Question to the controllers: VFR flight following


#1

When receiving VFR flight following I’ve noticed that there are at least two differnent “modes” of service.

  1. The controller has information only locally, so when you reach the edge of their coverage they issue a “squawk 1200, radar service terminated” and it’s up to the pilot to find and contact the next facility.
  2. The flight is in the computer so handoffs are automatically arranged with the next facility. (These are probably the VFR flights that show up in FA.)

In my experience, you will get the first mode of service unless you specifically request the second, which you may or may not get. For cross-country flights, the second is MUCH preferred.

I’ve tried different methods of filing VFR flight plans and making radio requests, but have not found a combination that will consistently get VFR handoffs.

So exactly what terminology should be used to assure the second mode, and what can a pilot do to help get it?


#2

I, being a tower controller can only tell you what our different procedures are. The first one which is localy involves us simply typing your call sign and aircraft type into the ARTS computer and we get a beacon code assigned to our tower. WHen you get to the edge of our airspace we can hand you off to approach control and they will get that information as well. What they do after that would be up to them and if their airspace has a gap before the next tracon or if it borders it.

As far as the second option that requires you to arrange with FSS a VFR flight plan and when you depart you would squak the beacon code assigned. As far as how that would make the procedures different I could not tell you. Hopefully a TRACON or Enroute controller can chime in and fix any errors or add their info.


#3

Thanks so far! I appreciate the reponse.

One thing that I didn’t think of in the original post is that I’ve noticed that the transponder code is a key indicator on the mode of service I get. There is a “local” bank of codes and a “national” bank of codes. If you get the national code, you’re “in”. Maybe…

Times when I have successfully received the handoffs mode of service, I might start off with a local code, but then ATC gives a new code from the national bank when they set the flight up for handoffs.


#4

If you are on the ground and talking to clearance delivery, you can request flight following by stating your aircraft ID, type, destination and requested altitude.

I.E
"November 12345, PA28/A, vfr to XXX at 4,500. Request flight following."

That will get you a discrete beacon code which will enter your information into the National Airspace System, and radar handoffs all the way to your destination, workload permitting of course.

In the air, it is very similar.
“November 12345, PA28/A, 10 miles west of XXX vor at 4,500. Destination XYZ, request flight following.”

Hope this helps.


#5

Noticed the same thing here in regards to squawk codes. If I go to the practice area my highest assigned squawk is 0149. If I ask for a local IFR clearance, lowest assigned squawk is 0150 or higher based on traffic.

To be honest, since getting my instrument rating, I have not file a VFR flight plan, but when ever I file a plan, seems that the squawk code is all over the page.

It will be interesting next week when my plane comes out of maintenance, I am planning do a performance check where I plan to climb to 10,000 feet in preparation for a cross country trip from MBO (Madison MS to DMW Westiminister MD) in my Beech Sundowner. I wonder if my local JAN airport will keep my squawk code or say CUL8R after I climb above their Charlie airspace or even have me go over to Memphis Center.

I am planning a direct routing over the Appalacian mountains and have to remain above 8.900 for minimum off route clearance altitude (MORA) reasons and I want to be sure I get good performance at 10K.

Allen


#6

I disagree. This will usually give you first the mode of service I mentioned. Once you get to the edge of their coverage, it’s 1200 and good day!

But perhaps the local ATC policy is different in your area, and it is definately different in various regions.

What I was looking for is how to consistently get put in the national system for handoffs, rather than the local system for see-ya-later. The only sure-fired way is to file IFR, but sometimes I would rather go VFR with FF because of routing.


#7

I think it depends based on the type of airport more than anything. At a class B or C airport where you’re talking to clearance delivery for the TRACON, it seems to be a better bet that you’ll get a beacon code that keeps you “in the system” although with VFR it’s a crap shoot and your services can be terminated at the whim of any controller along the trip.


#8

The KEY is to ask for flight following to your destination. I work at an up/down facility in a class C service area. We have a local set of transponder codes to give to pilots. Ours is from 0300 to 0376. The 0300-to 0346 codes are used for local IFR flights because that will set off an alarm when the aircraft is below the MVA (Minimum Vectoring Altitude). The other set is used for aircraft that either will remain in the Tracon’s airspace or the pilot has requested to just “exit the Class C”

The difference, at least here, is what kind of service the pilot would like.
If you would like radar service all the way to your destination, just request it on initial contact. You can request it as either “flight following to destination” or “request a handoff to the next controller.” Lots of pilots do not seem to want this service, so when one is just transitioning the area we just give them a “local” code.

