by Kyle Ramsey
Provide guidance to VFR pilots in flight planning in various situations on VATSIM.
After covering this module the VFR pilot will be able to identify the various aspects of VFR flight planning and apply those aspects relative to his or her chosen flight profile.
Procedure or Discussion
VFR flight planning can sometimes be much less involved than IFR flight planning, depending on what it is you are trying to accomplish. We will examine several flight profiles VFR pilots may find themselves faced with and discuss the application of those profiles in the VATSIM environment.
Flight Planning Aspects
Before departing your home airport you should ensure you have sufficient fuel to make the flight with an emergency reserve remaining in your tanks after you land. If your route is longer than your tanks will hold you will need to identify an intermediate stop to refuel. Declaring a fuel emergency in VATSIM is really an admission of poor flight planning and should be avoided.
You should make sure all runways you intend to use, including intermediate stops and possible emergency landing airports, are sufficiently long enough and the surface is adequate for the aircraft you are flying
Weather should meet VFR minimums for the airspace you are planning to fly into. It is not OK to accidentally fly into IMC (Instrument Meteorological Conditions) when you are flying VFR. You should also stay inside VMS (Visual Metrological Conditions) at all times. It is possible to file IFR in the air if you find your airport is not VMC when you get there and still want to land there. Consult an airspace/weather minimums chart for the specific VFR weather minimums for the airspace you are flying within. Weather minimums are usually expressed in clearance from clouds and visibility. At no time may a VFR aircraft fly into a cloud for any reason. If you are under radar services and need to deviate for clouds, inform the controller. Also, radar controllers cannot see clouds, only precipitation, so you must inform them if you are about to enter clouds.
During daylight hours, if an airport's beacon is rotating and the light is on, the airport is IMC and VFR flight is not authorized.
Communications in Terminal Areas
VFR flights should contact controllers when in their airspace near airports, especially when departing or planning to land. VFR flights should contact approach controllers between 20-30 NM from their airspace and state intentions. Towered airports without approach controllers should be contacted about 20 NM out. Class B airspace requires a specific permission/clearance to enter while Class C/D airport only require that radio communications are established. Class E and G airports do not have controllers so no controller contact is required.
Navigation and Route
There are four basic types of navigation used during VFR flight, Ded Reckoning, Pilotage, Radio navigation, and GPS navigation. These are covered in detail in separate lessons.
The route chosen is up to the pilot. If flying in controlled airspace, the route may be dictated by the flow of other traffic as controlled by an air traffic controller. The basic routes are free flight, direct, nav aid to nav aid, and airways. Free flight takes place at or below 3000 ft AGL and is completely controlled by the pilot, usually outside of busy terminal areas or in uncontrolled airspace. Basically you point the aircraft where you want to go and go. The other modes of routing are covered in more detail in other modules.
Weight and Balance
While not as important in FS as it is in real life, MSFS does provide you with the ability to move your loads around to ensure your aircraft is within the load limits for take off using the Fuel and Load menu. Landing weight is mostly a function of much fuel you'll burn while in flight. Balance is where the load is centered in the aircraft; have the center of gravity too far back and the aircraft may not be able to pitch forward to get out of a stall. Too far forward and you may not have enough elevator authority to get a good climb going and run into a local mountain. Weight and balance requires more study and is individually aircraft based, so find more information on your favorite aircraft on the manufacturer's web site.
Inside terminal areas VFR flights can get the same radar service IFR flights get, and sometimes are compelled to do so, such as Class B airports. VFR aircraft are still responsible for their own separation from other aircraft and objects when under radar services.
Enroute VFR flights can request Flight Following, where a radar controller provides traffic advisories. VATSIM VFR pilots are encouraged to request and use Flight Following when flying cross-country flights on the network. It adds that next level of realism for everyone.