What is the color and light sequence of a land-based airport beacon?

The beacon for a land-based civil airport is an alternating white and green light.

There are several different light combinations for airports and helipads.  These are:

White-Green: Lighted land airport
White-White-Green: Military land airport
White-Yellow: Lighted water airport or seabase
Green-Yellow-White: Lighted heliport

Reference(s):

AIM 2018 2-1-10
FAA-H-8083-25B Pilot’s Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge pg. 14-16

Other Airport and Helicopter Topics

When is the beacon operated at airports?

The beacon is operated from sunset to sunrise and when less than VFR conditions during the day.

Although the beacon is often on during IFR conditions, the fact that a beacon may be off during the day, does not constitute VFR conditions.  A pilot must confirm the conditions.

Reference(s):

FAA-H-8083-25B Pilot’s Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge pg. 14-16

Other Airport and Heliport Topics

What is the traffic pattern for a helicopter at an untowered airport?

The helicopter is to avoid the flow of fixed-wing traffic.

In general, general aviation airplanes fly a left-hand pattern at 1,000foot AGL. A helicopter has a lot of options when flying a pattern at an uncontrolled airport.  For students, a common option will be a 500-foot AGL pattern with right traffic.  However, any pattern that avoids the 1000 AGL pattern of fixed-wing aircraft is appropriate.  Outside of student environment, helicopters will perform approaches directly to their intended landing area, avoiding the fixed wing traffic.  Due to obstructions, noise abatement, or other reasons, some airports have right-hand traffic requirements, so check with the Chart Supplement (f/k/a Airport Directory) for that specific airport.

Reference(s):

14 CFR 91.126 Operating on or in the vicinity of an airport in Class G airspace
FAA AC 90-66B Non-Towered Airport Flight Operations

Other Airport and Helicopter Topics

How should a pilot report their position when approaching a non-towered airport?

On the common radio frequency, state the airport, helicopter tail number, distance, direction and altitude.

The following is an example radio call, “Danville traffic, helicopter 725A, five miles to the south, at 1800 feet, inbound for landing, Danville.”

Stating the airport, such as “Danville traffic” alerts pilots in the area that a relevant radio call is about to be transmitted.  Stating, “helicopter” and tail number allows the pilots to know it is a helicopter so that they could anticipate the type of flight activity.  Stating “five miles to the south” provide the other pilot a general location to start looking for you.  Stating the altitude further helps other pilots identify the helicopter’s location.  Do not state altitude before general direction and distance as other pilots need to be looking in the general direction first and it is hard to remember items while flying.  Stating “inbound for landing” informs others to know the intention on the flight.  At this point, the specific runway or direction does not need to be stated.  Wait to hear if others are already in the pattern and/or what runways they are landing.  Ending with “Danville” helps other pilots confirm if the call was for their airport or another nearby airport that maybe sharing a common frequency.

Reference(s):

AIM 2018 4-2-1

Other Airport and Helicopter Topics

How are instructions received from the tower if the helicopter’s radio fail?

If radio fails, the transponder should be set to 7600 and light signals should be received from the tower.

If the radio fails prior to taking off, it is unlikely that a pilot will attempt to take off from a controlled airport without contacting ATC via telephone or in person.  That is, airport operations would know the pilot’s intentions and could give them light signals to proceed.  An example would be to return to the pilot’s home airport for repairs.  In flight, a pilot may need to land at a controlled airport, but the pilot could consider diverting to an uncontrolled airport.  Although light signals are available, the lack of communication does increase the level of risk.

Diagram showing the different ATC aircraft light signals

Reference(s):

14 CFR 91.209 Aircraft lights

Other Airport and Helicopter Topics

What is a NOTAM?

A NOTAM, or Notice to Airman, is time‐critical aeronautical information which is of either a temporary nature or not sufficiently known in advance to permit publication on aeronautical charts or in other operational publications.

