I'm currently planning a VFR flight from KFRG to KDOV. Due to airspace restrictions in this area, I plan to contact NY Approach and request flight following. If all goes well, then I believe I will get transferred from center to center and eventually be handed off to KDOV tower where I will land. Happy Days.

What I'm worried about is that somewhere along the way the controller will drop me with the dreaded words "radar services terminated". Say this happens between KEWR and KPHL, what do I do? Fall back on GPS/VOR? How does one create a VFR navlog for such eventualities?

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    $\begingroup$ I'm a little confused because flight following doesn't mean they will provide vectors and navigation, just radar separation and traffic advisories. What do you mean "fall back"? Flight following can give radar vectors but plan your flight as if you don't get them, then if you do it's nice, but if you don't it would progress normally. $\endgroup$
    – Ron Beyer
    Feb 5, 2018 at 4:41
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    $\begingroup$ In my experience this is not how it works. In this area, we contact NY approach before we enter the KISP class C or the KFJK Class B airspace. After this they tell you what altitude and heading to fly on. I can't just chose any heading or altitude. As the flight progresses they continue to give out vectors. $\endgroup$ Feb 5, 2018 at 6:20
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    $\begingroup$ Under VFR you are responsible for you own navigation, radar vectors or not. $\endgroup$
    – Steve Kuo
    Sep 15, 2018 at 3:11
  • $\begingroup$ @SteveKuo If ATC gives you instructions in controlled airspace, which is likely in B/C/D airspace or E near them, you have to follow those instructions. Approach will sometimes assign only an altitude, but sometimes they'll assign a heading too; it depends on how much IFR traffic there is and where. Some VFR pilots avoid getting flight following (and all B/C airspace) for exactly that reason. $\endgroup$
    – StephenS
    Dec 4, 2018 at 22:37

4 Answers 4


Short answer: make your flight plan as usual but if something changes then just deal with it. After all, as a private (?) pilot you've been trained to handle that situation.

Even an IFR flight plan is only 'plan A' and on any flight you may have to deal with changes because of ATC, weather or other issues. That's one reason why the private ACS includes a diversion task to test whether you can re-plan in the air. Note the wording of that task (emphasis mine):

Make a reasonable estimate of heading, groundspeed, arrival time, and fuel consumption to the divert airport.

It's helpful to think about general options in advance (e.g. "I'll go west around the KPHL class B if I don't get a clearance"), but you can't predict every possible situation. Always having that "reasonable estimate" for where you're going is more important than trying to anticipate and plan for every eventuality.

The good news is that as part of your original flight planning you should already have reviewed all the information you need to make decisions in the air: winds aloft, fronts, airspace, TFRs etc. So if you do have to re-plan you already have a good overview of the big picture and what your options are. "Plans are useless, but planning is essential", as someone once said.

And if you don't already have a flight app like Foreflight or Garmin Pilot then you should look into it. They make planning, diversions and replanning much simpler, which removes a lot of stress from the situation. They're also much easier to work with than paper and pencil, especially if you're single-pilot without an autopilot.

Finally, don't forget the magic word "unable". ATC can't see what you see, and they might drop you in an awkward situation, e.g. you're VFR between cloud layers and the only way to stay in VMC is to enter class B. If that happens, don't hesitate to tell them that you need a clearance, or vectors, or whatever. If they don't cooperate, you can always declare an emergency if the situation is becoming unsafe (but don't abuse the system for your own convenience).

  • $\begingroup$ Thank you. Those are wise words. Most of the planes here have a Garmin in the plane. $\endgroup$ Feb 5, 2018 at 16:47
  • $\begingroup$ Now, the word "unable" isn't a free pass to get out of any instruction I don't like, right? I assume that saying "unable" is only permitted when I'm actually not reasonably capable of complying. $\endgroup$ Feb 5, 2018 at 19:38
  • $\begingroup$ No, it's not a free pass; it's for use only when following their instructions would be unsafe, illegal or impossible. Specifically, it's not for when you simply don't like their instructions. Also, you need to tell them as soon as the problem is apparent, ideally when they're expecting a readback/acknowledgement, rather than (for instance) after they've vectored someone else into the space you previously agreed to vacate. $\endgroup$
    – StephenS
    Dec 4, 2018 at 22:45

2 months after I wanted to, I finally managed to fly to KDOV yesterday. Here are some notes on the flight following experience that I hope will help other people in my situation.

  1. Took off from KFRG and requested an early frequency change from KFRG tower ( I messed up here a bit because I had requested departure clearance towards southeast and I actually went southwest..the controllers didn't call me on it)
  2. Contacted NY Approach at 125.7. The radio had significant static. NY Approach acknowledged but didn't respond to my request. So I circled over Jones Beach monument and call them again in a few minutes. This time they gave me vectors and altitude. I asked if I was cleared into Class B and they said yes.
  3. I was supposed to turn left south of JFK but the controllers I think forgot about it. I went left anyway and a few minutes later the controller handed me over to McGuire Approach (124.15)
  4. McGuire Approach gave me the altimeter. Several minutes later they said that I was on course to enter a restricted area (R-5002). I was on course from KMJX to N81. I asked the controller for vectors to avoid the restricted area and they gave me a course.
  5. McGuire Approach handed me over to Atlantic City Approach (134.25)
  6. Atlantic City approach handed me to Dover Approach (132.425) and then I landed
  7. Coming back I again contacted Dover Approach on the same frequency and asked for flight following. They asked me if what my desired course was and then recommended that I fly direct back to KFRG. This may have caused some problems. I don't know yet.
  8. Dover Approach handed us off to philadelphia approach.
  9. Philadephia approach handed us off to McGuire approach. Since, I was now flying direct my GPS told me that I was headed for a restricted area ( R-5001 ). I was with the controller and I had told them I was flying direct. I didn't know what to do and I ended up in the restricted area. Not sure if this will cost me yet.
  10. McGuire approach handed me off to NY Approach who again gave me vectors and altitude and then handed me off to KFRG.

