Answers for Pilots

Military training routes

March 1, 2006

What you can't see can hurt you

It's quite surprising that in addition to all the information a pilot must remember in order to fly safely, there are important data the FAA doesn't expect us to know. Military training routes, or MTRs, are a prime example. Short of being able to identify them as thin gray lines on the sectional chart, most pilots understand very little about the military's means of moving from point A to point B. (See " How Low Do They Go?" January 2005 Pilot.)

MTRs are classified into two categories — instrument routes, or IRs, and visual routes, or VRs. The basic difference between them is altitude. Instrument routes are flown under instrument flight rules above 1,500 feet agl. Logically then, visual routes are flown under visual flight rules on or below 1,500 feet agl.

The key thing to consider when crossing that thin gray line on the chart is that there is no telling (without being advised by air traffic control, that is) what is coming the other direction. More important, there's no indication as to how fast it is going.

In most cases, the FAA restricts civil aircraft to fewer than 250 knots indicated airspeed below 10,000 feet msl. But this isn't the case with military aircraft on MTRs. In fact, count on aircraft flying along these routes to be sailing well in excess of 250 knots. This obviously makes closure rates much faster than those normally encountered below 10,000 feet.

Ultimately, speed is the purpose for MTRs. They are developed in order to allow the military to practice tactical, often low-altitude, flying. There are routes for slower military aircraft, called "slow routes," but the FAA doesn't chart these.

It's also important to consider that the charts are somewhat misleading in their depiction of MTRs. Whereas Victor airways typically extend four nautical miles from either side of the center of the airway; MTR widths vary even within a single route. For example, a proposed route in Texas calls for widths from about four miles to nine miles. This of course means you could potentially encounter fast-moving traffic in a greater area than what you simply see on the chart.

The best place to find useful information on MTRs is in the Aeronautical Information Manual at AOPA Online.

And as always, give the professional staffers of AOPA's Pilot Information Center a call at 800/USA-AOPA. They can assist with all aviation matters during business hours from Monday through Friday.

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