NOTAM information is that aeronautical information that could affect a pilot’s decision to make a flight.  It includes such information as airport or aerodrome primary runway closures, taxiways, ramps, obstructions, communications, airspace, changes in the status of navigational aids, ILSs, radar service availability and other information essential to planned enroute, terminal or landing operations.

The primary NOTAMs of relevance are the NOTAM D, FDC NOTAM, and Pointer NOTAM.

NOTAM (D) information is disseminated for all navigational facilities that are part of the National Airspace System (NAS), all public use airports, seaplane bases, and heliports listed in the Chart Supplement.  NOTAM (D) information includes such data as taxiway closures, personnel and equipment near or crossing runways, and airport lighting aids that do not affect instrument approach criteria, such as VASI. NOTAM(D) includes (U) NOTAMs and (O) NOTAMs. (U) NOTAMs are unverified NOTAMs which are those that are received from a source other than airport management and have not yet been confirmed by management personnel.  This is allowed only at those airports where airport management has authorized it by Letter of Agreement.  (O) NOTAMs are other aeronautical information which does not meet NOTAM criteria but may be beneficial to aircraft operations.

FDC NOTAMS or Flight Data Center NOTAMS are NOTAMs that are regulatory in nature such as changes to an instrument approach procedure and other current aeronautical charts Temporary Flight Restrictions (TFRs) are also issued as FDC NOTAMs.

Pointer NOTAM are issued by a flight service station to highlight or point out another NOTAM, such as an FDC or NOTAM (D). A pointer NOTAM will assist users in cross-referencing important information that may not be found under an airport or NAVAID identifier.  Keywords in pointer NOTAMs must match the keywords in the NOTAM that is being pointed out.  The keyword in pointer NOTAMs related to Temporary Flight Restrictions (TFR) must be AIRSPACE.

NOTAM (L) is now used only in the military NOTAM system.  All NOTAMs previously considered NOTAM (L)s in the civil NOTAM system are now considered NOTAM (D)s.  A NOTAM L is given local dissemination by voice and other means, such as telautograph and telephone, to satisfy local user requirements.

NOTAMS are published in the Notice to Airmen Publication every 4 weeks.  Once published, the information is not necessarily provided during pilot weather briefings unless specifically requested by the pilot.

NOTAM data may not always be current due to the changeable nature of national airspace system components, delays inherent in processing information, and occasional temporary outages of the U.S. NOTAM system.  While enroute, pilots should contact Flight Service Station (FSS)s and obtain updated information for their route of flight and destination.

Reference(s):

AIM 2018 5-1-1. Preflight Preparation
AIM 2018 5-1-3. Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) System
https://notams.aim.faa.gov/notamSearch/nsapp.html#/

Other Aviation Weather Services

What is the hemispheric rule?

The hemispheric rule provides for vertical separation of aircraft.

All aircraft operating VFR at least 3,000 AGL and less than 18,000MSL must maintain appropriate altitude based on their direction of flight, specifically on their magnetic course.  VFR Aircraft on a magnetic course of 000 -179, or easterly direction, must fly at odd thousands plus 500 feet, such as 3,500, 5,500, 7,500…17,500.  VFR aircraft flying in a westerly direction or a magnetic course of 180-359 should fly at even thousands plus 500 feet, such as 4,500, 6,500, 8,500…16,500.  As these aircraft are flying VFR, there is a margin of safety added that if two aircraft are at the same altitude, they should not be heading at each other.

Remember, this is based on magnetic course not heading.  As such, be very cautious when heading directly north or south as others may have made a mistake.

The plus 500 feet provides for vertical separation from IFR traffic that fly on even and odd thousands.

There are some exclusions to the hemispheric rule.  These exclusions include when being directed or authorized by ATC, in a holding pattern of 2 minutes or less, or turning.

Reference(s):

14 CFR 91.159 – VFR cruising altitude or flight level.

Other Navigation and Airspace Topics

What is a victor airway?

A victor airway is a standard route for aircraft traffic, generally between two VORs or VOR intersections.

