*Note, I'm not trying to recommend this, but I am curious if it can be done.

In this question, Steve V.'s answer made me wonder about this:

One time during my commercial training, my instructor and I received an "area clearance" over downtown Nashville for simulated aerial photography, which allowed us to circle over downtown with visual reference within class C airspace as we wished with no defined route.

In the above case, we were not on an IFR flight plan, nor were we above the IMC floor.

Scenario 1:

Is it possible to get an IFR clearance for an area as VFR-On-Top, without having to file a routed flight plan with fixes, effectively allowing an instructor and a student to practice with their own spontaneous navigation choices in VMC at an altitude above IMC conditions?

Scenario 2:

Same as above, but foregoing the VFR-on-top and accomplishing it purely as IFR.

Scenario 3:

File two IFR flight plans, cancel the first one once above clouds in VMC, do your thing, and then receive the next IFR flight plan clearance to shoot the approach back down.

Are any of those options?

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Related $\endgroup$
    – Pondlife
    Commented Apr 28, 2019 at 20:18
  • $\begingroup$ I would like to emphasize the part about utilization of an IFR flight plan to fly through a layer of IMC. I am not referring to flying around and above clouds. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 28, 2019 at 20:18

2 Answers 2


This question probably covers some of your points but here's some more information. See the AIM 5-5-13 and ATC Orders 7-3-1 for more details.

Can I get an IFR clearance for an area and operate there VFR-on-top?

Yes. VFR-on-top by itself is only a clearance to use VFR altitudes, it isn't a clearance to deviate from your course. But ATC can clear any IFR flight to operate within an arbitrary, defined area (ATC Orders 4-4-1):

1. “Cleared to fly east of Allentown VORTAC between the zero four five and the one three five radials within four zero mile radius.”
2. “Cleared to fly east of Crystal Lake radio beacon between the two two five and the three one five courses to Crystal Lake within three zero mile radius.”
3. “Cleared to fly northeast quadrant of Philipsburg VORTAC within four zero mile radius.”

Same as above, but foregoing the VFR-on-top and accomplishing it purely as IFR.

I don't know exactly what you mean here: VFR-on-top is an IFR clearance. If you're asking how to change altitude as needed under IFR without using VFR-on-top, you can request a block altitude clearance.

Can I file two flight plans?

What would the departure point be for your second flight plan? I suppose it might happen if you departed IFR, requested climb to VFR-on-top, cancelled IFR in VMC, then called back for a pop-up IFR clearance to shoot an approach. But I don't see the point: why not just work with ATC in the first place and stay in contact with them for the whole flight?

All in all, the simplest thing here is just to ask ATC for what you need. Except in very busy terminal areas, they're very good at accommodating pilot requests, whether VFR or IFR.

  • $\begingroup$ file and depart IFR, then cancel when the weather improves along the route. get a pop-up to make the approach. happens in the SF Bay Area all the time $\endgroup$
    – rbp
    Commented Apr 28, 2019 at 22:52
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ You can file to/from navaids or fixes, not just airports. This is a perfect example of when that could be useful. $\endgroup$
    – StephenS
    Commented Apr 28, 2019 at 22:54
  • $\begingroup$ @Pondlife regarding the distinction of VFR-on-top vs. not I was just asking for confirmation that as far as ATC is concerend, there's really no difference regarding the pilot's ability to request an area clearance with a block altitude under either clearance (with or without VFR-On-Top). Great answer. Thanks. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 28, 2019 at 23:52
  • $\begingroup$ @Pondlife regarding the second IFR flight plan, I figured one could file a composite flight plan that becomes IFR at some nearby fix such as a VOR. Definitely sounds like more work than it's worth though. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 28, 2019 at 23:53
  • $\begingroup$ @Ryan Mortensen, I'm not sure I understand your last comment. Do you think filing a composite flight plan is more work than filing two separate IFR flight plans? In practice the composite plan is very easy to both file and execute. I could add more detail to my answer below if you aren't sure how it works. P.S. I agree with everything Pondlife says above, and it sounds like you have some familiarity with a composite plan since you mention it... $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 29, 2019 at 22:42

What you are asking about is done all the time in the military: IFR to a fix that defines a MOA entry or Low Level route, a VFR leg, then an IFR return. Look up "Composite Flight Plans".

The effect or result is very similar to your scenario 3, but it is all done on one flight plan. Since your middle leg route will be spontaneous, just file for a 30 minute delay for the VFR portion.


You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .