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Tag: TFR

Alaska’s Fire Season isn’t over yet: Check for TFRs

With the unusually dry weather in south central Alaska, and rash of late season wildfires, Temporary Flight Restrictions are again popping up in different areas.  DNR has observed numerous light aircraft flying thorough TFR’s along the Parks Highway.

Please check TFR’s and stay clear when they are active.  While sources like SkyVector.com and tfr.faa.gov make it easy to see a visual representation of TFR’s and the scheduled active times, give a call to Flight Service for the current status.

The mid-air collision (or FAA infraction) you avoid, may be your own!

An example  TFR display on SkyVector.com showing the associated active times. Check with FSS for current status.

What is a Fire Traffic Area?

Canadair water scooper aircraft. One of the of aircraft types that frequent Alaskan skies during fire season.

As wildfire season approaches in Alaska, we can expect to see the migration of fire-fighting aircraft into the state.  Only slightly behind the migrating waterfowl.  I had the opportunity to sit in on a briefing recently that described how the aircraft that are used to tackle wildfire are managed—and more specifically, the airspace around a fire that is “under attack.”  They use a structure called a Fire Traffic Area. This is not necessarily the same as a TFR, which would apply to those of us not participating in fire fighting operations.  More on that later.

Structure of a wildfire operation
Typically, first on the scene is an air attack aircraft.  Aero Commanders are used to perform this function in interior Alaska.  Onboard is a pilot and a fire-fighter.  From their vantage point overhead, they manage the air assets, which might include air tankers, helicopters, cargo planes making drops to crews on the ground, etc. They also monitor operations on the ground, and watch the development of the fire, among other things.

Fire Traffic Area Diagram. Note that aircraft may be arriving or holding in the airspace outside the 5 nm controlled area. Water scooper aircraft or helicopters may also be ferrying to and from nearby waterbodies. Monitor the tactical frequency, 128.45 MHz when flying in the vicinity of a fire fighting operation.

Fire Traffic Area
A piece of airspace five nautical mile in diameter called a Fire Traffic Area, is defined over the blaze during fire suppression operations. It typically extends from the surface to 2,500 feet above terrain.  Within this airspace, altitude zones are used to separate the different type of aerial operations (see diagram for altitude stratifications).  Aircraft involved in the operation are required to contact “air attack” when they are within 12 miles of the center of this structure, and not allowed within 7 nautical miles until they have established communication with the air attack ship.  This airspace will often, but not always, be accompanied by a TFR. When a TFR is established for fire-fighting operations, it should include a radio frequency and phone number, in case you do need to transit the airspace.

Communications
The two-person crew in the air attack aircraft not only directs tanker and other aerial activities—they also maintain communications with crews on the ground and dispatchers back at air bases.  Between VHF and FM radios and a Sat phone, they may have as many as eight com channels to manage.  If one is flying in the vicinity of a fire operation, a good thing to note is the primary air tactical frequency: 128.45 MHz.  Monitoring this frequency should give you an idea of what is happening.  If you need to transit the area, give a call.  If the frequency is extremely busy, that is a clue that you might want to detour around, and not add to the congestion they are already dealing with.  At other times, however, give a call, perhaps starting with a position report, and let them know what you would like to do.

Fire related radio frequencies that may be handy to know.

Reporting a wildfire
Depending on what part of the state you are in, either BLM or the State of Alaska Department of Natural Resources will have jurisdiction over fire suppression activities. In case you need report a wild fire, two other frequencies to note are: State Forestry, 132.45 MHz and BLM Fire, 127.45.

Safety is our number one concern when sharing airspace with fire-fighting activities.  Keep these radio frequencies handy, check NOTAMs for TFR’s and enjoy the summer flying season!

Watch for TFR near Gulkana for spring HAARP Campaign

Heads up for pilots flying in the Copper River Basin—the High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program (HAARP) is conducting a research campaign this month.  HAARP is operated by the Geophysical Institute at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, to support auroral and upper-atmospheric research. The FAA will again establish a TFR over the facility, 16 nautical miles north east of the Gulkana Airport (GKN), along the Tok Cutoff, when the facility is running.  The campaign starts with a test day on April 3rd, with the bulk of the campaign taking place from April 6-14.  Check for NOTAMs with specific times the TFR will be in effect.

