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It's possible (and, at least by AOPA, encouraged) to submit flight plans for VFR flights, but ATC still do not perform many of the services they provide for IFR.

Suppose I submit a flight plan for a Piper Cub under which I take off, climb to FL10,000, and dock with the International Space Station before landing on the White House front lawn? Or, slightly less egregiously, a plan under which I clip an ADIZ but I don't mark it as DVFR?

Will the flight plan be rejected when I try to submit it? Will Flight Services refuse to open it? Will they open it anyways and just let me do my thing? Are they required to verify it in some way?

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  • $\begingroup$ I'm not sure if space shuttles fly VFR... $\endgroup$ – kevin Apr 16 '15 at 3:18
  • $\begingroup$ @kevin good point! Clarified that. $\endgroup$ – raptortech97 Apr 16 '15 at 3:20
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    $\begingroup$ For the first one, I don't imagine they can enter it into their computer, so they'd probably notice and say something. $\endgroup$ – cpast Apr 16 '15 at 3:22
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    $\begingroup$ My comment will be a dumb question: does the FAA verify or authorize an IFR flight plan? $\endgroup$ – CGCampbell Apr 16 '15 at 11:35
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    $\begingroup$ At that altitude you will have to lean your mixture to a point the cub may not allow. Not to mention that an individual in full EVA gear with required O2 would most likely be over the useful load of the cub. $\endgroup$ – Dave Apr 16 '15 at 13:14
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First, one small clarification: ATC doesn't offer any services to an aircraft on a VFR flight plan unless you call and request them.

This short Ask ATC video from AOPA has some useful comments:

  • Controllers don't know anything about your VFR flight plan
  • VFR flight plans are for search and rescue purposes only
  • Even if you call ATC and request flight following, they only enter the destination into their system, not your route (I assume that's because your route could be 'follow that river and then that interstate')

The key point is that VFR flight plans are recorded and managed by FSS, not ATC. So, does FSS accept whatever they're given? I couldn't find a direct answer to that question, but the FAA's procedures for receiving and handling VFR flight plans (see Chapter 6) don't include any steps to "validate" the plan (whatever that would mean anyway). Although there's a lot of detailed, tedious information there so I may have missed something :-)

In fact, this AOPA explanation implies that no one even looks at the route unless it's as part of the SAR process:

ETA plus one hour

Within a half-hour of becoming overdue or at ETA plus one hour, the search is widened by sending an INREQ (information request) to flight service facilities along the route (which is why the route of flight is specified on the flight plan). If [the pilot] had been on an IFR flight plan, the INREQ would have gone out at ETA plus 30 minutes.

The bottom line seems to be that no one really cares about your VFR flight plan unless it's actually needed to find you. So even if you can enter a nonsense plan, it wouldn't be a very good idea.

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No verification is done. You may file what you will.

This places all the responsibility for airspace incursions on the pilot in command ("PIC") where it belongs.

The only real effect of the VFR flight plan is to engage the Search and Rescue folks if you don't close the flight plan on time, and give them the route you intended to fly when you filed so that they know basically where to start the search. Note, the first thing the SAR folks will do is call your intended destination to see if you have arrived. If no, then the search begins in earnest.

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    $\begingroup$ This is great answer! Any chance you could add references or the source of authority? $\endgroup$ – raptortech97 Apr 16 '15 at 14:26
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    $\begingroup$ Defense VFR Flight Plans used for penetrating an ADIZ are a quasi-exception to the FAA's general "we don't care" attitude about VFR flight plans: The flight plans are still not "verified" & the responsibility for airspace avoidance is on the pilot, but ATC will be expecting certain things of the pilot, including a good estimate of ADIZ penetration time, and prompt communication if that estimate is going to be wrong. (There's probably a nice Advisory Circular about this but the governing regulation is FAR 99) $\endgroup$ – voretaq7 Apr 16 '15 at 19:41
  • $\begingroup$ @raptortech97: see the AIM (Aeronautical Information Manual) paragraph 5-1-4. $\endgroup$ – Skip Miller Apr 16 '15 at 21:41
  • $\begingroup$ The part I see that seems relevant is "It is strongly recommended that a flight plan (for a VFR flight) be filed with an FAA FSS. This will ensure that you receive VFR Search and Rescue Protection." That implies there are no other significant benefits to the pilot, but not that FSS will accept a patently ridiculous flight plan. In fact, I see "Block 11. Enter only those remarks that may aid in VFR search and rescue, such as ..., or remarks pertinent to the clarification of other flight plan information, such as.... Items of a personal nature are not accepted." (Emphasis mine.) $\endgroup$ – raptortech97 Apr 16 '15 at 22:26
  • $\begingroup$ So the FSS might refuse to enter certain parts of certain plans. That suggests it might be possible for an operator to refuse to enter a ridiculous plan. $\endgroup$ – raptortech97 Apr 16 '15 at 22:27

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