Friday, June 13, 2008

That Sinking Feeling...

I was just back from a big trip, and my student was excited to hear about it. A teaching opportunity!

I took him over to the big wall chart made of pasted-together sectionals. You know the kind; most flight schools and FBOs have them. You never really know how old they are, but, excepting Mount Saint Helens, the terrain doesn't change.

I started at the eastern edge of the chart. "We started about here" I said, touching a point on the wall off the chart, "then cameĀ over this VOR and took up a heading for here." I touched the places on the map as I talked. I pointed out which frequencies I used to call Flight Service, and told him about Flight Watch. "There was some weather here, so we diverted like this, and landed here," I went on, touching the map again. I talked about the recent heavy rains, and how I had searched extra hard to find a good dry field to land in in case of engine failure. A pretty good lesson, I'm thinking to myself, maybe I should take the whole trip as a tax writeoff?

"What's this?" he asked, pointing to a Military Operations Area. The abbreviation is MOA, and most people read it aloud, sounding like a Georgian asking for seconds.

The MOA lay directly across where we flew. My heart sank. While it is legal to fly VFR through a MOA, it's better to call and ask whether it is active. If it is, stay clear. But that wasn't the problem; the problem was that it appeared that I hadn't even noticed the MOA while flying through. That's inexcusable.

I had had that feeling before. I remember circling a certain airport while waiting for clearance into the New York TCA (TCA, or Terminal Control Area, was the old name for Class B). It was annoying to wait, and I eventually gave up and went around, adding miles to my flight. Later, I looked at one of those wall charts, which showed the airport to be well inside the TCA at my altitude. Had I busted the TCA? I ran and got a current chart, which showed that I had been outside the TCA, which had shrunk at some point. Look at the sectional to the left: Somerset is well clear of the New York Class B boundary (the circular arc starting near the middle of the top and ending at the SE corner). But it wasn't like that on the wall chart. Phew!

This time I did the same thing; I pulled the chart I had used to maybe cross the MOA unaware out of my flight bag. "Always use current charts," I said. I unfolded it and looked: no MOA. Phew!

Airspace changes, and (remember Mount Saint Helens!) even the terrain changes. New radio towers go up, old towers come down. Use current charts!

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