Request Flight Following
July 1, 2017
Many pilots are intimidated to ask for flight following, but it can be a great additional layer of safety for your flight! You'll get another set of eyes watching over you and helping you spot traffic and weather, and you'll already be talking to a professional should you have an emergency and need help. The benefits are numerous!
So, how does one take advantage of this opportunity? All you have to do is ask. The biggest thing with flight following is communication. This leads into our first step – make sure the controller is actually listening when you ask! Many pilots make long transmissions when other things are occupying the controllers attention.
Controllers do a great deal of coordination regarding traffic and weather with other controllers. Also, many controllers work multiple frequencies, so just because it sounds quiet on your end doesn't mean the controller isn't listening to someone on another frequency. You can mitigate this by listening and processing what you hear the controller say. If the controller just gave a clearance, you know that is going to be followed with a readback, whether you hear it or not. Allow for this.
Now, let's discuss what to say. Remember to keep it as concise as possible. The controller needs your full callsign and position (not "just off of" or "over lake whatever.") Use aviation things like airports and navaids, and use numbers. Examples: 12 miles Southwest of Mankato VOR, 8 miles East of Brainerd airport, etc. The controller also needs your altitude ("climbing through 3,600 for 4,500.") The last bit of information the controller needs on initial call up is what do you want ("request flight following.")
With this information the controller can ascertain if you are in their airspace, if you are near anything they want to tell you about immediately (weather, traffic, special use airspace, etc.,) and allows them to type your callsign into the computer so it will generate a beacon code for you.
Once the controller has your callsign in the computer, they can start a radar track and then put the rest of your VFR information in the system. They will ask you your type of aircraft (say "C182" or "PA28,") your equipment suffix (this means how are you navigating – slant G, slant A?,) and your destination (say the identifier.) Also, let the controller know if you aren't going directly to your destination, such as if you are going around Lake Superior rather than over (likely a good decision!)
Now you're in! Remember to listen for your callsign and don't just leave the frequency (even if its "just for a minute") without asking the controller first!