I have heard on a request from a pilot: "- Request boxing vectors!"

What's the meaning of this non standard phraseology?

  • $\begingroup$ Where did you hear this? Perhaps "boxing" is the name of a waypoint or airport? $\endgroup$ – Ron Beyer Jun 11 '20 at 12:48
  • $\begingroup$ It was not, I heard on a transmission from one aircraft in emergency, after aborting the approach, to read the checklist, in order to troubleshoot the landing gear issue. $\endgroup$ – Eduardo Guilherme Ribeiro Jun 11 '20 at 13:25
  • $\begingroup$ Please tell us where/when you heard this, phraseology is pretty standard, but in an emergency things can get local... The pilot may have been requesting a "block", which is a range of altitudes reserved for that aircraft... $\endgroup$ – Ron Beyer Jun 11 '20 at 13:55
  • $\begingroup$ The sentence was: "- Yeah, affirmative, I just need BOXING VECTORS to run a checklist for a gear scenario." $\endgroup$ – Eduardo Guilherme Ribeiro Jun 11 '20 at 14:07
  • $\begingroup$ Please, please tell us where this took place, and possibly when, it's important information to answer the question! $\endgroup$ – Ron Beyer Jun 11 '20 at 14:09

In the military when flying multiple instrument approaches to the same runway for currency or training we would be vectored in a rectangular "box" pattern by ATC.

For example, on the initial communication when asked how the approach will terminate, our response might be: "request the option, radar vectors box pattern, multiple ILS approaches."

We would then do our work in an IFR pattern much like one would do multiple touch and goes in a VFR tower pattern. It was just an expanded version, with the radar controller calling our turns for each leg.

It is likely that the pilot intended to be boxed around for another approach, figuring that they would probably have enough time on the downwind leg to troubleshoot the problem.


Boxing vectors is not a standard term. I can't tell you exactly what was going through the mind of the pilot (you would have to ask them directly), but based on your description, my interpretation would be that the pilot was requesting delaying vectors to give them time to work checklists. It is pretty common in an emergency situation where the pilots need time to evaluate the situation and plan their actions to request either a holding pattern or vectors around the airport. Boxing vectors could refer to the pilot wanting to be put "in a box" of airspace and left there until they had had time to figure out the gear issue. That would be my guess if a pilot requested boxing vectors on the frequency (although I would ask them for clarification of course).

In an emergency situation, the pilots don't really care where they are going (as long as they stay relatively close to the airport) so it makes sense to let it be up to ATC to decide. ATC then has the opportunity to move the flight to a quiet piece of airspace where they are not in the way for other traffic and let them run the checklists. It's a way for the pilots to reduce mental workload, as all they have to do it punch in a new heading every few minutes, instead of calculating and setting up an holding pattern in the navigation computer.

  • $\begingroup$ Correct, and "box" is a common US term for this. One detail you didn't mention is that the boxing will be run by one controller so the pilots don't need to change frequencies, whether entirely within one sector or coordinated behind the scenes. $\endgroup$ – StephenS Jun 11 '20 at 15:31

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