Filing a VFR Flight Plan

This Instructable will teach you how to properly file a VFR flight plan. A VFR flight plan is used by pilots to notify Flight Service (a service that conducts pilot briefings, flight plan operations, inflight radio communications, and search & rescue operations) about their intentions of travel and flight operations. With this information, Flight Service and Air Traffic Control facilities know the intentions of a particular flight and the operation characteristics of the flight. These characteristics include but are not limited to airspeed, equipment on board, number of people on board, time en route, pilot certification, route of flight, altitude, time of departure, fuel on board, pilot contact information, aircraft model and description, remarks of flight, etc. Once a flight plan is filed, a pilot will have the option to get a weather briefing along with any temporary flight restrictions (TFRs) or any other important information (airport closures, high traffic areas, navigational aid outages, etc.). All this information will help the pilot make any necessary changes to the route or the overall decision to make the flight or not. Essentially the flight plan is used to ensure safe air travel for all aircraft. It helps all air traffic control facilities know the route of flight and the intentions of the flight if a problem does arise.

Disclaimer:

This demonstration is for educational purposes only. Under no circumstances is the creator of this demonstration responsible or liable for any laws that may be broken or damages to persons or property. The views and opinions expressed in this demonstration do not necessarily reflect those of 1800wxbrief, Flight Service, ATC facilities, Piper, Department of Transportation, or the FAA. None of the agencies previously listed are responsible for the information in this demonstration. This demonstration is to be used privately for educational purposes and is designated for non-commercial use only. You must be a properly rated and licensed pilot to fly an aircraft and should not do so without proper authority. All pilots are required to follow the FAA’s rules and regulations and failure to do so, may result in license revocation and/or additional punishment.


Materials

  • A flight plan sheet (can be accessed online)
  • A phone
  • A computer with internet capabilities
  • A writing utensil
  • An aircraft manual for the plane you will be filling with
  • A printer with ink
  • At least a sheet of standard printer paper (8.5 inches x 11 inches)
  • A printer cable compatible for both the printer you will use and the computer you will use

Step 1: 1. Finding a Flight Plan on the Internet

Start by heading to an internet browser of your choice on an internet capable computer. In the search engine, type “flight plan” and click “search.” Once the results load up, click on “Images” to preview the many different types of flight plans. There are many different types of flight plans that you can choose.

Step 2: 2. Printing Out the Flight Plan

Once you have chosen a flight plan, right click with your mouse or touchpad to bring up the pop-up menu. Move the cursor to select “print.” A new window should open up with a printer selection box and the image you are going to print. Make sure your printer is hooked up to your computer through the capable and that your computer has your printer software downloaded. If you have trouble downloading the printer software to your computer, please see your printer manual. Once the printer is hooked up and selected, double check that all your parameters are the way you would like them. Load the printer with paper, if there is no paper in the tray. Also, make sure your printer has ink. After everything above is complete, click “print.” Your printer should print out the selected flight plan.

Step 3: 3. Gather Your Information

Now that you have a printed-out flight plan, you now need to gather the information for filling out the flight plan. You will need to know your aircraft tail number (this number may consist of both numbers and letters). An aircraft tail number is like a license plate for a car; it helps ATC, Flight Service, and the authorities identify your plane. You will also need to know the type of aircraft you are flying and any special equipment. The type of aircraft can be found in your aircraft manual (e.g., a Piper Warrior III is also known as a PA-28A). Now, your special equipment code can be found by searching the AIM (Aeronautical Information Manual) and looking up table 5-1-3. You can also consult a Flight Service Station in person or on the phone (1-800-WXBRIEF). The AIM can be accessed for free online through the FAA.gov website. Next, you will need to know the aircraft’s true airspeed which can be found in the aircraft manual. Now, you will devise a route of flight using airport identifiers. It is best to use a VFR sectional, which can be purchased at most airports (note that sectionals get updated rather frequently). Since this demonstration is mainly focused on filing, I will not cover how to plan a route. After the route, you will need to calculate how long the flight will take by using a mathematical equation (time = distance/speed) and the aircraft manual. The time en route is very important because this is the number the Flight Service Station will use to reference when they will begin their search and rescue operation (provided you did not go or make it to your filed destination). Next, any remarks such as the flight’s purpose or special considerations (for example, are you a student pilot?). Fuel on board is calculated by dividing the number of gallons in the tank by the Gallons per hour (GPH) number in the aircraft manual (e.g., 40 gallons/11 GPH = 3 hours 39 minutes). When calculating your fuel on board you need to make sure to comply with FAA fuel requirement minimums. For VFR (visual flight rules) flights you need 30 minutes of fuel beyond your destination during the day, and at night you need 45 minutes beyond your destination. Next, you can list any alternate airports that you may like to divert to in case of a problem during the flight (the airport will be identified by the airport identifier code). Next, you will need to give your contact information (name, address, phone number). List number of people on board the aircraft during the flight. Lastly, the color of the aircraft which can be used to identify the aircraft.

Step 4: 4. Filling Out the Flight Plan

In this step, you will need a writing utensil. Follow the prompts of filling out the flight plan. Since every flight plan is different, you are responsible for obtaining the proper flight plan that has all the necessary information. The FAA has examples on their website (FAA.gov) and in the AIM. Follow the prompts of the flight plan and fill in all the necessary information you have gathered.

Step 5: 5. Filing Using Your Phone

You can either phone in the flight plan to Flight Service by calling (1-800-WXBRIEF) or file online using www.fltplan.gov or www.1800wxbrief.com. Since calling the Flight Service Station is the most effective way, I will walk you through the phone call process. First, you will dial 1-800-992-7433. You will then press “call” and listen for the automated voice to begin to promote you. It will first ask what state you are departing from. Give the state that you are taking off from. Then there will be an audible tone. After the tone, say “briefer.” This should patch you through to a briefer. The briefer will ask what he/she can help you with. Tell him/her “I would like to file a VFR flight plan.” The briefer will then ask you the information section by section. If you are familiar with the process, you may start by listing the information written on the flight plan. Go in order and speak slowly and clearly, so the briefer can understand you. When you are telling the briefer individual letters, use the phonetic alphabet. Most pilots should know this alphabet, but if you are unfamiliar with it, you can find a guide online by searching “phonetic alphabet.” Once you have read all the information, the briefer will read everything back to you. Make sure that he reads back everything correctly to ensure nothing was missed or misheard. After the readback is correct, the briefer will say that your flight plan is on file, and typically they will ask if they can help you with anything else.

Step 6: 6. Asking for a Weather Briefing

This step is not mandatory, but every pilot is required to at least review the weather before a flight. Contacting the weather briefer is the simplest and most effective way to receive a weather briefing. Also, weather briefing conversations are recorded and ensure that the pilot has received a briefing. The FAA can access these records in case a pilot has a crash or is lost along the flight. After filing, the briefer will ask if they can help you with anything else. You should state that you would like a standard VFR weather briefing. The briefer will then give you all the necessary information about the weather along your route, any TFRs, airport information, airspace restrictions, and they may give you an opinion if you should fly that route based on weather conditions. For pilots, the weather is a huge determining factor to fly. Not every plane can handle certain weather conditions. It is up to the pilot to make the final decision and know the limitations of both him/herself and the limitations of the aircraft. After the briefer is done with the weather briefing, the call can be ended, and your flight plan is now filed.

Step 7: 7. Complete the Rest of the Before Flight Tasks

There is a lot to get done before the flying can take place. Pilots need to collect weather information, pre-flight the airplane (inspect), fill out a weight & balance, calculate takeoff and landing distances, file flight plans (optional), and know as much as they can about the aircraft they are flying. Now, there is no set order to which these items get done, but they must be done before the wheels leave the ground. Flying is a privilege and should be treated just as that. Whenever you are thinking about flying, always have safety in the back of your mind. Safety is the number one concern in the aviation industry. Being prepared and as safe as you can are two of the best things you can be when flying. Flying is not meant for everyone. Treat aviation with the respect it deserves.

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