Sometimes, when they reach the limits of our airspace, they request a handoff, and by then it’s too late and we terminate their radar and give them a frequency. So communicate what you would like and we’re more than happy to help you out!


#9

As far as the second option that requires you to arrange with FSS a VFR flight plan and when you depart you would squak the beacon code assigned. As far as how that would make the procedures different I could not tell you. Hopefully a TRACON or Enroute controller can chime in and fix any errors or add their info.

A filed VFR flight plan doesn’t provide any type of beacon code to the aircraft, since the flight plans just sit on the Proposed list at the AFSS waiting for the pilot to activate the flight plan. They don’t recieve any processing from the Center Host or local ARTS computers.

For controllers, flight following is an additional service: provided on a workload permitting basis. The controller who tells you to “squawk VFR, frequency changed approved” may be having a quiet day, but the next controller down the line may not be.


#10

[When receiving VFR flight following I’ve noticed that there are at least two differnent “modes” of service.

  1. The controller has information only locally, so when you reach the edge of their coverage they issue a “squawk 1200, radar service terminated” and it’s up to the pilot to find and contact the next facility.
  2. The flight is in the computer so handoffs are automatically arranged with the next facility. (These are probably the VFR flights that show up in FA.)

In my experience, you will get the first mode of service unless you specifically request the second, which you may or may not get. For cross-country flights, the second is MUCH preferred.

I’ve tried different methods of filing VFR flight plans and making radio requests, but have not found a combination that will consistently get VFR handoffs.

So exactly what terminology should be used to assure the second mode, and what can a pilot do to help get it

That is a very good question. The problem is the interface between the computers of different facilities. for example if I assign a VFR squak code to an A/C I can make an automated handoff to PHL, ABE and WRI approach with a key board entry. but not to say NY or Boston center. for those and others it would require a manual handoff. thats when you call on the land line and give the next controller the position/ squak code/ type A/C/ destination/ and alt. the A/C is climbing or desending to. Manual handoffs are more work intensive, but possible work load permited. Makeing a request to be handed off to the next controller will increase the odds of the controller taking the extra step. If he can’t he should be able to tell you the next frequency if you ask him.[/quote]


#11

Thanks to all for the great info.

I think that the magic words that I have omitted are “Request FF to destination.” I’ve never asked for it that way, I’ve just done the routine call up. When on the ground, I haven’t even asked for FF, but given that I operate from the primary airport in Class C, I think it is assumed.

Next time I’ll request “to destination” and see if that makes a difference. Of course depending on where and when I’m going, IFR might make sense, but sometimes you just can’t get from point A to point B without circumnavigating points C and D and area E when you’re IFR.

It’s interesting what atc1 had to say about automated handoffs. I wouldn’t think there was such an incompatibility between systems and am surprised that there would be in the northeast. Out here in Iowa I could see it, but the northeast is the most congested area in the country!

If anyone else has other suggestions, feel free to throw them in!


#12

In my experience this works great -

First call: “XXX Approach, Bellanca 9578E VFR”

[this lets the controller know you are NOT a target he really needs to answer - and he can say, stand by, ignore you or respond “N9578E go ahead” -

Second Call: "Bellanca 9578E is XX miles [direction] from [USE A VOR or airport - and be CLOSE to the fix, inside 10 miles if possible] at 3500 climbing 5500, request flight following to XXX destination, if it is is NOT a major facility, phoenetically spell it for the controller - such as my base is IJD - say it them spell it, they don’t all the identifiers for the little fields, especially ones NOT in their sector!!!

The controller has EVERYTHING he needs in the second call - who, where, what and destination - he also gets, by adding that you are a 'Bellanca" - or whatever, the type of ac, which tells him performance. Telling him/her where you are and your altitude means, if you are reasonably accurate he may get your 1200 code and know EXACTLY where you are even before you get the beacon code.

THINK BEFORE YOU KEY THAT MIKE - know where you are and what you want to say. In 90% of the nation controllers may be working multiple sectors and you need to be brief and to the point, in busy sectors, if you want to get flight following you need to let the controller know with the first words out of your mouth that he is not dealing with somebody he might need to spend lots of time handholding. Life and time are too short to have to do that every day.

I am certain that in busy airspace sectors most controllers WANT to talk to VFR’s who are near departure or approach gates, overflying major airports outside the Classifed airspeace and just in general if they have time. If you are working an air carrier Class Charlie field and haev a gazillion VFR targets all squiawking 1200 you are working really hard to separate the IFR trafiice or at least give them warnings. If you are talking to the guys near your approach and departure gates, at least you know where they are going and what they’re doing.


