June 30, 2014
By Dan Namowitz
Strong attendance at the first two AOPA Regional Fly-Ins of 2014 ensures that many pilots are breaking out navigation charts and tablets to plan flights to Plymouth (Mass.) Municipal Airport for the next Fly-In, on July 12.
For VFR pilots, routing strategies will vary widely depending on the direction from which they approach the destination, located just south of Boston’s Class B airspace. Weighing planning options is a great exercise for student pilots entering cross-country training. Attending the AOPA Plymouth Fly-In with your instructor would be even better! Download the AOPA Pilot Information Packet, which includes special procedures and the notam for the event, to start your planning.
A glance at the aeronautical chart reveals that airspace is the overarching influence on planning. In addition to Boston’s Class B, the region is dotted with Class C and D airspace areas—in some cases, one overlying the other—requiring pilots to make strategic decisions and follow through with sure navigating. (Keep alternative courses of action in mind in case controller workloads are high or ceilings are low.)
Consider three flights of approximately equal length approaching Plymouth from different directions. A flight inbound from Westerly State Airport in Rhode Island, to the southwest, would progress past the Providence Class C airspace, or through its southern sector, where Quonset State Airport, in Class D airspace, is located. Overflying the Class C airspace—at a directionally appropriate altitude—is one strategy, conditions permitting. Circumnavigating south and east is another plan. Flight above 2,600 feet will keep you clear of New Bedford Regional Airport’s Class D airspace.
A VFR flight direct to Plymouth from Worcester Regional Airport confronts fewer airspace changes, but the pilots must keep track of the aircraft's position relative to the Class B airspace shelf from 3,000 feet msl to 7,000 feet msl in the vicinity of Mansfield Airport. (Can you select a prominent visual checkpoint that would help?)
Over, around, or through? That’s the decision for a VFR flight from Lawrence Municipal, 51 nautical miles north, almost directly across the Class B airspace from Plymouth. If overflying, how would you plan your climb and letdown to avoid penetrating Class B airspace?
Pilots who planned past flights using sectional charts should remember to procure a valid Boston Terminal Area Chart. The planning exercise is also a prompt to refresh yourself on airspace rules and regulations regarding student pilot operational limitations in Class B airspace.
En route, whether using flight following or "squawking 1200," keep constant watch for traffic in this busy portion of the Northeast Corridor.
Dan Namowitz is an aviation writer and flight instructor.
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