Low and … FAST!!!

Ordinarily the aircraft speed limit below 10,000 feet is 250 knots, but there is an exception that might surprise you — or worse. The FAA and Department of Defense have established areas where ‘low level’ combat tactics can be practiced. They are called Military Training Routes (MTRs) and are shown on VFR sectionals as thin gray lines.

PROBLEM: These areas are not inside restricted areas, but instead through normal Class G and Class E airspace. These MTRs are not tucked away in remote, isolated areas of the country. They crisscross the entire United States. But, there’s more…

  • MTRs are treated like long, narrow Military Operations Areas (MOAs) and therefore no special coordination is required or offered between civilian and military aircraft.
  • Unlike Victor Airways, MTRs do not have a standard width or height. The thin gray line that depicts the MTR centerline can be very misleading because aircraft can fly along the MTR and still be several miles from the charted centerline. This makes it hard for general aviation pilots to know where to look for traffic.
  • The MTRs are listed either as an IR or VR route. When military aircraft fly along an IR route they are allowed to follow IFR rules, only — regardless of the actual weather. This means that they can fly in excess of 250 knots with the visibility less than 3 miles.
  • The number assigned to a MTR is also a code. When the route has a two or three-digit number (VR26 or IR345) this means that the route ‘has one or more segments above 1,500 AGL.’ When the route has a four-digit number (VR1053 or IR2156) this means that the route ‘has no segment above 1,500 feet AGL.’

Translation: An aircraft flying faster than 250 knots, with less than 3 miles visibility, at tree top level, several miles away from the indicated route, not talking to anyone who’s talking to you.

DEFENSE: Always consider an MTR ‘HOT’ and avoid them by a high and wide margin.

Inside Information: The Aeronautical Information Manual suggests that civilian pilots contact an FSS within 100 nautical miles of an MTR to determine the ‘route usage’ — but, it is up to the military installation to notify the FSS of their activity along any particular MTR and lack of notification does not mean the route is not being used. Aircraft based in Florida can travel to North Carolina to fly along an MTR, but it is rare that the base in Florida will call an FSS in North Carolina to let them know.

BOTTOM LINE: MTRs have no special airspace restriction. Therefore, civilian aircraft have just as much right to use the airspace in and around an MTR as military aircraft do, but don’t let that subtle gray line fool you. Steer clear.