I don't know if this also applies to the U.S. or just to Europe, but in Europe the civilian airspace is frequently used by military jets. On numerous occasions I've seen F-16's and other fighter jets using the same airspace I was flying in (both controlled and uncontrolled)

According to the regulations, we should "see and avoid" other traffic but does that rule apply when encountering these fast military jets? Let's face it: there's no way you can see and avoid a fighter jet approaching at +400kts.

Are there specific regulations covering this? Who's at fault when a midair collision occurs? (sadly it has happened in the past)


It happened again last week: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2015_Moncks_Corner_mid-air_collision

How can something like this happen? Don't F16's have their own radar?

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    $\begingroup$ Below 10,000MSL there is a speed limit of 250kts anyway with the exception of Military Operating Areas (MOA) that are depicted on the charts. cfinotebook.net/notebook/airspace/military-operating-area.html Makes me feel better anyway since I fly small airplanes usually below 10k $\endgroup$
    – p1l0t
    Feb 7 '14 at 16:59
  • $\begingroup$ youtube.com/watch?v=qLVtstYAZLY $\endgroup$ Feb 7 '14 at 19:39
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    $\begingroup$ @p1l0t Actually that speed limit is waived for military aircraft on MTR's (see the 2nd excerpt in my answer below). $\endgroup$
    – Lnafziger
    Feb 8 '14 at 3:23
  • $\begingroup$ Yes I'm aware of this. I did forget to mention though. $\endgroup$
    – p1l0t
    Feb 8 '14 at 21:56
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    $\begingroup$ @Sean see this Q&A: aviation.stackexchange.com/questions/34480/… (essentially lack of control below 250 kts) $\endgroup$
    – SSumner
    Jan 31 '19 at 11:30

It is both parties responsibility to see-and-avoid, but it does help to know where you are more likely to find high speed military activity and high performance maneuvering to aid you in seeing and avoiding.

Military operations in the US are typically confined to military training routes (MTR), military operations areas (MOA), restricted airspace and prohibited airspace.

The MTRs are low altitude, high speed routes and are charted on sectional charts so you know to be extra vigilant around them or to just avoid them altogether.

Military operation areas or MOAs are charted and are big boxes with ceiling and floor altitudes. GA aircraft can query ATC if these are active and in any case they can fly into them. If a GA aircraft penetrates and active MOA, the military activity is typically stopped until you leave. General rule of thumb is to just not go there.

Restricted areas are only accessible to you when cold, so there will not be military activity there if you allowed to be there.

Prohibited airspace may not have military activity before you show up, but certainly will after you do, and you might get to watch an F16 attempt slow flight and form up on your wing. Remember your intercept procedures for this one.

Any military activity outside of this will generally be typical enroute flying at altitude. You will occasionally hear ATC coordinating mid-air refueling but that won't be something you have to worry about.

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    $\begingroup$ This is certainly not the case in Belgium. Our home was located in G-airspace and we regularly saw F-16s buzzing overhead at 500ft AGL. It's definitely not a military training route. $\endgroup$ Feb 7 '14 at 16:24
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    $\begingroup$ @PhilippeLeybaert Yeah, the U.S. has a lot more wide open space in which the military can practice than most Western European countries, especially Belgium. If you look at sectionals of almost any state in the Western or Central U.S., there are MOAs (and/or restricted areas) everywhere. $\endgroup$
    – reirab
    Dec 30 '14 at 21:24
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    $\begingroup$ Yeah, there's a big one down south of Abilene, called the Brownwood MOA, where most of the guys stationed in Texas go to play. It's no more than an hour's cruise time from JB San Antonio, NAS-JRB Ft Worth and Dyess AFB. $\endgroup$
    – KeithS
    Jun 22 '15 at 22:18

Yes, both pilots are required to see and avoid at all times when operating in VMC conditions. Typically the military pilots have radar used to pickup other aircraft that can help them, but ultimately it still comes down to looking outside.