This campaign  supports a number of research projects.  Operating times fluctuate due to the constantly changing nature of the ionosphere.  While they won’t be operating outside the times listed in the NOTAM, there may be gaps within those time windows.  As part of being a good neighbor, the HAARP Project is providing a local phone number (907-822-5497) pilots may use for more detailed information, and a new VHF radio frequency, 123.3 MHz, to call airborne when flying in the vicinity of the facility.  For more background on this program see this previous post.  AOPA has requested that the HAARP facility be charted, to increase situational awareness of the facility.

HAARP Project under new management: Watch for the TFR

[Updated: April 2, 2018]

The High-Frequency Active Auroral Research Program (HAARP) is a research program that has been used to study the ionosphere since 1990. The facility, north east of the Gulkana Airport, is home to radio transmitters and an array of antennas that can transmit 3.6 megawatts of energy into the atmosphere, in support of research projects.  It doesn’t operate very often, a few times per year at present, but when it does, pilots don’t want to be in the path of this beam of radio energy.  Consequently, we should be on the lookout for a Temporary Flight Restriction (TFR) that will be activated during campaigns, to avoid flying over the facility.  The next campaign is from September 21-25, but there will be others to follow.  Make sure to check NOTAMs, in case this TFR is active when you are flying in the Copper River Basin, or transiting the area to or from the Alaska Highway route to Canada.

Social media notice of the September research campaign at the HAARP facility near Gakona. Watch for a TFR when the facility is in operations.

What is HAARP?
Located about 16 nautical miles northeast of the Gulkana Airport (GKN), the facility houses a 33-acre array of antennas, and when operating, can send pulses of energy into the upper reaches of the atmosphere to stimulate this zone, providing a means to study what happens there. Research has potential implications for understanding properties ranging from the aurora to long-range communications. Until recently, the Air Force operated the facility, in support of Department of Defense research interests, primarily dealing with communication and navigation interests.  In 2015, the facility was transferred to the University of Alaska Fairbanks, Geophysical Institute to operate.  For more information on the facility, see the frequently asked questions document at http://gi.alaska.edu/haarp/faq.

Why a TFR?
AOPA has followed the operation of the HAARP facility for many years, primarily out of concerns with possible disturbance to aircraft navigation and/or communications systems. While managed by the Air Force, operations were conducted as a Controlled Firing Area (CFA), meaning that the Air Force had to shut down their transmitter if an aircraft came within a prescribed distance.  They used a radar system to detect aircraft and shut down the transmitter if an aircraft got too close.  When the Geophysical Institute took over operations, FAA re-examined those procedures and decided that the CFA was not adequate, in part due to the high-altitude nature of the impacts. The TFR language is expected to define an area from the surface to FL250.

The HAARP Facility north east of the Gulkana Airport, will have a TFR protecting the airspace around the facility when in operations, similar to this graphic. Check NOTAMs for details and active times.  Map courtesy of SkyVector.com

The HAARP Project has re-established a phone number that pilots may call during times the facility is operating.  They have also temporarily re-established a VHF radio frequency, to allow pilots to contact the facility while airborne. These mechanisms should allow pilots operating in the area to have a direct line of communication to obtain more detailed information than the NOTAM is expected to contain, given the real-time nature of changes in the experimental world.  AOPA has also requested that the facility be charted on the Anchorage Sectional, to make it easier for pilots to become familiar with the location of the facility.  In addition to a NOTAM for a TFR, during operations pilots may call the HAARP site, near Gakona, at 907-822-5497, or on VHF radio frequency 122.25 MHz.  [Note: As of April, 2018 the VHF frequency for HAARP has changed to 123.3] Information will also be available on Facebook and Twitter at @uafhaarp.

Stay tuned for more information as the transition from Air Force to university operations proceed. And make sure to check NOTAMs to find out when the TFR is activated.

