Aerial Photo (Navigating Adjacent Airspace) Scenario

This post came out of a question I had about navigating contiguous Class D airspace for a photo flight that I was asked to do earlier this week. I’ll add the “answer” to the communications question to the comments. I’d also be interested in the utility of this as a scenario: how useful would it be for pilot training? I try to do something like this for the students I have. Many of them have said outright that they’re “hands-on” learners, and haven’t really been able to understand or apply regulations or other topics just by reading or getting a lecture on them.

I do land appraisal evaluations, and one of your pilots has flown me around to evaluate properties before. It worked really well, so I’m willing to drive the extra distance to KPWT  to fly with you rather than working with somebody closer. Now I have a list of properties that I need to survey and photograph tomorrow. Since I’ll be taking the pictures, I need to have the door off and would like to be able to get as low as possible for pictures of the waterfront side of the properties. The other pilot was able to stop the helicopter so I could get the shots I needed. Here are the lat/long coordinates for the properties: [47.151275,-122.562098], [47.151902,-122.564464], [47.161102,-122.570134], [47.163393,-122.567173], [47.172277,-122.567822]. After you’ve had a look, call me back so I can get on your schedule.

  • As a commercial pilot stationed at KPWT, can you take this flight? If you do, what limitations might you place on the flight based on you experience (<1000 hours TT) and capabilities?
  • You have access to an R22 Beta (875 lb BEW, 103.71 long arm). Your weight is 172 lbs and the passenger is 200 lbs with 3 lbs of camera equipment. The aircraft has an auxillary fuel tank, non-moving map GPS (database expired in 2001), transponder, and single radio. Can you do the flight in this aircraft, and is it the right aircraft for the customer and mission?
  • The relevant TAF for tomorrow is 20006KT P6SM SKC, and the civilian forecast is for clear skies, low of 65 F, high of 85 F, with light southerly winds throughout the day, becoming cloudy overnight with rain showers, low 55 F to 75 F, with westerly winds 5-15 knots throughout the following day.
  • You haven’t flown in this area before. What airspaces will you have to navigate, and what communications, equipment, and regulations apply? What altitudes and airspeeds will you use enroute?
  • What are some of the external pressures that you need to keep in mind as you’re working with this customer? How will you manage them? If he shows up business casual (short sleeve shirt, khakis, and dress shoes), with a small point-and-shoot camera on his hip and a high-end SLR, and a stack of satellite photos of the properties so we can identify them from the air, does this raise any additional concerns or pressures for you?

helicopter aerial photography




2 thoughts on “Aerial Photo (Navigating Adjacent Airspace) Scenario”

  1. I hadn’t dealt with Class D airspaces that were adjacent, and usually follow the rule of establishing contact with the tower 10+ miles out. That wouldn’t work, and I wasn’t familiar with local procedures. I got several good suggestions from more-experienced pilots and/or pilots who were familiar with this area:

    * Contact SEA approach and have them manage the transitions (see this FAQ from AOPA), knowing that approach may or may not coordinate all the transitions, and may switch you over to any of the towers at any time.
    * Circumnavigate KTIW and just work with KTCM. In this case, the client was already paying for an extra 0.5 to fly with us instead of somebody closer. I didn’t want to spend more time climbing or flying too far off a straight line course.
    * Popping over KTIW and dropping into KTCM also puts me up there with airplanes trying to do the same thing (avoid the Class D and Class B airspaces).

    I ended up contacting SEA Approach once outside of the KPWT area, something like this:
    “SEA Approach, Helicopter N4044D 4 miles SE of Bremerton, 1500, with a request.”
    “~ say request.”
    “We’d like flight following through the Tacoma Narrows Class D, into McChord’s airspace, to do low level aerial photography over the lakes to their west.”

    The rest of the communications with approach were as-expected, expect that they told me that my transitions were approved. As I approached KTCM, they handed me off to tower “…they’re expecting you.” KTCM wanted to know where we were working and what altitudes we’d be operating at.

    On the return flight, I asked told KTCM that we were departing the area enroute to KPWT, and asked for a frequency change to KTCM. Got it, and squawked VFR for the transition back through KTIW. Even though I didn’t give KTIW 10 miles of notice, this worked fine. The problem would have come if KTIW was busy, and I couldn’t get on with them before leaving KTCM’s airspace.

    Critiques, comments, criticisms welcome.

  2. This is great! This is a great use of the internet and how to help people trying to learn.

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