Event Spotlight: Local Knowledge – Get the Inside Info for Flying to Popular Destinations

Whenever you do something for the first time, it’s always a good idea to do some research or get some advice.  The same is true if you’re flying somewhere for the first time. One of the benefits of being in a club is having other members who can share their experience.

So we’re going to pass on some local knowledge beginning with flying in the Washington, DC Special Flight Restricted Area (SFRA). We’ll then head over to Tangier Island, before going up the Hudson River Corridor. We’ll end the tour with a flight along the Chicago Skyline.

Washington, DC Special Flight Rules Area (SFRA)

Pilots who regularly fly in the mid-Atlantic region of the United States are familiar with the 30-nm ring around our nation’s capital that makes up the Washington, DC Special Flight Rules Area (SFRA) and the Flight Restricted Zone (FRZ). The FRZ is basically a no-fly zone for GA aircraft within the SFRA unless you have an individual PIN number allowing you to fly into or out of the two airports located within the FRZ – College Park Airport (KCGS) and Potomac Airfield (KVKX).

There are about 10 clubs based within the SFRA at five different airports, including the TSS Flying Club based at Montgomery County Airpark (KGAI) in Gaithersburg, Maryland. Herb Rosenthal is the Safety Officer and a CFII for TSS and he shared his local knowledge of flying in the area.

His first piece of advice: “Don’t be afraid of the SFRA.”

His second piece of advice: “Ask for whatever you want within the SFRA. You may get it, you may not.”

The club website has a link to Flying in the SFRA for quick reference including a link to the required FAA Course that pilots must take to fly within the SFRA.

When TSS has new members join who are not familiar with the airspace, the first thing they do is make sure the member takes the course. Then they discuss the essential things:

  1. You have to have a SFRA flight plan on file
  2. You have to have a Squawk code
  3. You have to be talking to ATC

“I also explain you can pretty much do what you want in the SFRA as long as you don’t violate Bravo or go into restricted air space,” Herb said. “I’ll do airwork in the SFRA just to save time from having to go another 20 miles out. You just tell the controllers what you want to do and they’re usually good with that.”

Here are a few other tips Herb shares with the club’s members:

  • When you call to get your Squawk Code, just say your tail number and where you are – you don’t have to say why you are calling because the frequency only does clearances.


  • If you want Flight Following, make a remark in your flight plan, and when you are on 121.6 to get your Squawk Code, tell them you would like Flight Following to your destination.


  • If you get a Squawk Code that is 04XX that means ATC can’t find your flight plan, or that you are early or late. “They’ll accept your word that you filed one,” Herb said. “That happened today. We came back early. No harm, no foul.”


  • For club members departing Gaithersburg to do practice IFR approaches at several airports outside the SFRA, like Frederick (KFDK), Hagerstown (KHGR) or Martinsburg (KMRB), Herb always recommends adding KGAI as the end point of the flight plan. “From an IFR ATC you can go wherever you want, but you can’t go into the SFRA unless it’s part of your flight plan as the destination,” he said. “If you decide to have lunch at Hagerstown, you just cancel and file a new one.”

Dulles East Corridor and Baltimore-Washington FLYWAY

For traffic flying between Lee Airport (KANP) near Annapolis along the southern edge of the Baltimore Bravo to Gaithersburg, there is a FLYWAY corridor between the VPONX and VPOOP waypoints.

It’s a tight corridor that threads a 2-mile wide needle at its narrowest point between the FRZ and the 1,500-foot shelf of the Baltimore Bravo. Heading northwest, traffic should maintain 1,500 MSL and heading southeast traffic should maintain 2,000 MSL to remain under the 2,500-foot Bravo.

Herb recommends asking for a Bravo clearance at 2,500 feet. “You’ll get it 80 percent of the time. It’s more important getting it coming back when you’re supposed to be at 1,500 feet. I’d much rather be at 2,500.”

On the other side of the SFRA is the Dulles East Corridor. Between the Dulles Bravo and the Washington National Bravo that both have a floor of 1,500 feet, the corridor has a floor of 3,000 feet. You can file a SFRA or IFR flight plan to go down that corridor.

About 80 percent you’ll get it. “If they’re really busy, if you’re at one of the push or arrival times, you might not get it,” Herb said. If that’s the case, he recommends having a plan B ready to go.

What he’ll do is fly at 2,400 feet just below the 2,500-foot ring. If you’re heading north, the route Herb likes to fly is the Brooke VOR to Manassas Airport (KHEF) and then head west going around the ring clockwise until he is able to go direct to Gaithersburg.

