A good pilot is always learning -- how many times have you heard
this old standard throughout your flying career? There is no truer
statement in all of flying (well, with the possible exception of
"there are no old, bold pilots.") It's part of what makes aviation
so exciting for all of us... just when you think you've seen it
all, along comes a scenario you've never imagined.
Aero-News has called upon the expertise of Thomas P. Turner,
master CFI and all-around-good-guy, to bring our readers -- and us
-- daily tips to improve our skills as aviators, and as
representatives of the flying community. Some of them, you may have
heard before... but for each of us, there will also be something we
might never have considered before, or something that didn't
"stick" the way it should have the first time we memorized it for
the practical test.
It is our unabashed goal that "Aero-Tips" will help our readers
become better, safer pilots -- as well as introducing our
ground-bound readers to the concepts and principles that keep those
strange aluminum-and-composite contraptions in the air... and allow
them to soar magnificently through it.
Look for our daily Aero-Tips segments, coming each day to you
through the Aero-News Network. Suggestions for future Aero-Tips are
always welcome, as are additions or discussion of each day's tips.
Remember... when it comes to being good pilots, we're all in this
One of the most commonly
misunderstood terms in flying is “VFR-on-top.”
What precisely does this mean? What does it require of pilots
and controllers? Why is this term so misunderstood?
It’s an IFR clearance
“VFR-on-top” is probably most misunderstood because,
unlike the name suggests, it is an IFR procedure permitted by
clearance for airplanes on an instrument flight plan. VFR on top
must be requested by the pilot--controllers can’t offer it
without a pilot request. If granted, it allows the pilot to select
an altitude. NOTE: VFR-on-top is not permitted in Class A airspace
and some restricted areas.
Here are some other considerations of the VFR-on-top
clearance... the pilot:
- Assumes responsibility to see and avoid other aircraft.
- Must maintain VFR visibility and cloud clearance as required in
- Must continue to adhere to minimum IFR altitudes, position
reporting, and radio communication.
- Must continue to proceed along the cleared route of flight (A
popular misconception is that VFR-on-top permits deviations around
weather, sightseeing or “shortcuts” of the cleared
- Should advise ATC prior to any altitude change.
The controller’s job is to:
- Clear an IFR aircraft to maintain VFR-on-top if requested and
- If clearing a pilot to climb through clouds to VFR-on-top,
advise the pilot of reported cloud tops, or that no report is
available if such is the case.
- Give the pilot an alternate IFR altitude to maintain if not
clear of clouds by the requested initial VFR-on-top altitude.
- Confirm before issuing the clearance that the flight will not
enter Class A airspace.
Why would you request a VFR-on-top clearance? Most likely, to
remain clear of clouds if you suspect icing, or if you simply want
to pick your own altitude above the cloud tops.
Aero-tip of the day: A VFR-on-top clearance is
an instrument procedure that permits the pilot to select his/her
own altitude within certain restrictions. It does not grant
authority to deviate around weather or otherwise diverge from the