Trivia Testers : We have clearance, Clarence!

ROGER: We have clearance, Clarence.
CLARENCE: Roger, Roger. What’s our vector, Victor?

Just where and when did pilots start saying “Roger” to acknowledge receipt of a radio communication, anyway?

  1. College Park, Maryland, 1911, at the Army Aviation School
  2. Washington D.C., in 1946, by the Bureau of Aeronautics
  3. in the United States, since before WWII
  4. only since the Korean War

Answer: Since the days of Morse code communications, the letter “R” was used to mean, “I have received your message.” It was first used because of its obvious familiarity from the days of early radiotelephony because it represented the letter R in an early (but not the first) phonetic alphabet. Since 1927, the word “Roger” was used (up until WWII, in the US) to represent the letter R. Despite the subsequent switch to “Romeo” for the letter R in the ITU or NATO phonetic alphabet, it stuck. The right answer is choice C.

Right Through the Ceiling
Sailplane pilots ride thermals to gain free altitude. At some point, when the moisture in the air reaches the dew point, it condenses to form a cloud. Assuming that instability continues, such a column of rising air will keep going up, regardless of the fact that it’s no longer doing so under visual meteorological conditions (or VMC) as far as the pilot is concerned, although it will do so at a somewhat slower rate, as a rule. (If this were not so, clouds would have little or no vertical dimension.) The question is this: In order to gain as much altitude as possible, is it legal for a sailplane pilot to continue soaring upward in IMC, inside a cloud?

  1. Although it is done outside of the United States in Class F airspace, it is illegal in the US.
  2. It can be done, but there are some restrictive qualifications with which both pilot and aircraft must be in compliance.
  3. Although it used to be perfectly legal prior to the mid-1970s and it is still not technically illegal according to the letter of the law, practically speaking, it is no longer approved by ATC.
  4. The pilot must have a glider instrument rating, and the aircraft must be equipped for IFR flight.

Answer: Some things in aviation open up a can of worms. This is one of them. Glider pilots used to do it all the time (those who had at least rudimentary instruments for attitude control, that is). In Gerry Casey’s book, “Flying As It Was” he mentioned flying gliders up past the ceiling, and right up into clouds. However, that was half a century ago. Today, it’s not easy to pin down just where, when, and how someone might do this in an un-powered glider. Just what regulations in Part 61 or Part 91 address testing, qualifications, or instrumentation requirements that would allow a pilot to continue climbing in a thermal, right up into a cloud?

First of all, there are specifications for instrument ratings in airplanes, helicopters, and powered-lift aircraft, but you won’t see anything about gliders (or lighter-than-air vehicles either, at first). As it turns out, they’re covered, but as is typical of the regulations, the coverage is oblique, and inferential, and the interpretations can be pretty nebulous. Let’s start with CFR Title 14, Part 61.3(e)(3). According to this ruling, it looks like all one needs are glider and instrument ratings:

    “(3) For a glider, a pilot certificate with a glider category rating and an airplane instrument rating; or…”

So yes, there is no such-a thing as a glider instrument rating, folks (nor for airships). It would seem that all a pilot needs to have is a current instrument rating and be in an IFR-equipped sailplane. (Actually, the pilot would also have to be instrument-current in gliders, and there’s actually a regulation addressing this.) Continuing my research, I called my local Flight Standards District Office, my local friendly Designated Examiner, my local Washington DC area Tracon (“Potomac”), AOPA’s Technical Services folks, as well as the Denver ARTCC (out where wave soaring can go to phenomenal heights) and the Soaring Society of America out in Hobbs, New Mexico. I also spoke with noted sailplane authority and author Tom Knauff in Pennsylvania, as well as with Frank Phillips, ATP and an FAA Designated Examiner (as well as an attorney) in Easton, Maryland, and finally, noted aviation writer, retired airline pilot, and author, Barry Schiff. Here’s what I was able to piece together.

