DC SFRA Comments

Jason spent 24 years as an air traffic controller at Los Angeles Center, and recently moved east to work in DC in the Airspace office as an air traffic subject matter expert. He is a Sport Pilot, owns a Rans S12XL E-LSA, and got his >87 knot endorsement so he can rent a C162. He's here to answer your questions about ATC procedures and rules, in a strictly unofficial capacity.

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designrs
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DC SFRA Comments

Postby designrs » Tue Apr 30, 2013 4:03 pm

Jason, as a frequent flyer in the DC SFRA I'm really interested in your comments, experience and observations, please!
- Richard

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designrs
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Re: DC SFRA Comments

Postby designrs » Tue Apr 30, 2013 4:23 pm

Enroute from KFDK to KGAI, I had a controller ask us to climb and head East so that we may be observed on radar. We did. Then she gave us a squawk code with a "9" in it!! (obviously not possible). That was the weirdest thing I ever had happen in the SFRA.

Although I have not personally experienced it, I have heard that about 1 in 20 SFRA flight plans are lost.

More recently, I was asked to IDENT which seemed unusual for SFRA? Or is that becoming more common?

Other times I have heard the controllers being very helpful and explaining SFRA procedures at length to unfamiliar pilots. Occasionally the controllers provide traffic alerts, although I assume that their primary purpose is national security, not traffic separation (as long as it is not in the Bravo, of course).

Mostly though SFRA seems to be memorized rote and procedure. Once you get the script down it's usually all the same, barring anything unusual. Every flight from the flight school that I fly out of at KGAI (Fleming Aviation) is subject to SFRA procedures. We need EZ-PASS!! :lol:

Merlinspop
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Re: DC SFRA Comments

Postby Merlinspop » Wed May 01, 2013 9:22 am

I'm sure I haven't flown as much as you in the SFRA, but I'm asked to ident more often than not. Moreso out of HEF because you could be anywhere (ok, not anywhere) when tower lets you change frequency. I also fly during busy times and there might be a lot of targets on the controller's display and ident helps make you stand out from the crowd. So I think that's more a function of how hard it is to spot you in an instant upon initial callup.

On the squawk code with a "9"... woopsie! Everyone's human... just don't embarass her on freq because she'll remember that call sign, and if I'm in 8SC next, I don't want to get beaten up!

I haven't heard that about 1 in 20 SFRA plans being lost, but it wouldn't surprise me. Any idea if the lost plans were DUATS submitted or called in, predominantly?

Are you on the DCPilots email list?

Bruce
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designrs
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Re: DC SFRA Comments

Postby designrs » Wed May 01, 2013 10:07 am

Great point Bruce on how the SFRA flight plans are filed vs. how many are lost! I suspect that the students all use different methods of filing flight plans. I use ForeFlight with just my ForeFlight account which has a specific "VFR (DC SFRA)" flight rules type. Maybe that is more reliable in getting the flight plan to where it needs to be. Will investigate this further.

I'd never embarrass a controller. Being a student I didn't even realize that there was no "9" in squawk codes... thought my transponder button was failing. So I just politely asked her for a squawk code without a "9" in it. Guess we both learned something! :lol:

Will get on DCPilots list!

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Re: DC SFRA Comments

Postby FastEddieB » Wed May 01, 2013 11:17 am

designrs wrote:Being a student I didn't even realize that there was no "9" in squawk codes... thought my transponder button was failing. So I just politely asked her for a squawk code without a "9" in it. Guess we both learned something! :lol:



You're not the first!

But take all the possible combinations of 0-7 and you get 4,096 possible combinations.

From Wikipedia:

"Squawk codes are four-digit octal numbers; the dials on a transponder read from zero to seven, inclusive. Thus the lowest possible squawk is 0000 and the highest is 7777. Four octal digits can represent up to 4096 different codes, which is why such transponders are often called "4096 code transponders."
Fast Eddie B.
Sky Arrow 600 E-LSA • N467SA
FastEddieB@mac.com

Merlinspop
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Re: DC SFRA Comments

Postby Merlinspop » Thu May 02, 2013 8:22 am

I forgot to address the first part of your encounter with the "9" code controller (the part about her asking you to climb)... there's a few places around here that are invisible to their radar (maybe Sugarloaf Mtn's shadow?) so they need you to climb a bit so they can see you. Unfortunately the "other" folks' radar that are watching the area can see you perfectly fine, but they don't share radar feed. ATC is genuinely trying to keep us from meeting those "other" folks and they find all this as much of a pain as we do.

B
- Bruce

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Re: DC SFRA Comments

Postby Flim63 » Thu May 02, 2013 2:27 pm

And the only other recourse the controller had if unable to climb would be radar contact lost, squawk 1200, good day. I'm not sure how the controller messed the code up, we read the computer assigned squawk from a strip or display and the computer will NEVER assign or let be assigned a code with an 8 or 9 in it. Be forewarned though, this has happened in my sector... ME-"N123AA Los Angeles Center, altimeter 2994", THEM-"roger, squawk 2994"... "uh, Center?"

But we digress...

So I spent last weekend with FAA Security division and a Potomac Tracon controller and found out how the SFRA works on their end. The airspace is divided up into Control sectors (more than a dozen) and various ones are combined depending on the active runways at DCA, IAD and BWI. These are the ones that work the IFR/VFR traffic OUTSIDE the SFRA and inside the SFRA they ONLY work IFR. Inside the SFRA the VFR procedures are handled by the SFRA security positions and while controllers, they are NOT providing "radar services". Hence the call, "transponder observed", not "radar contact". This was done for 2 reasons. If a controller gets busy, they can terminate vfr flight following, but they cannot terminate the security procedures so it's a separate position. Since they don't have the airspace for control, they can't provide the services. They still MAY call traffic as a courtesy, but don't count on it and they don't have the legal responsiblity like a control sector does.

Now thats the designed way. However you may notice you get an assigned frequency that is not one of the 3 SFRA sectors. That means they have combined the SFRA sector with a control sector (you also will hear the jets checking in for the big airports as they are being worked by the same controller). Even then, I have still received the transponder observed reply and they are not permitted to provide normal VFR advisories.


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