If you are flying VFR into deterioration weather conditions and would like to continue the flight under IFR, or you would like to climb to a better altitude but are restricted by a cloud layer, what is the easiest way to go about requesting and instrument clearance.


Assuming you are not already talking to ATC:

You: Houston Center, Cessna 1234X, request*

Center: Cessna 34X, Houston Center, go ahead

You: Cessna 34X is a 172/U, 35 North IDU, 4500 ft, request IFR to Austin

Center: Cessna 34X ident, fly heading 270

Center: Cessna 34X is cleared to AUS via radar vectors, climb and maintain 6000 ft, squawk 5634

This is essentially the same as making a request for VFR flight following services with the exceptions:

  • Your aircraft needs to be legal for IFR.
  • You need to be rated and current for IFR.
  • You will receive a clearance.

If you already have flight following and need IFR, the controller has you on his scope and already has a strip for you, and you just need to ask him to make you IFR. In that case he will just put you on an IFR altitude and give you a clearance limit and route.

*As noted in the comments, you may decorate this call with something identifying the nature of your request

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    $\begingroup$ Only thing I'd add is that on your initial call, you should say "Cessna 1234X, VFR, request". Basically stating to ATC "I'm currently VFR, and you haven't heard from me before, so don't go looking for me in your flights or on your scope; You're not currently responsible for me." $\endgroup$ – abelenky Jan 27 '14 at 15:19
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    $\begingroup$ That is a point of technique but may also misrepresent your intentions. A controller may interpret that as a precursor to a flight following or other request for VFR services rather than a cold call for IFR services. In practice I usually add my specific request to the end of that call e.g. request flight following or request popup IFR. $\endgroup$ – casey Jan 27 '14 at 15:32
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    $\begingroup$ If the request is denied you will be instructed to "maintain VFR". If you have to have the clearance, indicate you need priority to the controller. If you can maintain VFR and continue, do so and ask the next controller. An IFR request is much less likely to be denied than a flight following request. Another option if denied is to call FSS over VHF and file an IFR flight plan with them. Then call back the controller to activate your flight plan. $\endgroup$ – casey Jan 27 '14 at 16:42
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    $\begingroup$ The best way I've found to make an initial call to a controller who isn't handling me is: "Houston Center, good morning, Cessna 1234X...". It's simple, quick, the controller always gets the message, and they always seem a little more friendly when they respond. Controllers are people too. $\endgroup$ – Steve V. Jan 27 '14 at 17:48
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    $\begingroup$ Note that the AIM actually recommends adding "VFR" to your initial clearance request. See this answer: aviation.stackexchange.com/a/1852/69 $\endgroup$ – Lnafziger Feb 27 '14 at 18:50

There is an excellent article on AvWeb about Pop-Up IFR which goes into more about when pilots should ask for a pop-up IFR clearance. One of the most importatnt aspects is that if you are starting to get uncomfortable with the weather, or are being forced lower and lower, don't hesitate just because you aren't familiar with the proper procedure.

Obviously, you need to talk to ATC. Find a frequency on your charts or from FSS. If time is of the essence (you are in deteriorating VFR conditions and it's no better behind you) then ask for help on guard (121.5) rather than endangering yourself while looking for a frequency. If the weather has gotten so bad that you are no longer able to maintain VFR or can no longer maintain safe terrain clearance, then start climbing immediately and contact ATC as soon as possible for help and a clearance.

More than anything else, be clear when you are in need. Don't hesitate to declare an emergency if needed. They really want to help you in this situation! All of this applies, even if you aren't 100% legal for IFR flight if it can be done safely (i.e. just because your transponder hasn't received a 24 month inspection in time doesn't mean that you should just keep going lower until you end up clipping a tower).

All of that being said, asking for the clearance is done in pretty much the same way as asking for VFR flight following. Tell them who you are, where you are, and what you need. Their first priority when they get a request like this is to get you somewhere safe, and then they will ask you for additional information if they need it.

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    $\begingroup$ Asking FSS to get you a controller is a very good idea and easy to do. They will basically tell you to ident and then call up the center/approach and ask whose scope you are flashing on and hand you off to them for services. $\endgroup$ – casey Jan 28 '14 at 19:01
  • $\begingroup$ @abelenky, If you call me using only the aircraft ID, "Denver Center, N1234X", I'm writing down the callsign, and then typing in a database search to see if you've filed anything starting my airspace. If you haven't, I've still got my pencil ready for when I say, "N1234X, Denver Center, go ahead". That's just a technique, of course, but my trainees do it, as well (or my ghost will haunt them). $\endgroup$ – atc_ceedee May 18 at 18:22

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