Posts Tagged ‘radio communications’

Just ahead in the September issue

Monday, July 8th, 2013

Listening WellWe’re in final production this week on the September issue, but most of my thoughts are still stuck on the month of July—and Airventure! Be that as it may, here’s a glimpse of some of what you can expect to find when the magazine reaches your mailbox or electronic device:

  • Upside Down, Inside Out: What’s the first thing most people ask about aerobatic training? Hint: It has to do with your stomach.
  • No More Monkey Business: If you stumble, miss radio calls, or just don’t like chatting on the radio–we have suggestions for all those ills.
  • Stop, Look, Listen: Ways you can avoid a runway incursion.

There’s more, but I don’t want to give it all away. Look for the September issue to land in your mailbox beginning August 1. The digital edition goes live July 25.—Jill W. Tallman

To get a free six-month membership to AOPA and receive six free issues of Flight Training magazine, call 800-USA-AOPA or visit our website. To switch your paper subscription to digital, visit our website.

Using LiveATC as a learning tool

Wednesday, April 24th, 2013

Listening WellLearning to fly encompasses trying to master a broad range of new skills and tasks. While some pilots want nothing more than to be able to fly solo on a weekend afternoon or fly from one small airport to another, others want to reap the full benefit of what flying can bring.

A big part of maximizing that benefit is learning how to utilize air traffic control (ATC). Recall that if you are working toward your private certificate, you are required to have at least a minimal interaction with the controllers on the other end of the radio.

There are a number of good sources that you can use to learn the proper phraseology and techniques for radio communication. The Aeronautical Information Manual (AIM) is probably the most convenient place to start, but it isn’t necessarily the best learning tool. Other books have been written, and over the years, radio communication software for computers has sprung up. While I haven’t used one of these personally, I have no doubt that they are quite good given the advances in computing power these days.

But there is another source that exists. It isn’t structured and it doesn’t allow you to respond to commands per se, but it will help you. The source is the website  LiveATC is just that: It’s a live feed from facilities all over the country, and you select which frequency at which airport you want to monitor.

If you are still new to the ATC world, remember the order in which you talk to controllers: clearance delivery, ground control, the tower proper, departure control, center, approach, the tower again, and then ground again. In slow periods, the same controller may function in multiple roles (ground and tower or approach and departure), so you may recognize the same voice answering to different requests.

At major airports, you will do well to focus on one frequency for a while, the busiest being approach and departure. If you start with something on the ground, you might be able to follow a specific flight for a while.

While you cannot actually participate in Live ATC, you can learn how the cadence and process works. You’ll also realize that even the best pilots and controllers make mistakes, and even the most harried controllers have a sense of humor (try a YouTube search for a bad day at JFK). LiveATC can be a great learning tool, especially from the comfort of your living room, for understanding the processes and language of busy airspace. In spite of the machine-gun chatter, you’ll find that there really is order in the chaos and it isn’t as difficult as it seems.

Another feature that is very cool about LiveATC is that you can download clips to your computer. That means that after you fly (there is a time limit) you can pull down all of your own transmissions and save them.

Check it out at varying times of the day, and choose a few airports when you know the weather is good and when you know the weather is bad. You will get a good feel for the on-the-go adaptations that need to be made as conditions constantly change. Then, after you have flown, download your own transmissions and see how you stack up!—Chip Wright

The number two radio

Tuesday, February 21st, 2012

I’ve been asked before what we do with the second radio on airliners, so I’m here to tell you (this assumes an aircraft with two required radios and a backup). Are you ready? It depends….

If the airplane is equipped with ACARS (Aircraft Crew Alerting and Reporting System, sort of an in-flight email/fax system), most of the time you will monitor 121.5. If the airplane is not ACARS equipped, or if the ACARS is out of service, the procedures will vary a bit from company to company, but most of the time, you will monitor a designated company radio frequency.

Since my airline flies for Delta, we monitor the Atlanta Radio network. That way Delta can spy on us, plus it saves having to build our own network nationwide, which would make it harder for Delta to spy on us. We have available to us a map that shows what frequency we are supposed to use in a given area. There are approximately eight or nine airborne sections of the United States, plus a few each in Canada, Mexico, the Bahamas, et cetera. Because the FARs require that an airline be capable of contacting any airplane at any time, crews must monitor a designated company frequency or have functional alternative, such as ACARS.

There are also a number of locations where dial-up ground frequencies are available.

Our network is guaranteed to work above a certain altitude, again, per the FARs.

As for when the number two radio is used, well, this is the “it depends” area. We can use the company frequency for a number of things: calling for weather updates, advising the company of a hold or delay or a diversion, discussing maintenance issues with the dispatcher or mechanic, passenger service issues, or any number of emergencies or critical events. It can be a little disconcerting to hear a full-blown emergency in progress, especially if you happen to be on the same ATC frequency as the crew that is in distress. But it’s also good to see how others handle certain situations to compare to your own methodology.

Company radio is only supposed to be used for company, flight-specific information, but it isn’t unusual for someone to request football scores or election results. Occasionally, a pair of pilots will recognize each others’ voice on the ATC frequency, and they will switch an air-to-air frequency on the number two radio to chat for a couple of minutes. Not exactly what’s supposed to be done, but it is never for very long, and for the most part it’s no-harm, no-foul.

Closer to the airport, each station has its own frequency, similar to an FBO. Crews will call “in range” anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes out, workload permitting. This is an opportunity to verify the gate and relay any specific needs, which might be mundane (bags of ice) to the more important customer needs (wheelchairs). It’s also a chance to give a station a heads up on any potential delays or issues for the outbound flight.

In short, the number two radio is often used exactly as you use it today in general aviation. With two pilots–especially when something is going wrong–it can be your most valuable asset. In fact, the FARs require at least two functioning primary radios, so if one of them fails, you aren’t going anywhere. It’s that important.–Chip Wright