Holes in your training

It happened to me again. Just a few weeks ago I discovered another little rent in the fabric, another hole in my private pilot training.

I flew to Atlantic City International (KACY), an airport in Class Charlie airspace, to take in a Saturday night concert on the boardwalk. I chose ACY because I’d been told that, for a towered airport, the tower and ground personnel there were nice and there was a lot of GA traffic mixing it up with Spirit Airlines flights and the local Air National Guard. (In spite of an instrument rating and more than 500 hours in my logbook, I still say “uhhhhh” on the radio. A lot. So I tend to stay away from towered airports in general.)

So far, so good. I had my taxiway diagram ready when I landed, found the airport’s one FBO without problems and without crossing any active runways. My son and I spent a great night in Atlantic City enjoying the Steven Tyler’s ear-piercing rendition of “Dream On” (it might be one of his last before he goes off to be an “American Idol” judge, we figured).

The next day, in near-100-degree heat on the ramp, I called ground and told them I was ready to go. “Do you have your clearance?” the ground controller asked.

“Ummmm…” (I told you I do this on the radio.) “I’m departing VFR,” I said.

“Well,” the controller said kindly, “we’re a Class C facility so you need a clearance. Contact Clearance Delivery on XXX.XX.” I apologized, copied the frequency, and thought, “Now what?”

There it was—another hole in my training. I had no memory of ever learning about this, and since I don’t fly instruments much and wasn’t current, I couldn’t just file and go. So I took a deep breath, called Clearance, and confessed. “I need a VFR departure clearance but I don’t know what you need.”

Fortunately, she was as gracious as the other controllers had been, and asked for N-number, type, destination, and altitude. She assigned me a squawk code and told me to fly runway heading at or below 1,100 feet until released by the tower. Pretty soon we were on our way back to Maryland, and I had learned (or relearned) something.

This happens from time to time—a gap in knowledge. Please don’t think I lay all of this at the feet of my primary instructor. It’s quite possible we talked about this in ground school, and I forgot. But it’s also quite possible that we never talked about this. Stuff happens. Little things slip through the cracks. There are a bazillion different rules and regulations that we’re required to absorb; some of them stick and others don’t (and that’s why we have a flight review every two years whether we need one or not).

If and when this happens to you, note it, fill the hole with the required information, and move on. Better still, dig deeper and see what other holes might have developed in the fabric of your knowledge. For me, this means brushing up on my communications requirements, and maybe–just maybe–I’ll get instrument current again. The IFR ticket is a handy thing to have for more reasons than one.—Jill W. Tallman

  • Rob

    I fully understand this situation, I have had this happen to me on many occasions. As a matter of fact, every day I get up Ican look back and I would be amazed at how much more I know this week, than I did a month ago. The problem lays not with your primary instructor. It doesnt fall at the feet of your examiner either. You cant even look at lazergrade/cats testing service and wonder if you even got that question on your knowlege test. Take a good solid look in the mirror, and you will find the culprit. While I agree with your conclusion to fill in those gaps, I seriously disagree with your attempt to call it a gap in training. I know, I make pilots for a living, on ALL levels of certificates and ratings. The aviation community needs to be more proactive to gaining knowlege, not reactive as you suggest, this is my opinion anyway. While you take note that you did not know how to operate at a class c facility, I ask what kind of preparation did you undertake before embarking on this journey of yorn? Had you ever been to a Class C airport before? Did you not hear the ATIS telling you that you must contact clearance delivery prior to calling ground control? As educators we cannot teach students everything we know, we teach within their level of certificate. While I agree that this is a gap in your knowlege, it is not a gap in your training. The aeronautical experince of part 61 does not require class c/b operations for a private pilot applicant. As a student/brand new wet ink pilot you are expected not to go into crowded class c airports until you’ve gained enough operational experience in other airports and class d airports before you even think about going into class c primary airports. Even then, you are expected to research and prep for any flights to airports bigger than your normal airports. You disagree? Imagine me telling you I have been to KMSN and KMKE as a student pilot. I would tell you this because its true I am not lying to make a point. Now ask me about my first trip to KMSN as a new wet ink ppl. It did not go spectacularly well or smooth as it did when my primary instructor was aboard telling me what to do. Please note that this was not a gap in training…it was my inability to become familiar with all available information concerning the flight I was going to take. As a matter of fact, it involved the very same thing that happened to you! Had I did a lil research on the matter I might have expected the need for getting a clearance to depart KMSN utilizing the clearance delivery frequency that was on my taxi diagram. I take issue with your expectation to know it all at a private level. We as educators and mentors have to decide exactly what each new student must know based on their skill level, their learning curve, and their expected level of flying and that is in addition to the minimum PTS standards of knowlege. We could teach you everying, for most of us have more patience than you have money. However, let me ask you this. How much are you willing to spend on gapless training? If I told you I could have provided you deluxe training, however it was going to take you another year and 6000 dollars, would you have completed your training? If statistics have anything to say about it, you would become the 80 percent of people who never finish training. In the interest of safety and customer service, we give you what you need to become a safe pilot at the level you seek. That certificate is a license to learn, and it is incumbent upon all pilots to keep abreast of the world of aviation. We cant make you pick up a far/aim after your checkride, we cant make you study every possible subject in aviation after we are done training you. We should not call this a gap in training, we should call it a gap in preparation. I suspect the the number of gaps in a persons training is directly related to the speed at which their books/training materials get tossed in the closet to collect dust, only to see the light of day 23 months and 15 days after their last certificate/rating or flight review. Just a thought!

