VFR on top?

Snow

'Not a new member'
I've heard this term several times but what does it actually mean? Is it your a IFR pilot on top of the overcast choosing to fly VFR until it's time to come back down again or what? and do you have to be instrment rated to do this? like can a VFR pilot fly above a broken layer of clouds if he/she keeps the clearances going up and down through the clouds?

Thanks
 

MidlifeFlyer

Well-Known Member
[ QUOTE ]
I've heard this term several times but what does it actually mean? Is it your a IFR pilot on top of the overcast choosing to fly VFR until it's time to come back down again or what? and do you have to be instrument rated to do this? like can a VFR pilot fly above a broken layer of clouds if he/she keeps the clearances going up and down through the clouds?

[/ QUOTE ]You can read about it in AIM 4-4-7. Essentially, VFR On Top is a IFR clearance that permits a pilot to fly at any VFR altitude while in VFR conditions while on an IFR flight plan. Except for the altitudes used and the requirement to maintain VFR cloud clearances and visibilities, all the rules of IFR flight still apply.

As an IFR clearance, the pilot must be instrument rated.
 

SUSPilot

Well-Known Member
For the clearance of VFR on top you do need to be instrument rated as it is an IFR clearance. as a VFR only pilot it is LEGAL to fly VFR on top(not on an instrument flight plan) as long as you keep the required cloud clearances and visibilities for VFR flight. That being said, for a VFR only pilot to fly on top is not really the safest alternative as you do not give yourself an out if the clouds do not break up below you to get down. Remember that for a student pilot it is ILLEGAL to fly VFR on top.
 

MidlifeFlyer

Well-Known Member
[ QUOTE ]
Remember that for a student pilot it is ILLEGAL to fly VFR on top.

[/ QUOTE ]...as it is for a private pilot without an instrument rating.

Two similar terms with very different meanings. Keeping them straight helps folks from getting confused.

"VFR-On-Top" is an IFR clearance that allows a pilot on an instrument flight plan fly VFR altitudes. A pilot who is not operating on an IFR clearance is =never= flying VFR On Top.

"VFR Over-The-Top" is a VFR procedure where a pilot flies over an cloud deck. Student pilots are restricted from flying without being able to see the ground, so they can't do it.
 

Josh

Well-Known Member
I always "request climb to VFR on top"

That gets up above the low fog/overcast that is a problem for most VFR pilots to go anywhere significant, and is common in summertime mornings around my area.

It is an IFR clearance, and it is given with something like:

"if not VFR by 4000, report"

For my local field the clearance is usually published procedure, then direct to a local VOR about 15miles away. By the time I report in the air, usually get a vector, and am on top shortly. Of course, VFR means 1000' over the layer. So when I report on top, and either continue flight following services, or cancel if going to a local field, I'll give the base and top layers as a report, since this kinda popup is quite common in my area.

As far as VFR while on an IFR plan, I'd prefer to NOT do that. Keep me that extra 500' from other VFR traffic out there that may be along or passing over the airway I'm on, thank you very much


Josh
 

bluelake

Well-Known Member
Last night I got a IFR to VFR On Top clearance from Seattle area to Redding California, due to fog at departure. It was my first time I did this. Like said above, I broke into VMC conditions about 800' AGL. What surprised me was how little ATC involved themselves in my route the rest of the way (flew 7500MSL, then 9500). I changed my course (filed as Direct RDD) more than once, got WAY below min vectoring altitudes in Oregon once, and pretty darn close to terrain. At one time I sorta joined a short Victor Airway and climbed to the MOCA (9700) and no one seemed to care. To be honest, there was not any outward difference in service between our flight under IFR and had we just tooled along VFR/VMC using Traffic Advisories...

Is VFR On Top this relaxed or was I just flying a loosely managed route, so to speak?
 

250blue

New Member
I don't believe you're supposed to go below the MEA in a VFR ON TOP Clearance. Usually what we'll do is ask for an IFR climb to VFR. Basically they give you an IFR climb clearance and then your IFR is cancelled once you are in VFR conditions.
 

bluelake

Well-Known Member
we were not on an airway, so no MEA. and yes, I know about those OROCA numbers.... I am sure we were lower than those, but never less than 2000' AGL along our actual route.
 

Snow

'Not a new member'
Ahh, ok so technically it's ok to be a VFR pilot flying above a broken layer of clouds then, as long as you can get up and down while maintaining cloud clearances.
 

MikeD

Administrator
Staff member
Right. Flying above a broken deck is no real problem. Just be cogzinant of the cloud activity, ie- SCT going to BKN, and more/worse.

That's where the whole "1000' above" comes from. Now the 2000' horizontal...that's somewhat asinine. I can't judge 2000' horizontal from a cloud, so IMO, as long as you're not hitting it, you're OK.
 

