Be Extra Careful Tiptoeing Around a TFR

(Image: AOPA)

I spent much of last week on a short vacation. My wife, twin 7-year-old sons and I hiked from museum to museum under the veil of sterile airspace that hovers over our nation's capital. It was a little depressing to visit my friend Mary Miller at Signature DCA only to compare the abandoned look of the place with the bustle I remember from pre-9/11 days. It seems like forever ago. Now, the hangar is home to a pair of Coast Guard helicopters whose mission it is to ride herd on wayward GA pilots who trespass into the forbidden airspace. They said they still get about one of those per week. We really ought to do better, folks.

On Sunday, my family and I looked up as one of the presidential helicopters swooped in low toward the White House, maybe to pick up the Obama family for their vacation, which is somewhat more exotic than ours was. Still, my plans for this week include a short day trip to Cape Cod, and my flight planning included a careful review of the notam for the presidential temporary flight restriction (TFR) centered over Martha's Vineyard, an aeronautical stone's throw from the southern coast of the Cape. I also discussed my IFR flight plan with the Lockheed Martin flight-planning specialist at 1-800-wxbrief. He might have thought I was ultraparanoid, but I quizzed him on a range of possibilities -- including the off chance of cancelling my IFR flight plan when in sight of the non-tower destination airport in Chatham (KCQX if you're keeping score at home). His advice? Stay with it until you're on the ground.

My flight path will avoid the inner 10-nm ring of the TFR, which remains open to GA traffic with the proper preparation. But even so, I am required to be on an IFR or VFR flight plan, squawk a discrete transponder code assigned by ATC and remain in radio contact. "Just make sure you stay in touch with Cape Approach," warned the fellow on the phone at the FBO.

Call to action: If you have any tips of your own you'd like to share, or have any questions about flying technique you'd like answered, send me a note at We'd love to hear from you.

Mark Phelps is a senior editor at AVweb. He is an instrument rated private pilot and former owner of a Grumman American AA1B and a V-tail Bonanza.

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