Just to make sure if I am right before I get in trouble.

If I am taking off from an uncontrolled airport for IFR flight, assuming I received IFR clearance on the ground, can I enter into the clouds before I contact approach (or center) after takeoff? Even when the Golf starts at the surface or 700 ft?

Would clearance give me a heading and altitude that I would want to follow right after takeoff?

  • 3
    $\begingroup$ What class of airspace are you in? $\endgroup$ Jan 15, 2018 at 22:21
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Which country, which airspace, and what exactly did the clearance say? $\endgroup$
    – Pondlife
    Jan 16, 2018 at 7:17
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ If you're unclear you should check with a CFII $\endgroup$
    – Steve Kuo
    Jan 16, 2018 at 16:28
  • $\begingroup$ This question is unclear-- "Even when the Golf starts at the surface or 700 ft?" -- Golf "starting" at 700 ft sounds like you mean 700 feet is the floor not the ceiling of Golf, which is confusing. Especially in the context of the other possibility "Golf starts at the surface" which is obviously a reference to the floor of Golf not the ceiling. Can you rephrase this sentence and clarify please? $\endgroup$ Jan 12 at 0:33

2 Answers 2


For typical uncontrolled airports which have instrument approaches, they are usually in Class G airspace from the surface to 700’ AGL. In this airspace, yes, you can - at least from a regulatory perspective fly in IMC without ATC clearance, provided you remain outside of controlled airspace.

In order to fly a cleared IFR flight plan, you would have to depart into uncontrolled airspace prior to climbing into the Class E shelf above the airport. Typically, IFR departure clearances from uncontrolled airports contain a time window in which you must be airborne and in contact with a regional departure control or ARTCC by eg “Clearance void 30 minutes from now”. Basically, in doing so, ATC have given you a block of airspace which you have use of for a small time window in order to get airborne and join ARTCC on your cleared flight plan. Once you have departed the uncontrolled airport on CTAF, you would immediately go over to your assigned departure control frequency and report in. The controllers would thence take over and direct your flight.

A typical IFR clearance from a untowered airport would be something like as follows:

Mooney Three One Two Seven Zulu, Atlanta Approach, cleared to the Charleston airport [or: Charlie Hotel Sierra airport] via direct NELLO, then as filed. Climb and maintain five thousand, expect one-one thousand five minutes after departure. Departure frequency one-two-one-point-zero, squawk two-four-seven-seven. Hold for release.

The "Hold for release" is telling you that you have a clearance to fly IFR on the given route, but not yet! You must have a release in order to legally depart the airport under Instrument Flight Rules (whether the weather is IMC or not) and be afforded IFR separation. You are still allowed to depart the airport under VFR (if the weather permits) but you should squawk 1200 if you do.

You will eventually hear...

Mooney Two Seven Zulu, released for departure. Clearance void if not off in three-zero minutes. If not off in three-zero minutes, advise Atlanta Approach of intentions within three-five minutes.

From the time the controller issues the release, you now have thirty minutes to get airborne, on a course direct to the NELLO fix and contact Atlanta Departure on 121.0 or the clearance becomes invalid and you must request a new clearance to do so. If there are low clouds between you and the time you switch over to departure, so be it, you’re going into IMC. Usually, though, it’s best once airborne and cleaned up, to immediately go over to departure control as quickly as you can.

Another example of IFR flight in Class G is flying an instrument approach into an uncontrolled airport. Once you descend below the Class E shelf, the controller hands you off to CTAF and you continue on in uncontrolled airspace. If you’re flying an ILS approach down to minimums, that may well be another 400-500 ft descending uncontrolled in IMC before you either break out and land or go missed, thence rejoin center to report a missed approach.

  • $\begingroup$ Similar to this question: aviation.stackexchange.com/questions/21888/… $\endgroup$ Jan 15, 2018 at 23:42
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    $\begingroup$ You can get a clearance from an airport that has no instrument approaches or departures and is in Class G airspace. In that case, you are responsible for terrain clearance until you reach a point in controlled airspace where ATC can provide IFR services. If you are in the clouds before reaching controlled airspace, ATC will not be providing separation from other IFR aircraft, so you’d better hope no one else is up there. $\endgroup$
    – JScarry
    Jan 16, 2018 at 2:44
  • $\begingroup$ Without an ATC clearance, you are under Visual Flight Rules (VFR). Therefore you may not enter clouds, as defined in the 14 CFR: gleim.com/aviation/faraim/?leafNum=91.155. $\endgroup$ May 29, 2020 at 8:06
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ In your example clearance "...cleared to the Charlie Hotel Sierra airport via direct NELLO..." I would recommend removing the word direct. In a G airspace airport without a published Departure Procedure ATC should not (probably will not) issue a routing to NELLO. Using the word direct is a routing that indicates that the pilot can fly directly from the airport to NELLO (a route that hasn't been published, flight checked or complies with TERPS). ATC should say "Cleared via NELLO..." The pilot is responsible for obstacle clearance and choosing the route to NELLO while in G airspace. $\endgroup$
    – 757toga
    Jan 12 at 4:25

Yes. First note that takeoff from any IFR qualified airport will allow for takeoff and avoidance of obstacles by traditional TERPS methods. Therefore, the type of airspace has no effect on IFR obstacle avoidance. Thus, you can enter the weather and be assured of clearance from obstacles. However, you will not be provided separation from VFR aircraft in the uncontrolled airspace that is free of weather. You will get separation from IFR aircraft. You may not get a heading, especially if you are conducting a diverse departure, but your IFR clearance will have an altitude.

  • $\begingroup$ I usually had a heading assigned to enter controlled airspace. IE - <clearance> Enter controlled airspace on a heading of 180. $\endgroup$
    – Mike Brass
    Jan 16, 2018 at 2:09

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