Ask an Air Traffic Controller: VFR Flight Following and Lost

Cessna 4528 November, departed Ardmore Municipal, request VFR flight following.

In this episode, I role play VFR flight following with MT, an air traffic controller at an air route traffic control center (ARTCC). We cover:


  • The right way to contact Center for VFR flight following.
  • The right way to set a new transponder code and send an ident.
  • What a traffic alert means and what to do about it.
  • How VFR flight following can be extended to the next ARTCC sector, or how it can be terminated by the pilot or the controller.

We also cover:

  • How an air traffic controller can help you if you become lost while flying cross country. You’ll be surprised by the number of resources an air traffic controller has to help you.
  • You’ll hear MT explain why staying in touch with ATC, no matter where you are flying, is always a good idea.
    Note (added 5/31/15): During the interview with the air traffic controller, we simulated a radio exchange in which I ask for VFR flight following. Although the controller did not use the abbreviated version of my call sign, I incorrectly began using my abbreviated call sign. This is wrong. Never switch to your abbreviated call sign unless the controller does so first.

    Thank you to listener Steve who pointed out this error in the comments section below.

Give Us Your Best Shot

As always, here’s your opportunity to ask an air traffic controller about anything on your mind. If you have a question about a strange clearance you received; or, if you have a question that has no book answer, here’s the place to ask. Use the comment box below; or write to me at; or use the voicemail hotline at the number in the upper left sidebar for this website. We’ll answer your question in our next show.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Clarence Calvin March 10, 2012 at 5:25 am

What is meant by “…touch and go with oscar?”


JeffKanarish March 10, 2012 at 12:58 pm

If Oscar is in the intensive care unit of a hospital, it means his outlook is not very good, or . . .if a pilot is making initial contact with an air traffic control tower, it means that pilot is intending to enter the traffic pattern to make multiple takeoffs and landings without coming to a full stop on the runway: touch and goes.

“With Oscar,” means the pilot has listened to the latest recording of the airport information on the radio. The airport information, referred to as ATIS, for Airport Terminal Information Service, tells him the airport’s weather, runways in use, and critical notes. Each time the airport information recording is updated by a controller in the tower, it is coded with a letter of the alphabet. Each succeeding recording gets the next letter in the alphabet. In your example, Clarence, the information code had progressed to “O,” spoken as “oscar.”

I hope Oscar recovers.



Clarence March 10, 2012 at 10:56 pm

Thx much Jeff. I’m a student pilot trying to absorb every nuance.


Steve May 31, 2015 at 12:47 am

Hi Jeff,

Love the website, just found it last week. I’ve been going through all the old posts to catch up!

In one of your previous posts, you said you cannot use an abbreviated callsign until ATC uses the abbreviation. However, you just did it in your podcast! Is that wrong?


JeffKanarish May 31, 2015 at 11:44 am

Hey Steve,

Good catch. I did mess that up during this interview. I was making this radio conversation up as I went along. I didn’t have my call sign written down anywhere. The last 3 of my call sign was all I could remember in the moment. No doubt the result sets a bad example.

This was a live conversation, so unfortunately I can’t edit in a correction to the audio now. The best we can do here is point out the error, which you have done. I’ll also describe the error to the show notes and credit you for the catch.

Best wishes,



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