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4 Answers

ATC radar

Asked by: 1836 views ,
General Aviation, Student Pilot

We practice our maneuvers in class C airspace under the control of ATC with a transponder code. Before we simulate an emergency landing, my instructor gives a call to the ATC letting them know that we will call once back up to altitude. My question is at what altitude does ATC lose us and how should a call be made in right ATC phraseology?

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4 Answers



  1. Jonathan Seitz on Aug 27, 2014

    The first part of your question really depends on your location, and is dynamic. ATC’s ability to see you on radar is limited by the height of the radar antenna, the curvature of the earth, terrain, and weather. If you are in a flat area with good weather and close to the radar, they will likely be able to see you as low as 500′ AGL. If you are in mountainous (or even large hills) terrain, or far from the radar station, or the weather is heavy rain at the surface, then it may be that you get lost on their screen as high as 5,000′ AGL.

    Since the call your CFI is making to the ATC controller is basically a position report, you would do well to phrase it as such.

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  2. psequeira on Aug 28, 2014

    Thank you Jonathan!

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  3. Heather McNevin on Aug 29, 2014

    As a controller, I am thankful that your instructor knows to call and let the controller know they will be descending. You’d be surprised how many pilots don’t think to warn me before they do unexpected maneuvering. I’ve even had a training flight practice spins without telling me! Imagine how that looked on my end…rapid descent, lost radar contact, lost radio contact. I was both ecstatic at their being unharmed and irritated at their lack of communication when they did finally reappear as though nothing had happened.
    The “when do they lose me in radar” is a difficult question to answer. Every area is different. Some areas of my airspace I lose radar coverage below 8,000 and in some spots I can see aircraft taxi. Sometimes we have a radar outage (planned and unplanned) and I might not be able to see people 45,000 and below.
    If possible, call the facility that you have been working with on the phone (the number is in the AFD or you can get it through FSS, the internet, or asking on frequency, and set up a tour. You can learn A LOT by spending some time watching the other side of the radar and having a nice chat with the controllers who you have been working with. Usually these have to be set up with some advanced notice, and there is extra paperwork to fill out if you are a foreign national. Good luck and let me know if you have any questions!

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  4. psequeira on Sep 12, 2014

    Thank you Heather! Great insight

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