming IFR.

Plane must re-file his IFR plan from where he or she are orbiting from or the next available fix.

If the controller all of a suddenly gets busy and cannot take your refiling your IFR or you are in a busy ATC sector, you have to refile through FSS,

You better hope it gets to the controller timely which can be quite a pain especially if your altitude is low, and IMC is above you and you can’t climb high enough to reach FSS.



Allen (and others)
Yes, learning is way better than laundry.

I don’t know why the controller would release somebody when I’m fairly close to the airport descending with an on top or VFR descent clearance, all I know is they have. I’ve always assumed from this experience that normal IFR separation minimums are either completely waived or at least highly changed. If I could find my copy of the AIM I could look all this up. Where I work now the VFR climbs and descents are not a part of the vocabulary so I haven’t really thought about it recently. All of what I am relating comes from 15 years of flying pistons and then turboprops on the west coast and just comes from my recollections of those days.

If I say I’m VMC the controller has to take my word for it, after all he may be sitting in a box 200 miles away. No different from me requesting a visual approach from a controller who is remotely located, he has to take my word for it too. He might have reported wx to back up my request, but who’s to say that the fog hasn’t cleared up in the last 5 minutes and I really can see the airport from 5 miles away?

By VFR climb I’ve always taken it that I have told ATC I am in VMC conditions and will be that way up to my filed altitude (or 18,000 ft). I’m also responsible for my own terrain separation. For instance at the near sea level airport I used to fly out of we had a few hills around that pushed MEAs to at least 5000 ft., 9000 in one case. The DP was this round-about thing that added 20 miles to your flight if you were going the other way. During the summer we got a lot of marine layer fog which required picking up a clearance on the ground. After climbing through the fog layer and reaching VMC we would request a “VFR climb, direct XYZ VOR” which would always be approved. Sometimes you reached sunshine by 1500 ft. so the time savings was significant. If there was another aircraft waiting to depart they would immediately be released. Same if someone was holding for the approach, they would get an immediate approach clearance. (hopefully not at the same time!) If I didn’t request a VFR climb (or on top, and canceled IFR) the next airplane might have to wait an extra 5 minutes.

As far as climb rates go, yes I do think the minimum climb gradient, and any other DP restrictions would still apply as long as you are still flying a published route and not doing the direct or on course climb.

One time, before Santa Barbara approach control got their radar, I was sitting there waiting to head home, it was foggy. A United flight called up for his clearance to Bakersfield and by the way do you have a tops report? SBA: Yes, the tops are 3000 ft. United: OK, in that case we are requesting a VFR climb from 4000 to 11,000. SBA: (short version) Cleared to BFL via (I forget the SID) except climb VFR from 4000 to and maintain 11,000, reaching 4000 climb on course direct BFL VOR. etc. So, in a non-radar environment they got the SID waived after reaching 4000’ which let them turn directly towards a 5000’ mountain (8000’ a few more miles down the road). All because they were going to be in VMC conditions. Of course if the weather changed there would be a mad scramble to change the clearance at the last second and continue with the full SID.

The one time this wouldn’t work is if I’m in a 172, filed to cruise at the MEA, and the airplane waiting to depart behind me is a higher performance airplane flying the same route. Once I reach the MEA the VFR climb is finished and I’m back on a full IFR clearance, the controller anticipates this and has no place to put the higher performance guy and so has to wait for whatever the normal separation would be.

As you say, I hope a controller chimes in here. I think that from a practical point of view the VFR climb (or descent) relieves the controller from separation but keeps the IFR flight plan alive for things like flow control at the destination or future IMC operations without needing to re-file. Other than expediting things it doesn’t really do much for me.

I forget who it was but it was suggested that the controller can arbitrarily cancel your IFR flight plan if you want to go sightseeing (or for any other reason). I don’t think they can, it has to be done by the pilot if in the air. The only time it is canceled for you is after landing at a controlled airport.
As far as MEAs go, what ever is appropriate for the location is correct, I just didn’t feel like typing all of them in. Sightseeing in some areas and not in others, yes, absolutely. I can’t imagine a controller being to thrilled to let you descend and take pictures of the Rose Bowl while keeping your IFR flight plan.

Uh, lets see, what else. Oh, traffic count. All I know is what he told me. A visual approach should count. I think departing and then picking up the clearance wouldn’t help the count for the airport because you picked up the clearance in the air. maybe, not sure about that.

Good discussion,


Now we are getting somewhere in my thick lil head :smiley: Thanks for the clarification and what you say makes perfect sense to a person who lives in the land of direct sans DP or STARS. It sure can’t hurt to ask for climb outside the DP if able especially if you want to go direct to your next fix.

Again makes perfect sense, since expediting your flight path gets you out of his or her sector sooner. Nothing wrong with effeciency :slight_smile:

I’d have to agree with you, though my sight seeing tour experiences on an IFR plan has been nil. I can’t imagine ATC being able to cancel IFR but maybe a controller reading this can clarify.

'preciate you responding, as I learn more and more!



Dear Lord! Just stop asking questions and fly the freakin clearance!!!

Or move to New York where you get to fly in each of the cardinal directions on each flight regardless of where you are going!


God forbid that there should be some REAL and honest dicussion in this forum where people actually learn something. If you don’t like the discussion, skip the thread and move on…