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Training Tip: Turbulence, and a TFRTraining Tip: Turbulence, and a TFR

A Cessna 172 pilot was flying between two familiar airports near the boundary of a temporary flight restriction (TFR) in effect over a baseball stadium when things began to come apart.

This comparison of SkyVector sectional chart excerpts shows how a Texas TFR was recently depicted online. Composite by AOPA staff.

The reason for the flight’s deterioration was turbulence—severe enough that the airplane rolled into a steep bank and lost a few hundred feet of altitude as the pilot struggled for control.

The difficulties didn’t end there. “When I looked down to the right and looked at the stadium lights, I realized that I was closer than what would have looked to be a correct distance,” the pilot said in a filing with the Aviation Safety Reporting System, admitting failure to monitor a portable navigation unit before the inadvertent TFR penetration, “because it was such a familiar area to me.”

Airspace is a challenging subject, but once mastered, the procedural rules of the airspace classes are mostly straightforward. TFRs are an exception to that formulation. Some types of TFRs may pop up with little or no warning in odd places. Other TFRs that are more predictable—even those similarly classified—may have different dimensions, prohibitions, and operating rules from one scenario to the next.

These TFR traits make it extremely important to examine every detail of any TFR noted along your route during your preflight briefing. A security TFR ordered for VIP travel, for example, might include a 10-nautical-mile inner ring of airspace that is essentially a no-fly zone (grounding operations at airports inside), and an outer ring, reaching to 30 nautical miles, in which limited operations may be permitted, usually under strict procedural requirements.

TFRs ordered for the safety of crews conducting aerial attacks on wildfires can appear in remote areas; an unwitting incursion can stop a firefighting mission in its tracks until the intruder—and the collision risk—clears out.

Not all TFRs exclude all air traffic from the restricted airspace: In San Angelo, Texas, where large drones stage border-surveillance flights, TFRs occur regularly, and the notice to airmen for a TFR scheduled Feb. 12 and 13 forbade operations in affected airspace “unless authorized by ATC” with specified transponder and two-way radio procedures.

However, there is no guarantee that when the next TFR comes along, the requirements will be identical.

The prudent pilot must plan the flight carefully, and navigate it, not complacently, but proficiently.

Discuss TFRs with your fellow pilots at AOPAHangar.com.

Dan Namowitz

Dan Namowitz

Associate Editor Web
Associate Editor Web 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 30-year AOPA member.
Topics: Temporary Flight Restriction, Notams, Cross Country
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