If you’re flying up from the south, he recommends as soon as you get handed off to Potomac Approach near Richmond that you advise them of your request to go through the Dulles East Corridor. They can’t grant permission, but they may pass the message to the next controller. Herb believes there is value in making the request early – sometimes it is granted, sometimes it isn’t. The lesson is, don’t be afraid to ask.

To get a more detailed description about flying in the SFRA and the FRZ, see the February 2020 Event Spotlight.

Tangier Island

Our next stop on our tour takes us to Tangier Island (KTGI) in the Chesapeake Bay. It is a popular destination for pilots because flying makes it accessible, much like Ocracoke Island on the outer banks of North Carolina (see this month’s Club Spotlight). Otherwise, the only way to get there is by ferry. Depending on where they depart, they range from 45 minutes from Crisfield, Maryland to an hour and 15 minutes from Onancock, Virginia.

Hank Williams, the Maintenance Officer for TSS, has participated in the annual Holly Run to the island before Christmas. The event began in 1968 and is now hosted by the Chesapeake Bay Flying Club (see the December 2019 Event Spotlight).

Whether you are flying in as part of the event or on your own in warmer weather, Hank likes to remind pilots to minimize their time flying over water so you are in gliding range of somewhere that you can land if need be.

For club members flying from Gaithersburg he recommends they cross the bay near the Bay Bridge and then work their way south staying along the eastern shore. Once you get near Smith Island just north of Tangier, you can cut over and fly from Smith to Tangier and the water depth is only two or three feet deep.

“You’re over water that you can stand up in, so even if the plane did go down you’re not likely to be treading water,” Hank said.

Like any cross country, it’s important to check the charts for airspace enroute and airport information. With Patuxent River Naval Air Station on the Chesapeake Bay’s western shore, there are several Restricted Areas that are active.

At Tangier, all traffic is on the east side of the island with a right pattern for Runway 2 because of the Restricted Area about a mile to the west of the airport. Like many airports on small islands, there is no taxiway, so you may need to back taxi to get to the ramp, where there are about 50 tie downs.

The airport is only open during the day, sunrise to sunset. There is a $10 landing fee and a box to put your $10 bill. “There’s nobody there to collect it,” Hank said. “They use the honor system for the landing fee.” There is no fuel or other services either. More importantly, the island has limited cell phone service, so checking weather for departure could be difficult. A comment on ForeFlight mentioned only one restaurant had Wi-Fi.

Once on the island, there are no cars but you can rent golf carts or bikes. There are a few restaurants and bed and breakfasts and a museum. Hank said you it’s small enough that you really only need a few hours to see everything.

Hudson River Corridor

After our trip to the small island of Tangier, it’s time to fly around an island that is a little larger – Manhattan. As pilots, we all know that flying offers a unique perspective to view the world. Nowhere is this more apparent than flying the Hudson and East Rivers looking down into the Canyon of Heroes, rather than looking up from the bottom of the concrete jungle.

Like Washington DC, New York has a SFRA, but it is more commonly called by one of the two routes you can fly – the Hudson River Exclusion or the Skyline Route. And just as there is a course to fly the DC SFRA, ALC-79: New York City Special Flight Rules Area (SFRA) is the course for flying the Hudson and East Rivers around Manhattan.

The SFRA begins at the Verrazano Bridge to the south and extends up the Hudson River to the Alpine Tower, a position north of the George Washington. It also includes the East River up to the northern tip of Roosevelt Island. It is designed to separate traffic into three areas in the most congested airspace in the world, right in the middle of the New York Bravo made up of overlapping rings for Newark, Kennedy, and LaGuardia airports.

Helicopters are flying at 800 feet or below; the uncontrolled Hudson River Exclusion keeps GA aircraft between 1,000 feet and 1,300 feet, which is the base of the Bravo; and aircraft flying the Skyline Route through the Bravo will receive an altitude from ATC between 1,300 feet and 2,000 to fly.

Whether you are flying the Exclusion or the Skyline Route, northbound traffic flies on the east side of the Hudson closer to Manhattan and southbound traffic flies on the west side of the Hudson closer to New Jersey.

Chris Reardon, the Social Coordinator for TSS who plans flyouts for the club, prefers flying southbound. “I think you get a better vantage point for pictures and more of a panorama of the city,” he said. “When you’re going northbound, I feel like you’re right on top of the buildings.”

