Audio Lesson #11: How to Find an ATC Enroute Center Frequency

Let’s say you are flying VFR and you want to pick up flight following. Where can you find the frequency for the closest ATC enroute center controller?

B-757 VHF radio control. Note the flip-flop (TFR) switch in the center.

In this audio lesson, I give you tips and tricks for finding and selecting the correct ATC enroute center frequency. To make it a little more entertaining, I’ll tell you how I recently screwed up badly, and had to scramble to find the correct center frequency while flying at 37,000 feet at .80 Mach.

(Note: This audio lesson was created while I was on a layover at DFW. The microphone I had on hand was not top-tier. The audio quality is not as good as you deserve. The message, however is from the heart.)

Here is a transcript of this audio lesson in .pdf format.

Show Notes:

  1. Enroute air traffic control centers are divided into sectors. Each sector has its own radio frequency that works with a ground-based radio antenna in a specific location.
  2. If you need to contact ATC while enroute, you need to pick an ATC frequency that works with the ATC antenna that is closest to your location. You might be on, or past the edge of the sector you choose, but going for the frequency that appears closest is a good place to start.
  3. How you find the correct frequency depends on what you have with you in the cockpit.
  4. All F.A.A.-published enroute charts have center frequencies printed in “postage stamp” boxes on the chart. Each frequency box is shown on the chart in its relative location to the ground-based antenna.
  5. Find your location on an F.A.A. chart and then pick the closest frequency box.
  6. The postage stamp box for Denver Center frequency 118.575. Farmington is the sector name, but don't worry about that. Just call 'Denver Center' on your radio.

  7. Jeppesen products have frequency boxes shown on the enroute low charts, (surface to Flight Level 240.)
  8. Jeppesen enroute high charts, (FL 240 and higher,) don’t show the frequency boxes. They have an almost worthless table of enroute frequencies, listed by center, (Chicago Center, for example,) but they don’t give a specific location for each frequency.
  9. Sectional charts don’t have enroute frequency boxes; and they don’t have an enroute frequency table. They do list tower and approach control frequencies, but these won’t help you if you are flying beyond the reach of terminal/airport radar.
  10. Here’s the trick. If you can’t find, or don’t know which frequency to use, contact any flight service station on frequency 122.55.
  11. Give your location to the flight service station (FSS) specialist who answers your call. He will need your radial and DME to the nearest VORTAC or VOR/DME station.
  12. Once the FSS specialist knows where you are, he will give you the correct frequency to contact Center.

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{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

Judah Bank February 22, 2012 at 4:23 pm

Thanks a lot for the blog article.Really thank you! Really Great.

Reply

JeffKanarish February 23, 2012 at 9:27 pm

Hey Judah,

Thanks for the compliment! I’m glad it’s helping.

Jeff

Reply

Chas February 22, 2012 at 6:55 pm

Hi Jeff,

I just discovered your site yesterday, and already I’ve learned a lot clearing up several mysteries.

I recently passed my LSA checkride and am starting work on my private. At this point I haven’t had much training on radio work other than calls in uncontrolled airspace.

My plan is to use flight following while gaining experience in order to become more familiar and comfortable with ATC.

Flying VFR out of the Houston area there are lots of frequencies for Approach Control, Departure Control, as well as Houston Center (as shown on IFR low charts) with specific ones for different areas (N, S, E, W, etc.). I’m using Foreflight as a primary information source and they list specific AC and DC frequencies for each area airport, but nothing for Houston Center.

My question is: If I’m out flying recreationally, and I’m calling in for flight following, who should I initially call? And would it matter if I were flying away from the class bravo airspace (towards the coast for instance) rather than staying in the local area?

Thanks for any help you might offer.

Reply

JeffKanarish February 23, 2012 at 9:26 pm

Hey Chas,

I’m glad you are enjoying the website, and thank you for your question.

For flight following, if you are not within the confines of Class C or D airspace, contact the nearest enroute air traffic control center ARTCC sector. As I stated in this article, find the nearest sector frequency by looking for a postage stamp box on your chart, closest to your present position. The postage stamp should say “Houston” and have a sector name with a frequency. The sector name doesn’t matter. Use the frequency and call “Houston Center, (your call sign,) request flight following.”

If you don’t have an enroute low chart on board, contact the nearest flight service station frequency and ask the specialist for a frequency.

If you are flying beneath Class B airspace, it is likely the TRACON serving the Class B has dedicated frequencies for satellite airports under Class B. For Houston, there are separate approach frequencies serving each of the four cardinal directions around the city. Consult either your enroute low chart or a terminal area chart (TAC) for these frequencies.

It’s good to hear from you. Keep me posted on how it’s going.

Jeff

Reply

Ed March 27, 2012 at 9:31 am

Hey Jeff,

I am not a pilot what so ever. But I’m interested in becoming one when i grow up. I’m still a kid, a kid taller than his parents, but I have a curious mind. When i told my parents that the career I wanted was to be a pilot they told me about all the hard work and the crunching of numbers and I don’t know UFO’s? I freaked. but anyways that doesn’t scare me. I like technology, I like problem solving and most importantly I love flying (not in a cabin filled w/ crying babies)! I never did see an actual cockpit but my dad bought me FSX for my computer and that’s where I got a little sample of flying. Well I just found your website today while I’m vacationing with my parents. And like a I said, I’m curious. What’s it like being a pilot through places like Iraq and then being an airline pilot? Where did you get education? How did you? and I think i can relate to your mistake, virtually though. In the FSX, There was this mission called “Caribbean Approach” and the most simplest thing in the world, lowering the landing gear. I didn’t, so i landed on the CRJ-700’s belly. Teehee, well that was my light bulb moment. Just wanted to share 🙂

Reply

JeffKanarish March 30, 2012 at 12:39 pm

Hello Ed,

Thank you for commenting. I’ll try to answer your questions.