#13

I just want to say, great topic! As a VFR pilot, the information here has been very informative.

Another small thing that I’ve noticed in my limited experience: fly high. Sometimes if you are VFR at 2000, or 3000, you are at the bottom of radar coverage or radio-comm coverage. If ATC loses you on radar, there ain’t much they can do for you in the way of flight following. On one of my cross countries as a student, I had this happen, and there was a bit of confusion between the controller and I as to whether I was still being monitored or if frequency change was approved. My guess is that if I was higher that this would not have been an issue.


#14

I’ll second that - I’ve never understood why folks fly so low so as a matter of course -you lose the engine at 1500 or 2000 and get maybe 2 minutes.

climb to 4500/5500 in the eastern US at least. Not only buys you time but will give you a lot more options - that and decent radar and comm coverage.


#15

I’ll add that it helps tremendously if you glance at a IFR chart for the route of your intended flight. Note the (MEA) Minimum Enroute Attitudes along your chosen route. Flying at or above this altitude gives you the best chance of being picked up on radar and maintaining flight following when leaving a terminal area. The MEA is also available through several software packages including the AOPA Real-Time Flight Planner.


#16

I used to have my students fly at no more than 4500, and sometimes as low as 2500 in the summer due to the TERRIBLE haze we have in the northeast. Sometimes visibilty drops to 7, 5, sometimes even 3 miles with not a cloud in sight, just due to the haze. Any higher and its hard to make out visual checkpoints on the ground. Crossing the Delaware Bay I wouldnt let them go on such hazy days since they needed more altitude for the water crossing.


#17

Perhaps to clearify that callup phraseology a little. Don’t say “request flight following to my destination.” Be sure to let controllers know WHERE EXACTLY you are going. At the Center level, altitude and route (most likely direct your destination) will allow the HOST computer to forward the flight data on to the appropriate facility and sectors.

For best results at Center:
Call up “center, callsign VFR request” Perhaps include your general location as well in the initial callup so we can look for target.

Go ahead:
Try to get as much necessary information in the first transmission, but don’t ramble. Easier said than done, I know. Callsign SLOWLY, type aircraft, location if not already identified, altitude, destination. Altitude is not required, though for best results, it is recommended that you advise ATC prior to any altitude changes. We’re not gonna issue traffic below or above you if we don’t know you’re going that way. We can’t read minds, and we aren’t staring at your datablock the whole time.

I could go on and on, but its just VFR FF. The main thing to remember is that VFR is an extra service. If you stumble on the radio, talk to much, or come at the wrong time, a controller may not have the time to devote to a VFR.

DM


#18

I was always told use the “3W rule”

Who you are
Where you are
What you want

So, if I was to depart an uncontrolled airport and called into Center, I would say the following IF the frequency is not busy on my initial call up.

Memphis Center, Sundowner one niner four three lima 3 miles south of Charlie Romeo Xray, one thousand five hundred, climbing to four thousand five hundred, request VFR flight following to Mike Bravo Oscar.

If the frequency is busy, then my initial callup would be:

Memphis Center, Sundowner one niner four three lima, request:

After getting acknowledge by center, then I would say the above 3W rule.

To be honest though, since getting my IA rating, I have not done any VFR flight following.

If it’s a short hope (less then an hour), either I squawk and talk on an IFR flight plan or just enjoy the silence (after leaving JAN airspace as I always talk to them on departure)

Allen


#19

I use flight following on almost every flight. I have never been postponed for more than a few minutes before being assigned a transponder code. Traffic alerts add a great deal of comfort on any long flight and it’s instructive to listen to controllers talking to IFR traffic. It’s a good idea to terminate flight following in plenty of time to contact the destination tower, if they are busy, it may take a few minutes to establish radio contact.


#20

Why? Isn’t this one of the benefits of VFR flight following, to seamlessly fit into the approach and tower traffic / frequencies?

As stated earlier in the thread, I haven’t messed with VFR flight following since getting my IA rating, but when I did, I was always handed off to approach in C airspace or tower frequency in D airspace.

After reporting an uncontrolled airport in sight, I’d get the standard squawk VFR, frequency change approved have a good day, but never was released until I had a visual on the field.

Also terminating flight following doesn’t close your flight plan, you still need to call FSS to close the plane.

Why not use all resources from wheels up to wheels down?

Allen