MidlifeFlyer

Well-Known Member
[ QUOTE ]
That's where the whole "1000' above" comes from. Now the 2000' horizontal...that's somewhat asinine. I can't judge 2000' horizontal from a cloud, so IMO, as long as you're not hitting it, you're OK.

[/ QUOTE ]Actually, you're probably okay so long as some IFR flight isn't hitting =you= it comes level out of that cloud because you can't get out of the way in time - the reason for the "asinine rule".
 

RiddlePilot

New Member
No way. You're still on an IFR flight plan when you're on a VFR-On-Top clearance. You are still expected to fly your clearance and comply with ATC instructions.
 

MidlifeFlyer

Well-Known Member
[ QUOTE ]
So if I request VFR on top am I expected to cancel IFR when I get out of the layer?

[/ QUOTE ]No. The question I answered involved a VFR pilot flying "over the top"

If you are IFR flying on an "on top" clearance, you are still on an IFR flight plan and cancel nothing.

At least theoretically, =none= of the cloud clearance limitations really need to be maintained if VFR On Top. Anything other than "clear of clouds" is sort of unnecessary for an instrument rated pilot who is operating on an instrument flight plan. After all, all of them are designed to maintain separation between VFR and IFR traffic.

I suspect that the maintenance of the cloud clearance requirement for On Top clearances is there because:

1. It provides an additional safety buffer (such as in the event of altimeter problems for one aircraft or another).

2. It does not assume radar coverage.

3. It was easier than creating a clearance called "Sort of VFR" On Top with a whole bunch of new FAR with still another set of rules.
 

MikeD

Administrator
Staff member
[ QUOTE ]
[ QUOTE ]
That's where the whole "1000' above" comes from. Now the 2000' horizontal...that's somewhat asinine. I can't judge 2000' horizontal from a cloud, so IMO, as long as you're not hitting it, you're OK.

[/ QUOTE ]Actually, you're probably okay so long as some IFR flight isn't hitting =you= it comes level out of that cloud because you can't get out of the way in time - the reason for the "asinine rule".

[/ QUOTE ]

Can you judge 2000' horizontal between a nebulous cloud and blue sky, or otherwise?

I can't. If you can, give me the applicable visual references. It's not like dogfighting where you mil-size a target of fairly-known dimensions to gauge distance in feet; it's a nebulous cloud.

Because of that, rule is asinine, IMO. Will try to comply as best as possible via the TLAR concept and avoiding the cloud.
 

MidlifeFlyer

Well-Known Member
[ QUOTE ]
Can you judge 2000' horizontal between a nebulous cloud and blue sky, or otherwise?

[/ QUOTE ]Assuming no other references like shadow on the ground? Nope. But I'm not trying to get as close as I can without busting the requirements, so I'm not looking for a 2000' reference point. Double or triple that difference (rather than just "not hitting it".) is a close enough approximation for me. Even without solid references I can probably make a decent approximation of that.

Does that make the 2000' requirement silly? I don't know. I guess it depends what one would think of a regulation that said, "1000' above, 500' below, and 'far enough' away."
 

MikeD

Administrator
Staff member
[ QUOTE ]
[ QUOTE ]
Can you judge 2000' horizontal between a nebulous cloud and blue sky, or otherwise?

[/ QUOTE ]Assuming no other references like shadow on the ground? Nope. But I'm not trying to get as close as I can without busting the requirements, so I'm not looking for a 2000' reference point. Double or triple that difference (rather than just "not hitting it".) is a close enough approximation for me. Even without solid references I can probably make a decent approximation of that.

Does that make the 2000' requirement silly? I don't know. I guess it depends what one would think of a regulation that said, "1000' above, 500' below, and 'far enough' away."


[/ QUOTE ]

I'm not trying to get as close as I can either, but when it's broken and you're climbing/descending in-between, an exact 2000', much less a double/triple rule of thumb, may not work, nor be easy to judge. Judging the 500 below/1000 above is a more solid computation, IMO. It just seems silly to me to impose a numerical distance that really can't be accurately judged.
 

pkloop

New Member
[ QUOTE ]
Right. Flying above a broken deck is no real problem. Just be cogzinant of the cloud activity, ie- SCT going to BKN,

[/ QUOTE ]

I do it when its broken up enough. I have popped up to have a look and saw no holes bam..back down I went. Always leave a way out
 

250blue

New Member
[ QUOTE ]
So if I request VFR on top am I expected to cancle IFR when I get out of the layer?

[/ QUOTE ]
If you want this, then just ask for a "climb to VFR" from clearance delivery. They give you an IFR climb then you're cancelled when you reach VFR conditions.
 

Josh

Well-Known Member
[ QUOTE ]
[ QUOTE ]
So if I request VFR on top am I expected to cancle IFR when I get out of the layer?

[/ QUOTE ]
If you want this, then just ask for a "climb to VFR" from clearance delivery. They give you an IFR climb then you're cancelled when you reach VFR conditions.

[/ QUOTE ]

See Josh's reply #5 up at the top of this thread
 
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