First of all, back East, there is virtually no soaring in IMC. (Tom Knauff asserted in fact that in the US, there isn’t any at all, period, but that it’s often done in England.) Out where the sky is big and the orographic lifting potential is much greater, there are actually charted soaring areas, particularly for wave soaring, which are blocks of reserved airspace with latitude and longitude limits as well as floors and ceilings. For example, with the Pikes Peak (so called “Black Forest”) areas 1, 2, 3, and 4, they go from FL 180 all the way up to FL 600. There are others as well, such as Salida (1 through 5), or Curley Peaks. According to a Denver Center controller, there are Letters of Agreement with several soaring societies, as well as the USAF Academy. (However, these are more for penetration into Class A and not into IMC. Also, IFR operations in Class A airspace can become hazardous for aircraft such as gliders, because of the dangers of icing.). A pilot must call several hours in advance to make such a reservation, and they ask pilots to remain in two-way communication. Apparently there’s some degree of contrast with FAR 91.205, because transponder use is not mandatory (or at least, observed). The IFR rules for gliders are the same as for airplanes. As you might guess, most sailplanes lack many of the instruments that are required for IMC flight under this rule, and most do not even have a radio. (In the case of a glider so equipped though, all inspections for those instruments must have been performed with in the preceding 24 calendar months. There also used to be an Advisory Circular 20-46, effective back in September of 1965, titled “Suggested Equipment for Gliders Operating Under IFR”, but it has since been removed.) In controlled airspace?this would mean Class E, most likely — you need a flight plan, and a clearance (and a block of airspace). One helpful aspect would be to find a slow sector, traffic-wise. Otherwise, you are limited to IFR flight in uncontrolled airspace. According to Barry Schiff, a glider pilot can fly IFR in any uncontrolled airspace that has been blocked out for that purpose. (I don’t know about you, but swooping around inside a cloud in a non-radar environment isn’t something I’d feel real comfortable doing.) But, is there anything at all in the “FARs” that sanctions or even refers to flying a glider in IMC? You bet! It’s right here, in Part 61.57, in sub-part (c)(2), in fact:

§ 61.57 Recent flight experience: Pilot in command.
. . .

(c) Instrument experience. Except as provided in paragraph (e) of this section, no person may act as pilot in command under IFR or in weather conditions less than the minimums prescribed for VFR, unless within the preceding 6 calendar months, that person has:

(1) For the purpose of obtaining instrument experience in an aircraft (other than a glider)?
(2) For the purpose of obtaining instrument experience in a glider, performed and logged under actual or simulated instrument conditions —

(i) At least 3 hours of instrument time in flight, of which 1 1/2 hours may be acquired in an airplane or a glider if no passengers are to be carried; or
(ii) 3 hours of instrument time in flight in a glider if apassenger is to be carried.

The bottom line? As FAR (hah, hah) as I can determine, it’s B.

The Birds
While en route at 4000 feet, ATC issues you the following advisory: “Flock of small birds, twelve o’clock, six miles, last reported at four thousand.” What does this signify?

  1. It means that you may be crossing paths with an F-117A. The radar returns of such stealth aircraft are often diffracted by the networked mosaic of Center ARSR radar antennas into patterns which resemble a flock of birds.
  2. The controller is probably a trainee, and has made an error. Most birds don’t show up on radar.
  3. You might want to request a higher altitude. Some types of radar can detect flocks of birds, but they may also have been reported by another pilot.
  4. Real birds don’t show up on radar, but phantom ones can. The shadows could be an artifact of ionospheric refraction, and subsequent diffraction of returns from distant high terrain.

Answer: ATC can issue advisory information on bird activity. And this example uses the exact phraseology recommended in the controller’s handbook, or FAA Order 7110.65N. It’s choice C. Here is the paragraph, in fact, verbatim: 2-1-22. BIRD ACTIVITY INFORMATION a. Issue advisory information on pilot-reported, tower-observed, or radar-observed and pilot-verified bird activity. Include position, species or size of birds, if known, course of flight, and altitude. Do this for at least 15 minutes after receipt of such information from pilots or from adjacent facilities unless visual observation or subsequent reports reveal the activity is no longer a factor. EXAMPLE- “Flock of geese, one o’clock, seven miles, northbound, last reported at four thousand.” “Flock of small birds, southbound along Mohawk River, last reported at three thousand.” “Numerous flocks of ducks, vicinity Lake Winnebago, altitude unknown.” b. Relay bird activity information to adjacent facilities and to FSS’s whenever it appears it will become a factor in their areas.