I called out the Interactive Pilot readers a few weeks ago by asking them to get off the fence and into the Challenge — you responded and overwhelmingly met the challenge.
The Challenge 5 question (click through and scroll half-way down the page] asked about Visual Check Points on the Sectional Chart. But the question was not about the checkpoint (Figure 1), but about how VFR pilots should use that checkpoint. Ninety-four percent of the iPilot readers who responded to the challenge knew the correct answer and the correct procedure.
How they’re used… Pilots should use Visual Check Points when first transmitting to ATC inbound to a Class C airport. When a pilot uses the name of a Visual Check Point on the radio the controller knows right where that pilot is. If you call up and announce that you are over a landmark that is not a Visual Checkpoint, the controller may or may not be able to find you quickly. Now, admittedly, this is somewhat a dated procedure. Most radar identification is now done with transponder codes and the transponder’s “ident” feature. Nevertheless the Visual Check Points can be used to help us work with ATC smoothly.VISUAL CHECK POINTS
What it means… The Visual Check Points that are on Sectional Charts are designated with a red flag and by a name printed in all bold capitol letters that is underlined. But being designated as a Visual Check Point on the chart means more than just being a good landmark. If the flag only meant that the landmark was easy to recognize from the air, then red flags would be all over the chart! The specific landmarks selected as Visual Check Points are indicated on the chart and their positions are marked on the air traffic controller’s radar screen. But not just any radar screen — Visual Checkpoints form a perimeter around radar controlled airports, such as those that have Class C airspace.
Note: In the Challenge 5 example the Visual Check Point I selected happened to be under a Victor Airway, and several readers thought the Visual Check Point was associated with the Airway in some way. The Airway in the case was just coincidental to the question.
Preflight planning… It turns out that just about anything that is easily recognizable can be used as a Visual Check Point. Figure 2, above, is loaded with many types of these checkpoints. Notice that “Narragansett Pier” and “Pt. Judith” are checkpoints. Both could easily be recognized from the air with a little chart study prior to takeoff. Also bridges at Jamestown and Newport are controller-recognized checkpoints. It is very important for pilots who are flying into unfamiliar territory to study these Visual Check Points as part of preflight planning. The coastline offered many clearly recognizable features, but what about inland?
In Figure 3, above, “Lake Travis” is shown as a controller checkpoint. The shape of this lake would distinguish it from others and can be used to determine position.
Terminal Area vs. Sectional… Figure 4 is the Indianapolis Terminal Area chart — it’s loaded with Visual Check Points. This brings up a very important point: Terminal Area Charts have more Visual Check Points on them than Sectional Charts. So, when flying into congested airspace, go ahead and get the Terminal Chart — not just the Sectional. Using the Sectional — only — means you don’t know where the radar checkpoints are and don’t have the clearest picture of the area in which you’re flying. The Indianapolis Terminal Chart indicates very specific landmarks as checkpoints, like “Big Tank,” “Railroad Yards,” and “Kentucky Avenue.” The Indianapolis “Speedway Race Track” and “Girls School” are also controller checkpoints. (Does anyone want to speculate on how we are to determine that this is a girls’ school from the air? I bet the controller knows!)
Staying on top… These checkpoints could play a vital role in identifying your airplane to controllers and accommodating local traffic efficiently (read: getting you and everyone else quickly to the appropriate destinations). Always use the most appropriate chart — that’s the Terminal Area chart if you’ll be in the area of the terminal — and be familiar with the designated Visual Check Points.
Challenge 6: Raising the Bar
Now take a look at the chart example provided below.
Question: What is the VFR Waypoint and more importantly, how should VFR pilots use it?The symbol in the example is a “VFR Waypoint.” The term “waypoint” has, for the most part, been reserved as an IFR term. A waypoint is an electronically determined position that is remote from an actual radio navigation station. You may be familiar with the RNAV system that has the capability to produce “phantom stations” and create a straight-line course. This avoids a zig-zag course provided by tracking VORs. Once established by the RNAV computer, the phantom station was then known as a “waypoint.” The VFR Waypoint seen here on the chart example is a “fix” that is not over a navigation station, but it is not associated with RNAV.
Hint: The VFR Waypoints do not use actual town or landmark names. Instead they use a five-letter code that always starts with the letters “VP.“