In future I plan to add frequencies of approach control's along the way. This helps when there is static on the radio and you don't have to keep asking them to repeat the information. This happened a few times.

  • $\begingroup$ Please don't use code blocks unless you really are including code or something else that truly needs to use a fixed-width font. I changed to a quote block which looks much nicer, not to mention is actually readable. $\endgroup$
    – user
    Apr 12, 2018 at 19:44
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    $\begingroup$ "my GPS told me that I was headed for a restricted area (R-5001). I was with the controller and I had told them I was flying direct. I didn't know what to do" At that point personally I'd probably have contacted ATC some distance away from the restricted area (on first notification from the GPS?) to ask for clarification about the clearance. (Is R-5001 active? Am I cleared direct through R-5001?) If unable to get an answer in time, just enter a hold outside the restricted area and keep asking. Might make ATC slightly grumpy, but rather a grumpy controller than a grumpy enforcement officer! $\endgroup$
    – user
    Apr 12, 2018 at 19:51
  • $\begingroup$ @MichaelKjörling Thanks. Will keep this in mind for the future. $\endgroup$ Apr 13, 2018 at 20:41
  • $\begingroup$ Just to be clear: I am not telling you and cannot tell you what to do. I can tell you what I would likely personally have done in a situation similar to that which you described. It's the pilot's duty to know which type of airspace you're in and whether or not you're allowed to enter other airspace. In controlled airspace, it's the pilot's duty to comply with ATC instructions when able; that sometimes includes asking ATC for clarification on instructions, if for any reason you're uncertain. It sounds like nobody yelled at you at the time, so you probably didn't screw up too badly. $\endgroup$
    – user
    Apr 13, 2018 at 21:20
  • $\begingroup$ @MichaelKjörling I understand. Your advice is good advice. $\endgroup$ Apr 15, 2018 at 1:05

First off, I don't think you can readily land at Dover since it's an Air force Base. I've asked questions about landing there as a civilian GA ppl and was discouraged from doing so. Therefore, I assume this destination is a ground school or Check ride task. In the case of a Check ride, you will most likely only fly your route for about 10-15 minutes before moving onto maneuvers. So I wouldn't worry about being dropped from Flight Following as you probably won't be picking it up.

For my Check ride I was tasked to plan a flight to Williamsburg, VA from Morristown, NJ. Although it was quicker to fly a straight line that took me near the Philly Bravo and through Alert-220, my CFI suggested I plan the scenic route by flying the coast line and try to minimize my time over water as well as have more visual reference points - like a shoreline. So you may wish to consider a different flight plan that follows the same advice.

This should work in Skyvector.com

KFRG  403305N0735621W  402757N0740021W  31E  KACY  KMIV  392100N0752116W  391840N0752646W  KDOV 

This keeps you over land longer, but of course it depends on ATC when you get clearance into JFK Bravo. Crossing over to Sandy Hook, ensuring you are above 2000 to ensure you are well out of the conservation airspace, Fly the shoreline down to Atlantic city. Overfly at above 4500 and head to Millville, then follow the small river out to the Delaware Water gap, Cross over and head south to Dover. This adds about 5 minutes, but give you shorter water crossovers where, if engine goes out, you can glide to land. Just remember your glide ratio: C172 = 9 (basically 1.5 miles for every 1000ft altitude). To cross the 6nm Sandy Hook gap and the Delaware water gap, you should be at 4500, which is the correct flight level for a south-west bound flight.

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    $\begingroup$ KDOV is open for public. Take a look the 'request for landing' document here(catatdover.com/forms.aspx). It is used heavily by NASCAR followers in summer and fall. No, it is not a checkride task either. I actually plan to fly there :) $\endgroup$ Feb 8, 2018 at 19:21

If you are flying an assigned vector ATC should never just drop you. I have never been on a vector while VFR, but when IFR ATC will always tell you what the vectors are for. For example: "radar vectors ILS RW 16, turn right heading 070, descend and maintain 3000". That way if you go lost comm on the vector you can take your own action to intercept and continue your own navigation to the clearance limit.

If being vectored on a departure, when ATC gets ready to "drop" you they will always do so by providing clear fix at which the vector terminates. For example: "maintain heading 180 until intercepting V-15, resume all navigation, .." or: "cleared direct SEA, flight plan route..."

"Radar services terminated" doesn't generally follow the examples above because again I am used to vectors only under IFR, but presumably you would hear that at the end if you were VFR and they wanted to "drop" you.

  • $\begingroup$ Yeah, my question/worries seem superfluous now. I have done some cross country flights and even though the controller got exasperated because I missed a communication they never dropped me. In an earlier life when this did happen, I was with an instructor and we were discussing/training and we missed the communication from the ATC. In that situation given that we were in the flight training zone, I guess the ATC used their sixth sense to divine what was happening and dropped us. $\endgroup$ Sep 15, 2018 at 22:41
  • $\begingroup$ Most of this answer seems to be about radar vectors under IFR, whereas the question is about VFR flight following. I'm not sure how applicable your comments are. $\endgroup$
    – Pondlife
    Sep 15, 2018 at 22:58
  • $\begingroup$ @pondlife, read the OP’s response to the first comment. Apparently where he flys ATC will vector VFR traffic. $\endgroup$ Sep 16, 2018 at 0:40

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