We have military training routes charted here in the US that are used by military aircraft when operating at high speeds, and pilot should be especially vigilant when operating in the vicinity of one of these routes. Use all available information: Get flight following and contact the frequency on the chart for current operational information, and above all keep an eye out for them!

The Aeronautical Chart Users Guide shows an example of how they chart it on VFR Charts:

Military Training Routes (MTRs) are shown on Sectionals and TACs. They are identified by the route designator: MTR example. Route designators are shown in solid black on the route centerline, positioned along the route for continuity. The designator IR or VR is not repeated when two or more routes are established over the same airspace, e.g., IR201- 205-227. Routes numbered 001 to 099 are shown as IR1 or VR99, eliminating the initial zeros. Direction of flight along the route is indicated by small arrowheads adjacent to and in conjunction with each route designator.

The following note appears on Sectionals and TACs covering the conterminous United States.

MTR Warning

There are IFR (IR) and VFR (VR) routes as follows: Route identification: a. Routes at or below 1500’ AGL (with no segment above 1500’) are identified by four-digit numbers; e.g., VR1007, etc. These routes are generally developed for flight under Visual Flight Rules. b. Routes above 1500’ AGL (some segments of these routes may be below 1500’) are identified by three or fewer digit numbers; e.g., IR21, VR302, etc. These routes are developed for flight under Instrument Flight Rules.

MTRs can vary in width from 4 to 16 miles. Detailed route width information is available in the Flight Information Publication (FLIP) AP/1B (a DoD publication), or in the Digital Aeronautical Chart Supplement (DACS) produced by AeroNav Products. Special Military Activity areas are indicated on the Sectionals by a boxed note in black type. The note contains radio frequency information for obtaining area activity status.

MTR Frequency Box

On IFR charts, they are similar:


Military Training Routes (MTRs) are routes established for the conduct of low-altitude, high-speed military flight training (generally below 10,000 feet MSL at airspeeds in excess of 250 knots Indicated Air Speed). These routes are depicted in brown on Enroute Low Altitude Charts, and are not shown on inset charts or on IFR Enroute High Altitude Charts. Enroute Low Altitude Charts depict all IR (IFR Military Training Route) and VR (VFR Military Training Route) routes, except those VRs that are entirely at or below 1,500 feet AGL. Military Training Routes are identified by designators (IR-107, VR-134) which are shown in brown on the route centerline. Arrows are shown to indicate the direction of flight along the route. The width of the route determines the width of the line that is plotted on the chart:

Route segments with a width of 5 NM or less, both sides of the centerline, are shown by a .02” line.

Route segments with a width greater than 5 NM, either or both sides of the centerline, are shown by a .035” line.

MTRs for particular chart pairs (ex. L1/2, etc.) are alphabetically, then numerically tabulated. The tabulation includes MTR type and unique ident and altitude range.

As far as who is at fault, it is a joint responsibility so everybody would be in most cases.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ There's no way you can see and avoid a fighter jet at speed. $\endgroup$ Feb 7 '14 at 16:02
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    $\begingroup$ Sell your 172 and buy a war-surplus F-4. $\endgroup$ Feb 7 '14 at 16:08
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    $\begingroup$ Quite the opposite, I regularly am flying directly at another jet with a closing speed of greater than 900 KTS and can see them quite well. Not for very long, but I can see them. :) $\endgroup$
    – Lnafziger
    Feb 7 '14 at 16:09
  • $\begingroup$ @Lnafziger I'm sure you can, but you probably knew where to look. $\endgroup$ Feb 7 '14 at 16:21
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Lo these many years ago, the US Navy had a poster up for flight safety. It stated, " At today's jet speeds, the time involved from seeing an oncoming aircraft to the time the pilots can almost react is short." $\endgroup$
    – Mike Brass
    Dec 29 '18 at 9:49

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