Are civilian/GA pilots expected to "see and avoid" fast military jets in VMC?

Philippe Leybaert
  • Are civilian/GA pilots expected to "see and avoid" fast military jets in VMC? Philippe Leybaert

    I don't know if this also applies to the U.S. or just to Europe, but in Europe the civilian airspace is frequently used by military jets. On numerous occasions I've seen F-16's and other fighter jets using the same airspace I was flying in (both controlled and uncontrolled)

    According to the regulations, we should "see and avoid" other traffic but does that rule apply when encountering these fast military jets? Let's face it: there's no way you can see and avoid a fighter jet approaching at +400kts.

    Are there specific regulations covering this? Who's at fault when a midair collision occurs? (sadly it has happened in the past)

  • Yes, both pilots are required to see and avoid at all times when operating in VMC conditions. Typically the military pilots have radar used to pickup other aircraft that can help them, but ultimately it still comes down to looking outside.

    We have military training routes charted here in the US that are used by military aircraft when operating at high speeds, and pilot should be especially vigilant when operating in the vicinity of one of these routes. Use all available information: Get flight following and contact the frequency on the chart for current operational information, and above all keep an eye out for them!


    The Aeronautical Chart Users Guide shows an example of how they chart it on VFR Charts:

    Military Training Routes (MTRs) are shown on Sectionals and TACs. They are identified by the route designator: MTR example. Route designators are shown in solid black on the route centerline, positioned along the route for continuity. The designator IR or VR is not repeated when two or more routes are established over the same airspace, e.g., IR201- 205-227. Routes numbered 001 to 099 are shown as IR1 or VR99, eliminating the initial zeros. Direction of flight along the route is indicated by small arrowheads adjacent to and in conjunction with each route designator.

    The following note appears on Sectionals and TACs covering the conterminous United States.

    MTR Warning

    There are IFR (IR) and VFR (VR) routes as follows: Route identification: a. Routes at or below 1500’ AGL (with no segment above 1500’) are identified by four-digit numbers; e.g., VR1007, etc. These routes are generally developed for flight under Visual Flight Rules. b. Routes above 1500’ AGL (some segments of these routes may be below 1500’) are identified by three or fewer digit numbers; e.g., IR21, VR302, etc. These routes are developed for flight under Instrument Flight Rules.

    MTRs can vary in width from 4 to 16 miles. Detailed route width information is available in the Flight Information Publication (FLIP) AP/1B (a DoD publication), or in the Digital Aeronautical Chart Supplement (DACS) produced by AeroNav Products. Special Military Activity areas are indicated on the Sectionals by a boxed note in black type. The note contains radio frequency information for obtaining area activity status.

    MTR Frequency Box

    On IFR charts, they are similar:

    MILITARY TRAINING ROUTES (MTRs)

    Military Training Routes (MTRs) are routes established for the conduct of low-altitude, high-speed military flight training (generally below 10,000 feet MSL at airspeeds in excess of 250 knots Indicated Air Speed). These routes are depicted in brown on Enroute Low Altitude Charts, and are not shown on inset charts or on IFR Enroute High Altitude Charts. Enroute Low Altitude Charts depict all IR (IFR Military Training Route) and VR (VFR Military Training Route) routes, except those VRs that are entirely at or below 1,500 feet AGL. Military Training Routes are identified by designators (IR-107, VR-134) which are shown in brown on the route centerline. Arrows are shown to indicate the direction of flight along the route. The width of the route determines the width of the line that is plotted on the chart:

    Route segments with a width of 5 NM or less, both sides of the centerline, are shown by a .02” line.

    Route segments with a width greater than 5 NM, either or both sides of the centerline, are shown by a .035” line.

    MTRs for particular chart pairs (ex. L1/2, etc.) are alphabetically, then numerically tabulated. The tabulation includes MTR type and unique ident and altitude range.


    As far as who is at fault, it is a joint responsibility so everybody would be in most cases.

  • It is both parties responsibility to see-and-avoid, but it does help to know where you are more likely to find high speed military activity and high performance maneuvering to aid you in seeing and avoiding.

    Military operations in the US are typically confined to military training routes (MTR), military operations areas (MOA), restricted airspace and prohibited airspace.

    The MTRs are low altitude, high speed routes and are charted on sectional charts so you know to be extra vigilant around them or to just avoid them altogether.

    Military operation areas or MOAs are charted and are big boxes with ceiling and floor altitudes. GA aircraft can query ATC if these are active and in any case they can fly into them. If a GA aircraft penetrates and active MOA, the military activity is typically stopped until you leave. General rule of thumb is to just not go there.

    Restricted areas are only accessible to you when cold, so there will not be military activity there if you allowed to be there.

    Prohibited airspace may not have military activity before you show up, but certainly will after you do, and you might get to watch an F16 attempt slow flight and form up on your wing. Remember your intercept procedures for this one.

    Any military activity outside of this will generally be typical enroute flying at altitude. You will occasionally hear ATC coordinating mid-air refueling but that won't be something you have to worry about.

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