  • Hank

    What he said . . .

    I don’t go to controlled fields often, but I do try to remember CRAFT. Early on, with a still-wet PPL, I would make a list for each towered field, with frequencies and information for each, listed in order of contact. If you don’t remember/can’t find your books, all it will take is a few minutes talking to someone to get it straight for you.

    Write it down, photocopy it, put it on your computer. Look at it before your next flight. Change the numbers to match your destination. A few times doing this, and it will be easier. Practice will make it better!

    Remember–your PPL is just a license to learn.

  • Claire

    Great article Jill. I come across gaps in my knowledge too. There’s just no way an instructor can teach you everything, and it’s important to confess up when you don’t know what people are doing or talking about. Glad you had a fun trip and got to learn something. Fly safe.

  • Kurt

    I am glad you told this story. I would have done the very same thing you did because at the particular class C airports that I flew into during my private pilot training, the ATIS instructed VFR departures to contact ground on initial contact and I would have done what I remembered doing before.

  • Andrew

    I agree that a PPL is a license to learn, and that you are supposed to become familiar with all information available.

    I just wanted to bring up that, Clearance Delivery is established primarily for ATC to relay IFR clearances to departing IFR traffic at busier airports. Assuming he didn’t know how to operate in Class B/C is a bad assumption considering he was trying to fly VFR. I would say the one thing he failed to do, was listen to the ATIS the entire way where he should have known to contact Clearance Delivery.

    Asking if he had ever been to a Class C airport is a little condescending considering there are probably a lot of Class C airports that do not require VFR pilots to contact clearance delivery.

  • Rob

    Andrew, there are NO Class C airports that do not require VFR pilots to contact Clearance Delivery, unless specifically stated that your clearance is to be obtained from ground, and that is also on the ATIS. Receiving a clearance to depart VFR at any Class C airport is mandatory. If it wasnt, I still wouldnt agree to me being condescending, but it is mandatory. Asking if a person had ever been to a Class C facility before was not to be condescending, but to establish and question the preflight actions that did not occur prior to this flight. The term of what occurred in this instance is called projection. The student pilot, or in this case a 500 hour IFR rated private pilot, projects (puts blame on) their shortcomings on others as a way to deal with some reality. just my .02!

  • Jill W. Tallman

    OK, Rob, I’m gonna jump back in. I appreciate your thoughtful observations in your first comment. However, I’d like to remind you that I stipulated in the blog post that I am not laying this incident at the feet of my primary instructor. As the pilot in command, I alone am responsible for what happens or doesn’t happen on the flight. And with regard to your second assertion that I blame others for my shortcomings as a way to deal with some reality, I refer you to the part of the blog in which I said that I intend to work on my communications skills and to get instrument current again.

  • Andrew

    Rob, I appologize for my remark. I did not realize every class C airport requierd vfr to contact Clearand Delivery. Its just that every book I have read has said that something to the extent of Clearance Delivery being for IFR and occasionally VFR WHEN ATIS SAYS SO (as well as flight instructors). I agree that you still need a clearance to depart a Class C airport.

  • Rob

    And Jill, I commend you for maybe blamming him, maybe not, referring to your indecision on if you talked about Class C ops or not. Id like to point out that you what you said is that you dont blame it ALL on him, yet you still asign him blame. The title of your blog would also suggest otherwise.

    “This happens from time to time—a gap in knowledge. Please don’t think I lay all of this at the feet of my primary instructor. It’s quite possible we talked about this in ground school, and I forgot. But it’s also quite possible that we never talked about this.”

    Saying you dont blame it ALL on your instructor yet allowing your readers to infer that you do, with a title like holes in your training, and talking about discovering holes in your training in a blog IS contradictory in nature. Readers dont simply read that you are not throwing your instructor under the bus because you claim to not totally blame the instructor, only partially blame him. As you can guess I am opposed to the title and some of the content to this blog, the one thing we can agree on is this. As a pilot you should constantly work on expanding your knowlege.

  • Todd

    Jill. Thanks for the great article. I regulary operate out of a Class C airport in the mid-west so getting a clearance is second nature for me and eventually for my students learning to fly. The biggest take away from this is that most controllers are very forgiving.

    Last week I accidently made my request for clearance on the tower frequency. The tower controller graciously read back my clearance with a subtle emphasis that she was in fact the tower and not clearance delivery. I ended my readback with a quick apology for using the wrong frequency. It wasn’t a big deal and it emphasised to my student that we all make mistakes every now and then. The FAA is not going to come after you.