TSS Maintenance Officer Herb Rosenthal would agree, with one caveat. “Which way you want to go depends on if this is a trip for your passenger on the right side or a trip for you on the left side,” he said. “If it is for the passenger, you go north up the Hudson and south on the East River.”

Chris and Herb have flown both routes and recommend the Skyline Route for the added safety and better view. “A little bit higher gets you in the Bravo, which is a little bit safer,” Chris said. “For the pictures I like being a little bit higher.”

Herb added the Skyline Route is easier and provides an additional margin of safety. Besides having ATC calling out traffic, he said “the ease of doing it at 1,500 or 2,000 feet outweighs being a little bit lower and below more of the buildings.”

If you prefer to fly lower, the Hudson River or East River Exclusions are VFR routes where you are not controlled by ATC, but are required to self report your position on 123.05 at six places that are listed on the chart and easily identifiable in the air. From north the south they are the Alpine Tower, George Washington Bridge, the Intrepid aircraft carrier, the Colgate Clock (which is the size of a Ferris wheel on the south side of Jersey City), the Statue of Liberty, and Verrazano Bridge.

Airspeed is not to exceed 140 knots. “One of the keys to enjoying the flight is to slow the plane down,” Herb said. “Try to get to 80 knots or even slower.” He also recommends if you have an autopilot to use it to maintain altitude so all you have to do Is follow the twists and turns of the river.

When Herb flies the Hudson, he’ll fly from Gaithersburg at 7,500 feet to an intersection just south of the Verrazano Bridge using Flight Following. He said even though you tell ATC you want to do the Hudson River, they want to know where you’re going to land. He usually picks Sky Manor (N40) in New Jersey, an airport with a popular restaurant.

Chris organized a club flyout up the Hudson for April and they planned to land at Goodspeed Airport (42B) in Connecticut and walk to a nearby restaurant. Unfortunately, the weather didn’t cooperate, so they decided to fly to Arnold Palmer Airport (KLBE) in Latrobe, Pennsylvania for lunch instead. 

If you are flying the Skyline route up the East River, ATC may have you cross Manhattan at Central Park, depending on which way LaGuardia is taking off and landing. It is also something that you may request.

“I once got to cross Central Park and I felt I was in a Star Wars movie,” Herb said. “I was going between these tall buildings.”

The tallest building in Manhattan of course is the Freedom Tower, reaching to just over 1,800 feet MSL. South of Central Park there are three very tall buildings ranging in height from 1,460 feet to 1,600 feet. 

Besides the tall buildings and the congested airspace, you need to be aware or TFRs – especially if the Yankees are playing since the 3-mile radius will extend across the Hudson River. On one flight where Chris was heading south from Albany along the Skyline Route, the TFR was active but ATC cleared him down the Hudson.

“Even though the TFR was hot, the directions they gave me were to stay as far west on the coastline and proceed at 2,000 feet,” he said. “They had no problem with me going southbound. I didn’t ask about going north, but I think that may have been an issue.”

To get a sense of what it is like to fly the Hudson River Exclusion, watch this AOPA video with tips and techniques.

Chicago Skyline

For pilots in the Midwest, the Chicago Skyline makes a wonderful sight seeing flight. Like New York, the airspace is busy. There is a lot of commercial traffic going in and out of O’Hare (KORD) and Midway (KMDW). However, the flying along Lake Michigan under the Bravo is easy to do.

There is a VFR FLYWAY along Lake Michigan from the VPFTS waypoint, which is on the shore east of the Northbrook VOR, to Navy Pier where you fly at or below 2,500 feet. The base of the Bravo is 3,000. Once you get to Navy Pier, the FLYWAY drops to at or below 2,000 feet because of Midway’s Charlie airspace, which has a base of 2,300 feet over the water. Over the city the base is 1,900.  

Some of the highlights include the Bahai Temple, Northwestern University, and Wrigley Field (which is nestled in the neighborhood and can be a little hard to see). The Hancock Tower and Navy Pier are easily recognizable, as is the Willis Tower (formerly known as the Sears Tower), Grant Park, and Soldier Field. Like New York, with the Cubs, White Sox, and Bears all having stadiums near the shore, there is always the possibility of a TFR.

No matter where your club is based, there are countless destinations that flying makes accessible and wonderful sight-seeing flights that provide amazing perspectives of the world around us. Talk with your fellow club members and see where they have been and what advice they may have so you can create your own adventures.

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