Arctic Thunder TFR

This weekend the US Air Force is hosting Arctic Thunder at Joint Base Elmendorf Richardson (JBER) in Anchorage.  The open house includes an amazing array of aerial demonstrations, from old warbirds to the Navy’s Blue Angels.  Along with this impressive display of aviation comes a complex Temporary Flight Restriction (TFR) to support the aerial demonstrations, and to keep everyone safe.  If you plan to fly (and not as part of the airshow) it is worth studying the structure and timing of the TFR, to avoid being delayed.

Graphic depiction of the TFR's for Arctic Thunder. (courtesy of SkyVector.com)

Graphic depiction of the TFRs for Arctic Thunder. (courtesy of SkyVector.com)

Depicted on a map, there are two TFRs, both centered on Elmendorf. The smaller 2.5 nautical mile radius TFR will be active throughout the event, however at different times during the day (and the couple days before) the TFR expands to a radius of 5 nautical miles, as needed to accommodate show activities (or practice before the event). When not needed, it shrinks back down to the smaller size, to reduce the impact on Merrill Field and other airports in the Anchorage Bowl.

As I am writing this, there are eight separate NOTAMs filed to cover the event. These can be a little challenging to decode, as the smaller and larger TFR’s are described separately, each with their own set of times.  With help from our in the FAA friends Air Traffic Organization, below is a diagram which displays a time line for Friday, Saturday and Sunday, listing the times the TFRs shrink and swell during those three days.  While it may help plan your activities, as always, remember to check NOTAMS with Flight Service before you depart, in case there are last minute changes.  Or alternatively, go enjoy Arctic Thunder!

Friday time sequence

Weekend time sequence

Link to the schedule diagrams shown above.

 

Heads Up: VIP NOTAM issued for Anchorage

Heads up for pilots flying in the Anchorage area this Sunday afternoon, November 22, 2015. A VIP NOTAM has been posted for the time interval from 2 to 5 pm, limiting flights within 30 nautical miles of JBER. Like the Presidential TFR from last August, there is an inner and outer ring, each with different restrictions.

Remember, the details and times may change, so be sure to check NOTAMs before you take off (and while enroute) for the latest information.  http://tfr.faa.gov/tfr2/list.html

Graphic depiction of the VIP TFR NOTAM. Make sure and check for updates, in case it changes.

Graphic depiction of the VIP TFR NOTAM. Make sure and check for updates, in case it changes.

Presidential TFRs come to Alaska!

Revised TFRs: FAA revised the VIP TFR for ANC to include a seaplane gateway at Wasilla Lake. Graphics of Seward, Dillingham and Kotzebue added. Times updated.

The newspapers have for weeks reported that President Obama is coming to Alaska for a three-day visit, August 31 through September 2nd. Along with the President comes a VIP Temporary Flight Restriction (TFR) that will make it challenging for general aviation operations in Anchorage and other Alaskan communities. AOPA, along with the Alaska Airmens Association, Alaska Air Carriers Association and other airport and aviation groups met with the Secret Service and TSA a few days ago to understand the nature of these restrictions, and to see what we could do to help mitigate the impacts.

Before going into details, I want to stress that it is critical to check NOTAMs before you fly. I know we always do, but during this period DOUBLE check the NOTAMS, as the Secret Service warned us that the NOTAMs posted today may be modified as conditions change.

VIP TFR ANC revised

FAA revised the ANC TFR on Aug 28 to incorporate a gateway airport at Wasilla Lake for seaplanes, and again on Aug 29 & 30 with changed hours.

TFR Structure
The basic structure of this VIP TFR consists of two parts: an inner and outer ring.
Inner Core: Inside a ten nautical mile radius, known as the inner core, flight operations will be prohibited except for approved law enforcement, military and regular scheduled commercial flights—operating to and from Part 139 airports. Flights not included in the approved category must undergo security screening, arranged for no less than 24 hours prior to scheduled departure. Airports that will support screening inside the inner core are Anchorage (PANC), Merrill (PAMR) and Lake Hood (PALH). For aircraft needing to fly into these airports, Palmer (PAAQ) has been designated as a gateway airport where inbound aircraft may land and be screened before proceeding into the designated airports. Read the NOTAM carefully for more details on what is required. But before focusing only on those details, look at the hours the TFR will be in effect. Adjusting your schedule to avoid the times the TFR is in effect may be the easiest thing to do.

