N4JRI's Radio Page - Aircraft Monitoring

Air Traffic Control

In the US, Air Traffic Control is done entirely by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), and is primarily involved with aircraft who are airborne under Instrument Flight Rules (IFR). Aircraft flying under Visual Flight Rules (VFR) do not have to be in contact with anyone if they are below 18,000 feet and not in controlled airspace.

Knowing your airspace is the key to knowing whether radio is mandatory or optional for the plane flying over your head. Click on the link.

Air Traffic Control starts when the pilot files a flight plan with an FAA Flight Service Station. It continues as he receives his clearance from Clearance Delivery, contacts Ground Control for permission to taxi to the runway, and asks the Tower for permission to take off. It continues through Approach/Departure Control (in Class B or C airspace), and into the Air Route Traffic Control Center (ARTCC) sectors and low, high, or even super high altitudes. If the flight is military, it might also come under different control while in Special Use Airspace.

Sector Frequencies for Washington Center (ZDC)

A Typical Flight at RIC

1. Pilot draws up a flight plan declaring his destination and intended route. Files this with the FAA Flight Service Station via phone, radio or a personal visit.  A typical radio frequency would be 122.200.

2. While sitting in his plane waiting to taxi, the pilot monitors Clearance Delivery on 127.55. Over this frequency he hears that his plan is approved with an altered route. The FAA controller reads out the new route, and the pilot must write this down and read it back to the controller. He must now take off within 20 minutes or he loses the clearance and has to file a new flight plan. The controller at Clearance Delivery will also tell the pilot in some cases what frequency to switch to on departure.

3. With his departure clearance in hand, the pilot calls Ground Control on 121.900 and asks for permission to taxi to the runway. He will remain on this frequency until given permission to actually enter the runway.

4. After entering the runway, the pilot switches to the Tower on 121.100 and requests permission to take off. After taking off, he begins to turn off of runway heading, and the Tower asks him to switch to Departure on 134.700.

5. Under the guidance of RIC Approach/Departure, the aircraft begins its climb enroute to a place in the sky called CARML intersection. (roughly over Amelia Courthouse) It is at this point that the aircraft will enter his travelling route and be handed off to the controllers at Washington Center.

6. Arriving at CARML, the pilot switches frequency to that of the Dominion Sector (low) on 118.750 and calls in at Washington Center.

7. The climb continues on his air route, and soon he is nearing 23,000 feet. As he passes this altitude, Washington Center hands him off to the Gordonsville Sector on 133.725. Settling in at around 30,000 feet, he will continue going from sector to sector until he nears his destination and starts reversing the above process.

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