The form itself is not exactly important. You fill it in but then file it by phone. The same number that I call to get the low down on the weather also allows me to file and then close a flight plan, the latter being incredibly important; we’ll get back to that later.Again there are many subtleties that may escape you if you are not careful. When you phone file the flight plan, you specify a takeoff time (In UTC or Zulu time of course!). You have to kinda guestimate this, you could be early/late (more likely) for a whole plethora of reasons. As soon as you phone through that plan, it gets automatically opened at the time you designate. So in reality when you are airborne you need to contact flight services and let them know when you actually took off and adjust your ETA accordingly.
The adjusted ETA ties in with the importance of closing the flight plan, if you don’t show up where you are meant to be at the end of your flight, you’ve technically got one hour before the search and rescue people turn up. Actually they usually start getting a bit twitchy around half an hour after you are overdue. It’s a big country and there’s a lot of space for them to cover. And as tempting as it may be to have your own hunky military guys at your beck and call, it really is rather frowned up to call them out unnecessarily. You file and update as needed and then remember to close it.Of course, the whole process revolves around the fact that I have to call someone, on the phone. I am not a fan of that. Although the form will help set the frame of the conversation, I know the guys from London FSS tend to speak a little on the fast side. If I’m not careful I could end up on an IFR flight to Thunder Bay at a planned altitude of 500 feet. Still I think I have a plan, it’s a human on the other end of the phone after all and I can rely on them knowing the phonetic alphabet! So any difficulties in communications can at least be spelled out one painful letter at a time. And there’s always the “coming clean” option and admitting this is my first time and I don’t know what the hell I’m doing.
Hey, a plea for help and a cute foreign accent has gotten me most places so far!