In the US, is there a way for a pilot to legally "maneuver at will" in actual IMC? Let's say you want to practice a series of reversing 360-degree turns and not have to communicate every change in heading to a controller or follow a controller's step-by-step instructions.

For example, is there such a thing as an IMC "practice area" where only one aircraft at a time is allowed to operate under IFR?

Also, is there a distinction between controlled and uncontrolled airspace in this regard?

  • $\begingroup$ Granted, most uncontrolled airspace is rather near the ground, not the ideal place to practice-- but a few spots do exist where the floor of the Class E is higher than 1200' AGL-- $\endgroup$ – quiet flyer Nov 1 '18 at 12:12
  • $\begingroup$ if you and the airplane were IFR qualified you could do this in uncontrolled airspace without talking to ATC.. Very bad idea though, not safe at all [there could be other aircraft flying VFR ( 1 mile clear of clouds) or IMC (0 vis)] in the same area without knowing about each other. Better to fly VFR/VMC in G or E airspace (plenty of E airspace around - ATC authorization/permission not required) or rent a simulator. $\endgroup$ – 757toga Nov 1 '18 at 14:18

You don't have to have permission to fly in IMC in uncontrolled, class G, airspace. However, you must have an instrument rating and be in an IFR-certified aircraft. In uncontrolled airspace, you may fly into IMC as you like and perform whatever maneuvers you want. It's a very good idea to get flight following in order to receive traffic warnings from ATC if you decide to fly within IMC in uncontrolled, class G, airspace.

You do need to get permission to fly in controlled airspace (all classes except for G) if you are operating under IFR, regardless of actual meteorological conditions.

Note: Classes A-D require permission under both IFR and VFR; classes E and G do not require permission under VFR.

If you want to practice in IMC within controlled airspace, you must explain your mission to ATC and obtain a clearance to operate under IFR. If ATC has the space and the time, they may give you a clearance for a specific area and perhaps a block altitude if you want to climb and descend. There aren't officially designated areas for practice, but if you ask local instructors, they will tell you where they usually go. Most of the time, the preference is to get out of controlled airspace if possible; it's just easier.

  • 3
    $\begingroup$ Just an FYI - ATC permission/clearance is not required to fly VFR in Class E airspace. $\endgroup$ – 757toga Nov 1 '18 at 14:10
  • $\begingroup$ I've edited for clarity. $\endgroup$ – GdD Nov 2 '18 at 7:49
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    $\begingroup$ A further small clarification: you need an IFR clearance to operate in any controlled airspace (91.173), which includes class E. $\endgroup$ – Pondlife Nov 2 '18 at 21:53
  • $\begingroup$ You are not going to get flight following in Class G airspace, since by definition it is uncontrolled—i.e. not under the control of ATC. One of the reasons that there used to be so much Class G in the US was because of the lack of radar and radio coverage. There is very little Class G above 1200' now and it is mostly in the Rockies. $\endgroup$ – JScarry Jan 5 at 17:43
  • $\begingroup$ That's not right @JScarry, you can get flight following in class G, it's a Radar Traffic Information Service. ATC will give it to you on a best effort basis. $\endgroup$ – GdD Jan 6 at 13:00

Yes. You can requests a local IFR, or quadrant clearance and then receive a clearance for a region, such as:

CLEARED TO FLY (general direction from NAVAID) OF (NAVAID name and type) BETWEEN (specified) COURSES TO/BEARINGS FROM/RADIALS (NAVAID name when a NDB) WITHIN (number of miles) MILE RADIUS,

And an example: “Cleared to fly east of Allentown VORTAC between the zero four five and the one three five radials within four zero mile radius.”

Both are from FAA Order JO 7110.65W 4-1-1

  • $\begingroup$ Some ATC facilities such as approaches and towers do not issue local IFR clearances any more... It seems the FAA is cracking down on this. You also cannot have a local IFR clearance if you cross ATC sector boundaries. $\endgroup$ – Pugz Nov 2 '18 at 13:17
  • $\begingroup$ Why is that being cracked down on? $\endgroup$ – zymhan Nov 2 '18 at 17:08

"Maneuvering at will" within a particular area is called "work". This is particularly common for news/police helicopters, which often need to wander around above some event in class B/C airspace. I've only heard it done as VFR, but I don't see a reason why ATC wouldn't allow it for IFR if there's nobody else around. Be clear about the horizontal and vertical boundaries you want in your request, and let them know when you're done working and want to resume normal control.

You may want to call the relevant ATC unit ahead of time to see when/where will give you the best chance of approval and what exactly to put on your flight plan since this is obviously not a standard request.


You might have better luck working with a controller at a Class D tower near you, or maybe Class C. Find an intersection or something identifiable from an approach plate that's in their airspace, request the maneuvers you want. They can have you report in as you maneuver, and yet still have control if they need room for some one actually landing, or keep you clear of transiting traffice, etc.


I have done this while operating under IFR in IMC several times. Just ask for a block airspace and tell them what you want. I've found ATC to be very accommodating.

  • $\begingroup$ Block airspace, and area clearances are a tool in the box for instrument instruction in less congested areas, and with sailplanes. Block altitudes work well with lower performance planes when operating in areas of mountain wave. $\endgroup$ – mongo Jan 3 at 18:31
  • $\begingroup$ @mongo that’s exactly what I use those for - instruction $\endgroup$ – Pugz Jan 4 at 0:11
  • $\begingroup$ I have also used that to permit photography through openings in the clouds, where maneuvering was required to setup the subject of the photo shoot. $\endgroup$ – mongo Jan 4 at 1:29

protected by Farhan Jan 4 at 12:39

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