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VFR Flight Following -- What's going on here?

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Old June 20th 05, 05:55 PM
Jay Honeck
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Default VFR Flight Following -- What's going on here?

On the first leg of our flight to Washington, D.C., we only made it as
far as Rantoul, Illinois, due to thunderstorms. We were utilizing VFR
flight following, starting with Cedar Rapids Approach (CID)and being
progressively handed off until we were talking to Chicago Center.

As we approached Rantoul, we had to divert around a cell. At that
point I told Center I needed to leave the frequency to check with
Flight Watch, which was approved.

While talking with Flight Watch (and getting the bad news that the
weather was falling apart pretty much everywhere) we dropped down to
2500 feet, and then down to 2000 to get beneath a thickening layer of

After completing our weather briefing, we switched back to Chicago's
frequency, but were no longer able to communicate with Chicago Center.
I heard them call me once, but they were unable to hear my response,
probably because we were too low.

We zigged and zagged a bit until we decided to throw in the towel and
land for the night in Rantoul. I tried Chicago Center one more time,
heard no response, and switched to Unicom and landed.

After landing (and finding no one at the airport) we started
fruitlessly calling cab companies (no answer) and hotels (no shuttle
service). About the time we were going to walk to the nearest hotel
(about a mile away) a car pulled around the corner with a flashing
yellow light on top.

It turned out to be the airport manager, who had been called at home by
Chicago Center. They asked him to contact me, so he drove out to the
airport and told me that "Center wants to talk to you."

He was under the impression that I had not closed a flight plan, and
was quite surprised when we told him that we didn't *have* a flight
plan filed. Nevertheless, I called the number, spoke with the Head
Cheese at Chicago Center, and told him what had happened. He fully
understood the situation, and thanked me for calling.

So what's going on here? Usually Chicago Center's version of "Flight
Following" (if you can get it) is so casual, and so begrudgingly
offered, that I hardly consider it to be of any service whatsoever --
yet on this particular flight they were tracking our progress all the
way to the ground?

In the end, it was a terrific turn of events, as the airport manager
opened the FBO and got us the keys to a courtesy car, and then led us
over to the hotel. (He even invited us to stop at a bar with him,
which we declined...) Still, it's had us wondering ever since why
Chicago Center was so concerned that they dispatched the airport
manager to go looking for us.

Were they just concerned with our well-being in the bad weather? Did
our zigging and zagging -- and then dropping off their scopes -- look
like a plane in distress? Did something get scrambled in their
computers, making them believe that we had filed a flight plan? Is
there an FAR requiring us to cancel flight following?

Now that I think about it, I suppose we could have asked Flight Watch
to notify Chicago Center when we could no longer hear them, but frankly
it never dawned on me that Chicago really cared that much about what
happened outside of their Class B airspace.

How would *you* have handled it?
Jay Honeck
Iowa City, IA
Pathfinder N56993
"Your Aviation Destination"


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