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Interactive Challenge 2 Review... And A New Challenge

Several weeks ago I issued the first airspace challenge question and 80% of the iPilot readers who took the challenge had the correct answer -- the second time it was different.Several weeks ago I issued the first airspace challenge question and 80% of the iPilot readers who took the challenge had the correct answer -- the second time it was different. Only 31% of the iPilot readers who took the second challenge came up with the correct answer.

CHALLENGE 2: SAFE VS. LEGAL
The Henderson Question (Challenge 2) requires a keen eye of the chart symbols and a clear understanding of airspace rules. Also keep in mind that the question I asked is based on determining what is legal to do. You might decide not to make the flight to Henderson because of the low visibility or not being familiar with the area -- but those are judgement calls, not legal determinations. There is a way to fly legal VFR to Henderson in the given situation, although some pilots might elect not to go there anyway.

Click here to see Las Vegas, Henderson.

LEGAL MEANS
Look at the chart symbol for Henderson (it's just below the center of the Class B). You can see that the airport symbol is blue, which means that Henderson has a control tower. The airport data block says: NFCT – 125.1*. The NFCT means non-federal control tower. Non-federal means that the controllers do not work for the FAA, but as far as pilots are concerned the rules are the same. The asterisk after the tower frequency means that the tower does not operate 24 hours a day. We know the tower is open during the timeframe of the question because the controller called us back when we made our first transmission. So up to now we know that Henderson has a Control Tower and it is open at the time of the question.

SEEING WHAT'S NOT THERE
Now you must look for what is NOT present at Henderson. At most airports that have a control tower, they also have an associated Class D airspace. Class D airspace is designated on the chart by a blue dashed line -- usually a blue dashed ring around the airport. Look again at the north part of the Las Vegas chart below.

The North Las Vegas airport is an example of an airport that has both a control tower and a Class D airspace. We know this because the airport symbol is blue AND there is a blue dashed line around the airport. Note that Henderson does NOT have a blue dashed line around it. Translation: Henderson is NOT Class D airspace.

(The reason that there is no Class D airspace has nothing to do with the fact that the tower is non-federal. Non-federal control towers often have Class D airspace associated -- but not here.)

THEN TAKING A CLOSER LOOK
Just south of the Henderson Airport you will see a magenta shaded line, which indicates that Class G, is at the surface and Class E starts at 700 feet above the surface. Since there is no Class D at Henderson, and since Henderson Airport is inside that magenta shading. Translation: Henderson Airport is in Class G -- Uncontrolled Airspace!

That’s right -- Henderson is a controlled airport in uncontrolled airspace!

TO ANSWER THE QUESTION
The question has us flying VFR to the Henderson Airport, with only 2 miles visibility. From the surface at Henderson to 700 feet above Henderson is Class G airspace, which only requires 1 mile visibility! The controller’s instructions were to “remain clear of the Las Vegas Class B Airspace.” As long as we stay within Class G we can follow the controllers instructions exactly.

  • The Class B over Henderson is way up at 5,000 feet MSL (see the chart symbol that has 90 over a line and 50 under the line).
  • We must remain within 700 feet of the ground to remain in Class G. The ground at Henderson is at 2,458 feet. So we can’t fly any higher than 3,158 (2,458+700) feet MSL.
The controller then said, “enter a left downwind for runway 18.” Several readers noticed that the airport data block does indicate a right hand pattern for runway 18 -- 'RP 18' so you might question the controller about the direction of turns, but the controller may have a good reason for you to fly a left pattern in this case. No matter the direction of turns we will have to fly a “short” downwind leg.
  • A traditional 1,000 foot downwind leg would not work here because that would put us up in Class E airspace where 3 miles is required.
  • The AIM recommends that traffic patterns be flown between 600 and 1,000 feet AGL -- in this case we should probably use 600 to 650 feet because 700 feet is our “VFR ceiling.”
  • By assigning us to a 'downwind' and with the knowledge that we must fly a short downwind to stay in uncontrolled airspace, the controller has given us permission to fly the lower downwind leg.
We fly over to the Henderson Airport and we enter downwind for runway 18. We would then report to the tower controller that we were on downwind and the controller would then clear us to land.

**IMPORTANT** You can NOT get a Special VFR in this situation
If after the controller said, “...enter a left downwind for runway 18, wind 180 at 12 knots, visibility 2 miles due to smoke and haze, over” and you asked for a “Special VFR,” The controller would have said, “unable Special VFR, enter a left downwind to runway 18.”

    WHY: A Special VFR clearance allows VFR pilots into surface-based controlled airspace that otherwise requires 3 miles visibility. Henderson is in uncontrolled airspace where only 1 mile is required.
A Special VFR clearance gives a VFR pilot special permission to fly with only 1 mile visibility. At Henderson you don’t need special permission because it's already approved for 1-mile visibility! The controller cannot give you a Special VFR in an area where the exception to the 3-mile rule doesn’t apply! If you asked for a Special VFR and were told “unable” by the controller without understanding this unique airspace situation, you may have become very confused.

Note 1: Go back into the iPilot article archive and read “Air Traffic Control From The Back Of A Truck” that appeared in March 2002. That story had similar airspace to Henderson – the difference is that Henderson’s control tower is permanent whereas the “truck” was a temporary tower.

Note 2: I discussed the airspace at Henderson with officials who work there, and they report that within the next several months Henderson will be getting a Class D airspace. Remember that airspace is regulatory, and regulations and laws don’t get passed or go into effect overnight. (In the case of Henderson, the tower became operational before the Class D airspace was implemented.)

YOU ASKED FOR IT -- YOU GOT IT! CHALLENGE 3 (squared)

» View the Owensboro Map Section

Take a look at the Owensboro -- Davies County Airport (OWB). The first thing you notice is that the dashed-line symbols around the OWB airport are both blue and magenta. The blue dashed line forms a circle around the airport and the magenta dashed lines add on extensions that are lined up with the airport's runways. Now notice that there are some non-hard surface private airports in the area. The Bigger airport is southeast of OWB and is just outside the magenta dashed line, and the Goode airport is south of OWB and is just inside the magenta shading.

Question 1: Lets say that Mr. Bigger has a vintage aircraft, like a J-3 Cub. Mr. Bigger's Cub has no electrical system at all, so it has no radios, no transponder, and no lights. Mr. Bigger wants to fly off his airport (Bigger) and pay a visit to his friend Mr. Goode over at the Goode airport. Mr. Bigger takes off in the daytime with 10 miles visibility and not a cloud in the sky. With what, if any, airspace and equipment requirements would he need to adhere?

Question 2: Can Mr. Bigger make the same flight legally during the day when the visibility is only 2 miles? If so, how?

Question 3: What if Mr. Bigger picked up Mr. Goode in the Cub at the Goode Airport, and then wanted to fly on to Owensboro. Could that flight legally be made with 10 miles visibility? If so, how? Could that flight legally be made with 2 miles visibility? If so, how?

Nobody said it was going to be easy. Email me with your responses.

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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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