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IFR Fix: 'What should I have done?'

The IFR training flight was homebound from Durant, Oklahoma, to Texas’s Arlington Municipal Airport in visual conditions at 4,000 feet when air traffic control called with instructions to climb to 5,000 feet “into hard IMC.” The flight was cleared to fly via VOR radials to a standard terminal arrival route concluding with vectors to the airport.

The handoff to the next sector was difficult because the controller was busy “machine-gunning instructions” to Dallas-Fort Worth-bound jets.

“Oops, alternator is out. We’re on battery power and voltage is too low to transmit,” the instructor would recount later.

The good news: The flight could still receive transmissions, and “the transponder is flashing like it’s Christmas.” The bad news: Despite the pilot setting transponder code 7600, approach had not acknowledged the aircraft’s distress, or requested that the pilot “ident” if ATC could be heard.

“Nothing but machine-gun instructions to jets,” the instructor noted.

One of the guiding principles of IFR flight is how predictability plays a part in working through such scenarios. “At any given point during a flight, the pilot must know exactly what route to fly, what altitude to fly, and when to continue beyond a clearance limit,” explains the Instrument Flying Handbook on page 11-8.

In this case, however, the clearance limit (on this since-discontinued STAR) was a fix to be followed by vectors, now not forthcoming.

What’s the remedy for that?

The only remedy the pilot could come up with was to fly from the fix direct to the airport.

“So does that mean direct over DFW to Arlington? I’d bet the tracon would be real happy about closing DFW,” the pilot wrote, sharing the incredulity in a filing with the Aviation Safety Reporting System.

Fortunately, a handheld radio was aboard, and the flight was eventually able to raise a distant control tower on 121.5 MHz. That tower alerted approach to come up on the frequency.

Finally, vectors (still being confirmed by idents from the aircraft) delivered the flight safely to Arlington—where, while a mechanic replaced a broken belt, the pilot phoned ATC to pose the question that still nagged.

“I’m sure you wouldn’t have been happy about me going direct KORKS to Arlington. What should I have done?”

A facility supervisor gave a straightforward answer: “You would have had to have done, and we would have had to clear traffic.”

“OK, thanks,” the pilot replied.

Dan Namowitz
Dan Namowitz
Dan Namowitz has been writing for AOPA in a variety of capacities since 1991. He has been a flight instructor since 1990 and is a 35-year AOPA member.
Topics: ATC, FAA Information and Services, IFR

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