Flight Following in the Real World

If you’re early in your training and haven’t yet used Flight Following then this post is for you. What seems like a simple concept to get traffic advisories can actually be a bit overwhelming the first time. Here’s an overview of the communications from my latest cross country round trip flight between Hartford Brainard (KHFD) and Dutchess County (KPOU).

Other than the usually cold temps, it was a perfect day for a cross country flight to a new location. This is my first flight to NY, bumping my total states visited to four. After the standard flight planning, weather briefing, pre-flight, and local ATIS, it’s time to contact Brainard Ground. This is where we make the request for Flight Following. (Some phases shortened or removed as to not completely bore the reader.)


HFD Ground
3PF: Brainard ground, Skyhawk 113PF, holding mid-field with Papa, ready to taxi to active, requesting flight following to KPOU at 4,500.
HFD Gnd: Taxi to runway 2 via alpha, cross 29. Standby for squawk code and frequency.
HFD Gnd: Squawk 2012, Bradley (BDL) departure 123.95 (The challenge here was the controller responded during my taxi. To avoid taxiing and writing, the instructor had me covered. If I was solo I would have asked for confirmation when I stopped.)
3PF:  Squawk 2012, 123.95 (just confirming what I heard)

After run-up, I configured the radios for the initial frequencies I knew I would need to start with, plus the destination frequencies.

  • NAV1= HFD Tower
  • NAV1 Standby= Bradley departure for our first handoff
  • NAV2 Standby= POU tower

Departure, typical takeoff clearance

Handoff to Bradley Departure (a minute or two after takeoff)
HFD Twr: Contact Bradley departure 123.95
3PF: 123.95 (confirming)
Switching to NAV1 standby
3PF: Bradley departure, Skyhawk 113PF, 1,000 climbing 4,500 (who and where I am)
BDL Dep: Altimeter 30.24, stay at or below 4,000 for traffic avoidance
few minutes later when traffic is no longer a factor
BDL Dep: VFR your discretion  (assumes you’re sticking with regulations for VFR cruising altitudes)
3PF: Climbing to 4,500

Traffic advisory
BDL Dep: Traffic 1 o’clock (remember traffic position from ATC is relative to your ground track so their 1 o’clock may not be your 1 o’clock)
3PF: Traffic in sight (otherwise respond with ‘negative contact’ for proper terminology, ‘looking for traffic’ is also commonly used, just don’t pick up the ‘No joy’ habit)

Slight drift off course
At this point with everything else going on I slipped a bit to the north so I turned south to get back on course based on my planned checkpoints which were still in sight. I’m still trying to properly judge distance on the sectional versus what’s out the window. Now the controller wants to make sure I didn’t change my plans.
BDL Dep: Say intentions, show you heading southbound
3PF: We drifted a little off course and just correcting to get back on planned course

This is a good point to remind you how critical it is to check and reset the directional gyro from the magnetic compass every 15 minutes. Another tip my instructor recommended was to put the DG bug on our planned heading. This makes it easy to quickly glance down to make sure I’m still on correct heading.

Handoff to NY Approach
BDL Dep: Contact  NY approach 132.75
3PF: 132.75
Now I’m out of radio space so I need to steal the slot from HFD tower since I won’t need that for a while
3PF: NY approach, Skyhawk 113PF, 4,500
NY App: Atltimeter 30.39, maintain VFR

Time for navigation tip: Whenever possible look out for other reference points to help validate your location, even if they aren’t your key checkpoints. Power lines are usually easy to spot, as are major rivers, reservoirs, highway, and train tracks.

Now we’re about 10 miles from Dutchess County
Time to check POU ATIS, already setup on NAV2 (we still need to maintain communications with NY approach so it worked out good putting NY on NAV1)
At this point, we have the airport in sight. We could let NY approach know that, or wait for them to hand us off. It’s also time to start our descent checklist. I also verified I remembered the traffic pattern altitude correctly.
NY App: Field is about 12 o’clock, 8 miles
3PF: Field in sight
NY App: Radar service terminated, sqwuak 1200, frequency change approved (flight following is terminated and we can contact Dutchess tower)

Dutchess approach
3PF: Dutchess tower, Skyhawk 113PF, about 7 miles to the east, inbound for landing (I could have added altitude, he would have ask if he needed it)
POU Twr: Runway 6, report right downwind, midfield
3PF: Report downwind runway 6

Standard calls for landing and takeoff nothing interesting here

After departure, it’s time to request flight following for the trip back. We’re still in Dutchess class D airspace so we can’t just change frequency back to NY. We could ask for a frequency change or wait until we are clear of the airspace. By the time I get my climb checklist and navigation in order, Dutchess is done with us.
POU Twr: 113PF frequency change approved
3PF: Frequency change approved
switching back to the frequency we still have programmed for NY approach/departure
3PF: NY approach, Skyhawk 113PF about 10 miles east of Dutchess County heading to Hartford Brainard at 5,500. (forgot to finish and ask for flight following, I was going to follow up but he had other plans)
NY App: Squawk ident (if this one is new, you simple press the ident button which identifies you on the controller’s radar)
NY App: Show you 10 miles south of [unrecognized], contact Boston Center at 128.10 (wow, talking to a center, another first)

3PF: Boston Center, Skyhawk 113PF, 12 miles east of Dutchess Country, heading to Hartford Brainard at 5,500 requesting flight following
Boston: Squawk 3405
3PF: 3405
Boston: Radar contact (means they got us on the radar),  altimeter 30.38, state type of aircraft
3PF: 113PF Cessna Skyhawk (I probably should have said Cessna 172)
Knowing the type of aircraft is needed to help them understand the type of groundspeed we’ll be making so they can better predict traffic concerns)

Time for the next handoff
Boston: Contact Bradley approach 123.05
Ugh, another frequency time to play radio shuffle again, although I’m starting to get the hang of it
3PF: Bradley approach, Skyhawk 113PF, 5,500
BDL App: Altimeter 30.32
3PF: 30.32
BDL App: Verify landing at Brainard
3PF: Correct, landing Brainard (Oops, should have said ‘Affirmative’)

How about one more traffic advisory
BDL App: Turn right 15 degrees for traffic avoidance
3PF: Turning right 15 degrees (note my current heading and be sure I turn 15 and maintain)
It’s also a good time to check HFD ATIS and start our descent
BDL App: Resume on navigation to Brainard (traffic is no longer a factor)
3PF: Resume navigation
BDL App: Contact Brainard tower 119.6
3PF: 119.6

Standard approach and landing from here

I hope this preview will help you prepare for your first adventure with flight following. I would also recommend Jeff Kanarish’s Radio Mastery for VFR Pilots book and Radar Contact Audio Show podcast. I’m going to read through the book again since I’m now spending more time on the radio.
As with all my posts, I welcome any feedback and recommendations

PS. Just a few hours after this flight I had to take a commercial flight for work, DL2137 BDL-ATL. Our departure took us on a very familiar route and we passed just south of POU.

Here’s one of my checkpoints from 4,500 during my cross country lesson.








And here it is from around 10,000 later in the day.



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