Short Final: New York State Of Mind


Over the years, I made several Bonanza trips from home base in New Jersey to EAA AirVenture. Without an IFR-certified GPS, I would flight plan to hopscotch along airways from VOR to VOR supplemented with my portable Garmin GPSmap396 for situational awareness. But I always expected to stick with the airways as a prudent IFR pilot should with “/U” on the flight plan. My first fuel stop was Sandusky, Ohio, about four or five of those airway doglegs down the road.

On my first such trip, I was a little surprised when about halfway across Pennsylvania, after interacting with two or three controllers who were more relaxed than those in New York’s busy airspace, I was handed off to a new sector that was controlled by New York Center, for some reason. A bit of the big-city edginess would return—not impolite, but noticeable. The good part was he cleared me direct to Sandusky, still about 250 nautical miles away, even with the understanding that I had just a portable GPS.

I asked around about that among friends, because it was a little ambiguous as to whether that was FAR-friendly. In theory, I knew that a controller could vector a pilot to fly a given heading until receiving a VOR many miles ahead, but this guy just cleared me direct to the airport, and pretty quickly at that. The second time it happened, trying to be conversational, I asked him about it. What I got back was a pause—then in a frustrated-sounding Big Apple accent:

“Do you WANT to go direct to Sandusky … or NOT?”

“Bonanza 3473 Bravo—direct Sandusky.”

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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  1. Similar to my last ride as “co-pilot” in 1998, in a PAZT that had a primitive panel-mounted GPS that only read digital heading and distance to whatever VOR was tuned in; like an ADF but without the pointer needle. The PIC, who wanted me along as an “experienced” pilot (but 8 years out of a current medical and BFR), kept asking center controllers for “direct to” the VOR two or three beyond the next one on our filed IFR route. And the controller always gave it to him, no questions asked.

  2. I had a GPSMAP 396 for years and loved it. Had a hockey puck antenna for XM WX long before ADSB (and liked it better than the ADSB WX), but the amount of memory available became less and less so I got a 660 to replace it. Bad decision. I could do a lot of things configuring all of the fields that I can’t do with the 660. I may yet pull the 660 out and put the 396 back or look for a 496. I agree that the controllers didn’t care if it was certified or not – “Do you want to go to Sandusky or not?”

  3. That’s an interesting story for which I cannot comment on the controller’s intent but, “Do you want to go to Sandusky or not?” is priceless. The things pilots hear in the system that lay people wouldn’t understand at what we are laughing – or cursing……….

  4. Nothing illegal about what this article is about. If you were to get a direct clearance without an IFR RNAV just ask for a heading. When I flew cargo in a Saab 340 that did not have an FMS, I used to ask for “heading direct” clearances all the time. Plane only had 2 VOR’s and 2 ADF’s. Usually easier when flying at night when there is less traffic. Some times I would use a handheld GPS to backup any heading received by ATC.

  5. This is off the subject, but I just finished this issue and find that the story icons that used to appear between the article and the comments have completely disappeared. This is inconvenient when reading on my iPad. Rather than just tapping the next one, I have to delete the current one, return to email and scroll down to find it. How about bringing them back. I know that doesn’t seem like much, but it adds up. Thanks.