Being an airline pilot is a lot less exciting than being a fighter pilot in a war. That’s a good thing. The routine of airline flying makes commercial air travel very safe for passengers. I look at airline flying as a job, not as a source of adventure.

I received a B.A. from the University of Florida. I worked towards my private pilot’s license, including an instrument rating, by hiring a flight instructor on my own dime. The U.S. Air Force gave me my advanced flight training.

The next time you fly commercially, ask the pilots if you can come into the cockpit and look around. Of course, you have to do this while the plane is parked at the gate. The pilots will be happy to let you in. It’s better to ask to enter the cockpit before the flight. Usually, after the flight, the pilots want to get off the airplane as quickly as possible, just like the passengers.

By the way, you don’t need to be a good number cruncher to be a pilot. That is a myth. It helps, but it isn’t necessary given today’s computer-driven cockpits. A well-rounded education is important, but a talent for math is not. If it were, I couldn’t be a pilot.

Take care,

Jeff

Reply

Smed April 19, 2012 at 11:09 pm

Hi Jeff,

I only recently discovered your site. What a tremendous resource! I am currently enrolled in an accelerated training program to get my MEI and CFI-I at the ripe old age of 55. No doubt your site will be mandatory reading for my students.

Reply

JeffKanarish April 21, 2012 at 1:06 pm

Hey Smed,

I love that anecdote that goes, “I can’t become a lawyer. I’m 60! Law school takes 3 years. I’d be 63 by the time I finish law school.” The answer was: “Well, how old will you be in 3 years if you don’t go to law school?”

Thank you for the compliment. I look forward to hearing from your students.

Jeff

Reply

Randy June 1, 2014 at 3:01 am

Awesome It really Helps Students to learn aviation! Thanks Randy

Reply

Joe S June 9, 2015 at 5:11 pm

I’ve been flying since 1965 – started in the Military – and I’ve made similar ‘errors’. However, I have never been aware that 122.55 for FSS would provide that ‘Service’. I’ve always ‘searched’ out a frequency on a chart – and even if it wasn’t the correct ‘Freq’, I’d find a way to solve the issue.

So – despite how many hours I may have in the ‘Flight Levels’, I’ve just picked up one more useful tidbit. 122.55 has gone into my ‘Memory Bank’.

BTW: You are not the only one who has done this, regardless of the aircraft. And, many a Controller has erroneously provided an incorrect ‘Freq’, and before they could correct themselves, you’ve ‘Moved On’ ……. Sometimes erasing the prior Freq.

Moreover, ‘…..You’ve Got To Be Smarter Than The Aircraft/Avionics….’ Some days its just too easy – other days, not so! Having the knowledge to resolve the issue is what Life is all about.

Thanks for sharing.

Reply

Willie Robison October 23, 2015 at 12:34 am

Great info. I am a black CFII, in MEMPHIS. I never knew about 122.55. However, I do now. I will use it, and pass it on to my students, immediately.

Willie

Reply

JeffKanarish October 23, 2015 at 5:40 pm

Hey Willie. Good to hear from you again. I remember you from a previous comment you made. Yes, 122.55. It’s annotated on Jepp high charts, which is why I referenced it in the story. I’ve since learned 122.2 is even more widely distributed around the country than 122.55. It’s also easier to remember as a catch-all FSS frequency.

Reply

Willie October 25, 2015 at 4:47 am

Thanks, I really, really love your book on ATC Communications. I have a radio and television background and enjoy communicating (properly) with the controllers. I teach my students to do the same. Have you ever noticed how often pilots use the word, Roger, when they should say Wilco? Amazing. To me, proper radio phraseology is one of the easiest aspects of flying. Yet, many pilots are horrified at the mere thought of having to communicate effectively with ATC. I failed the phase II portion of the United Airlines flight officer interview three times over 25 years ago. Now, at 62, I know that I will never fly for United or another carrier. Of which, I am not regretful. I love teaching students pilots how to fly. They are my pride and joy. Laying a great foundation will significantly prepare them for their personal and any business aspirations that have about their flying futures. Thanks for your response.

Reply

JeffKanarish October 25, 2015 at 2:39 pm

Willie,

I’m sorry you didn’t make it to United, but I’m glad you found another path in aviation. I know what you mean about teaching. It’s tremendous fun and very fulfilling.

Yes, many pilots will not contact ATC because they feel they won’t measure up to ATC’s expectations. This website tries to demonstrate that air traffic controllers are just good people who have no expectations. They take each pilot on his or her own terms. They are extremely accommodating to general aviation pilots.

Yes, “Roger” is frequently misused, but controllers will roll with it, even when it’s not the correct word for the situation.

Jeff

Reply

Don November 10, 2015 at 4:21 pm

Hi,
the top of the article says “…if your flying VFR and want to pick up flight following”. Its unlikely someone flying VFR would have an enroute chart with them. More likely a VFR sectional chart or one loaded into a GPS. I suggest changing this part of your article. Otherwise, lots of good info.

Regards,
Don

Reply

JeffKanarish November 10, 2015 at 4:52 pm

Hey Don,

I agree, many non-IFR rated pilots don’t carry enroute charts. That’s why I included the additional information to cover all situations.

Many pilots who are instrument rated do a lot of VFR flying and generally carry enroute charts with them. Additionally, many digital charting apps include enroute and sectional charts.

I’m glad you enjoyed the article. Cheers.

Jeff

Reply

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