Outer Ring: A second concentric ring of airspace extends from 10 out to 30 nautical miles, designated as the outer ring. Aircraft operating in this segment are limited to those arriving to or departing from local airfields, but only on active IFR or VFR flight plans, with assigned transponder codes, and maintaining communication with ATC. This clearly excludes the non-transponder equipped aircraft that live on many airfields in the area. There is a long list of operations not allowed while the TFR is active, including flight training, aerobatic flight, glider operations, ultralight operations, etc. Again, check the NOTAM for details. One piece of good news. This list of prohibited activities that appears in the TFR in other locations around the country (and initially for Alaska) included seaplane operations. This was brought up the Secret Service by the Alaskan aviation stakeholders, who recognized that “Alaska is different” and was willing to make accommodations to allow seaplane operations.

Timing is everything
While these restrictions are very limiting to general aviation, perhaps the best tool to deal with them is timing. The Secret Service has provided blocks of time each day of the visit that the TFR will not be in effect, and GA operations may come and go unrestricted. Studying the active times, and planning ahead may allow you to avoid these restrictions completely.   The Secret Service has also committed to releasing the airspace early if at all possible, to reduce the impacts on our operations.

Other communities impacted too
While the focus of this piece is on the TFR over Anchorage, the President is planning to visit other Alaska communities for shorter periods of time. Those mentioned in the initial planning meeting were Seward, Dillingham and Kotzebue. We were advised to expect TFRs in those areas, nominally for about a four hour window. These will not involve gateway airports or special access procedures, so look for NOTAMs covering these areas during this three day window (see graphics below).

I appreciate that the Secret Service and TSA invited the Alaska aviation groups to participate in their planning, and were responsive to our concerns. Please check—and double check NOTAMs, check out AOPA’s TFR information resources http://www.aopa.org/Flight-Planning/Tfrs and help spread the word to your fellow aviators.

Additional Information: The FAA released additional diagrams to help explain the TFR’s associated with the President’s visit, the timing and nature of flight activities. Remember that these are for general planning purposes. Be sure to check NOTAMs in case plans change!

150831-150903 PANC REISSUE-4TFR alert handout thumbnailClick on the following link to download the above handout. 150826 TFR Alert Handout – AK

150902 Dillingham VIP ZAN 5-1668150902 Kotzebue VIP ZAN 5-1666150901 REISSUE 5-1587 Seward ZAN VIP

Flying When the Big Game is On, with a Twist this Year

Super Bowl Sunday is but two weekends away, now, and with that in mind pilots planning to fly in the southwestern United States (and even a touch of northern Mexico) need to take note. A high profile TFR encompassing the bulk of the Phoenix, Arizona, area will be in effect the day of the Super Bowl. Plus, a special flight notice out of the Las Vegas, Nevada, area denotes that GPS testing (click here for the advisory) will occur before and after the big game.

The GPS outages could come anytime during the GPS testing, slated for January 23rd to February 15th, 2015.

Well, not anytime. Last week AOPA Vice President of Government Affairs Melissa Rudinger contacted the FAA, who contacted the Air Force, who have now agreed to suspend GPS testing the day before, day of, and day after the Super Bowl.

But why is the conjunction of these two events still something to watch for? Well, just read the gist of the flight advisory:

GPS (including WAAS, GBAS, and ADS-B) may not be available within a 522nm radius centered at:

The expanse of GPS testing going on in the southwestern US this winter is astounding.

The expanse of GPS testing going on in the southwestern US this winter is astounding.

