Interactive Challenge 2: Be Careful What You Ask For

Several weeks ago I issued an interactive challenge; the iPilot readers have met that challenge — and then some!

Since February we have tried to look at the United States airspace system in new and different ways, in hopes of making the topic of airspace understandable and usable. These articles on airspace had been ‘one way‘ — from me to you — but several weeks ago I issued a challenge that would make the flow of information two ways — from you to me. I should be careful what I ask for. The response flooded my email box!

You and I are flying in a general aviation airplane during the daytime. Our properly set altimeter reads 2,000 feet. We pass over the tower that is located almost due north of the Taylor Country airport. The tower symbol indicates 1,295 in bold blue numbers and 270 in parenthesis. The flight visibility at this moment is 2 miles due to haze. Are we flying legal VFR?’

I am happy to report that 80% of the responses I received had the correct answer, but it was not the high rate of correct answers that was so impressive to me. What really was impressive was the quality in which so many explained the answers. Here’s just one example:

Hi! For your airspace question around Taylor County airport, I got an elevation of 1,025 for the ground (1,295 – 270). I saw that the tower was outside of Taylor Country’s magenta shading so that means Class G airspace is from the surface to 1200 AGL over the tower. So, 2,225 feet MSL would be the top of the Class G airspace (1,025 + 1,200). The airplane is flying at 2,000 feet MSL and with a visibility of 2 miles we are legal since we are in Class G airspace where only one mile is required in the day. Is this right? Please get back to me and thanks


Of course I did write back, as I did to every other responder, and congratulated him on not only the correct answer, but also saying it so well. He finished his message by saying, ‘You know that’s a lot to figure out while aloft.’ I agree. It is a great deal to ask a pilot to do those calculations in flight, but that’s why I asked the question. I would rather you know how to do it and take these things into consideration before you takeoff.

A student pilot wrote after explaining the correct answer, ‘This seems legal, but there is not much safe altitude in case of an emergency.’ That student not only saw the ‘legal‘ answers, but also displayed signs of good pilot judgement. The situation I posed was a legal condition, but was it a smart situation to be flying in? Flying down low with reduced visibility is probably not all that safe — no matter who you are. This student pilot saw that there is a difference between being legal and being safe. This student pilot displayed the kind of judgement I wish other certificated pilots (with many more flight hours) would display.

A Flight Instructor from Florida had the correct answer and pointed out that his students always fly close to sea level. This is great for airplane performance, but he said that often his students don’t understand that airspace changes with the terrain’s elevation. He said, ‘I try to teach my students what they need to know when they venture north to higher terrains and differing weather conditions.’

I will give this a shot, but I am currently not a pilot nor am I taking lessons,’ Another reader sent an email to say. ‘I’m hoping to start in the near future, but in the meantime, I have been following iPilot trying to learn as much as possible.’ This reader not only had the correct answer, but also included a ‘vertical‘ diagram, much like I like to include in the airspace articles. The diagram was perfect. I wrote back and strongly encouraged him to begin his flight lessons because, ‘we need more people like you, to join is in aviation!

I have no experience or training as a pilot, but received a gift certificate for an introductory flight at a nearby flight school,’ another pilot-hopeful wrote to say. She continued to answer and explain the airspace questions better than some Commercial Pilots I know could have! I told her to get to that airport and get into an airplane as soon as possible. I also want to thank whoever gave her that gift certificate!

I couldn’t resist the challenge,’ said one reader. He went on to explain all the regulations involved including the minimum clearance rules of 91.119 and the VFR visibility requirements in uncontrolled (Class G) airspace. He concluded by saying, ‘Since the problem specified daytime, we should be within the minimum requirements and legal (perhaps not smart, but legal). Did I miss anything?’ No, you did not miss a thing!

Many of the people who missed the question did have the regulations correct. What they missed was the fact that the tower in question lay outside the Magenta Shading, where the height of Class G airspace is 1200 AGL. A tower that was inside the Magenta Shading would have had an accompanying 700 foot tall Class G airspace. That fact made all the difference and changed the answer. Sorry, I didn’t mean to be tricky!

There was one return question that came up in not all, but in most of the responses. The question was: Can we have another Challenge Question? Well at the risk of overflowing my email again, here goes… I must assume that since 80% of you correctly answered the first one, it must have been just too easy — I’ll raise the bar on this one!

Click here to view Las Vegas Figure 1.

The Setup: Look at Figure 1 of the Las Vegas, Nevada area. You and I are flying VFR in the daytime to the Henderson Airport, which is located south of the McCarran International Airport and its Class B airspace. We are coming in from the south and we call the Control Tower on 125.1. We say, ‘Henderson Tower, this is N1234Alpha, 10 miles south inbound for landing at Henderson.’ The Tower controller answers back, ‘Roger 34Alpha, remain clear of the Las Vegas Class B airspace, enter a left downwind for runway 18, wind 180 at 12 knots, visibility 2 miles due to smoke and haze, over.’

The Question: What will you tell the Tower controller next? And if it is legal to fly VFR to Henderson Airport based on what the controller has said, tell me exactly how you will do it. Good Luck and write me with your answers and explanations!