Contacting Flight Service; Searching for IFR Traffic in an Uncontrolled Pattern

If you can get all the aviation weather data you need online, do you really need to know how to contact Flight Service on the radio? It depends on who you ask. I say yes.

A Flight Service agent can save time and point you in the right direction. An agent can quickly sift through weather data and give you exactly what you need. You won’t need to sort the wheat from the chaff.

In this show, we’ll walk through the steps from leaving your current ATC frequency, contacting Flight Service, to returning to ATC’s frequency.

As a pilot flying VFR, you don’t really need to know IFR procedures. Or do you?

If you’ve ever mixed it up with IFR traffic at an uncontrolled airport, you might have felt frustrated by not knowing where the IFR guys are going to pop up and how they’ll fit into your traffic pattern. Not to worry. I have just what you need to know to spot those mystery airplanes before they jump into your airspace.

Show Notes:

Contacting Flight Service

Before leaving your current ATC frequency to communicate with Flight Service on another frequency, ask the controller for “off frequency”.

“Skyhawk 9130 Delta requests off frequency for 5 minutes.”

Give ATC your expected time away so the controller can look ahead in time and see what might affect your flight.

Traffic ahead in the next 5 minutes? Will you be in the next controller’s sector 5 minutes from now? A time interval gives the controller a frame of reference.

As a technique, I like to have 5 minutes for most Flight Service transactions. You can ask for more time if you think you need it.

Find the nearest Flight Service radio antenna by looking on a chart for the navaid identifier box nearest your present position.


Flight Service frequencies are in bold blue above the naviad identifier box.

The relevant Flight Service Station name is in brackets below the navaid identifier box.

When contacting Flight Service: Flight Service name and “Radio” + your full call sign + the frequency used to contact Flight Service.

“Oakland Radio, Skyhawk 9130 Delta, on 122.6.”

After Flight Service answers: Full call sign + present position + altitude + your request.

“Skyhawk 9130 Delta is a Cessna 172, three zero miles southeast of the Salinas Vortac at 6,500, request current and forecast weather for the Sonoma County Airport.”

To conclude the conversation, politely tell the agent that’s is all you need. He may ask you for a pilot report on current inflight conditions.

To return to ATC’s frequency, simply say, “Oakland Center, Skyhawk 9130 Delta, back on your frequency.”

For greater detail on communicating with Flight Service, check out my book
Radio Mastery for VFR Pilots
* at

Mixing it Up with IFR Traffic in an Uncontrolled Airport Pattern


The Instrument Landing System (ILS) precision approach to Runway 2 at Dekalb Taylor Muni, Illinois. Note the final approach course of 022 degrees aligns precisely with Runway 2.

The glideslope for the ILS Runway 2 is 3 degrees, which produces a standard 3 to 1 glidepath ratio, or 300 feet of descent for every mile traveled.


The VOR-A approach to the Bob Sikes Airport in Crestview Florida. This non-precision approach leads the pilot to the downwind leg or base leg for either runway.

Note this VOR-A approach begins at the Crestview VORTAC. The pilot maneuvers to final approach by following a racetrack holding pattern shown in the procedure.

Note the pilot must be at or above 2,200 feet MSL prior to passing the Crestview VORTAC when inbound on the final approach. The Crestview VORTAC is also the final approach fix (FAF) which is always denoted on a chart by an “x”.

When you hear a pilot report, “Crestview inbound on the VOR Alpha”, you’ll know that airplane is 8.3 miles west of the airport at 2,200. Expect the plane to enter the downwind for Runway 35 (note the alignment) in 2 to 3 minutes. If Runway 17 is the active, expect the IFR flight to enter base leg (again, note the alignment).

Questions? Comments? Write to me using the comment section below these notes, or tweet me at, or write to me at

*Disclosure: I receive a small commission from when you use this link to make a purchase.


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2 thoughts on “Contacting Flight Service; Searching for IFR Traffic in an Uncontrolled Pattern”

  1. Pingback: New Radar Contact Show Every Month

  2. Gee Whiz…

    One can never learn enough. More importantly.. this podcast about contacting Flight Service and ATC in an IFR Traffic Environment needs to be thoroughly learnt… the Safety of you and other Pilots is of paramount importance at all times.

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