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Never Fly Alone - Switch on the Information Airway

What is the effect of first hooking up your computer to the Internet? You already know. It is like opening a door to an unlimited world of information.What is the effect of first hooking up your computer to the internet? You already know. It is like opening a door to an unlimited world of information. What if you could have unlimited information like that while in your airplane? You can! And it is as close as your airplane radio – if you know how to use it.

When I fly, even when I am the only person in the airplane – I never fly alone. As long as my radio works, I have a 'crew' of people with me, each one ready to pass along help and information. In fact, I usually have a crew along that out number the seats in the airplane I'm flying. I call it the “information airway.”

The FLIGHT SERVICE STATION...
Your first source of in-flight information is the Flight Service Station (FSS.) There are many ways to access the FSS while in the air and though it may sound confusing at first, it’s really very easy once you learn -- and the sooner you learn, the safer you’ll be.

Check out your sectional chart. FSS radio information can be found above blue boxes. Using the frequency on the top of the box, you can make a direct call to a FSS. Sometimes the blue box is also used with a VOR station. On the bottom of a VOR information box you will often find a city name in a bracket. The city name is where the FSS is located that listens over that VOR.

To call the FSS using the VOR as a link, use the frequency on the top of the box that has an R at the end. The R means that the FSS 'receives' on that frequency. Use that frequency to call out. Now, here’s the only trick: You receive over the VOR. So, turn up the volume on the NAV radio that has that VOR tuned in -- the FSS briefer will talk back to you over the VOR’s morse code ID. When you call refer to the FSS as 'Radio' and mention which VOR you are listening over. Example: 'Nashville Radio, this is 1234A listening over the Shelbyville VOR.'

Blue boxes without VOR information are Remote Communications Outlets (RCOs.) These are antennas that, as the name implies, are placed at a distance from the actual FSS office (over 200 miles in some cases.) To call the FSS, just use the frequency above the box as you did before. When you transmit using the RCO your voice goes through the air a short distance because the antenna is near by, but then is carried over a telephone line the long distance to the FSS.

FLIGHT WATCH...
If all else fails, call Flight Watch on 122.0. Flight Watch can be reached anywhere in the United States when you are 3,000 feet AGL and higher. Example: 'Flight Watch this is 1234A, over.' Wait for a response, and ask away.

What You Get:
Using any of these methods you can get an update on weather -- at a destination hundreds of miles away, just over the ridge or anywhere in between. You can also (heaven forbid) get the exact location of the lightning bolts you see off in the distance when you fly your first cross-country at night. Later, you can use these services to file, extend, or cancel a flight plan. But you can always use them to ask for help. Just ask, and the information will pour into your cockpit!

Switch on the information airway – call FSS.

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About This Author:
Paul A. Craig is a Gold Seal Multiengine and Instrument Flight Instructor. He currently holds a total of 11 Flight Certificates including his ATP. Craig is a previous winner of the North Carolina and Tennessee Flight Instructor of the Year award, the NCVT Outstanding Teacher award and has served as the regional representative of the National Air and Space Museum. Craig is an FAA Aviation Safety Counselor and the author of eight books, including Pilot In Command, The Killing Zone: How and Why Pilots Die, and Controlling Pilot Error: Situational Awareness (all from McGraw Hill).
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