October 2009 Issue

Flight Following

It’s neither IFR, nor VFR. Getting it, keeping it and making it work requires some planning and patience.

For some flights, filing and flying in the IFR system is the way to go. For others, it’s appropriate to turn off the radios and revel in being one with the machine, without external distractions. Somewhere between these two extremes exists VFR flight following, a neither-fish-nor-fowl compromise of obtaining ATC services on a workload-permitting basis but without as many rules. For many cross-country flights, it’s the right solution to the question, "Shouldn’t you be talking to somebody?" Like so many other things in aviation, there’s a right way and a wrong way to go about it. For example, using the mouth to ask for flight following before engaging the brain to efficiently make the request can guarantee a terse "unable." And once you get your magic squawk code and radar contact is advised, you can relax—a little—satisfied ATC will keep most of the big stuff away from you. But flight following isn’t a final solution to your navigation or see-and-avoid procedures.

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