By Michael Driggs


This lesson describes basic radar procedures for the VFR pilot and flight following rules and regulations. The purpose is to educate the VFR pilot on radar services and other ATC services available to him.

While flying VFR the pilot will understand what services are available to him, on a workload permitting basis.

Knowledge of airspace, VFR cruising altitudes, and efficient communication skills are required before beginning this lesson.

Radar service is provided to VFR aircraft on a workload permitting basis, unless the pilot is departing or arriving at a class B airport, then it will be automatic.
When departing a class B airport, a VFR pilot will be given a discrete squawk code and automatically receive radar services. If you have flown into some of the larger airports under or in class B, chances are you have utilized this service before. Air traffic controllers are required to provide advisories to VFR aircraft departing airports located within class B airspace areas only until the aircraft exits class B airspace, which could in some cases result in termination of radar service as soon as 5 to 7 miles after departure.

You will need at least a radio and a transponder to obtain flight following. The requirement for a radio is self-evident. The transponder isn't an absolute requirement, but in most cases ATC will not give you flight following if you don't have a transponder. Transponders allow the ATC flight data computer to positively identify your aircraft by displaying a data block next to its radar target on the controller's screen. The data block displays your tail number, aircraft type, groundspeed, controller-entered remarks, and your altitude if your aircraft is equipped with a Mode C transponder. Mode C is required if you're operating in class C airspace or within 30 nm of a primary airport surrounded by class B airspace.

Basic radar services for VFR aircraft shall include:


  • Safety alerts.
  • Traffic advisories.
  • Limited radar vectoring when requested by the pilot.
  • Sequencing at locations where procedures have been established.

A VFR aircraft departing an airport located in class C airspace, normally of lower traffic density and complexity than class B, would be entitled to radar advisory service until at least 20 miles after departure because controllers are prohibited from terminating radar service within the class C outer area without pilot request. The same services as described above will be available for the VFR pilot if the controller's workload permits. 

An inbound aircraft may request radar services by stating:

  • Pilot: "So Cal Approach, Cessna 12345 with request"
  • ATC: "Cessna 12345, So Cal Approach, Go ahead"
  • Pilot: "So Cal Approach, Cessna 12345 VFR over the seal beach VOR at 6500 enroute to long beach, requesting traffic advisories"
  • ATC: "Cessna 12345, So Cal Approach, traffic is a beech airliner at your 12 o'clock 5 miles north bound, indicating 3500."
  • Pilot: "Cessna 12345 has the traffic in sight"

The controller may issue other advisories if he or she is not busy with other IFR traffic. If the controller is too busy for you they will say.

  • ATC: "Cessna 12345, So Cal Approach, Unable at this time"

Radar traffic information service (commonly known as VFR flight following) is a service provided by air traffic control (ATC) and available to all VFR pilots. It can enhance your flying safety. While receiving flight following, you'll be in radio contact with a radar controller at a Terminal Radar Approach Control (TRACON) or Air Route Traffic Control Center (ARTCC). You may receive traffic advisories, enroute safety alerts, and limited vectoring on a workload permitting basis. 

An example call would sound like this:

  • Pilot: "LA Center, Mooney 12345 with requests"
  • ATC: "Money 12345 LA Center go ahead"
  • Pilot: "LA Center, Mooney 12345 is type m20/p 12 miles south of the twenty nine palms VOR level 7500 enroute to Henderson request Flight Following"
  • ATC: "Mooney 12345, squawk 7312, ident"
  • Pilot: "Squawking 7312 and ident, Mooney 12345"
  • ATC: "Mooney 12345, Radar contact 12 miles south of the TNP VOR at 6500. Traffic 2 o'clock 12 miles southbound is a Cessna 172 indicating 4500"
  • Pilot: "Mooney 12345, looking for traffic"

While flying VFR with Radar service you will be treated much like an IFR flight except, you must fly at VFR cruising altitudes and it's courteous to inform ATC of any deviation from your intended route.

Handoffs - When you receive instructions to change to a new frequency, read back the new frequency to the controller before you change the frequency selector. This will allow the controller to correct you if you didn't hear the new frequency correctly. If you switch frequencies and are unable to make contact with anyone, you can use your frequency log to find the last known channel on which you were talking to ATC. If you don't have flip-flop radios, or if the flip-flop display dies on you, your frequency log could save the day. When checking in on the new frequency, make sure to state your altitude so that the controller can verify your aircraft's mode C readout on the radar screen. 

For example: 

  • Pilot: "Los Angeles Center, Cherokee 12345, VFR at one zero thousand five hundred. "

In summary, VFR radar service will provide aircraft with safety alerts, traffic information, and conflicts, as well as limited vectoring. When you are ready to receive flight following, contact the nearest ATC facility such as an approach control or center and request flight following by telling them who you are, where you are, and where you would like to go.

  • VFR aircraft in class B will always get radar service.
  • VFR aircraft may ask for radar service.
  • There is no guarantee that radar service will be provided for VFR aircraft.
  • Radar service can help ease pilot workload.

Example situations:

1. A VFR aircraft inbound to McCarran airport in Las Vegas will need to contact LA Center at least 30 miles out to request class B clearance and will be provided with Radar services. (True or False)

  • This situation would be true. All inbound traffic to class B airspace must establish contact with the appropriate ATC facility and must hear the magic words "Cleared into the Bravo Airspace" A squawk code and radar service will be provided at all times in class B.

2. A VFR aircraft inbound to Palm Springs will need to contact Palm Springs Approach before entering the TRSA and will be provided Radar services. (True or False).

  • This statement is False. While it is encouraged for VFR pilots to participate in a TRSA environment, it is not mandatory. If a VFR pilot calls up approach in this case he will be provided Radar services.

Practice scenario. Set up a VFR flight from a controlled airport to an uncontrolled field. When requesting taxi clearance, ask if Radar Service will be available for this flight. In most cases you will be provided a discrete squawk code. After departure you will be advised "Radar Contact". Fly with VFR flight following until you approach your destination. At this time, ATC should advise "Radar service terminated, squawk VFR (1200) frequency change approved". (change to Unicom (122.80) frequency and self announce your intentions).



This lesson was created by Michael Driggs. Research and references to the FAA AIM and Controller glossary. AVweb and AOPA.