371900N,1155023W 

FL400-unlimited decreasing in area with decrease in altitude defined as:

482nm radius at FL250,

449nm radius at 10000ft,

378nm radius at 4000ft AGL

365nm radius at 50ft AGL

The impact area also extends into the mexican FIR. Pilots are strongly encouraged to report anomalies during testing to the appropriate ARTCC to assist in the determination of the extent of GPS degradation during tests.

Yep, you are reading this right. There will be GPS outages at the same time that there will be a concentration of aircraft arriving and departing one of the southwest’s largest urban areas. Pilots operating to and from the Super Bowl, or just around the general Phoenix area need to take the time to review their ground-based navigation skills.

I question the commonsense of running GPS testing that could result in outages in the days leading up to an event such as the Super Bowl, but it looks like those arriving a few days early to enjoy Arizona’s sunshine, or lingering more than a day after the big event will have to deal with it.

So how should you prepare? You could brush up on your knowledge and usage of VOR based navigation, for one. Remember Victor airways? You’ll probably get cleared to an intersection or two. Might even have to hold! If you haven’t used the ground-based navigation devices in your aircraft for a while, or even shot a ground-based navigation non-precision approach, now is the time to practice.

And for those of you who operate VFR? Some of the best ground navigation devices out there are actually not attached to your airplane. I’m talking about your eyes and a good old fashioned sectional. Yes, pilotage. Even if you decide that you have too much invested in your iPad charting to ante up for a paper version you can use your app—you may have to pan your way across the chart manually, though.

The FAA recently updated the special security notam relating to sporting events (find it here). If you haven’t had time to look it over here is the short version: all aircraft operations, including parachute jumping, unmanned aircraft, and remote controlled aircraft, are prohibited within three nautical miles and under 3,000 feet of any stadium or racetrack having a seating capacity of 30,000 or more people. You can find a list of stadiums and speedways here. The standard TFR is in effect an hour before to an hour after each event.

For the upcoming Super Bowl at the University of Phoenix Stadium the notam for its special TFR is out. Within the 30 nautical mile TFR ring around the stadium there will be no flight training, practice instrument approaches, aerobatic flight, glider operations, parachute operations, ultralight, hang gliding, balloon operations, agriculture/crop dusting, animal population control flight operations, banner towing operations, sightseeing operations, model aircraft operations, model rocketry, seaplane/amphibious water operations, unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), and commercial cargo carrier operations unless they comply with their respective TSA approved security program. Within the TFR area: all aircraft must be on an active IFR or VFR flight plan with a discrete beacon code assigned by ATC; aircraft must be squawking the discrete code prior to departure or entering the TFR and at all times while in the TFR; aircraft are not authorized to overfly the inner core while attempting to exit the TFR; and two-way communications with ATC must be maintained at all times. Only approved law enforcement and military aircraft directly supporting the Super Bowl and approved air ambulance flights, all of which must be squawking an assigned discrete transponder code and on an approved airspace waiver are permitted within the 10 nautical mile inner core of the TFR.

Please check the current notam for updates.

Intercept proceduresBe ready with a good rendering of the TFR and the ability to navigate around it or receive a squawk code and stay in communication with ATC when you are anywhere near it. And if you are intercepted by U.S. military or law enforcement aircraft, remain predictable. Do not adjust your altitude, heading, or airspeed until directed to by the intercepting aircraft. Attempt to establish radio communications with the intercepting aircraft or with the appropriate ATC facility by making a general call on guard (121.5 MHz), giving your identity, position, and nature of the flight. If transponder equipped, squawk 7700 unless otherwise instructed by ATC. Comply with interceptor aircraft signals and instructions until you’ve been positively released. For more information, read section 5-6-2 in the Aeronautical Information Manual (AIM). Fly safe out there!

Amy Laboda has been writing, editing and publishing print materials for more than 28 years on an international scale. From conception to design to production, Laboda helps businesses and associations communicate through various media with their clients, valued donors, or struggling students who aspire to earn scholarships and one day lead. An ATP-rated pilot with multiple flight instructor ratings, Laboda enjoys flying her two experimental aircraft and being active in the airpark community in which she lives.