What is the most difficult part of training pilots? Almost everyone will say, “We’re talking on the radio.” However, even beginners can sound good on the radio if they apply some simple rules. I will first discuss these rules and then give tips that all pilots can use to improve their radio skills.
Four Bs by radio
Usually it is most difficult for a pilot to make a radio call first – an “initial call”. However, with each initial call (and many subsequent calls) you just need to remember four W:
- Who am I calling?
- Who am I?
- Where am I?
- Where am I going, what am I doing or what do I want to do?
Take two examples of this, one for an uncontrolled field and one with a control tower.
As you prepare to enter a motion pattern on an uncontrolled field, you usually make a message, for example:
“Traffic in Miltown (who am I calling?), Cessna 12345 (who am I?), Which is 45 in the wind (where am I?), Runway 22 for landing in Miltown (what am I doing?).
With the control tower you can instead say:
Ocala Tower (who am I calling?), Cessna 12345 (who am I?) Eight miles north, two thousand five hundred from Charlie (where am I? – and add ATIS), Ocala landing (what do I want to do?).
Once established, you do not need to use four W for all communication. Instead, you just read the controller’s critical instructions to let them know you got them. For example, if the controller asks you to enter the right wind for runway 24, you will answer: “Cessna 12345 will enter the right air at 24”.
Try different scenarios with your friends or flight instructor, and pretty soon you’ll always know what to say.
Even if you know what to say, talking on the radio still requires some practice. Here are some tips to get you talking fast as a professional.
- Listen to the ATC communication. If you don’t have a radio that accepts aviation frequencies, see if you can borrow it from another pilot or at your flight school for a week. Listen to what the pilots say to ATC at their initial call and how they respond to ATC instructions. Try listening to ground, towers, approaches and center frequencies if you can.
- Write down what you say before making the initial radio call. You can even compose completed scripts to do so. After a few weeks of this most people can make calls on their own, but you will still want to record complex calls.
- If you are a student pilot, be sure to say this at the initial call-up so that the ATC will be more attentive to you.
- Don’t worry if you forget something. Even experienced pilots sometimes forget to inform the dispatcher of their altitude or that they have ATIS. Don’t worry – the controllers will ask you for something if you forget about it.
- To study the recommended phraseology, see Section 4 and the Pilot / Controller Glossary in the Aviation Manual.
If all else fails, use plain English! Not all situations lend themselves to the recommended ATC phrases, or you may just forget how to say something. One day I was leaving an unfamiliar airport and when I called the ground, I suddenly realized I had no idea where we were at the airport. The bell sounded something like this: “Land of Littletown, Cessna 12345, mmmm …” (at that moment I looked around wildly) “I’m a Chevron sign, ready to take a taxi with Delta, heading west.” Ugh – saved by the Chevron gas sign! The ground found me and allowed a taxi.