I’m part of a pilot’s breakfast group that flies from the airport in Big Bear City, Calif., elevation 6700 feet, to lower-elevation airports in the Los Angeles Basin airspace. On this day, we were headed to the Corona (Calif.) Municipal Airport (KAJO) and its good restaurant.
Upon departing our home airport, we request VFR flight following from ATC so we are in the system. The controllers at SoCal Approach keep a watchful eye on us for any conflicts and clear us through the crowded airspace.
Having done this flight many times before, we all anticipated a controller handoff to 135.4 MHz about 10 nm from Corona and then a final VFR let-loose about five nm out. We all had the frequency dialed in ahead of the first handoff, ready to comply, but this day’s controller didn’t do the handoff. Instead, he just turned us loose on our own with, “Radar services terminated, squawk VFR.” This was a real surprise to us!
On both sides were towered airports like Chino and Riverside, with their own Class D airspace and frequencies, and here we were heading straight for non-towered Corona without the blessing of ATC anymore. One of our guys accidentally clipped Chino’s airspace without talking to their tower and received a comm call from ATC.
I climbed a couple of hundred feet to get over the Riverside airspace and motored onward to Corona. It was always much easier and comfortable when ATC kept us in the system.
On the flight back, all handoffs occurred normally and there were no calls or additional surprises from ATC.
The lesson learned is that you can’t always assume that what happened last time will happen again. You have to be ready for the unexpected, and know the airspace boundaries and frequencies, just in case ATC gets busy or goes out for a break and leaves you on your own.
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VFR FF is subject to controller workload. It’s nice to have VFR FF, but to really get into the system have someone file IFR.