Victor airways include the airspace 4 miles on each side.  The airways are based on the radials of VORs.  The airways are available for IFR or VFR traffic from 1,200 AGL to 18,000 MSL.  The airways are useful for ATC to separate IFR traffic, in particular in places without radar coverage as the aircraft can be separated by altitude and/or time.  On a VFR sectional, victor airways are depicted at a blue line and numbered starting with a “V”, such as V280.

Reference(s):

AIM 2018 5-3-4. Airways and Route Systems

Other Navigation and Airspace Topics

What is a military training route?

A military training route is a designated route used by low-level, high-speed military aircraft.

These routes are either designated as either IFR (IR) or VFR (VR) and three or four-letter designations.  A four-letter designation is low-level where no segment of the route is above 1,500 AGL.  If some segments are above 1,500 AGL, three letter designations are used.  All routes are generally below 10,000MSL.  The four-letter routes are lower.  Some people use the mnemonic “Three in the tree, four on the floor” to help remember.

Reference(s):

FAA-H-8083-25B Pilot’s Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge 15-6

Other Navigation and Airspace Topics

What is special use airspace?

Special use airspace is air space that poses specific risks or requirements to pilots not participating in the operations.

The most common types of special airspace include Prohibited areas, Restricted areas, Warning areas, Military operation areas (MOAs),  Alert areas, and Controlled firing areas (CFAs).

As the name suggests, Prohibited areas are identified areas in which aircraft are not allowed.  Prohibited areas are often created for security reasons.  On aeronautical charts, prohibited areas are identified with a “P” followed by a number, such as P-40, which is Camp David.

Image depicting a prohibited area of special use airspace

Restricted areas are areas identified as hazardous to non-participating aircraft.  Flight into restricted areas is not prohibited, but as the name suggests, there are restrictions.  Restricted areas denote the existence of unusual, often invisible hazards to aircraft, such as artillery firing or aerial gunnery.  To ensure safe flight, the pilot should obtain authorization from the using or controlling agency when active.  The times the airspace is active are listed on the chart, generally in the margin.  However, NOTAMS should be confirmed to determine if changes have occurred.  Times of use shown on the chart are not exclusive.  In fact, some restricted areas include the notation “other times by NOTAM.”  Restricted areas are identified with an “R” followed by a number, such as R-4009, which overlies the prohibited area P-40.  Another example would be R-2307 which is outside of the Yuma Proving Ground in AZ.  Before VFR flight into restricted area, check NOTAMS to determine whether times of use have changed.  Once airborne, contact the controlling agency to determine whether the restricted area is “hot” and to request permission to fly in this airspace.  Frequencies for the controlling agency are listed on Sectional Charts.

Image depicting restricted area special use airspace on a chart

Warning areas are similar to restricted areas, except the United States does not have sole jurisdiction over the airspace.  Warning areas are identified with a “W” and a number, such as W-237.  A warning area is airspace of defined dimensions, extending from 3 NM outward from the coast of the United States, containing activity that may be hazardous to non-participating aircraft.

Image of a chart showing special use airspace military operation area or MOA

Military Operation Areas (MOAs) are defined vertical and lateral areas for military training activities.  MOAs are named on charts, such as BRUSH CREEK MOA.  The back of a chart depicts the times the MOA is active, altitude affected, and the controlling agency.

Image of a chart showing special use airspace military operation area or MOA

Alert areas identify areas of significant pilot training or other type of aerial activity.  All participating and non-participating pilots are responsible for collision avoidance.  Use extreme caution if operating in an alert area.

Controlled firing areas (CFAs) stop activity if a non-participating aircraft is identified.  CFAs are not identified on charts as the activities cease and do not impact the flightpath of the non-participating aircraft.

Reference(s):

FAA-H-8083-25B Pilot’s Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge 15-4
AIM 2018 3-4-1. General
https://sua.faa.gov (displays active SUAs)

Other Navigation and Airspace Topics