Wednesday, March 16, 2005


Ground Lesson #2

We had rain, fog, mist, and low ceilings in Atlanta today, so I had a ground lesson instead of a flying lesson.

Driving into the airport was interesting: all the jets were flying very low in directions I'd never seen them fly before. The flight school staff was talking about it as I walked in. Due to the weather, ATC had the planes traveling perpendicular to the runway and making 270-degree turns to and from the departure and approach legs, instead of flying the normal rectangular pattern. I'll have to ask more about this before my next lesson.

The instructor and I spent the next couple of hours talking about weather and airspace. I've already covered weather in my formal ground-school classes, but airspace is something I've just started studying. I knew the rules for class A, B, C, D, E, and G airspace pretty well, but had not studied the types of special-use airspace and the cleverly-named "other airspace," so we discussed those in detail.

After going through the general discussion, the instructor showed me some weird stuff on the Jacksonville sectional chart. He did his flight training in northern Florida, so he wanted to torture me with some of the questions his instructors had used to torture him.

First, he pointed at an airport and asked "What kind of airspace is that?" Seeing the dotted-blue line circling it, I answered "class D, of course." "OK, does it have a tower?" he asked. I looked, and saw that the airport symbol was magenta, meaning it's a non-towered airport. "So, how can an airport be controlled airspace, but have no control tower?" I was stumped. I checked the airport directory, and it gave a control-tower frequency, so there must be a tower, but the chart marks it as non-towered. After letting me flail around with guesses for a couple of minutes, the instructor gave me the answer: this particular tower is only open on certain days, when a NOTAM (Notice to Airmen) is issued stating that it is open. An airport might also be marked this way if a tower is under construction when the chart is made.

Then he pointed out another airport. This one had a tower (blue symbol), but was not marked as controlled airspace. So what are the rules that apply to trying to land at an airport that is not class B, C, or D airspace, but has an operating control tower? I didn't know; I thought all towered airports would be B, C, or D. So he pointed out the regs that say in class E and G airspace with an operating control tower, one must establish two-way communications with the tower before entering the area with a 4-nautical-mile radius around the airport and below 2,500 feet above ground level.

We had talked about controlled firing areas (a type of special-use airspace), and he asked me if such areas are ever on the chart. The naive answer would be "No," as the Aeronautical Information Manual says such areas need not be charted, but I knew he wouldn't be asking if that answer was correct. He showed me a route marked across Florida, starting in the Atlantic and terminating in the Gulf of Mexico. It is marked as a military training route, but instead of just being a line it had borders several miles north and south of it. There was a label that said something about "special military operations." What was it? The Navy test-fires Tomahawk cruise missiles from the Atlantic to the Gulf through this area.

Another trick question: are Temporary Flight Restrictions ever depicted on a chart? "No," I said, "you wouldn't put something temporary on a chart." Wrong. He showed me an area around a nuclear submarine base, marked with a label saying "Temporary Flight Restriction." That temporary restriction has been there for many years, and will probably be there for as long as there is a submarine base there. Why don't they just mark it as "prohibited?" Nobody seems to know.

I felt pretty worn out at the end of the two-hour ground session, but it was very helpful in absorbing all the details of airspace. My next lesson is scheduled for Friday, and the weather forecast looks good, so I'm hopeful I'll be in the air in a couple of days.

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