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Lesson 7: Types of Airspace

airspace legend

Class G, E, and D airspace:

Luckily whether you have a GED or PHD, you can learn the layout of the different airspace that makes up the NAS (national airspace system).

We’ll start off covering just a basic overview of class G airspace, class E airspace, and class D airspace, and then the busier types, including Class A, Class B, and Class C airspace.

The Skinny

Here’s what to keep in mind over the next few TOPICS.

  • Class G Airspace is Uncontrolled, ATC does not have anything to do with it, and you don’t need permission to go flying in it.  Even drones can fly in Class G airspace without permission.
  • Class E Airspace is Controlled, but there is no control tower directly connected with airports in Class E airspace.  You do not need permission to enter Class E airspace when flying VFR.
  • Class D Airspace is Controlled and the “primary” airport the Class D airspace covers (the airport in the center of the blue Class D ring) will have a control tower at that airport.  You will need permission to enter Class D airspace from ATC, as well as permission to Taxi, Takeoff, or Land at the primary class D airport.
  • There are six Classes of airspace, A,B,C,D,E,G.  What happened to F?  Class F airspace does not exist in the United States (it is used in some other parts of the world), so we’ll leave it out of this course.

The three most common phrases in aviation are “Was that for us?” “What’d he say?” and “Oh Sh*t!” Since computers are now involved in flying, a new one has been added: “What’s it doing now?”

Alaska Students Only:

If you are completing your flight training in Alaska, please complete these additional lessons separately: https://learn.fly8ma.com/courses/flying-in-alaska/

Class A, Class B, and Class C Airspace

Class A, B and C airspace are all controlled airspace.  Although it is designated as such because the sky is a little bit busier in those areas with air traffic, you shouldn’t be intimidated to fly and operate in this type of airspace.  To give you an idea of what kind of airports fall into the B and C category we’ll list some examples below.

Class C:

  • Sarasota International, FL
  • Fort Myers, FL
  • Lansing, MI
  • Flint, MI
  • Generally airports with airline service, but maybe only 20-30 flights per day on the airlines

Class B:

  • JFK New York
  • Chicago
  • Miami
  • Tampa, FL
  • Detroit, MI
  • LAX
  • Dallas Forth Worth
  • Very busy airports with lots of airline traffic (usually several hundred flights per day)

You might be wondering where Class A airspace comes into play in all of this?  Class A airspace is a single layer that covers the entire globe from FL180 (18,000′ msl) to FL600 (60,000′ msl).  It is not associated with any particular airport.  We’ll talk about it more in the next TOPIC.

What happens around these towered airports when my radio fails?

Well that’s a great question….   Especially since we just finished teaching you about how to contact a Class D airport tower and are about to talk about contacting a Class C airport tower.  So we actually have a way to handle this when you are flying if for whatever reason you lose communication with the tower.  These same procedures are used by pilots who don’t even have radios installed in their airplanes and cannot communicate with the tower and deaf pilots who are landing at a towered airport too!

How ATC will communicate with you is via “LIGHT GUN SIGNALS” or basically shining a bright light at you from the control tower cab aimed right at your airplane.  The color and sequence of the light tells you what to do, and the signals mean slightly different things if you are on the ground or in the air.  Check out the diagram below and even reference our article on RADIO FAILURES HERE.

light gun signals

What do you do when you have comm problems?

Well, the simplest answer is land at a non-towered airport if you are near one, and the second simplest answer is land at a towered airport if you are already in their airspace and approaching to land or just flying laps in the traffic pattern.  You might also consider some troubleshooting tips listed below:

  • Check your headset plugs (push them in all the way or maybe even wiggle them out a little to make the right contact in the socket)
  • Try swapping headsets with a passenger if theirs is working and they hear ATC
  • Check your radio volume
  • Check the volume on your headset
  • Check the audio panel is set so you should hear your comm radio and not selected to another audio source
  • Check the frequency again, and consider going back to another frequency of a previous controller to have them give you an alternative frequency to use to contact the tower
  • Try using frequency 121.5 if all else fails to establish contact with ATC or another Aircraft
  • Pick up your cellphone and call Flight Service and ask them to forward you direct to the tower cab to talk to them and get instructions and a landing clearance
  • Ensure you don’t have a “stuck mic” or that the transmit button is not stuck down….that would prevent you from hearing anyone else but everyone else will hear every word you say!!! (careful what ya say!)