    It sounds like Rob likes splitting hairs…. so let’s go ! In his first response he says. “Did you not hear the ATIS telling you that you must contact clearance delivery prior to calling ground control?” For the record, the ATIS at a Class C airport will NOT ALWAYS tell you to contact clearence delivery. My home base is out of Class C airspace and it is NEVER included. Rob, whether you like it or not your tone is VERY condescending and not conductive to learning. I hope you don’t berate your students like this. Maybe this is why 80% of people who start training never finish.

    As you can guess I am opposed to your tone and the attidude of your resonse. The one thing we can agree on is this. As an instructor, you should constantly work on expanding your knowlege AND your delivery.

    Anyone taking the time to read this blog is expanding their knowledge, so let’s not berate people who write the blogs and get all upset about where their choice of title. Maybe there really was a gap in training.

    Happy flying !

  • Gerald Heuer


    Thanks, I am a student pilot looking for a solo sign-off. I re-learned something.

    Having read your blog, I do remember my instructor mentioning this on my first flight into a Class C facility as part of my scenario-learning Private Pilot/IFR Rating syllabus, but like all new students I forget things. I am sure having read your blog I will not forget, especially when I get into my cross-country flying lessons.

    An “Ole” AF Nav Learning to be a Pilot

  • Adam


    Thanks for your article and willingness to share your learning experience. I have had my license now for quite a few years and I, like you, tend to avoid towered airports if possible simply because I feel like I’m not quite as smooth on the radio as others. Probably more my personal perception than the actual truth. At any rate, I am preparing to fly VFR into a Class C airport soon, and wanted to refresh my memory on departing VFR from Class C airports. Your article instantly popped up and I appreciate your input. To pipe in on the discussion, I agree with you that there are gaps in everyone’s training whether it be due to never discussing a specific topic with the instructor or simply not retaining it. Every instructor I’ve had has done a decent job at explaining the basics. Though obviously it’s practically impossible to cover every little detail and scenario. That’s why it’s important for pilots to be constantly learning and have the ability to recognize those gaps and strive to fill them in. Over time, new gaps will occasionally form. For me, I fly into Class D airports a lot more than Class C, so I needed to refresh my memory (i.e. fill in the memory gap) on departing VFR from Class C airports. Your experience was exactly the refresher I needed.

    Good luck and keep the blue side up!

  • Paul

    This one got me too in San Antonio Class C. SOMETHING changed, without me getting the memo.

    I normally make the trip from Mckinney TX (KTKI) to KSAN under IFR, but the last time I did it with VFR flight following, because the weather was so nice I wanted more control over my own flying. I picked up flight following in the air, and expected to do the same departing KSAN on the return leg.

    Calling ground, I got the same “Please contact Clearance Delivery before calling for taxi clearance”. Huh? I had done this exact same trip several times under VFR before I did the instrument rating, and this was news to me.

    Remember when in the movie “The Matrix”, Neo sees a black cart walk past twice, and he is told that is a glitch caused by when the machine chance something? I could swear that I saw the same Southwest Airlines Boeing 737 take off twice while I doing my pre-flight. Perhaps that was it.

  • Jeff

    Jill, I am heading for a Class C airport and would have missed this one guaranteed.
    Thanks for the article. Very helpful!

    I find your pompous, arrogant attitude to be completely ineffective. You fail to instruct, but claim to be an instructor. Your delivery is so condescending it overshadows anything you are saying. You are more interested in making a point about Jills mis-understanding, than you are about helping her learn. I’ll say it since no one else will; you sir are an ass!

    This was a great topic. Many of us have not had an opportunity to become proficient in this environment. It is a learning curve issue, not negligence. If you made a good point I missed it due to your crappy delivery. Some instructor..not (take some classes and learn how to communicate).

    Thanks for nothing Rob.

  • Mark C.

    Wow, Jeff, looks like the pot is calling the kettle black here. Rob might be more receptive to your input if you were less confrontational. If he was still looking, which I’m sure he’s not.

    I landed here because I’m planning on taking my ink-still-wet PPL to a class C airport to visit family and wanted to double-check my understanding of the procedures. My instructors talked just enough about this so I knew there was something I had to know, but I never flew into a class C during training. Until I read this, I DIDN’T know to listen to the ATIS for any possible clearance delivery instructions, so I learned something valuable here and thanks to all who contributed to this conversation.

  • Mike H.

    We all talk about what is required and what isn’t but remember one of the most important parts when we say we have to or can not do something, what is the reference?

  • Dirk Benson

    What a fun little thread full of empathic wisdom. The truth is that a reader typically interprets the tone as an echo of their own security or insecurity. To have found condescension is an indicator of self doubt which can often be coupled with strong will. Jill raised questions with resistant humility, Rob added knowledge and did so tactfully. These are fun traits of the human animal.

    I learned about class C in my training and flew into it with my instructor one time to get the experience. We did clearance delivery. I have not been back to class C since then. I live in some of the most complicated airspace in the country, so students have to learn a bit of it all. If their was no class c nearby, I do not think we would have spent much time talking about it. Still, I always prepare for something new. It seems the OP spoke to some folks prior to going, so did some verbal homework at least. no harm no foul.